The last couple of weeks have been a crazy blur of activity between moving and preparing for Easter. I wanted to pause today to celebrate God’s goodness and grace.
I am grateful for God’s provision. He has given us a wonderful house, in a neighborhood loaded with missionary opportunity, and at an affordable price. We’re excited to call Rock Hill home now and look forward to building our lives here.
I am grateful for our church. North Rock Hill Church has been so gracious in receiving us. You have also been a huge blessing as we have moved. We’ve had meals and groceries provided along with tons of help getting moved and settled. I am honored to be your pastor, we’re honored to join you, and we’re thrilled about what is ahead.
I am grateful for our staff and volunteers. You pushed and worked very hard to prepare for a challenging Easter schedule and you pulled it off masterfully. 5 services, 5 teams of volunteers, lots of new volunteers, lots of new attenders…you guys were incredible and I am very proud of you!
I am grateful for the way the people of NRHC invited friends to Easter at North Rock Hill. There were a ton of new attenders at NRHC this weekend and so many of them were invited by NRHC partners and attenders. That is awesome! Keep the relationship and conversation going and invite them back this week!
I am grateful for the many people who trusted Jesus as Savior last weekend. In every service, there were multiple people who indicated they had trusted Jesus as Savior! They walked in dead in their sin and walked out ALIVE IN CHRIST! That is a transformation that will impact generations to come in their lives and families. And that NEVER GETS OLD!
I am grateful for God’s strength and healing. I came down with a crazy stomach bug after our two Saturday night services. I was up all night and somehow, by God’s grace, made it through the 3 Sunday morning services. Our middle daughter had it as well. I am just now getting over that crazy thing!
I am grateful for my family. They have been so resilient with this transition. The girls have made fast friends in Rock Hill and Lara Beth has been incredible throughout the process. And, I am grateful for LB’s parents and my Mom who have been invaluable in helping us pack, move, and unpack.
Most of all, I am grateful for Jesus. He is ALL…and I am learning to rest in that more and more as He stretches me as a disciple, husband, dad, and pastor.
So, that’s a few of the big reasons I am grateful today. I’m sure you have seen God at work in and around you as well. Take some time today to celebrate God’s goodness and express your gratitude.
In many ways, it seems like yesterday. In others, it seems like it was 100 years ago. Sometimes, it seems like it’s not even real. Still.
Three years ago today, my Dad passed from this life and into eternity with Jesus. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about him, miss him terribly, and wish so much to talk with him.
A friend counseled me after my Dad died that I’ll never truly “get over” losing my Dad. Life just has a new reality and times of sorrow and grieving will pop up randomly. He was right.
But, those times of grieving and sorrow are not a dead end. They are an invitation.
In May 2000, my Dad’s life and our family’s life changed forever. My Dad was diagnosed with cancer and given a very minimal chance of beating it. Of course, our initial reaction was absolute devastation. I feared for how my Dad would respond. My greatest fear was that he would get so angry at God that he would just give up.
The opposite happened. For the first time in his life, something was wrong that he couldn’t fix. He knew very well he couldn’t fix it. And it wasn’t just cancer.
For the first time in my life, I heard my Dad confess that he was helpless – helpless to fix his body and helpless to cover his sin. Rather than turning away in anger, my Dad turned to Jesus in humility and brokenness. God saved and healed my Dad spiritually. And then He healed him physically.
In May 2001, my Dad was cancer free. New life spiritually and new life physically. God gave us 8 more wonderful years with my Dad. In so many ways, God compressed the wasted previous years and opportunities of my Dad’s life and gave him the opportunity to make things right. That was the theme of 2001-2009 – making things right.
I saw my Dad love and serve my Mom like I never had before. For the first time in my life, I knew I had his love and support no matter what. My Dad became my trusted mentor and friend. It wasn’t always perfect because he and I are very different. But, I grew to love and respect my Dad deeply.
I saw my Dad love and enjoy his granddaughters. I got to shake his hand and receive his congratulations when our two oldest daughters were born. A Dad congratulating his son who just became a Dad…priceless.
I saw my Dad love others he had struggled to love. I saw him forgive others he had struggled to forgive. I saw him seek out old friends to make restitution. I saw him enjoy life, work, and rest. New life was flowing into and through him.
Three years ago on this day, my Mom and I held my Dad, surrounded by our family, while he breathed his last breath on this earth. Cancer had returned and his body was spent. As he took his final breaths, I had this vivid picture of what was next for my Dad. No more cancer. No more suffering. No more hospitals. No more tests. No more medication.
Jesus crushed death, cancer, Satan, and sin for my Dad. Death lost it sting. God’s grace won.
I had the high honor of preaching my Dad’s funeral. It was and will be the highest honor of my life because I got to brag on the immeasurable riches of the grace and mercy of God evidenced in my Dad’s life (Ephesians 2:1-10). I got to preach my Dad’s funeral as his son, friend, and brother in Christ. Only God!
I would have never picked cancer as God’s means of humbling my Dad. But I thank God that He does in fact work together all things…ALL things…for our ultimate good and His ultimate glory (Romans 8:28).
So, there is definitely sadness today. Tears have filled my eyes the entire time I’ve been writing this post. But, right behind the sadness is true joy.
While I grieve the three year anniversary of losing my Dad, I celebrate the three year anniversary of my Dad being with Jesus. I can’t wait to join him.
I’m an addict. I’m addicted to Lara Beth…have been since I met her in the 5th grade. Cheesy I know, but true. I’m addicted to the Gamecocks…have been since 1984, the first football season I remember tracking game for game and play for play. I’m addicted to Starbucks coffee…have been since college when I had my first latte and first cup of dark roasted coffee.
And, I’m addicted to life change…have been since the grace of God radically changed my own life in 1995. My addiction went to hyper-addiction my freshman year in college as I shared the gospel with a friend and watched the same grace of God change his life. As he called on Jesus as Savior and God, my heart exploded with a passion to see God do that again and again. I was hooked!
When we moved to Columbia in 2007 to begin the process of planting Awaken Church, we were broken over the number of people in our city who did not know this life-changing grace of God. Our number one prayer was to plant a church that God would use to reach many people who were far from Him.
In this my last week serving as Lead Pastor at Awaken, it thrills my soul and brings tears to my eyes to see how God has answered that prayer. He’s answered it over and over and over again. As God has used Awaken to share the gospel of His grace, many who were far from God have been transformed by His grace. And now, like me, they’re addicts.
One of our first conversions was Brian. Brian trusted Jesus as Savior in one of our launch team meetings. He was so fired up about God’s grace to him that he was baptized on the spot…in his clothes! Now, Brian is one of Awaken’s most faithful partners and a true giver of his time, talent, and resources. Why? So that others will experience what he has experienced. He’s an addict!
This year, we’ve seen God do the miraculous in several marriages that were on the brink of ending before finding Awaken. Enter God’s grace and God’s people. The grace of God has brought salvation, forgiveness, renewal, and restoration to husbands, wives, and their kids. Now, these couples and families are sharing their stories of restoration and renewal with others who are where they were a few months ago. Why? They’re addicts!
Just recently, a hurting man named Billy showed up at Awaken with his family. He had lots of good reasons to stay away from God and from church. But the grace of God was at work drawing Billy. At the invitation of a friend, Billy and his family came to Awaken, heard the gospel, and were transformed by God’s grace! Now, Billy is leading his family, they are serving, they are in community, and they are passionate about sharing with others. Why? They’re addicts!
I could keep going and going. We’ve seen God do the miraculous as over 110 men, women, students, and children have been changed by the gospel in the 2 years since Awaken’s launch. Because the gospel is so fresh and new life in Christ is so real, these who have been radically transformed have become passionate missionaries of the gospel. They are addicts!
Praise God, Awaken is full of addicts…people addicted to God’s grace and addicted to seeing lives changed by God’s grace! I know these addicts will continue to make bold moves to love, serve, share, give, and go so that others will hear the gospel and be transformed by God’s grace like they have been. And as they do, God will continue to answer the prayer that got this whole thing started four years ago.
That’s an addiction I hope is never broken!
As you may already know, I announced my resignation from Awaken Church on November 13 to accept the call to serve as Lead Pastor of North Rock Hill Church in Rock Hill, SC. You can read my post about that decision here.
It’s a surreal season as we close out our time in Columbia and our time at Awaken. It’s bittersweet…like sending your kid off to college. You’re excited to see what’s going to happen next, but sad you won’t have a front row seat for it.
I believe in Awaken Church and love her dearly. I believe strongly that God has greater things ahead for her. So, I want to use this week, my last as Lead Pastor at Awaken, to share a few of the reasons I am excited about what is ahead for Awaken.
Literary great Charles Dickens penned the words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to serve as the opening words of his classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens must have known something about church planting because that’s it in a nutshell – the best and the worst. Sometimes at different times. Sometimes at the same time.
I can honestly say we have never felt the intensity of spiritual warfare, the physical exhaustion, the emotional anguish, or the spiritual depletion we have experienced at times over the last four years. You hear the wisdom of those who have gone before you, but there’s always that, “It won’t be like that for us,” mentality that I guess goes with being crazy enough to plant a church. But then it all does happen. And it happens often. And it hurts…a lot.
But then, I can honestly say we have never felt the joy of serving, the elation over lives changed and prayers answered, the love of God’s people, and the power of the gospel like we have in the last four years. We have seen God do the miraculous in saving souls, restoring families, providing for needs, making disciples, and sending missionaries. We’ve had a front row seat for a miraculous move of God. And, we’ve seen God do amazing things in our own lives to encourage, provide, teach, and strengthen us.
So, how do you press through the roller coaster of hardship and joy? The answer is the same as the answer to the question of how Awaken will continue on. Awaken Church was God’s idea. He is obsessed over that which is lost in Columbia, SC. He is on a mission to seek and save that which is lost.
This is God’s church. And that is the number one reason why I am excited and confident about Awaken’s future. He is the One who sovereignly worked to call us, to sustain us, to provide for us, and to use us. He is also the One who has called us elsewhere. Which means He has another leader for Awaken to take her forward into the future.
We are His vessels and we are grateful to have served as catalysts for what He wants to do in Columbia through Awaken Church. He gave us His heart, passion, and vision, and now that has spread to dozens and dozens. Through it all, God has built a church. And He’s just getting started!
God is working right now to prepare a new Lead Pastor for Awaken. In the meantime, He is going to use this season to strengthen His church and prepare her for what’s next and for her new Lead Pastor. All the while, He will continue to use Awaken to make His name great through lives changed by the gospel.
What God starts, He finishes (Philippians 1:6). What God promises to build, He builds (Matthew 16:18). When God promises abundantly more, He does abundantly more (Ephesians 3:20-21). In the best of times and the worst of times…He is there, He is at work, and He is able!
Awaken Church is God’s Church. It was four years ago when we moved to Columbia. It was two years ago when we launched. It is now. It will be for all eternity.
Dear Friends & Family Near & Far,
Four years ago, God called our family back to Columbia, our hometown, to plant a new church. While so much about moving to Columbia did not make sense, one thing was certain – God’s clear call on our lives.
Columbia had grown and changed so much since we graduated high school. The diversity and population growth alone were staggering. But the statistic that impacted us the most was the fact that 80% of the people in Northeast Columbia are not connected to a church and likely do not have a relationship with Jesus.
God called us here to plant a church that would not compete with other churches, but rather partner with other churches to reach that 80%. As we met people who did not know Jesus and Christians who wanted to be missionaries in our city, we began to pray and consider what this church might look like.
We had to press pause on our plans in early 2009 when my Dad’s cancer returned and he passed away. This was an evidence of God’s grace in calling us to Columbia as I was able to spend some special time with my Dad in the closing months of his life. I even had the honor of preaching his funeral.
We re-grouped in summer 2009 and began building our launch team. That small, but deeply committed team, learned, served, planned, and prayed together and on September 13, 2009, Awaken Church finally launched.
In the two years since our launch, we’ve experienced lots of highs and lows together. Through it all, we’ve seen God do some amazing things.
We’ve seen over 100 people trust Jesus as Savior. We’ve celebrated with over 60 people who have been baptized. We’ve served thousands through Movies in the Park, serving projects, community groups, and partnerships. We’ve seen marriages restored, addictions broken, disciples made, leaders developed, prayers answered, families mended, and missionaries sent. God has used and is using Awaken Church to make a difference in our city.
Our mission is being accomplished right before our eyes. God is using Awaken Church to make His name great through lives changed by the gospel!
Which is why it is with mixed emotions that I share with you what God is doing in our family.
In May of this year, I was approached about an opportunity at a new church in a new city. Initially, our answer was, “No.” Even after ensuing conversations, our answer was still, “No.” But as much as we tried to deny it, the door never really closed.
At the end of the summer and beginning of the school year, it was clear that God was stirring and that we needed to be fully open to whatever He wanted. As we continued to pray and fast, it became increasingly clear that God was in fact calling us to a new ministry assignment.
In response to God’s call after weeks of seeking Him through His Word, prayer, and fasting, I am resigning as Lead Pastor of Awaken Church to accept the call to serve as Lead Pastor of North Rock Hill Church in Rock Hill, SC. My last Sunday at Awaken will be December 11, 2011.
I want to assure you that this is not the end of Awaken Church. God’s vision for Awaken Church has not changed and I believe it will go to the next level during this transition season and under a new Lead Pastor’s leadership.
I am even more convinced of this after sharing with our staff weeks ago, meeting with our leaders two Sundays ago, and sharing with the entire church this past Sunday night. The commitment to Awaken’s vision and future is remarkable.
We covet your prayers for Awaken and our family as we make final plans for transition. Please know we have not taken this decision lightly. Just as when God called us to Columbia, our aim has been to please Him. We trust His leadership over Awaken, our lives, and our new ministry assignment in Rock Hill.
In the days ahead, I’ll share more about Awaken’s transition, our family’s transition, and our new ministry assignment at North Rock Hill Church. We are sad to leave Columbia and Awaken, but we are excited and humbled by the opportunity to serve in Rock Hill.
Thank you for your friendship and partnership in the gospel!
Hope you had a fantastic Labor Day holiday! We enjoyed a low-key family day that included games, a trip to the zoo, and I even snuck in an afternoon nap.
This past Sunday at Awaken was electric – standing room only, baptisms, salvations, and BBQ all in the same day! I’m praying for and expecting God to do even greater things this Sunday.
Thanks to all who prayed for me last week – I loved hearing from so many at Awaken who saw my post last week and prayed through the week. Keep it up – this is a big week for us as we roll towards Fall Launch on Sunday.
Here’s how you can pray for me this week…
Tuesday :: Staff Meeting Day. I’ll spend the morning with Steve and James finalizing some major objectives for Awaken for the Fall/Winter. Our full staff will meet in the afternoon to go over all things related to Fall Launch. Pray that in all of our meetings we would have a deep awareness of God’s presence and that we would follow Him with faith and obedience.
Wednesday :: Wednesday morning, Steve and I are meeting with the principal and admin staff at Polo Road Elementary to explore ways Awaken can be intentionally involved in serving at the school. Pray for God to make these ways clear. I’ll follow that with a very important lunch meeting that could have big impact for the immediate future of Awaken. Pray that I will have a clear sense of what God wants. In the afternoon, I need to hunker down to get some study and writing done. Pray that God will give clarity to the texts and just the right words to say.
Thursday :: Our staff and I will be attending the NewSpring Leadership Conference at NewSpring Church in Anderson, SC. We’ll get to hear from great pastors such as Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick, and several others. Pray that God will use this time to refresh and strengthen us for the season that is ahead for Awaken.
Friday :: Since Monday was a holiday, I’ll need to do some study and writing in the morning and unplug around lunch. Pray for God to maximize my time in the Word and for me to clearly hear from Him. Pray also that I will truly be able to rest Friday afternoon and evening.
Saturday :: We have a family wedding that I am participating in and our girls will be the flower girls. Pray for safety in travel, that the service will honor Jesus, and that my cousin and his fiance will experience God’s blessing on their marriage.
Sunday :: FALL LAUNCH! It’s going to be a HUGE day as we launch 2 services (9:30 & 11:15am) and launch the Sun Stand Still series. Pray for God to make His name great through MANY lives changed by the gospel! Pray for my stamina in preaching twice and pray for our staff and volunteers as they serve and lead.
I value you and your partnership in the gospel. Your prayers mean the world to me. Can’t wait to see how God moves this week!
Every week, numerous people from Awaken and friends from all over ask how they can pray for me. I’m honored by each request and by each person who commits to pray for me and our church. I need every one of those prayers!
For the next few weeks, I’m going share with you a loose version of my schedule as a means of asking you to pray for me as I go through my week. I got this idea from Matt Chandler, a pastor that I love and respect. I hope it will help you pray specifically and have a little window into what’s going on each week.
Monday :: Study Day. After I take our girls to school, I’ll knock out a few tasks and then dive into some focused study time. Specifically, I am working on our Sun Stand Still series and beginning work on our Christmas series. Pray that the Holy Spirit will bring clarity to the texts He’s called me to preach and that He will give just the right words, insights, illustrations, and action steps for each sermon.
Tuesday :: Staff Meeting Day. After I get the girls to school, I’ll meet up with Steve Burnette and James Bare for our weekly Pastors Meeting. Then, I have a meeting with an Awaken partner about a ministry opportunity for our church and then will have lunch with one of my mentors. In the afternoon, I’ll have one-on-one meetings with a couple of staff members and then our full staff meeting is at 4:45. Tuesdays are long days – pray for stamina and focus. Also, pray for the Holy Spirit to direct our meetings and for us to follow Him courageously.
Wednesday :: I’ll spend the morning studying, specifically going over and finalizing my sermon for Sunday’s Baptism & BBQ service as well as pretty much finalizing my sermon for the launch of Sun Stand Still next Sunday. Again, pray for the Holy Spirit to give clarity to the texts and to give me just the right words. I’ll have lunch with a pastor friend and spend the afternoon in various conversations/meetings with AC’ers and other pastors/friends.
Thursday :: This will be a huge day for Awaken Church! All day, I will be in a meeting for what could wind up being Awaken’s first hands-on international missions partnership. Later in the evening, we will have another very important meeting about opportunities for Awaken in Columbia. Pray for us to be keenly aware of God’s presence and His desire for our church!
Friday :: Sabbath Day. Friday’s are the days that I re-charge. Pray that I will be able to unplug and let my soul rest in the goodness and grace of God. That is very hard for me…yet I desperately need it if I am going to lead my family and lead our church well.
Saturday :: Family Day. Pray for sweet time with Lara Beth and the girls.
Sunday :: Sunday’s start at 5:00am for me as I prepare my heart and mind to preach. Pray for God to speak clearly during the worship service and for many to make decisions to follow Him through baptism. After our BBQ lunch at Polo Road, I’ll spend the afternoon at home recovering and then spend some time Sunday night getting ready for the week ahead.
Thank you so much for your prayers! I thank God for you and your partnership in the Gospel.
Wrapping up what was a busy, but very productive and forward-reaching week for me and Awaken Church. I’m excited about what is ahead for our church! Here are a few personal and Awaken Church updates:
- We have two weeks left in the RESTORE series. I am very excited about these next two Sundays as we cast some specific vision for next steps at Awaken. To say these are can’t miss Sundays would be an understatement!
- On that note, we had to make a slight change in plans for Feb 27. We had to cancel the Night of Worship we planned to have that evening. Never fear, we’ll do it as our morning worship service that day as we cry out to God on behalf of our city and beg God to use us to make His name great in Columbia and beyond.
- Pastor Steve Burnette, our Community & Admin Pastor, led our first Community Group leader training this week and groups will launch in mid-March! I absolutely cannot wait and I thank God for Pastor Steve’s leadership.
- I have the honor of preaching at the South Carolina Baptist Convention Evangelism Conference next week in Anderson, SC. Please pray that God will use me to encourage pastors and leaders from across our state to push back the darkness and work for the glory of God in their cities.
- Our family is finally well! After battling a flu-like bug for over a week, everyone is pretty much back to normal. Somehow, I didn’t get it. But, my appreciation for my wife went to whole new level as I attempted to care for her and our girls while they were sick. Moms are amazing!
Have a great weekend and Awaken Church…I’ll see you Sunday!
Last summer, Lara Beth and I had a strong sense that our family was not complete. We thank God for and love our two girls more than words can express. But, there was still a sense that someone was missing.
By God’s grace, we found out not too much later than Hardwick Baby #3 was on the way. As we began to share the big news, the words would barely be out of our mouths before the number one question would come: “Oh, don’t you want it to be a boy?” Even our girls both said they wanted a baby brother. Not going to lie…I kind of wanted it to be a boy, too.
A little over a week ago, we had the ultrasound and found out…quite clearly, I might add…that we are going to have another girl. Yep, the Hardwick Trifecta is in full force! When it was clear…did I mention it was VERY obvious…that it was a girl, my heart sank a bit.
The baby and Lara Beth were very healthy and tracking along nicely, which was good. But there was this weird sense of disappointment going on inside of me. Then, I was upset with myself for feeling this way about this precious miracle that God has given us.
As we waited to see the doctor, my sweet wife could tell I was wrestling with myself a bit. Then, she said, “Look at it this way. You’ll get 3 son in-laws one day.” When she said that, I first thought about the 3 weddings to pay for in order to get those 3 son in-laws..cha ching! Then, I saw the big picture.
God has given me a huge responsibility. God decided that He wanted us to have 3 girls. No amount of hoping or wishing on anyone’s part could have altered God’s sovereign, good, pleasing, and perfect will. He chose daughters for us, and with them, comes enormous responsibility for me as their earthly dad.
They’ll select their husbands…my son in-laws…based largely on what they see in me.
How they see me love and pursue Jesus will impact them. How they see me love, pursue, honor, and nurture their mom will impact them. How they see me lead our family will impact them. How I love, lead, and invest in them will impact them.
In other words, God has given me the responsibility of modeling for them what a godly man looks like…and therefore, what they should look for in their husband. Talk about a huge, life altering vision.
If they marry selfish, immature jerks who treat them like objects, it will be largely because that’s what they saw in me. If they marry humble, godly men who love Jesus, love them, and lead them well, it will be largely because of what they saw in me and what they see in their ultimate hero, Jesus.
I definitely know what I want. I want a trifecta of girls who love, follow, and serve Jesus with all their heart. And I want a trifecta of son in-laws who love, follow, and serve Jesus and will love and lead my girls well.
So, my sons are coming. Between now and then, I have the responsibility to shape what they will look like.
I’m okay with that.
Good grief, where did October go?! October is Pastor Appreciation Month, so I want to take a few minutes to publicly honor 3 pastors who have made a profound impact on my life. I could name many more than 3, but these are the 3 that I consider to be “my pastors.”
Robert Winburn :: Before he was my father in-law, he was my pastor and my “father” in the ministry. “Pops” shepherded me through my call to ministry, preaching my first sermon, deciding on college, deciding on seminary, and countless other seasons of decision and transition. To this day, when I have a pastoral care question, he is my first phone call because he’s the best I have ever seen at caring for people. I honor you, Pops.
Ernest Carswell :: Dr. Carswell was the first pastor I had the privilege of serving under. He gave me a chance to lead and serve on staff at Taylors First Baptist when I was in college. He made himself available to me, took me with him on ministry visits, included me in meetings I had no business being included in, and regularly communicated his trust in me to lead the student ministry. I honor you, Dr. Carswell.
Steve Corts :: A few years ago, I was solidly convinced that I would never be a Lead Pastor. Within the first month of serving under him, Dr. Corts had cast a vision for my life that radically altered the direction of my life. He gave me Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels and we met weekly for months to discuss the book and for Dr. Corts to teach me how to lead well. My life and ministry have been forever impacted by Dr. Corts’ visionary investment in my life. I honor you, Dr. Corts.
These are great men of God whom I love and respect dearly. I am forever grateful for their investment in my life and ministry. I hope and pray that I will do for others what they have done for me.