Grace Point Church turns 10

Do you ever wish life came with an edit button? Do you wish you could go back and rewrite or omit a chapter of your story?  I think all of us have moments or seasons we wish we could amend.

Ten years ago this week a new church launched in Las Vegas.  135 people gathered in a middle school cafeteria north of Las Vegas and Grace Point Church was born. I had the privilege to serve as the Founding & Lead Pastor of Grace Point for its first five years.  In reality, I had already invested over 3 years of my life into that moment so the official "launch" was simply the climax of the previous chapter of my life.

Parachuting into a community like Vegas and planting a church is a daunting task. Very few church plants survive in Vegas.  And truthfully only a church planter knows the weight and burden of starting a church from scratch.  The amount of money that must be raised (a million dollars for us), convincing a core group to move to Las Vegas with you with no guarantees of success, finding staff and key volunteers to lead, securing a location, letting the community know you are there, questioning if and why anyone would even show up, all of your doubts and insecurities exposed again and again ... and on and on and on. The church plant death rate in the first three years is telling. But we were a part of something unique.

Over the first 3 years, Grace Point grew to a self-sustaining church of over 800 people, even seeing more than a thousand show up on a few occasions. We preached the gospel and hundreds of people came to faith in Jesus and were baptized (including my 2 daughters). Lives were changed. Marriages were restored. Broken people found a place of healing and redemption.  People from around the country began to take notice of Grace Point.

The name Grace Point came from my own personal quiet time in Romans 5:20 where Paul reminds us grace is bigger than sin.  We wanted to be a point in Sin City where God's grace abounds. And that is the environment and message we were able to demonstrate and proclaim.

My dream became a reality ... and in the process my heart drifted from God.

Five years ago this week and on the fifth anniversary of Grace Point Church, I stood on the stage and preached my last message as their pastor. My own sinful choices disqualified me from leading the very church God enabled me to start in 2006.  I hit bottom.  I hurt people - most importantly the ones God called me to protect first and foremost. It was a devastating time in my life and I had no hope that God could restore my marriage or my ministry. I gave up. I ran. I hid. I disappeared. And Grace Point was forced to rebuild without me. 

This weekend Grace Point Church turns 10 years old.  I have no idea if they plan to celebrate this monumental occasion. I do know that you will likely never hear or see anything about the first 5 years of their journey.  In a sense those chapters have been omitted except in the hearts and minds of the people involved. That is often the way it is when a pastor has a moral failure. But thankfully God has enabled Grace Point not only to survive but to thrive. After being portable for 10 years, they are about to move into their own facility. Exciting days are ahead of them.  And occasionally I peek in to see what is happening and rejoice in what God has done in spite of me.

The Church belongs to Jesus. It is bigger than any one person or sin. It is His church and He will sustain it. I am regretful that it took a life-altering chapter for me to grasp fully that truth.

For a few years, I wanted to rewrite those chapters in my life. I think at times you have to hit bottom to look up. When a person is drowning in sin, the tendency is to try and tread water or try and make it to shore on your own.  But that struggle only takes you deeper until something breaks.  I was broken and it changed my outlook.

My perspective has shifted dramatically in recent years. I know that I cannot go back and amend those seemingly defining chapters but God can redeem those chapters for His glory and in the process heal my heart to the point those chapters do not define me.  God has shifted my perspective from focusing on my personal, relational, and pastoral failures while at Grace Point to observing what He was doing behind the scenes for the season I was removed.

Here are a few glimpses of how God was working a bigger story behind the scenes when my chapter was being written.

- I sat in the kitchen of a young couple many years ago in rural Kentucky and shared the gospel with them. They prayed to embrace Christ, were baptized in our church, and began a spiritual journey that eventually landed them in Las Vegas to become a part of Grace Point.  He now serves as the Lead Pastor of the church. 

- One of the current elders/full-time staff members and his wife moved to Vegas after being displaced by Katrina. He was a marine biologist and took a job taking care of the aquariums at The Mirage. She assumed a hospitality director position for Caesar's Palace. They randomly saw a sign one day for Grace Point, attended, and embraced Christ. I had the privilege of baptizing them.

- Another one of the current elders attended another church in north Vegas but was dating a lady at Grace Point who came to the church through one of our community events. Her story is one of incredible grace and redemption. She also came to faith at Grace Point and I baptized her. He was also going through some healing from a previous relationship and soon became an active part of our church. A few years later I was able to officiate their marriage and watch God heal their hearts in the process.

- Back in the early 2000s, I was considering taking a pastoral position in southern Indiana. A teenage young lady with a heart for Jesus was a part of the selection process that hired me to be their pastor.  When we decided to move to Las Vegas a few years later, I asked her and her husband to be a part of our launch team and move with us.  They took a huge step of faith and moved to Las Vegas where they have been a part of Grace Point ever since. He is also an elder at the church.

- Other current staff members also came to Grace Point during our first few years and their lives and the lives of their families were radically transformed by God.

- Three different churches are being planted around the country by young men who served as interns at Grace Point while I was the pastor. One of them met his wife at Grace Point. She also moved to Vegas (by herself) to be a part of our launch team.

- Ironically enough after participating in a mission trip to help Grace Point, a couple from Alabama asked if they could move to Vegas and serve on our team. They spent one year at Grace Point on our staff before returning to the city in which we now live - Decatur. They eventually took over a small church that has exploded to more than 1500 people and has impacted many lives throughout North Alabama. They were also a vital part of the healing process for my first wife who now serves on their staff. 

- Grace Point helped launch 2 churches in San Jose and San Francisco that are making a huge gospel impact in those areas.

- During our first few years, we worked hard to establish a partnership with the City of North Las Vegas that enabled us to touch hundreds of thousands of people in a few years time. It was an important component of who we were as a church and our presence in the community. That partnership continues today.

- We started a community service weekend in North Vegas called Servolution where we served aggressively our community for an entire weekend. That vision has continued and still shapes the church and community.

- Even my younger brother Derek who came to Vegas during a difficult season of his life and served on our staff met his future wife at Grace Point!

- I can't tell you how many emails or Facebook messages I have received and still receive from people all over the country who were impacted through what God did at Grace Point during that season.

Can you see the common thread here? God was writing a story bigger than the individuals in the story.  God's story is bigger than any chapter or chapters in your life. He is in absolute control. He is writing a story larger than our failures and our success.  He uses different people at different seasons in our lives to get us where He wants us.  He is writing His redemptive story and broken people are a part of the narrative.

It blows my mind God was writing a redemptive story in a small house in rural Kentucky that would enable Him to continue something on the other side of the country in Sin City - something that He began in my heart but would continue through the ministry of someone else whose path divinely crossed mine years earlier.  That chapter alone demonstrates how sovereign and big our God is.

The decisions I made during that season of my life hurt a lot of people. I will always live with that reality. But God has healed my heart to the place where I will not focus on my past mistakes but on the story He was writing in spite of me.  My sin did not catch God off guard.  He knew the chapters of my story before they were lived out. He knew how my story would play out before Las Vegas was even on my radar. And in His sovereignty He put together a redemptive plan that He would use to transform the lives of thousands of people long after my chapter ended.

Thankfully God is now writing a new story in our lives. In spite of the brokenness and sin, God has even redeemed my poor relationship decisions and is allowing me to serve and lead alongside an incredible wife. Our story truly is one of beauty from ashes. God is allowing us to compose a new chapter. He has given us the privilege after 5 years of healing and restoration to lead a group of broken Jesus followers who also have chapters they wish they could rewrite or amend.  Our stories are all about Jesus - the One who takes our chapters of brokenness and sin and redeems them for His purposes.

So on this first week of January when memories of both victory and defeat tend to plague my mind, I am thankful I serve a God who is writing a story bigger than mine.

Happy 10th Birthday Grace Point Church. And thank you Jesus for allowing me to be a small part of their journey.  And now on to the next chapter of our God-written story. 

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