Thursday, July 06, 2017

A New Chapter: Saying Goodbye To Motel Church

In April of 2004, the Lord spoke to me as I was standing on the balcony of a Motel in Santa Ana. He said, “If you want this place, I’ll give it to you.”

I said, “Yes,” a heartbeat later, not fully realizing what I was getting myself into.

What followed over the next 13 years was astounding, confounding and beautiful.

In the beginning the manager didn’t want us there, so we prayed that the Lord would move his heart or move him out of the way.

Two weeks later, the man’s heart changed and we were welcomed in.

At first we simply blessed the children and their parents. We brought a bounce house, and played games and put on puppet shows, never once advertising our church or even preaching a sermon. We simply loved them as much as we could.

Eventually, as we hoped, some of them began to ask us, “Why do you come out here every month and do this for us?”

Our answer was always, “Because Jesus loves you so much and He wants you to know that He sees you and He cares about you and your family.”

Eventually another church came and joined us, about 3 years later. Saddleback Church, [yes, THAT one], wanted to serve breakfast and share the Gospel on Sunday mornings. We helped them get in good with the manager and I volunteered to preach once a month in their rotation.

That relationship eventually gave birth to an actual Motel Church that started meeting in the back parking lot and followed a “read through the scriptures and talk about it together” style service where the people were encouraged to read the Bible for themselves, ask questions, offer suggestions and even challenge the teacher if they wanted to. [And sometimes they wanted to.]

Later, other local churches came along and helped shoulder the load of the weekly Motel Church.

Eventually, Saddleback bowed out and others came to take their place.

We saw people’s lives transformed, hearts changed and wounds healed. We also saw heartbreak and defeat and disappointment. But mixed in with all of this was the steadfast love of Christ and the ever-present power of His Kingdom held wide open for any and all who wanted to live in it and walk with Jesus.

People were baptized in the swimming pool. Some found a way out of the motel. Others found contentment to bloom where they were planted. Still others discovered a God who loved them more than they ever dared to hope or imagine and their lives were forever changed.

Above all, we were the most changed from the inside-out. I mean, I was the most changed. The Lord taught me things I would never have been able to learn from a book or a sermon.

I learned what true courage looks like. I learned what real love and family can be. I saw transformation take place in a moment, and I saw it take place over months and years.

My ideas about ministry were blown wide open. My ideas about church were radically altered. My understanding of God’s love and mercy were expanded and stretched forever out of shape and I was left with a new paradigm to grow into.

Of course, I could never have known any of this would happen as I said, “Yes” to the Lord’s invitation that afternoon on the balcony of the motel.

Today, I have made another leap of faith and responded to another invitation the Lord has given me to step aside and allow others to take this Motel Church ministry forward.

This is harder than you can imagine. I keep seeing all those faces and reliving all those stories. I wonder what the Lord will do next, both in my life and in the lives of our dear friends at the Motel.

This is the great unknown. Life, and faith, is marked by uncertainty. All we can do is cling to Jesus and follow Him every step of the way.

I’m leaving these people, and this ministry, in the best of hands. They understand that it isn’t my ministry, and it isn’t theirs either. They know that the Lord is doing a great work among them and they are thrilled and humbled to take part in it.

So, the Motel Church will continue. It will grow and change and thrive. The Lord will continue to reveal Himself in - and through - everyone who surrenders to His will in that place. Of this, I am certain and it gives me great comfort.

I am so grateful for this amazing experience. I will never forget any of it. 

Most of all, I will never forget these beautiful and amazing people. They taught me how to follow Jesus better. They taught me how to live and breathe outside my comfort zone. They helped me to see and to hear Jesus in ways I would have never imagined possible.

This chapter of my life is closing, but another one is being written at the very same time.

Change is hard, but it is part life.

Here we go…




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