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I’m starting a monthly Gathering…

This post is my incessant rambling about starting a gathering in the Phx area.
I love all Church sizes, shapes, and styles.
I have ZERO desire to criticize any church-any time. I have ZERO desire to compete or compare with another Church who is doing what Jesus desires. I love all those churches and pastors and people.


There is no right or wrong way to do Church as long as it honors the teachings and commands of Jesus. I started Parkway Christian Church in 1997 and led it through the era of 2010, where we merged and became one Church with 2 locations with Christ’s Church of the Valley. That was 12 years ago. For the last 12 years, I’ve been wrestling with the Lord and asking Him to get me back into something biblically influential for Him. Every door has been closed by the Lord or others. I’m convinced that God has been trying to tell me something for 12 years. How bullheaded am I? God has been pointing to this very thing that has been under my nose for the last 8 years. I started Return Hope International 9 years ago, and we do work in Uganda, Africa. We’ve got a school that’ll hold around 800 kids. We’ve got around 40 acres of farmland. We have a Church that meets in the school. We help women stuck in the sex trade to learn tailoring and earn money. We drill freshwater wells, and it’s a joy to watch people who have NEVER had a fresh-water-well since the beginning of time receive clean water. The only thing Return Hope International is missing is an American gathering.
I corresponded with the IRS for 2 years, helping them understand Return Hope is actually a Church, not a mission organization. They eventually agreed.

So…
I’m starting an hour-ish simplified Gathering every 3rd Thursday of each month. It all Begins Oct 20.
— Teachings will be Bible focused and each month will be different. (Many of the gatherings might be more of an interactive classroom setting for those who’d like to ask questions.)
— Small Groups? (I will help this if desired, but the responsibility will be on the group attenders)
— No plans to high overhead facilities or property.
— Parents in charge of spiritually raising their own kids.
— Any tithes and offerings or donations are dedicated to the mission of Jesus locally and internationally through a tax deductible contribution through Return Hope International.

The following is my response to an opinion about all this on my Facebook post…The push-back was focused and a fair concern about the sustainability of it all…and all of it being too burdensome on people, home usage, etc.

My Response:
I have secured a public facility to rent for our gathering once a month. (TINY Fraction of the cost of owning) And that is the only time we meet for all group gatherings. I’m not asking anyone to use their homes for anything. Totally agree about a company-ready home being hard to maintain…I don’t want anyone coming to my house. :)LOL
Homes would only be used if the owner wants to host a small group, etc. Groups don’t have to meet every week either. The small group curriculum will be…..the Bible. (I have a great recommendation on how to use the Bible for small group discussion) I repeat, Small groups are not something I am administering, it will be completely volunteer and self led.)

As far as those watching and wondering about this all…I’ve reserved a facility(Rio Vista Rec Center on 101 and T-Bird) for Oct 20 for our first all-group gathering at 6PM. I also booked every Third-Thursday after that. It doesn’t matter where we live in The Valley; that location is easily accessible and sustainable to attend…especially when it is only once a month.

I’m 52 years old. I’ve Been there-done that in Church world. I’m not interested in a consumer-driven mentality, or cultural christianity. I have no patience for personal preferences, not even my own. This is about Jesus and the simple ways He wishes we’d do things. Covid impact and Culture Issues have changed things dramatically, might the Church need to adjust its methodology a bit? Unapologetically, I’ve always been a disrupter. This really isn’t disruptive. And I have zero fear of failure. I’ve just got to try this. If it doesn’t sustain itself, I’ll keep serving Jesus the way I have.


Return Hope has existed for 9 years doing Jesus stuff the whole time in Uganda, Africa. Return Hope is actually legally declared a Church 501c3 Not-for-profit already.
It’s time to add a gathering to this side of the big pond. So Kelli and I are gonna go for it.
I appreciate any prayers and any early adopters who want to be learners with us.
While I’m at it, this idea I’m referencing is already being done worldwide by many. My thoughts here are not new, and the Bible says there is nothing new under the sun anyway.

A thought/idea I would like to disrupt. The thought about…”GOTTA DO LIFE TOGETHER ALL THE TIME.” I.e….go to each other’s kid’s games, potlucks, and breakfasts, mission work together, play in the park together, travel together, sing together, etc etc etc. There is nothing wrong with that…but it is all exhausting. When the Church is always together, it often turns inward, circles the wagons, and isn’t as friendly to outsiders as the insiders wish to believe. God continually, in Scripture, scattered and broke up the Church so those who don’t believe in Him can be reached. I think the Church should meet less together…learn to feed themselves….then be Jesus to anybody in their line of sight and circles of influence. Then Once a month…let’s get together and see the crowd God gathers, grow and produce spiritual fruit!

There is zero pressure to make this about all of us doing life together all the time. We’re all swamped. The phrase “doing life together” is overwhelming, intimidating, and can’t be sustained. I am fully convinced the young pastors doing all this “life-together” are burning their candles at both ends. Almost all people are overwhelmed in our culture. The last thing an unchurched person wants to do is have more meetings and more people to care for. LESS IS MORE!

This is about a stripped-down gathering with all kinds of flexibility. I don’t want to put on a show for anybody. This is going to evolve with time. For now, its me teaching the Bible in the way and style God has gifted me. We’ll take communion when we gather. Everything else is open to shift.

Those who join have so much flexibility in what they do or don’t want to do. The most essential thing in this gathering is everybody spending time in the Word/Jesus daily on their own. Then…teaching your kids of all ages to do the same. (Most agree, the common day youth ministry is not working well and hasn’t been for a long time.) My challenge will be for all to be like Jesus to those IN our lines of sight and TO our circles of influence for Jesus. IN-TO. I’m no longer willing to hand-hold anyone to the gates of Heaven. Get off your arse, and walk your self with Jesus. It’s time for us to feed ourselves. I prefer to read my Bible and spend time with Jesus every day. Attend a worship service once a month, and impact my lines of sight and circles of influence for Jesus. It’s Church without millions of dollars spent on facilities and land. Nothing wrong with millions spent on such; I just don’t want to.

We Americans are a bunch of try-hards, we are a bunch of corporate growth competitors, addicted to leadership and it’s slowly killing us. Jesus says His yoke is light and His burden is easy to carry. We are guilty of not making it light and easy. Let’s change that.

Less is more! Keep It simple stupid! God desires us to live a life of …

“Come to me all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens (all of us) and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” Matthew 11:28-30.

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.”
1 Thessalonians‬ ‭4:11-12‬

And…

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭23:1-4‬ ‭

Pastors and Christians are dropping like flies to stress, sin, busy-busy-busy. etc.
We’re all a bunch of try-harder crazies.
Slow down. Less is more.

Well..I’m gonna try this. Stay tuned. See you Oct 20. Call me if you have questions. 623-628-1400, or email me at trent@returnhope.com


“You are not welcome here.”

I received a call recently from a man living several states away from me in the USA. As he spoke with me, I could discern that something was bothering him. I could hear it in his voice. Do you know what I mean? His initial discussion was just introductory; how are you? I am fine; the weather is changing, etc. But the speed and tone of his voice sounded like a backpacker hiking 50 miles uphill with 75 pounds of gear on his back. After several minutes of some good small talk, the weighted voice on the other end of the line said, “The reason I called was to ask you about something I experienced at my Church the other day, and I wanted to ask you about how you would handle something like this.”

My conversation soon turned to the subject of the burden I sensed he was carrying. He proceeded to tell me what happened at his Church and how he was directly involved with it all. I think I can sum up the experience without having to tell every detail of the situation.

He proceeded to tell me how he encountered a young lady wandering around the church lobby and communion prep room of the Church. She was clearly under the influence of some drug, underdressed for the winter conditions, dirty and messy, and helping herself to the communion elements, as she was hungry. She was not violent or causing any crucial circumstances to frighten or threaten anyone. My caller told me that he proceeded to address her with kindness carefully; he asked her if he could help her with anything. (This is a challenging situation to encounter during a church service, how would you respond to a scene/person like this?) As she began answering him, the police immediately arrived and arrested her and began escorting her out of the Church. It became clear that some people from the Church had called 911 earlier and asked the police to deal with this stranger. The man on the other end of my phone told me that this young woman told the police that she was cold, hungry, and wanted to go to the Church service, and she resisted a little bit from being taken back outside into the cold. She was placed under arrest and escorted out anyway. This young woman is known in the community by the police. It was not the first time someone called the cops on her. It seemed she would prefer to go to a warm jail and have food than wander the cold winter streets. What we do know is that this young, drugged-out woman has a background of being sex trafficked, abused, drug addictions, theft, and other troubles. Would you agree with me that something deep inside her soul told her that she should step inside a Church building as soon as she could?

The man on the phone then proceeded to tell me what the officer said, after being told by this young lady say she wanted to stay for the Church service…

The officer replied to her… “Mam, you are not welcome here.”

The man I was talking on the phone with said, “that phrase hit me like a ton of bricks.” At that moment, I now understood why the caller sounded like he was carrying such a heavy burden.
After hearing the officer make that pronouncement, my caller tried to tell the officer that her statement wasn’t technically true. The officer looked at him quickly, cuffed the young woman, and escorted her out of the Church. The words and quick look from the officer pierced him as he realized that this woman wasn’t welcome here, and her removal by the police proved it.

I now understood why the caller sounded like he was carrying such a heavy burden. I am grateful he called me, and I am thankful that I got the privilege to help this man carry his burden. Nobody should carry loads alone, not this caller, not the young woman arrested, not you. Jesus says it best.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

–Jesus of nazareth

After hearing the story, I told this man how he couldn’t do much of anything else once the police arrived. I encouraged him not to be so hard on himself, and we then strategized about his next steps. Clearly, the Holy Spirit prompted my caller to contemplate the culture and circumstances that caused the cops to be called at his Church and then instruct this woman that she was not welcome at this Church.

We talked about a what-if. What if this woman was Jesus in disguise? If not Jesus, then maybe an angel disguised? What if this whole scenario was God testing the Church regarding how they treat someone described as one of society’s, ‘least of these.’

“I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, you were doing it to me.”

Jesus–Matthew 25:40

My caller was haunted for days regarding that officer’s statement.

I am confident you will agree that the very worst declaration the officer could have said to the woman at this church service was declared. My caller and I spent some time simply talking about the state of the Church in America today and its faithfulness to the teachings and commands of Jesus. Our tone was not judgmental; instead, it was a tone of burden. Our final discussion before we hung up was about his strategy regarding what to do about this whole disheartening scenario. We brainstormed what we wish would have happened with this young woman, a least of these, drunkenly wandering into the Church service.

I wish that Church would have had a deliberately strategized and practiced plan of what to do if this young lady walks through their doors, especially if it happens on a Sunday morning. We talked about who was responsible for setting the tone and culture that would immediately take notice of this young lady, in her terrible condition, as she limped into Church on Sunday morning. I wish the Church had a plan to respond to this woman immediately.

How amazing would it have been if those present were trained and prepared to approach this young woman with a blanket? Add to that a warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate, a small room to sit and feel safe. Add to those a strategized team of ministry volunteers equipped with resources, security training, medical personnel, phone numbers, plans, and follow-through to help this young woman recover if she is willing to receive the help. Is this too much to ask for from the Church? Is it fair for me to ask the following questions? Isn’t the Church supposed to be a Hospital for the sick? A Coastguard for the drowning? A Refuge for the threatened and fleeing? A Clothing shop for the naked? A Water Well for the thirsty? A Friend for the lonely? A Family for the orphan? It is also a gathering for the body of Christ. It is also a school for the disciple. We are the Church. The previous descriptors are not just something your Church facility on the corner of Main street USA and your Church staff are responsible for. YOU are the Church. Some say, “It starts with you!” But I’m afraid I have to disagree, in this situation, with that statement. The Bible tells us that preachers and teachers will be held to a higher standard and judgment than non-preachers and teachers.

So, I strategized with the guy on the other end of the phone. We talked about what to do to get the ball rolling regarding making the change in his Church. Next time, the goal would be to be fully ready for a ‘least of these’ wandering into a Church service. The plan will be for all to be strategically prepared. Not only prepared but praying for the least of these to walk through their doors!

I recommended that he request a meeting early in the week and especially suggested that he not approach the Pastor before the worship service starts next Sunday. (Remember the focus required before giving a speech, so protect this time for your Pastor by having difficult conversations after the message.

As he arrives for the appointment, I recommend that he discuss this whole scenario with the Lead Pastor by remembering one thing. Less is more. I challenged my caller to do very little talking. I recommended that he walk into the office, have a seat, tell the Pastor how much you appreciate him and your attending Church each weekend, is proof of such. Proceed to say to the Pastor what happened and say to the Pastor what the officer told the young woman…”The officer told her, ‘you are not welcome here.” Then ask the Pastor this…”What do you think about the officer telling that woman that she is not welcome here?”

Then just Listen.

Don’t say a word, even if it means total silence for minutes. Just sit there and be still. I told the caller the only thing I could recommend to him was what I would do at that moment if I were him. I told him that I would listen to the Pastor carefully. The Pastor’s response would become the epicenter of my next decision. His response would help me determine whether to call that Church my home from there out. If so, then I would fully assist in developing our entire Church body, starting from the pulpit, to the parking lot, to the perimeters of the planet, to be the hands and feet of Jesus in any situation. Or, if the Pastor just shrugged this whole situation off, it would begin, for me, searching for a Church that takes the Teachings and Commands of Jesus severe enough to demonstrate that Heaven and Hell are in the balance and eternity is at stake, and how we respond to the least of these is critical.

Oh, I pray that the pastor senses the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and I pray what the officer told the young lady haunts that pastor to his very soul’s core. I pray that Church has a trajectory change in focus, purpose, and passion. I pray that their new Church mantra will become something like this…

“We love people so much, we will serve anyone in our line of site who is hungry, thirsty, lonely, or has a shattered life, in the name of Jesus.”

Oh what a Church that will be!


CONTROL (Wisdom from Moses’s Mother)

Life is overwhelming. That is the way life works. It is testing us all. Life is going to throw problems at you, and often, those problems will come at you like 25 fast-ball pitches thrown at once. Life is Murphy’s Law; “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” It is astonishing how Murphy’s Law, devastatingly impacts the Israelites, in just one chapter. In Genesis 50, the Israelites were overwhelmingly successful in Egypt, and in Exodus 1, a new Egyptian Ruler insecurely takes notice and things go wrong. His insecurities cause him to enslave the Israelites, and enforce serious mistreatment upon them. This new Pharaoh commanded the childbirth nurses to kill all Hebrew boys as they were being delivered. When that didn’t work, this Pharaoh ordered all Hebrew newborn males to be thrown into the Nile River.  A waterproofed Basket floated Moses down the Nile River, as his mother relinquished control of him, into the hands of Almighty God. Imagine the fear of Moses’ mother, pregnant with Moses, as Pharaoh’s order became public news. When Moses was born, his mother hid him for as long as possible, to save his life. We all know how hard it is to hide the cries of a baby. After three months of effort, Moses’s mother couldn’t keep him a secret any longer. She made a basket, waterproofed it, placed her son in it, and released him down the river. She actually obeyed Pharaoh’s orders. She chose to put Moses in the Nile herself, instead of releasing him into the hands of the brutal Egyptian soldiers. Can you imagine her anguish, as she watched him innocently float away? I have questions for Miriam, the older sister of Moses, who ran along the riverbank, watching him float into the hands of an Egyptian Princess. Miriam’s sly and deliberate strategy, in that moment, is astonishing. Maybe the theme of this historical event is summed up in one word; Control.

There comes a time in all our lives where we realize we must tweak how we fight for control. Would it inspire you to know, that you can give up the kind of fighting that leaves you continually exhausted, and instead, fight in a way that refreshes you? God and you both know life is a fight. God must truly celebrate when He witnesses us learn to fight smarter, instead of harder. Fighting harder is all about you and your effort. Fighting smarter is all about attacking life, but by relinquishing all control into the hands of the Creator of all things. To use a flying illustration, fighting harder is having God as your co-pilot. Fighting smarter is letting God be the pilot, and you’re His co-pilot. You’ll always be in some form of a fight, but who you allow to have ultimate control, makes all the difference. Controlling anything requires tremendous energy. You ultimately have control over only one thing in life. You control(give permission)to who gets to be the one in control. If you are currently the one who is controlling things, you will recognize it by how much it exhausts you. When you are tempted to continually control anything, just remember Moses’s mother, and how she had to let go of controlling her son’s life, and entrusted his future into the hands of God. Be encouraged, God still wants you to be wise, strategic, deliberate, and sly, but all control belongs to Him. What fights are you currently controlling? Do you think the outcomes of your fights will be better if left in your hands of control, or will they be better if you let go of that basket, and entrust the outcomes into the hands of Jesus? 

Meditate and Respond:

  1. Control is a difficult thing to define and notice. I implore you to humbly and authentically pause and write down the things in your life that are exhausting you. Exhaustion isn’t all telling, but often we get seriously exhausted by trying to control things that we have no business controlling. Do you have trusted friends that you could give permission to point out areas where they think you are too controlling? If so, humbly ask them, and do not get upset at them, if they risk sharing some truth with you. 
  2. If question one revealed anything to you about how controlling you are, then write out 3 of the simplest steps you can take, starting today, to begin to train yourself to let go of control. Trust God with all results and outcomes. Also, think of a way to daily remind yourself to keep letting go of control. It will be a hard new habit to create, and the temptation to become the “pilot” again will be huge. 
  3. If you truly trust God, and fully acknowledge that God is with you, then you need not fear what is ahead of you. C.S. Lewis said, “Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties.” 
  4. Bible Verse to Meditate on: Psalm 135:6-7, 2 Chronicles 20:6, Psalm 93:1, Romans 8:28, Psalm 46:1, Luke 1:37, Ephesians 3:20, Matthew 10:16, Psalm 27:1. 


How do you Identify yourself?

The strongest worldly force in the human design, is the need to remain consistent with how you define yourself.  In other words, your identity. One of the most powerful statements someone can make, is this; “I am a ____________.”  What did you put in that blank? That identity is the very thing that causes you to order your life the way you do. It’s what motivates you, even subconsciously.

The greatest day of a person’s life is when they fully come to realize that life is not a comfort-centric experience, but a growth-centric experience.

When we come to terms with where we realistically and currently are, with no blaming of others, no victimization, no woulda-shoulda-coulda thoughts, realization of the fact that our environment doesn’t define us, but gives us the opportunity to define ourselves, only then can we be free.  You may not have liberty, but you most definitely can have freedom. Freedom is the ability to know who/what defines you and that definition can never be taken from you.  Others can steal your liberty, but never your freedom. We can only relinquish our freedom, it cannot be taken. With that understanding, our behavior then, is best ordered, and self-controlled. Too many allow their skillset to define them. Education teaches this destructive mentality, and teaches us to be good at a skillset that ends up forcing a defining identity upon us, and that false identity keeps us in ‘their’ box. A box like a coffin. Freedom is attained, and is self-controlled, when we fully understand that our identity must be concreted in the fact that we are God’s masterpiece, His most prized in all creation. So much so, that Jesus sacrificed His life to try to get you back as a personal friend. Anything else that we allow to define us, can be lost instantly. Being God’s masterpiece, His most prized in all creation, lasts for eternity, no matter what circumstances we ever encounter. I pray you will accept this freedom-giving identity before your body becomes a box of bones. Talk about identity…The Great I Am, cherishes you, loves you, and calls you His favorite in all creation!


Church/State Compliance due to Covid-19 in America…

The Apostle Paul, under the teaching of Jesus, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote in Romans 12:21, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”  

There’s a lot of talk lately about doing good through compliance, respect, courtesy, and obedience to the Gov, and respect for our fellow citizens. This fact is a good thing. There is and has been a tremendous amount of compliance from Churches and Christians over the past 6 months. One would think this would be respected and appreciated by non believers and government officials. One might think it would win them over. Time will tell.

My gut…not always accurate…tells me the opposite is happening. The rest of this post is simply my opinion. As I often say, and already repeat in this post…Time Tells All things. My personal gut tells me that the American Church…which does have more freedom than any other Church group around the world. (America is very good in that respect) So…it is an unarguable fact that we as the Church, that live in America, have done a lot of good, as Romans 12:21 states, through compliance and obedience to the Government’s wishes and laws. Is it too pushy of me to be concerned that the Church need be reminded of the other half of God’s mandate found in Romans 12:21? Conquer evil.

I’ve witnessed Christians across the USA, bend over backwards to do the compliance part. In America we have the God given freedom to use the law to do the other half of Scripture’s command too…to Conquer, using good.  

The Law is Good. It can be used by the Christian to accomplish much.

Christianity in America will not retain freedom through compliance, passivity, and courtesy only. I am convinced there are some who would prefer we all simply lay our heads on the chopping block and allow the world to dominate us, end our lives, and send us into eternity. That was Jesus’s role. He came to earth for the propitiation sacrifice required to pay for our sin. Our mission while we are on earth, is not exactly the same as Jesus’s mission while He was here on earth. We are mandated to behave like Jesus, but we are not mandated to have the exact same mission as Jesus. Jesus’s mission was full submission to God and Man. He could not defy, as that would prevent him from dying. He came here to die. Along the way, He did a lot of good, that we also are to do…but His first part of coming to die…is His mission…and His alone. There is only one Lord and Savior, and we are not Him and our mission is different than His.  So, I ask…where is the Christian and the Church that is honoring both sides of the command to Conquer and do Good?

Strength and defiance can be done while also honoring Scripture’s command of remaining good.  The Bible tells us to obey the law of the land. America has been fortunate to have been founded on “We The People” are the law makers…and We The People are the Government of the land. Yes…even Christians living in America.

I copied an article today I found in the News….check it out below…

Pay special attention to the 2nd paragraph below…I capitalized it for easy reference. The full article can be found in The Christian Post Sunday Edition August 30, 2020.

____________________________________________________

The four-page letter posted on the front door of the church accused North Valley Baptist of “failing to prevent those attending, performing and speaking at North Valley Baptist’s services from singing.” 

IN THE LETTER, COUNTY OFFICIALS REVEALED THEY HAD BEEN SENDING AGENTS INTO THE CHURCH TO SPY ON THE CONGREGATION DURING WORSHIP SERVICES. 

“This activity is unlawful,” the notice stated. “The county understands that singing is an intimate and meaningful component of religious worship. However, public health experts have also determined that singing together in close proximity and without face coverings transmits virus particles further in the air than breathing or speaking quietly.” The county demanded that North Valley Baptist “immediately cease” their activities, warning that “failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county.”

____________________________________________________________

There are no easy answers in regards to how to conquer and do good in regards to this topic of Government control and Church Worship Services. We will have to continue to talk it out.

I’m convinced the world will only like Christianity when it fully submits to them.

You will go to hell if you fully submit to the world. The Scripture tells us that we cannot be friends with the world and friends with Jesus at the same time. (James 4:4)

Who are we trying to appease?