Tuesday, July 24, 2007

A Very Unexpected Turn of Events

Some things in life you see coming. Some things in life surprise you.

And then there is that third catergory. The few times, perhaps only a handful over the course of a lifetime, that so blindside you that you feel dizzy for a few years afterward. This is one of those times.

As I have noted in this journal, around April of this year something in my spirit began to change. (To explain this change I am going to have speak in terms of "God moving" or "speaking" to me. I do that rarely and cautiously. However, in these events I know of no other way to explain it.) I began to sense a call to openness along with a growing conviction that I was holding part of myself back from the Lordship of Christ. Debbie and I began to talk about what this could mean. It brought us into discussions about my career path and our overall spiritual journey.

On Easter Sunday we visited my mom and dad in Kansas City and attended their church. Nothing too out of the ordinary happened at the service, but I could feel myself reacting differently than I would have earlier in my life. In my early twenties I would have silently condemned this church for being a little "out of touch." In my late twenties I would have certainly condemned them for being overly structured and institutionalized. But as I sat there personally celebrating a birthday that would catapult me straight into my mid-thirties, I felt nothing but contentment. I felt happy for them that they had each other. I was pleased that they were following Jesus the best they knew how. I felt a still small voice that said, "This is good, but you'll do it differently next time."

It was hours later before I noticed that the small voice told me I would be doing "this" (whatever "this" is) again. It got me thinking.

We were home for a few weeks when I confessed to Debbie that I felt like God was wanting me to be open to a fuller, perhaps even a "vocational", form of ministry. We chewed on that for a few days.

All of this is happening as my career is going well. I had signed with a new agent and my film project was growing into a bigger deal. It made no sense to have those thoughts then.

To back up a bit, in October of last year a church in Cincinnati (Vineyard Community Church) had contacted me to see if I might be open to vocational ministry again and I politely turned them down without much thought. I had promised them that if God changed our hearts we would let them know, but even as I told them that I knew God wouldn't be changing my heart. Well, he did. I e-mailed them in May to find out that some of the church leaders were actually in Anaheim that week for a conference. Since they were only a few miles from our house we agreed to meet one night. They had been busy not filling the position over the last seven months, but waiting for the "right person." Debbie and I were able to meet with some of their staff that week and we all agreed to keep praying about what God seemed to be doing.

The next four weeks were full of strange and mysterious events that included phone calls and e-mails from several friends around the world. We hadn't told anyone about this, but it was starting to feel like God was telling people to pray for us. Friends called saying they were waking in the middle of the night and praying for us, others were calling claiming to have seen visions of our family moving eastward and returning to church work. It was all so mysterious and confirming, but very hard to explain.

We visited the Vineyard about a month ago and it continued to feel right to us. Some of the theological issues that have become so foundational to me are very alive there - The primacy of the Kingdom, relational and organic growth, a desire for a church planting movement, experimentation within the gifts and, most obviously, a heart for the poor and hurting. They believe that "small things done with great love will change the world." That feels like something worth believing in. It was a good trip.

Last week they offered me the job of Teaching Pastor and we accepted. We will be leaving southern California in a few weeks to head back home to Ohio, which is something I never thought I would say or write or even think...it is all so unexpected. All this has done nothing but bolster my faith in a Living God and the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.

We are grieving leaving our friends here and moving even farther away from our family in Las Vegas, but we are also excited about this next season. Leaving acting and Hollywood has not been as hard as I thought it would be. I will be able to finish my film project (Hitting the Nuts) from Ohio. I can also return to improv and acting as a hobby, which is something that I have missed living here. Much of the joy is taken out of art when it becomes a business. I'll also have opportunity to use much of what I have learned in film and video production in my new job.

If you are a Vegas friend, I have written a more detailed personal letter to Apex which will be read by Tommy at the next Gathering. It explains more of my process as it applies to our story there.

As always, I will continue to update you here as the journey continues. My family would like to thank all of our friends, all over the world, who have shared life with us to this point. We would not exchange our unpredicatable story for any other.

Peace to you all.


Sherry said...

Wow, that is so cool to hear. Funny how things zig and zag when you least expect it. We too are going through some things that seem odd. We will be praying for you and thank you for sharing your story. We love you guys!

Jenny said...

Oh I'm so excited I can't stand it! Joe your going to be great! Debbie I can't wait to see you!
Love 2 u both!

Garrett said...

Crazy, man! I'm so happy for you guys. I'm really looking forward to maintaining a personal and professional relationship with you as we both step into our new ministries in the mid-west. "mid-west", it sounds so dirty, doesn't it? Are we sell-outs?

There are many ministry and creative projects I'd love to collaborate with you on in the future.


Paul Chandler said...

Hey Joe, This great news. It has been fun and interesting to watch you family grow and change over the past few years. It is great to have you all back in OH-IO. And Welcome to Vineyard Church community from the Vineyard Church of Knox County,

Jenn said...

Wow Joe! How exciting! I can't believe that you all are going to be back in our neck of the woods. I have to say I never expected you all to come back here. I can't wait to see you.


Tim said...

This is very cool. You don't know me at all, but I was a Kentucky Christian College student who came to a conference you guys did in Vegas back in the day (I'm a friend of Phil Websters).

It was a catalyst in an interesting journey away from institutional church for us through which we learned so much and are much healthier for it.

Interestingly enough, we ended up back in a Vineyard Church in Syracuse NY and eventually I ended up (after swearing off paid church ministry forever) accepting a position on staff here.

Tell Kevin Rains I say hello when you see him (I'm sure you will).

Chris M said...

I spoke with Doug today and he told me the news; I must say that you have affected my life in great ways through your teachings while you were in Vegas. Making God real to me and I thank you for that. Janelle and I will always love you and Debbie and will continue to pray for your family. I know that you will do great things for HIM and will touch many many lives and hearts with your style.

Much love, Chris McCusker