Malcolm Tyree

A collection of thoughts on things that matter

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

No Prayer at Graduation

This year’s graduation ceremonies in at least one Texas school district were the subject of the latest round of censorship. Or maybe not!

The school district announced a week before graduation that it was changing the program and the selection method for students participating in the program. The district would no longer schedule an invocation or benediction. And students would no longer be voting on whom among their peers would deliver these prayers.

Effective immediately, the district would comply with state guidelines and randomly select a graduate to deliver opening and closing remarks. If the students who are randomly selecting choose to make their remarks a prayer, that is perfectly acceptable.

As one might imagine, there was a bit of a dust up in the community concerning the change in the official programming of the ceremonies. Some cried “foul!” Some cited this as one more level of “religious persecution.”

My guess is, if the district had not announced the change, very few, if any would have noticed that no one was officially praying at the ceremony.

Without a doubt, I’m in favor of prayer. Yet, I question the use of it in per functionary ways. Invocations seem odd to me, especially when trying to get the Christian God’s attention. Didn’t he say he’d always be with us?

And when the occasion is a mix of belief systems, how do we respond when the person praying is of a different belief system?

Prayer is a conversation. I agree we should be thankful and offer prayers accordingly. But the prayers don’t have to be public or for show.

Jesus challenged his listeners to pray in secret and not on the corner for all to see. (Matthew 6:5ff)

Prayer has not been outlawed. Instead, prayer is encouraged rather than required.

Possibly, this type of prayer will be more genuine , especially when willingly offered by a randomly selected High School Graduate if he or she so chooses.

Asking Too Much From Christian Believers (part 2)

I can’t say I knew a lot of people who were open about their Christian faith while growing up. I’m sure some of it was because I didn’t know a lot about church or Christianity, but I may have just been oblivious too.

When I surrendered my life to Jesus some 21 years ago, I felt it was my job to make sure everyone knew about my decision. I wanted others to make that same decision. I slapped the bumper stickers on my truck and every Tshirts I owned made a statement about Jesus. At some level it was incredibly bold, yet at another I guessing it was a bit annoying. I eventually went of to Bible College to get a degree in telling others about Jesus.

At some level my actions inspired others, but are they for every believer?

Certainly, if you are a believer in Jesus there should be some identifiable actions that others witness that indicates your faith. Yet, are we (was I) asking too much when I expect everyone to become a walking billboard?

As I have grown older, I’ve mellowed in my bumper stickers and Tshirts. Instead I’ve focused on a different set of actions. Today, I try to drive nicer, greet others, offer help, and embrace others. I look to speak up on behalf of those who can’t speak up for themselves, improve situations I’m a part of, laugh, and smile. I do these things and more in attempt to look and act like I think Jesus would in today’s world.

Sometimes we struggle to express our faith, but I don’t think asking believers to express our faith is too much. In fact, I think it’s easier than we tend to think.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NLT)

What say you?

Asking Too Much From Christian Believers (part 1)

It’s interesting to me that we’ve established the standards for elders and deacons, given by Paul to Timothy, as the standard for all believers.

This is a trustworthy saying: “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position.” So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? An elder must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap.
In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons.
In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do.
A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.

(1 Timothy 3:1-13 NLT)

It seems to me, this is creating an unnecessary hurdle or barrier for many to feel as though they can follow Jesus.

Certainly, these standards are preferred for believers, but Paul does not seem to indicate they are required for everyone. Rather, Paul is distinguishing the difference between leader-servants for the church and all of those who are a part of the church.

Additionally, Paul does not seem to indicate that those who don’t meet these standards are ineligible to serve within the church. He is saying that to be a deacon or elder requires meeting these standards.

This leaves us, from an application point, wrestling with questions like these:
What are the markers of a disciple or believer of Jesus?
Are there markers for ordinary Christians?
What does a deacon do?
What is the role of an elder?

This may be an issue only for those of us in evangelical churches. It may be an outgrowth of the premise of “the priesthood of believers.” There are many issues that play into this practice of expecting all believers to behave as elders or deacons.

It just seems to me that we are asking and even expecting too much of the average believer.

What say you?

12 years in 12 days (bonus)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas. 

I’ve done my best this series to capture what I saw and could remember from my time in Odessa. Now it’s your turn!

What do you remember about my time in Odessa?

What at stands out to you in this series?

I would love to read what you recall. Please, take just a moment and share your thoughts.

12 years in 12 Days (part 12)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa.

Entering the summer of 2013 felt like someone slammed the brakes hard on so many things that I was a part of in Odessa.

For more than two years, I had been working with a local business training their team members. This was a great opportunity that had expanded my circle of influence in ways I could not have imagined. The management decided to move in a different direction with its training practices and I was released.

For the past year, I had been working diligently with the school district to raise the level of parent-school partnerships through PTA and working with principals and administration. In a move that caused a great deal of discussion among the whole town, there was a change in the superintendent for the district and for the principal of my school.

Over the course of six weeks, key community relationships were changed.

In the midst of these changes, we found out that Christy was pregnant! BabyTy3 would be coming in February 2014. We found out the gender this time and named her in honor of her grandparents by using their middle names. Breanna Kaylee would prove to be a bright spot in the midst of many changes.

Relationships within Grace Point also changed. For nearly three years, I had been working hard to lead the church into a sustainable future but it wasn’t happening. Three years prior to this, I had taken a dramatic pay cut. Though there had been some increase in the level of support for GP among the members, we were at a crossroads financially.

The year before, we had hoped to secure a building that would have been funded through grants and a business operating in the facility. That did not come to pass, but our desire to establish a ministry headquarters was still there. For many, the need for a facility was becoming critical. As hard as the leadership team and I considered the options, we could not find a viable option.

Real estate prices in Odessa were increasing to all time highs. Available property was being snatched up at top dollar offerings. We simply did not have the financial base to compete in this market place.

As I was sitting down with my Tuesday lunch groups of pastors, I was talking through the situation seeking their advice. As I was talking, it came to me, GP could afford to rent a 24/7 facility or pay me. There wasn’t enough contribution to do both.

The reality was very discouraging.

After meeting with key leaders for GP, we agreed the financial situation had to change at GP in order to move ahead in 2014. Unfortunately, this was met with resistance by some and unfulfilled commitments by others. In mid-December the finances hit a new low.

As much as we’d like it to be otherwise, the finances influence the viability of the organization. GP’s viability was at stake.

Christy and I sought counsel from multiple sources as to what to do next. Overwhelmingly, the counsel we received is that we should consider stepping away from GP and pursue a healthier scenario for our family’s own sustainability. This was not the insight I was looking for; I didn’t like it, but I knew it was right. For over seven years, I had poured myself into building GP. Our home had been built with a long term vision. Now it was coming to a close.

In just a short time, Breanna would arrive. We had to be in position to care for her as well as Caitlyn and Andrew.

I held an open meeting for all interested in the future of GP to attend. We proposed merging with another congregation on the northside. This congregation had a facility and could benefit from our community focus. Yet, the merger didn’t happen.

With the merger off the table, we held a series of conversations with those willing to help shape GP’s future. At those meetings, one of the more startling revelations was that no one saw themselves living in Odessa long term. Most believed they would be moving within three to five years.

These conversations, combined with the clear sense that we were feeling a sense of release from our ministry in Odessa, we made the hard choice to close Grace Point on March 23, 2014, 390 Sundays after opening.

The final worship gathering was well attended and I was honored to remind them to live the life Jesus calls each of us to, the life of service. As a final image of what we tried to live before them, I closed the gathering by washing the feet of most of the attendees.

For 2014, we would celebrate Easter with another congregation in Odessa. Our season of ministry had come to a close.

We decided we would move at the end of the school year. Terry and Cheryl, Christy’s parents, had decided to move from Odessa as well. They moved in May to Midlothian, Texas, south of Dallas.

Before we could move though, there were obligations to fulfill within the school district. I was still the president for my local PTA and the city wide council. To that end, I worked hard to facilitate a Fun Run fundraiser for new playground equipment at Jordan Elementary. I also helped forge a partnership between Odessa College, the local community college, and the leadership of PTA for the city. Each of these initiatives have the potential to impact others for years to come.

In our final weeks in Odessa, the kids finished the school year strong. We worshipped with our friends Tim and Melinda Halstead and the New Life Church. Worshipping with New Life was like closing out a circle of our time in Odessa. New Life was the first congregation we attended after my dismissal from Odessa First Church of God. We said our goodbyes to First Church in December 2012, as the congregation closed its doors for the final time, disbanding and selling off its property. The New Life crew was incredibly gracious to us and embraced many former GPers into its worship gatherings.

On June 3, 2014, four months after Breanna was born, we spent our last night in our home in Odessa. A new adventure awaits and its path is still early and filled with many unknowns! We didn’t get everything packed and put away on June 4, but our new adventure was awaiting. We hit the road, headed east. We will return briefly to Odessa to close out the house near the end of June.

Thank you for sharing in our journey! The 12 years in Odessa have shaped me and my family. Hopefully, the lessons I’ve learned and the growth my family has experienced will benefit you and others.

I apologize that there aren’t pictures in this post. I’m writing this while on the first part of our new journey.

12 years in 12 days (part 11)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

Moving into the summer of 2012, I was leading Grace Point into a potential opportunity that would secure a headquarters for our ministry operations. After a series of conversations over nearly three years, we were officially making an offer on the old fire station located across the street from Jordan Elementary in the new subdivision with more than 500 home being built in the three year span of time. Much to our surprise in June, we discovered that we did not win the auction, even more surprising, the city of Odessa leaders chose to keep the property to convert it into a community center.

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At the time, I did not realize the impact of the loss of the property. We had talked about it for nearly three years. It had become a key piece in our ministry vision. Additionally, the years of being portable were beginning to wear on our team members. The loss of the opportunity to transform the building into our ministry headquarters was a significant blow to our morale.

There was little time to grieve for me as I was quickly on to another adventure. This time I was headed to Denver, Colorado, for the International Youth Convention of the Church of God with teens from GP. We had a great time white water rafting, rock climbing, and camping along with the Convention program.

To help prepare Jordan Elementary for the new school year, our team took a Saturday and painted the cafeteria.

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Als that summer, my friend Brent gave me some flying lessons. He allowed me to pilot his plane from the DFW area to Midland-Odessa and then later from Scottsdale, Arizona, to Odessa. It was fun learning from a pro like Brent.

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In August, Christy surprised me with an amazing birthday gift! She had been working since May to arrange for me to go skydiving with other guys from GP. She caught me completely off guard with this gift. Though none of the other GPers joined in the adventure, I had a great time skydiving!

School started up, with another change to our routine. As the 11-12 year came to a close, we decided that Christy would step away from teaching. Though she enjoyed the opportunity to interact with the students, the educational system had changed and Christy felt it was time to step away. She returned to being a stay at home mom.

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As for me, I was now serving as the PTA president for Jordan and our district’s council. The two proved to be very challenging yet rewarding. The district council needed to be restarted and so I was tasked with leading that charge. Thanks to the help of the district administration, principals, and parents we were able to reestablish the PTAs presence in the district’s operations.

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I also began working full time with the Sewell Team that fall. This was a tremendous opportunity to work alongside a faith based company committed to leadership growth. I served as the Learning and Development Coordinator through May.

As you can imagine, my schedule was pretty full between Sewell, PTA at Jordan, PTA for the city, and Grace Point. I was loving it!

Out of nowhere, Grace Point began to see our strongest ministry season in the late winter and early spring. As we approached Easter for 2013, we knew this was a prime opportunity to reach our neighbors and coworkers. It was also during this season that Christy stepped up to lead the worship band.

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On Easter we had 149 people in attendance. That was two times the size of our normal attendance at the time. We shared in baptisms and had fired up the grill for lunch while the kids hunted eggs and played. We also held a balloon launch reminding us of the resurrection.

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The spring had been a great season of ministry and now it was time to move into summer. Big changes were on the way for our family.

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12 years in 12 days (part 10)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

As we wrapped up the Spring of 2011, we were in for new steps of faith with Grace Point and our membership. These new steps of faith would send many of our members on some type of service trip.

Channon and Elizabeth joined the team from Houston First Church of God on a trip to Haiti. Their work including a building project and assisting in a medical clinic.

About 25 GPers ranging in age from 7 to 82 began serving with a local homeless ministry team. This team would spend Sunday mornings preparing lunches for 60 people once a month through December.

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Some of you may be wondering how we could send a team on Sunday mornings. This was possible because we had changed our worship gathering time from Sunday morning to Saturday night. We made this change for a couple of key reasons. First, we were committed to reaching people not going to church and we thought maybe a reason people didn’t attend church was because of other obligations on Sunday morning. Secondly, we had been unable to find a worship leader for several months and meeting on Saturday nights would allow us to utilize some of our friends in the community who were worship leaders at other churches.

The Saturday night worship gatherings was clearly announced as an experiment. We ran the program through the summer. By late July we had come to see that it was really hard to change your Saturday routines. So, we in August we announced we were going back to Sundays after Labor Day Weekend. The amazing thing, during that season of experimenting, we didn’t lose a single family. Sure, many were not as faithful in attendance as they could have been, but everyone of them stuck through the season and returned with us in the fall!

While we were still in the midst of our Saturday night services, Christy went on a trip to Asia! Working with Project Partner, she was a part of an English Teaching Team. The more than two weeks away proved to be extremely challenging for her. Some of the challenge was physical, some emotional, and some spiritual.

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The physical challenge was a result of a car accident we had been in about a week before she was to leave. We were returning from a meeting of Church Planters in Austin, when a pick up truck carrying a 20′ flatbed trailer, rear ended us. At first we didn’t think the accident was that major. We couldn’t see any significant damage to the vehicle and none of us had any visible bumps or bruises. The next day, Christy began to feel the pain. The accident had jarred her body and created significant back pain. In an attempt to relieve the issue, she was prescribed a steroid pack that she reacted badly to and then we had serious doubts as to whether or not she would be going on the trip.

As I said, she did end up going, but as she was flying to Hong Kong, she nearly passed out on her flight. She had the unnerving and movie like experience of hearing, “If there is a doctor on the plane, please press your call button.” She knew that was for her. For the first few days of her trip she could barely participate. After receiving an acupuncture treatment, she was in much better condition for the remainder of her journey.

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The physical pain was intensified by the emotional separation. This was Christy’s longest trip away from the kids! She was also traveling with a group that she barely knew and she struggled because she thought she was a burden to the rest of the team. When the trip was over, and she stepped through the secure area at the airport in Midland, she collapsed into the arms of her babies with tears flowing.

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Christy’s spiritual challenge was trusting that God could care for her and her family when they were separated by half the globe.

About a month before Christy left, her grandmother, Teena, went into the hospital and the doctors had told the family she was in her last days. After moving Teena to the Hospice House, family members in Texas and Arkansas came out to be with Teena in her final days. After more than two weeks at Hospice, Teena rebounded and was transferred to a long term care facility.

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The summer was filled with emotion.

While Christy was away, the GP team served the homeless and also held our final backpack giveaway. This time, instead of hosting a special service asking families to come to us, we chose to set up a booth during registration at Jordan Elementary. We chose to set up at Jordan because this was the community we were directly trying to minister to. Our team sat there each day and offered backpacks to any and all who needed or wanted them. Left over packs were given to the school district’s student assistance and support team to be distributed as needed.

In October, I went to Berlin, Germany, with three others from GP and a team of pastors from the Texas General Assembly of the Church of God. The trip was an educational trip as we learned from missionaries about the work they were doing to help reach residents of this international post-Christian city.

When I returned, we had our first baby boom at Grace Point. We had four babies arrive! So we held a baby dedication for the families.

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As Halloween approached, I couldn’t let the previous year’s trick or treating success go without begin challenged. So, once again I brought out the video projector and this time I connected our Wii Game System. We had fallen in love with the Michael Jackson Dance Experience as a family so we shared the game with our neighbors and trick or treaters. Using computer speakers and the video projector shining onto the garage door, we danced to Thriller throughout the trick or treating. At different points there were 20+ kids and adults dancing on our driveway!

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In December, I baptized Andrew. He is a bit of a ham and highly expressive. So, when the water turned out to be hotter than expected, he practically climbed up my shoulder like a cat when I went to submerge him. It was truly a moment you had to see.

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We made sure the water was warm that day because we had already seen our share of snow that December. But the desert cools and heats quickly!

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After a nice winter, we picked up the paint rollers to help with some spring cleaning at the local YMCA daycare. A team of more than a dozen GPers came out to repaint all the classrooms of the center. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun too.

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Shortly after the work day, Christy’s sister’s family was able to come to Odessa. The wind blew them all the way in from Michigan.

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Easter 2012, was once again a highlight for the GP family. We celebrated the day with egg hunts and baptisms. We baptized three that day.

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Closing out our 10th year in Odessa, some friends gave us a new dog. You may have seen pics of Dee Dee in some of the previous posts. She probably more than the rest of us was impacted the most by the arrival of Theo! I will say, I’m not sure he would have survived house training if he weren’t so cute.

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As we prepared for the summer of 2012, we were making a bid on the dream property and I had an adventure to Denver awaiting as well as an unexpected birthday surprise!

12 years in 12 days (part 9)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

In comparison to the summer of ’09, the summer of 2010 was relatively quiet. We started the summer off by taking two groups to Camp Powers in the Piney Woods of East Texas. I took the teens for the first week, and Christy took the older elementary aged kids the second. Camp Powers was become a special place for our family and for the emerging GPers. For many, it served as a place to hear from and think about God more clearly. Camp Powers was also just a great place for desert dwellers because it is encircled by trees! Trees are a rarity in Odessa and they helped make the nine hour drive across the state worth it.

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During the summer of 2010 I began working part time for the local newspaper. The job wasn’t anything glamorous, it was just helping us make the ends meet. This was necessary because after reviewing the finances of Grace Point, the leadership team and I were uncomfortable seeing more than 60% of our income being used to cover rent and staffing. We chose this as a temporary fix. As a family, Christy now became the principal income as I took a 75% reduction in pay. The cut seems dramatic, and it was, but it was necessary if Grace Point was going to continue. Though we had been able to attract people to our Easter gathering earlier that spring, we had not been able to capture their attention to return. Income was down and attendance was too. We had lost about 25% of our attendees in the move from Blanton Elementary, in a central area of town to Jordan Elementary, on the far north edge of town.

In July, we took a trip north. We drove through the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma to see our friends, the Littichs, who had moved to central Kansas. It had been a year since they had left and we missed them. From their house, we pushed on further to Ottumwa, Iowa. Christy’s parents had met and married in Ottumwa. Cheryl’s family still lives there today. It was fun to connect with Christy’s family. On the way home, we picked up a stowaway. Zachary, Christy’s nephew came back with us to spend a few weeks in Odessa.

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As the new school year approached, Grace Point had saved enough money to purchase 400 backpacks for the community. Additionally, we choose to pre-fill the packs with basic school supplies to cut down on the chaos we had experienced the year before. We worked as a team for about three weeks preparing for the big day of the give away.

Unlike the year before, the economy was headed in a positive direction and the need was not nearly as great. We had just over 200 people show up to receive a backpack. We took the remaining packs to the local park near the Boys and Girls Club and gave them away at the end of their day camp.

As school started, things were changing for our family. Christy had moved from teaching 6th grade to now teaching 3rd. She was excited about the change as the pre-pubescent hormones of 6th grade had begun to wear on her. Andrew was entering Kindergarten and Caitlyn was entering 2nd. The biggest change in this was that Caitlyn would now be attending school at Jordan Elementary, our neighborhood school, and Andrew would be attending Dowling Elementary, where Christy was teaching. This was a big change. No longer would the girls be headed out in the morning with the boys to figure the day out. We were now divided oldest and youngest. Christy and Andrew, both youngest, would head to Dowling around 7am, and Caitlyn and I, the oldest, would walk to  Jordan around 7:25am. We were fortunate enough to have Caitlyn’s Kindergarten teacher, teach Andrew too. Mrs. Evans holds a special place in our family. After all, she’s the one who taught the kids to do The Friday Dance.

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With time on my hands, I began to volunteer at Jordan Elementary, hosting the monthly Super Student Lunches. This was a great time to celebrate the accomplishments of students at Jordan as well as to begin to serve the community where we were know hosting our worship gatherings.

In September, my dad and brother came out for a visit. It was the first time they had been out in sometime. With the new house, there was plenty of room to play and they took full advantage of the space. My brother, Grady, introduced the kids to Nerf War in the house!

On 10-10-10, we celebrated Grace Point’s 4th Anniversary. For our official celebration we took a group picture. It is one of my favorite moments of GP.  Some of the faces were first time guests, but everyone jumped in for a great big smile.

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As Halloween approached, I wanted to try something different than the usual trick or treat experience. Many had suggested the Grace Point host a Halloween Night Event. This was very common throughout Odessa. Most churches host some sort of fair or trunk-n-treats type event. I wanted to see if we could use the night to get to know our neighbors a bit better.

Partly inspired by Randy Frazzee telling a story of sitting on his door step with a pot of chili, I grabbed one of the video projectors from the church and set up a movie on the garage door. I thought the Veggie Tales episode, Where is God When I am Scarred was a perfect story for Halloween. This was also the first year for Halloween in the our new subdivision. Wow! The streets flooded with Trick or Treaters. It looked like a scene from Norman Rockwall’s American images. In our previous eight years, we might have seen a dozen kids on Halloween, combined. This was different. We ran out of candy had saw over 100 kids. Our neighbors across the street ran out of candy, but they loved watching the kids come up and stair at the giant singing vegetables.

Near the end of the trick or treating time, a pick up truck pulled up in front of my house and the driver just sat in his cab. I was busy talking with some guests and entertaining friends, but I noticed the driver was really slow to get out of his truck. I gently stepped to get a better view of the driver because by this point he was beginning to wig me out. As he got out of his truck, he approached me very directly. I intentionally stepped back, away from the party on my drive way to engage with this man.

He quickly said, “I know this is going to sound weird but I need to talk with you. I saw you earlier tonight with your kids going house to house and I knew I needed to come find you. So when I was coming down your street with my kids, I knew where I could find you. I know this sounds weird, but you have something I need! Here are the names of my family.”

He handed me a notebook with his name, along with a woman’s and three children names and contact information. As you can imagine, I am a bit skeptical and partly freaked out by the guy.

I replied, “Well, you should know I am a pastor.”

“That’s it!” he quickly responded. “I’m the black sheep of my family and I need your light.”

We talked for a bit more and I agreed to meet with him at a later date to talk about his situation.

As he left, I remembered meeting him earlier that night, one street over while taking Caitlyn and Andrew trick or treating. I had commented to the oldest of the kids how I liked his costume’s hat. It was a stove top style hat and the boy was dressed as Dracula. Beyond that, I don’t recall saying anything else to the group.

When we did meet, about a month later, I found out the names he had given me where of his common-law wife, her two oldest children, and their shared child. They had been through a major family crisis over the past year and were needing some guidance and help. Eventually, the mother and kids began attending Grace Point. He would pop in every now and then. I was honored when they asked me to officiate their wedding some two years later.

That story is still one I marvel at.

In November, Christy’s paternal grandmother, Teena, came to live in Odessa with Terry and Cheryl.

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We had settled into a good rhythm as a family and a church. Attendance was stabilized and many of the folks attending seemed to know each other before showing up for the first time. This was a stark contrast to years before as most of our attendees had never met one another until they came to GP.

It was around this time that I began to look for further opportunities to supplement my still reduced income. I was introduced to two groups in 2009 that paved a way for two conversations in mid-December that would prove to be blessings to my family’s financial situation as well as my development as a public speaker.

The first conversation was with a local business owner who I had met at a Men’s Retreat in 2009. Collin Sewell was working hard to lead his companies in a Christ-honoring fashion and so I offered to help in any way he saw fit. After a few conversations we identified a need among his team for areas of enrichment and development in personal lives, so I began working for Sewell. At first I lead a financial management course and then later I served as the lead trainer for new hire orientations.

The second conversation was in Chicago with a team that trains public speakers. EDC Inc, challenged me as a public speaker in ways I never could have imagined. I had always been comfortable speaking in front of groups, but I did it by intuition. EDC helped break down the mechanics of the best communicators into a reproducible skill set. After the Chicago conversation, I worked with them for nearly 18 months to become one of their trainers.

As 2011 kicked off, Grace Point was coming along and the winter and spring months proved to be pretty stable and quiet. Since that’s not my personality, things needed to change! Easter was coming and we needed to remind the neighborhood that we were here and that Jesus mattered!

So for Easter we hosted a huge Spring Fest in the park on Saturday. We had 5,000 eggs, kites, face painting, feed the elephant, and more crazy festival type events. The turn out was great. Some joined us for Sunday’s worship gathering.

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2011 turned into a big year for Grace Point to serve others. More on how we served others in the next post.

12 years in 12 days (part 8)

This series is intended to be a brief sketch of my time in Odessa, Texas.

The summer of 2009 proved to be an emotional one. Our dear friends, Henry, Kate, and Emma Littich, were moving. The Littichs had been among the closest to our family and Emma was like a sister to Caitlyn and Andrew. Henry had accepted a new position in Kansas and they moved in June. Along with the Littichs departure, two other families we had journeyed with left Grace Point as well. One moved out of the area and another felt lead to participate in another church in town. This was not how we had hoped to start the summer.

In May, Grace Point had received a sizable gift from the West Texas District of the Church of God in Texas. We were anticipating taking GP to the next level in part because of this gift, but also do to the momentum and success we had developed over the previous year. The hope was we could use this money as seed money for a new ministry headquarters or some other way to bless the community we lived in.

We were finally hitting a healthy stride and the carpet felt like it was taken from underneath us with the departure of these key families.

Just as they were leaving, a new family was coming in. Christy’s parents were moving to Odessa. Terry had retired from ministry and they wanted to be in the warm weather with the grandkids. It was great having them in the area.

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About three weeks after they moved to Odessa, Christy and I signed a contract to build a new home in a developing subdivision, four blocks from Terry and Cheryl. After living more than 14 hours away, we would now be less than 5 minutes from each other.

The new subdivision was emerging in 2009. Christy and I had worked hard throughout the spring to position ourselves to be able to move there and serve as missionaries to the new residents. We had heard good thing about the property developers and we saw this as a prime opportunity to get into a bigger house, but also to grow with new families and friends.IMG_0328

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Closing out the summer, we also celebrated by baptizing five people, including Caitlyn. After the baptism in a member’s pool, I declared the pool open for swimming and Andrew jumped right into the deeper section, without his floatation device. We scrambled to rescue him! Afterwards, everyone remarked about how calm I was. The the truth is I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of everyone by hollering at him like I really wanted to!

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So our summer was mixed with emotion.

The summer of 2009 also brought an economic downturn for the city of Odessa. Unemployment spiked just before school. With most families living paycheck to paycheck, GP lead the charge to help in a tangible way. We held our first backpack giveaway. Using some of the money from the large gift from earlier in the year, we purchased 500 backpacks and mobilized GPers to bring in additional school supplies to be given away just before school started.

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On the Sunday that we gave the supplies away, the line was nearly a block long. The guests filled the gym to a standing room crowd and when the supplies and backpacks were given away there was little left behind. It was an amazing day.

In September, Terry had a heart attack while at a Men’s Retreat south of Austin. He had the attack at about 3am on Sunday morning, so I was scrambling to get Cheryl to him as well as figure out how to get things taken care of for GP’s worship gathering just a few hours away. Austin is approximately 6 hours from Odessa. We started on the road around daybreak. One hour south of Odessa, a deer ran across the road, colliding with Cheryl and I in our minivan. We had just paid it off two weeks prior. The deer totaled the van. We ended up flying Cheryl to Austin. Fortunately, Terry was with his brother at the retreat. After a short stay in the hospital, Terry and Cheryl made it home without any other issues.

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In October, Christy’s aunt Linda died. Christy, Cheryl, and Terry traveled to Illinois for her funeral.

Our hope was the backpack giveaway would translate into additional ministry opportunities in our community and new families would participate in GP. This did not happen and ministry turned difficult. The loss of key families at GP along with a series of personal family crises for us had a ripple effect. Though we did have new families come in, they were not able to immediately fill the void created and we needed a fresh start.

When we began planning to move to the new neighborhood, we did not anticipate moving Grace Point as well. Yet, as we began to survey the neighborhood, there was a great building that stood out as a potential ministry headquarters and community center. The Old Fire Station had been turned over to a non-profit group. The group had dwindled in participation through the years and the building was in need of some TLC. After talking with the group, we thought there might be a possibility of obtaining the facility from the group, while allowing them to continue to operate their non-profit at the center.

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So, with that in mind, we moved Grace Point from Blanton Elementary to Jordan Elementary at the turn of the new year.  2010 would be a fresh start for GP.

The move was hard on GP. There had been some grumbling by a long time family that was unhappy about the direction of GP. I had to have the hardest conversation of my career during this time. Over a hot dog, I had to say to my friend of many years I could no longer be the pastor for his family. Things had reached a point where for the sake of GP, we had to part ways. It was the hardest thing I’ve done as a leader. No one had ever trained me to ask a parishioner and friend to find another pastor. I am still amazed at the grace he showed to me in moving on. I’m glad to know I can still count him as a friend today.

As Christy and I settled into the new house and neighborhood in January, we had a lot of work to do personally and professionally. Christy was struggling with teaching sixth graders and I was struggling to find new people to attend GP.

Caitlyn continued to excel at school.

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Andrew had won the hearts of his preK teachers to the point that they were now attending and serving at Grace Point. As we moved into the new location, Ms. Lori and Ms. Kim brought a freshness to the ministry efforts, especially in our children’s ministry areas.

Easter was becoming a big deal at GP. For 2010, we worked hard and nearly tripled our regular attendance. Instead of a big egg hunt, this year we opted to give away kites. We also baptized two on that day. Dená and her son Trace had come to our Easter service a year before.

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The year was full! As we entered the summer of 2010 progress was being made, but it was different than expected.

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