Three months before Ryan and I moved our family from Minnesota to Las Vegas to plant Advance Church, we started a little crusade called the “Sun Stand Still group.” We had a box of Steven Furtick’s books delivered to our house and figured we could use them to embolden our friends to start asking God to do the impossible through their lives.
The book’s title refers to the time Joshua asked God to stop the sun from setting so that he and his army could finish fighting their enemies in broad daylight instead of letting them escape under the cover of night. And God did it. He left the light on. He answered Josh’s audacious prayer, and all kinds of world-changing stuff broke loose after that.
As we looked around the room at our group, we saw a bunch of people who had “sun stand still prayers” inside of them. They all wanted to be brave. They all wanted to believe that God was standing ready to do a miracle through their lives, but they were scared. Of getting it wrong. Of getting right. Of getting in over their heads. So there we were in our scuba gear telling everyone to stop being such wussies and just jump in the ocean already because, duh, people, the God of Joshua is our God too!
You can’t even imagine how obnoxious we were. Or maybe you can. Either way, we were loud about the fact that it was time for everyone to start taking some ground for the Kingdom of God, including us.
There was just one teeeeeny thing I never told anyone while we were leading them off the cliff: I was secretly obsessed with Chapter 13, the part of the book that addresses what happens when God doesn’t do the impossible. When he doesn’t answer the prayer. When he doesn’t make the sun stand still.
“I can’t in good conscience promise that God will make the sun stand still every time you walk in audacious faith. Sometimes people you love will get sick and they won’t recover. You won’t achieve everything you attempt. You’ll have to absorb and manage some pain you didn’t create, invite, or deserve. Audacious faith does not guarantee a crisis-free life. But audacious faith does enable you to seize the opportunity to see God’s glory in the midst of every crisis in your life. Even when–and maybe especially when–the sun goes down.”
I read and reread that chapter a half dozen times. Later, after we moved to Las Vegas, I often played the Chapter 13 video (above) like a song while I set our living room up for church or when I had a few minutes alone to feel the weight of what we were trying to do. For whatever reason, God tethered me to the sunset even while He performed sun stand still miracle after sun stand still miracle for Advance Church.
I never knew why.
Dusk descended in the spring.
Easter at Advance this year left us scratching our heads. We thought that by four years into the church planting thing, we’d have more people, more momentum, more evidence that we were on the right track. Instead, Ryan and I just stared at each other across the kitchen island wondering when we were going to turn the corner.
“Something drastic needs to happen,” Ryan said. “We have done all that we can do. God has got to start showing up or this thing isn’t going to make it.”
“God, please show up” became our daily prayer.
(Actually, that was only Ryan’s prayer. I mostly kept telling God to throw us a flipping bone already because I’m precious like that.)
And then He did. Only we didn’t know it at first because that’s how these things a-l-w-a-y-s go.
In May, Vince Antonucci, church planting pastor and author of all these great books, asked Ryan if he’d consider grabbing coffee to talk about possibly becoming the executive pastor of Verve, the church he started in 2009 for people who work on and live around the Las Vegas Strip.
I’m paraphrasing here, but Ryan was like, “Wait, what? I already have a job leading Advance. You know, the church God moved me here to start with MY BARE HANDS. Are you serious right now?”
So they met. And Vince laid out the crazy: Prostitutes, gang members, drug dealers, atheists, addicts, strippers, pimps, fire-breathing clowns…all coming to Verve in droves to learn for the first time that God adores them. Reporters calling, reality TV producers knocking, Vince criss-crossing the country to preach and teach and train up new leaders, all the while wondering who he could hire to help him keep it all on the rails.
After that meeting, nothing happened because duh. So absurd. Leaving Advance was not on our radar. In our minds “God showing up” = “God doing something new and miraculous at Advance” … not any of whatever this was.
Vince and Ryan eventually met again, this time to ask the question, “What’s better for God’s kingdom here in Las Vegas? For each of us to plod along doing our separate things, or for us to team up and take some ground for the Kingdom together?”
Well, when you put it like that.
God had our attention, but how could we actually go through with it? People moved their entire lives here to help us start Advance, and even more people stuck around to make sure it continued. We couldn’t just leave. Wouldn’t we be abandoning our call to church planting and also disappointing a whole lot of wonderful people in the process, including Jordan, the only other paid member of Advance’s staff? This didn’t make sense. It couldn’t be right.
Then Jordan walked into Ryan’s office and told him that he and his wife had just made the difficult decision to move their family back to Minnesota.
That’s when the sun made a beeline for the horizon.
We spent the next five weeks on our faces in prayer and on our phones seeking counsel from a trusted handful of pastors, friends, and mentors who all told us the same thing: “It’s time to move on. God is releasing you from Advance.”
We cried and grieved and kept taking steps forward until eventually we had gathered enough wisdom and courage to obey God’s voice and pursue the opportunity at Verve.
Not long after, Jordan and his family moved back to Minnesota, our Advance Kids’ director’s family received military orders to move to D.C., the building where Advance is a renter went into foreclosure, and our denomination agreed with our leadership team that it’s in the best interest of everyone involved to finish strong and close the church’s doors on August 23.
I have so much to say to you from the shadows of this sundown. It’s been sad and it’s been sacred and I want you to know about both. God has been exceedingly tender toward us, giving us our bearings as we’ve given him our grief, and in the coming weeks I will do my best to wrap words around the wonder of it all.
For today, though, we want you to know that we are standing firm in the hope of His storyline, the one that promises our present troubles are nothing compared to the glory that’s coming.