Happy Birthday, Freshwater

Yesterday was a big day. Yesterday, the church I call home, the church at which I labor as a pastor, the church at which I gather weekly with my faith family…that church turned six years old.

In the morning service, it was my duty to lead out in some reflection, a time in which I would try to encapsulate in a few weak words all that Freshwater Church has meant to me. And here is what I shared:

When I think of Freshwater, I don’t think of our building (it’s a converted antique mall in need of some repair; it also smells funny in the summer sometimes). I don’t think of our logo (though it’s a fine logo; thanks, Pyeatt). I don’t think of our programs such as our His Kids ministry, or our intern program, or our mission partnerships. There are a lot of things I don’t think of when I think about Freshwater.

So what does come to mind?

Faces.

When I think of my church, I envision the faces of the people who are Freshwater. I mean, “Freshwater Church” is just a title, and titles are words, and words are symbols, and symbols merely represent. Words, in themselves aren’t really anything at all. They point to something, though. And to me, “Freshwater Church” points to faces–more than that, souls. Souls who’ve taught me more about the kingdom of God than they might know, and more about the way an itinerant son of a carpenter’s life can change our lives today than I would have ever imagined.

When I think of Freshwater Church, I think of:

Marie Brooks, who enters and exits the building with the aid of a walker but worships with more passion than anyone else in the building.

John and Lauren Ferguson, whose marriage has been transformed by the gospel and whose love for Jesus has made them some of the most generous servants I know.

Abbi Porter, whose zeal to make Christ known is a constant reminder to me that we cannot waste any opportunity to speak of all that Jesus has done for us.

Dave and Laurel Becker, whose vision for living life together with others (involving a radically open-door policy most people would see as intrusive) redefined the way Kelly and I view life-on-life ministry.

Harry Rodgers, whose smile every Sunday is an inexpressible encouragement to my heart.

Rick O’Dell, who stepped in without reservation to fill a huge leadership gap in our worship ministry at just the time we needed someone.

Jen and Denver Miller, who are two of the most dedicated friends one could ask for.

Paul Casey, whose wisdom stems from a long allegiance and obedience to Jesus.

Neal Deshazo, whose example reminds me constantly that true faith expresses itself in self-sacrifice and service of others.

Bill and Tammy VanHoornbeek, who take seriously and seek to live out God’s heart for the orphan.

Marshall Conn, who came up out of the baptismal waters pumping his fists with joy like a man given new life…because he had been.

Trinity Griffin, whose dedication to sharing the love of God with children has sown the seeds of the gospel deep into countless kids’ hearts.

Mike Blehm, whose testimony of God’s restorative work in his life, shared yesterday at church, was a direct answer to my prayers a few years ago that someday God would bring my brother Mike back home to his Freshwater family.

Our college interns, whose willingness to do anything (and I do mean anything) needed, whether that involve leading youth, setting up chairs, changing diapers or worse, shows that they are serious about serving rather than seeking to be served (wish I’d been that way at their age).

I also think of friends who’ve been called elsewhere:

Joshua Hedger, who saw something in me that I didn’t see (and still have trouble seeing), drawing me out of my comfortable audience seat into a leadership position that has changed the way I view Christ, His people, His church, and His mission.

Kevin Burlison, who worked tirelessly (often behind the scenes in ways for which he’ll likely never be properly thanked this side of heaven) to help our church go from a simple idea to a thriving ministry.

Mark and Diane Besser, whose generous giving and dedication to using their resources for the work of the kingdom still astounds me on a daily basis.

Michael Kinion, Ronni Kurtz, Davis Finley, Sarah Vandeveer, and soooo many other young folks we’ve seen come through our collegiate ministry and go on to serve the Lord faithfully in different ways wherever God plants them.

These and so many other faces (simply too many to recount) comprise what I see in my mind when I think about my church home.

But, truth be told, I don’t believe it’s “Freshwater Church” that has bonded these faces to me (and me to them).

Did Freshwater serve as some sort of juncture through which our lives intersected? Absolutely.

But the truth is that our hearts were (and are) knit together by a something deeper, something more grand…something etched into the floor of our sometimes smelly, in-need-of fresh paint, converted antique mall.

What knit our hearts together was the desire to glorify God and to advance the gospel.

May that always be the thread that unites us as a church; may that mission, to make much of God and to spread the news of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, always be what drives and defines us.

Happy birthday, Freshwater.

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