Pastor Kevin Sanders

"He must increase, but I must decrease." -John 3:30

Category: My Journey (page 1 of 9)

My Son and the Voice of God

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

-Jeremiah 33:3

Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter know that my wife and I received some exciting news yesterday: we are going to have a baby boy!

We weren’t 100% sure we would find out during yesterday’s ultrasound. We’ve heard of babies being “shy”–being in a position that was not conducive to determining the gender. That was not a problem–the proverbial cat was out of the bag as soon as the technician placed the instrument on my wife’s tummy. It was only a split second, but let’s just say the first image didn’t leave much to the imagination. She quickly changed the scanner position and asked us if we wanted to know the gender of the baby. We told her we’d been waiting for this day and did want to know. More images confirmed what we thought we had seen.

I mentioned a promise that God gave us from His word in a previous post. I wrote down this verse in my prayer journal before my wife got pregnant:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.

-Psalm 128:3

 

But there’s a secret of sorts that I’ve only shared with one or two people (one of those being my wife): God told me weeks ago that we were having a son. I don’t think I can pin it down to a specific date, though I wrote it in my prayer journal back in July. It’s something God impressed on my heart as I was praying for a healthy baby. That impression never left me–it grew stronger over time.

God tends to do that when He’s speaking to me. He knows I’d be likely to doubt a one-time experience, so He slowly and methodically puts something on my heart. This is the way God told me He wanted me to preach. It’s impossible to explain for those who haven’t experienced it. But I’m sure many of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I’ve waited to share this for a couple of reasons:

  • I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that my heart was set on a boy instead of a girl.   My main desire was (and still is) for a healthy baby. I would have been 100% fine with a boy or a girl–either one would be treated as a precious gift from the Lord, created in His image.
  • I trust the Lord, but I don’t trust me. I know that I’m capable of misunderstanding Him (it has happened before). And let’s be honest: some Christians can get really weird with those “the Lord told me” statements.

The most important things God has to say to me are already written in His Word–the Bible. Any experience I have must line up with the truths of Scripture or it isn’t from the Lord.

Having said that, I treasure those times when I hear God speaking to me or leading me regarding something specific in my life. It is another way that He expresses grace (undeserved favor) to me.

God has spoken, and God is speaking.

Are you listening?

My First Year: Confessions of an Ordinary Pastor

Most of the pastors I know took fairly similar vocational paths. They began by doing youth ministry or preaching (at small churches) in their early twenties, usually while working on their seminary degree. They typically have 20+ years of experience by the time they reach my age (mid-40’s).

My path has been a little different. I spent most of my 20’s in drug rehab–as a counselor, that is. I usually went to school on Mondays (working on my master’s degree at NOBTS) and worked Tuesday through Friday/Saturday at a drug treatment center in Birmingham, AL. I eventually moved to New Orleans to finish the before-mentioned degree (and spent more time in rehab there–yes, as a counselor). I invested the next season of my life (11 years) as a missionary in the Philippines.

I won’t rehash everything that happened when I returned to the United States with my wife (I’ve already written about that in my Life 3.0 post). I’ll just summarize it this way: it took us over three years to find my current place of ministry.

It’s been a full, blessed year since I became the pastor of Apollo Heights Baptist church. We celebrated this milestone with a high attendance Sunday today.

I decided to share a few reflections from this past year. I don’t claim that any of my observations are unique or original. Many of them, in fact, sound more like overused clichés.

Pastoring is a marathon, not a sprint.

I warned you about clichés, didn’t I?

But this one is certainly true of the pastorate. We’re a small church (around 80 worshipers on a typical Sunday), but it seemed to take a long time for me to learn everyone’s name. It has taken me a while to develop a “feel” for the different personalities in our congregation, but I’m still learning.  That’s just our church–it’s taking me even longer to figure out what “works” in our community in terms of outreach, etc. I think I might have Roberts Rules of Order figured out by the time I retire (maybe). You get the idea–I’m just scratching the surface after a year.

Change is hard.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t really want to be an agent of change during my first pastorate in the USA. I hoped to be more of a “game manager” (to use a football analogy) or a “maintenance” type leader. God had other plans. Our church has many strong points, but we really need to make some adjustments in order to more effectively reach our community. Studying Thom Rainer’s Autopsy of a Deceased Church helped us to see this. Leading us through some of these first steps has been challenging, but it has also been very rewarding.

You can’t please everyone.

“If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Go sell ice cream.” -Eric Geiger

I always like to hear the bad news first so here goes: some people just can’t be pleased–including some “church people.” No need to go into details.

This probably would have bothered a younger version of me. But now I understand that trying to please everyone will paralyze a pastor/leader (or anyone else, for that matter). God has hopefully cured me of most of my people pleasing ways.

This quote also helps me keep things in perspective:

“If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” – CH Spurgeon

God’s people are pretty amazing.

I’ve shared the bad news about people, but there’s really great news: watching God’s people at work is one of the greatest joys of being a pastor. I’m constantly amazed at the way our church members give, serve, and care. Many of our senior adults have inspired me by putting their own personal preferences aside for the sake of the gospel. For every disappointment there have been dozens of these “wow” moments, and it’s a beautiful thing.

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” -Proverbs 15:22

“If you think you are leading, but no one is following, then you’re only taking a walk.” -John C. Maxwell

There’s something else I want to point out while I’m on this topic. I’ve had to ignore a few naysayers, but I know better than to disregard the godly wisdom that is available in our congregation. The advice from the mature saints in my church has been extremely valuable.

Love covers a multitude of sins

I’m sure I’ve made plenty of mistakes during this first year. My congregation has graciously overlooked them.

God is Faithful

This is the most important lesson from the past year, or the past 45 years, for that matter. God has proven Himself over and over. His mercies are new every morning, and His blessings are far greater than I’ll ever deserve.

Mare Cris and I are deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve and for an incredible year of ministry.

Confessions of an Expectant Father

On March 17, 2012 Mare Cris gave me a title I wasn’t sure I’d ever have: husband. Over five years have quickly gone by since then. We’ve seen the amazing faithfulness of God through both blessings and trials.

We decided that this year was the right time to start our family. We felt like things had settled down here in our new ministry assignment and we saw no reason to wait any longer. Neither of us is getting any younger (especially me).

We weren’t really sure what to expect. We’ve known other couples that conceived before intentionally trying to start a family. We’ve also met couples that struggled with infertility (some of whom were never able to have biological children).

Weeks turned into months. We weren’t really worried, but we were beginning to wonder if we were in for a long wait. I wrote this Scripture down in my prayer journal:

Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your children will be like olive shoots
around your table.

-Psalm 128:3

God graciously fulfilled this promise back in July. Mare Cris was experiencing the first telltale signs of pregnancy and used some home tests that I bought months before. The two lines were unmistakable evidence of great news: we were officially expecting a baby! My cousin (who is an OB/GYN) was the first to hear about it (she confirmed the reliability of home tests). The next day (after positive test #2) I called my dad to inform him that he would be a grandfather again. The following Sunday my wife was leading worship at our church and shared the good news with them.

The daily grind of first trimester queasiness, dizziness, and fatigue have taken a toll on Mare Cris. I’m still trying to believe this is actually happening–it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea of being a father. But words can hardly express how grateful and excited both of us are.

Yesterday we were able to see our little one for the first time. Hearing the tiny heartbeat nearly brought tears to our eyes. I’m sure we would have both been sobbing if we could have gazed at the live image long enough. But it was over within a few minutes–just long enough for our technician to gather the needed information. A doctor came not long after the test to give us the age of the child (a little over 8 weeks) and tell us everything looked normal. I’m sure this is all familiar scenery for the medical staff, but Mare Cris and I were awestruck.

Soon I will have a new title: father.   The baby will be born in late March.

Thank you, Lord!

El Paso: Six Months In

I try to take the time every once in a while to write about the places I’ve called home. I shared my impressions of Angeles City back in 2011–this was a big move after spending the previous nine years in Manila. I’ve also shared what it was like to move back to the USA and experience all the reverse culture shock that comes with being back here.

I suppose I’ve been a bit of a slacker in terms of this blog–it’s just not quite as high a priority as it once was. But I do look over these old posts from time to time, and doing so always puts a smile on my face. These little digital memoirs are vivid reminders of God’s faithfulness and abundant blessings.

It’s been a little over six months since we moved to our current location. I’m reflecting on this adventure while Mare Cris cooks some longganisa and eggs for our (late) breakfast on this sunny morning. Here are a few of my thoughts (in no particular order) about the city known as El Paso.

The Franklin Mountains

The road heading to the church office.

I have the privilege of seeing God’s majestic handiwork every time I drive to the church office. The Franklin Mountains are magnificent, colossal monuments to the glory of God. These majestic ridges from His fingerprint speak volumes to all who are willing to spend just a few moments in contemplation (Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:20).

Where the Wind Blows

Each place I’ve lived has it’s own type of natural disasters. Earthquakes and typhoons were a regular part of life in the Philippines. Alabama has had more than it’s fair share of tornadoes. El Paso is generally free of these, but it does have it’s own brand of destructive (or at least disruptive) weather: straight-line winds. They can howl angrily for hours (sometimes for days) and displace anything that isn’t securely anchored to solid ground. There’s probably a sermon illustration in there somewhere.

Military

El Paso is home to Fort Bliss, a US Army post. My dad was actually stationed here back in the 60’s when he was in the Army. The military presence is pervasive–we regularly see men and women in uniform at restaurants, stores, etc. Many who have chosen to live here permanently have done so after lengthy military careers.

This military presence is reflected in the congregation I lead–most of our church members are active or retired soldiers (and their spouses/widows). It’s an honor to serve men and women who have sacrificed so much for the sake of this great nation.

Border Town

El Paso is located right on the border of Juarez, Mexico. It still feels strange to look over into another country while driving through certain parts of the city. Mare Cris and I haven’t visited Juarez yet, but maybe we will one of these days. It would be a shame to live a few miles away from  Mexico and never go visit.

Scenic Drive, overlooking El Paso, the border, and Juarez.

The demographics of El Paso have been radically influenced by its proximity to Mexico. The city is now about 80% Latino/Hispanic.

Espanol

Spanish is ubiquitous here, and a significant percentage of the population is bilingual as far as I can tell. I have occasionally encountered situations in which I’m unable to communicate with someone due to the language barrier (this is rare, but it does happen). Sometimes it reminds me of my first few months in Manila–feeling like the odd man out because I don’t speak one of most-used languages. The longer I’m here the more I want to learn Spanish. I just ordered some flash cards (this is how I began learning Tagalog), so we’ll see if I can make some headway.

To be continued . . .

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