All languages have several ways to say “Bye!” “Goodbye” seems rather final. “So long” implies a lengthy separation. “God’s speed” is rarely used anymore, but it suggests danger and the real possibility that one won’t make it back. Then there is “See you later.” But that still implies a period of separation. So what word or phrase fits my transition? I’ll get to that later…
I’m not leaving Pantano, but I am stepping off our staff. On August 1st, I would have celebrated 24 years on staff at Pantano. It has been such an honor to serve this great church for so long. I am blessed. I only hope my years of service have also been a blessing to you and others.
I’m so proud of our church. No church is perfect, but we are very healthy. I love our commitment to being kingdom-centered, not church-centered. I love how we are making a difference. I love our faithfulness to Jesus and his Word. I love our church.
So this is my final blog. I started this blog one year before becoming the Lead Pastor of Pantano 15 years ago – that was 2006 (Sixteen years of blogs!). Back then, very few folks even did a blog. I started it as a way to stay connected weekly. I’ve shared some personal struggles and insights I’ve had on scripture or from life and tried to communicate about what was happening at Pantano. One of my favorite blogs was back in 2013 when I talked about killing cockroaches in my in-law’s shower – you can read it here. As I start my sabbatical break, I’ll also take a break from my weekly blogging.
Pantano is still our home church. We love our church. Jolene and I will still be around when we are in town and we’ll be actively involved. Starting in January 2023, I’ll have a limited role in serving our staff and church while I figure out my next season of ministry and sources of income. I’m excited for what God has for me.
So what phrase do I use in this parting? How about “I’m off!” Maybe that’s the best way to describe this season of my life. I’m not retiring. But “I’m off” to a new focus in ministry. I’ll still be active in fulfilling our mission as a church – “Loving people to Jesus; launching passionate people to make a difference.” So “goodbye” just doesn’t seem appropriate.
I’d like to finish my final blog with some heartfelt thank yous. I’m so grateful for Roger Blumenthal. It’s been so amazing to serve together these last 18 years. Thank you for your wisdom, friendship, long hours of work, and for your support.
I’m grateful for an amazing staff. You are the best! I’m so proud of your maturity, wisdom, skill, and commitment to Jesus and his church.
I’m grateful for our elders. Thank you for being a great “boss” all these years and for your love, friendship, and support. Thank you for leading our church so well.
Finally, thank you, Pantano. I’ve already said it above, but I feel the need to say it again and again – I love you so much! We’ve lived life together. We’ve served together. We’ve been through the good times and hard times. We’ve made a difference… together!
So, I’m off with deep and profound gratitude.
I want to thank you all for the kind words and ways you honored Jolene and me on Sunday during Pantano’s 60th anniversary. We are so grateful to be a part of a church that has loved us so well. We are blessed!
Sunday I announced that I’ll be ending my active time on our church staff at the end of May. So what’s next for me? I’m reminded that the Bible tells us that none of us know the future – Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come? (Ecclesiastes 8:7). Those are wise words for sure. While we can’t know the future for sure, that doesn’t mean we don’t plan and prepare for what’s next, as long as we remember that we don’t control the future. I’m trusting God to lead us into whatever our next will be.
I don’t actually see “retirement” as a biblical principle. It’s like I tell our Seniors when I meet with them – If you’re not dead, you’re not done. Well, I’m not dead, so I’m not done in ministry. I’m just entering a season where my ministry will have a different focus and pace.
Jolene and I did a life plan over a year ago. There were two key conclusions that we took away from that experience; First, in this next season, I want to slow down and create a lifestyle where there’s less stress and pressure. For 45 years, I’ve been in leadership roles with lots of pressure: Dean of Students, Missionary, and Pastor.
Second, I want to use my 45 years of experience to mentor, coach, and encourage other pastors and leaders. I really resonate with Donald Miller’s take on stories. He says every great story has a victim, a villain, a hero on a mission, and a guide. For 45 years, I’ve played the part of the “hero” – the one who tries to fix the problems and make things better for everyone. That season is coming to an end.
However, every “hero” has a guide. I’ve had great guides and mentors over the years. In this new season of life, I want to move out of the “hero on a mission” role and more into the “guide” role.
I’ll be invested in helping pastors right here in Tucson. I’ll continue to do some of the things I’ve already been doing in that area. I’ll have time to add a few other things, however, the details of all that are still being worked out. I’m also working with The Ascent Leader and will be coaching a transition cohort (pastors who are just transitioning into the Lead Pastor role). I’ll also be a guide for Trevor and our staff as needed or requested.
Jolene and I are not leaving Pantano. Pantano is our church home. You’ll see us around campus on Sundays. I’m so looking forward to relaxing and enjoying worship and absorbing the teaching while not having to lead and be concerned about the logistics.
Jolene and I will be on sabbatical until the end of the year. We’ll be traveling some and enjoying time with our granddaughters. After 45 years of ministry, I’m ready for a less busy season. When the new year begins, I’ll be able to serve our staff, and I’ll teach on occasion as requested.
Jolene and I are so excited and looking forward to our “next.” We enter this season without any fear or concerns. Our God has been faithful and has never let us down. He’s the same today as he was yesterday! I can’t wait to see how God will use us in this “next.”
In January of 1962, Pantano Christian Church had her first public meeting held in a home on 31st Street. There were 32 people present that Sunday for its beginning. Today, after 60 years, several building projects, and eight Lead Pastors, we have grown to average over 3100 people. We’ve started three thriving congregations in southern Arizona, helped start thousands of churches globally, and served countless other churches, organizations, and agencies.
We have an amazing history, and we will celebrate it this Sunday, May 15th, at our two regular services (9 am and 11 am). You won’t want to miss this Sunday in person or online. Our students will be joining us in the auditorium for this special day. Here’s what’s planned:
You won’t want to miss the medley of songs we’ll sing that range through the decades of Pantano’s existence.
We’ll be sharing a video timeline history of our church, walking us through the 60 years of what God has done in and through our church. I’ll also be sharing about the impact of Pantano over the years, and we’ll honor some of our long-time Pantano folks.
60th Anniversary Merchandise
We have 60th Anniversary merchandise available for purchase. Click here to see your many options or go to pantano.shop. We’ll also have free stickers we’ll be giving away onsite. If you’re online, you can get your free sticker here (just pay shipping).
In addition to our regular Café menu items for purchase, we’ll be giving away free Eegees!
I’ll be sharing how God is leading me into my next season of life and ministry, and Pastor Trevor will be sharing how God will lead our church into its future.
See you Sunday as we celebrate!
This week is National Teacher Appreciation Week. Wow, what a tough couple of years it has been for our teachers, school administrators, and staff. I can’t express how grateful I am for all who serve our kids in education. Thank you for loving your students and families in some of the most difficult circumstances. You are making a difference! THANK YOU!
Our outreach team set a goal to reach as many schools as possible and let the staff know how much we appreciate them. On our website, we offered $200 of seed money to be used to bless a school. I’m blown away at the care, sacrifice, generosity, and service of our church. You fulfilled our mission and vision. Our mission and vision are connected directly to this project.
Mission: Loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference.
Vision: Our vision is to be a catalytic force to bring God’s influence to Southern Arizona and strategic places in the world.
Pantano, you stepped up big time and responded to the We Love Our Schools project. You personally got involved and fulfilled our mission as we launched you to love people. Look what you provided!
You lived out our vision. Pantano is a catalyst. We don’t just do our mission. We model, invite and encourage other churches to do the same. We helped start Serve Our City, and now dozens of other churches have joined us. When we started We Love Our Schools, we hoped other churches would join in. They did. So let’s celebrate…
Finally, what’s not shown are all the ways our people gave extra funds to buy more food, gifts, or gift cards beyond what the $200 seed money could provide. Way to go, Pantano! I’m so proud of you! You took the challenge found in Galatians 6:9. And by taking the challenge, we’ll see the promise… Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
Sunday I preached on one of my most cherished and helpful passages of scripture – Matthew 11:28-30. I felt so inadequate to teach the power and depth of this passage. I’ve come to see it as Jesus’ great invitation. Here’s the passage:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
There are actually multiple invitations in what Jesus said. Jesus invites us to come to him and become a student of him. After we are tired and weary of carrying and managing the burdens of our lives, he invites us to lay them all down and come to him. This may be the simplest and most clear invitation Jesus ever gave – just come to him! We go to him and lay down the shame and guilt of our failures and sin. We are invited to stop striving to make life work and make ourselves right with God. We are invited to rest with Jesus.
Jesus invites us to learn from him. That’s what taking his yoke means. It means we link up with him, walk with him, live life with him, learn how he does life, and imitate him. And he’s the one we want to imitate, for he says he’s gentle and humble in heart. This passage in Matthew is the only place in scripture where Jesus describes his own heart.
Following Jesus is just that – walking with Jesus. It’s not about following the rules. It’s not about sacrifice. It’s not about any number of religious things we are told to do. The invitation is to focus on Jesus, watch him, know him, and learn from him.
How do you do that? That’s a critical question. Each of us will find our own unique ways, but we have to make this a priority and find ways to link up or be yoked with Jesus daily.
And Jesus’ yoke (what it means to follow Jesus) is easy and light. That doesn’t seem to fit my experience. I’ve never found it “easy” to follow Jesus. His way is hard… so it seems. But the fact that Jesus says it is easy and light means we might need to rethink how we follow and engage Jesus. Have we made it too hard?!
Maybe we make it hard because of our own selfish desires, and we tend to complicate things – even faith. Jesus’ way is easy and light when we surrender and are yoked with Jesus. As we walk side by side, he takes so much of our load, including our worry, anxiety, and fear. Jesus invites us to rest. In fact, twice he mentions rest. Jesus wants us to find rest for our souls. And this is an indicator of when we are following Jesus well – we find rest for our souls.
If you haven’t done so yet, may I encourage you to take some time to reflect on this passage? I created a Religion Recovery Guide that helps walk you through the words of Jesus. You can access the guide here.
Elephants are amazing creatures in so many ways. But the thing they are “famous” for is how big they are! They can weigh up to 13,000 pounds and be up to 13 feet tall. They eat so much that they can deposit up to 330 pounds of dung a day (gross!).
The point is that you can’t miss an elephant. And that’s where the phrase: “There’s an elephant in the room” is derived. The phrase originated from a fable called The Inquisitive Man – a story of a man who goes to a museum and notices the smallest details of everything but fails to see the enormous elephant, the largest thing on exhibition. The modern phrase has come to mean something so big that you can’t miss it. It is evident to all, yet it’s something that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about.
Almost every family has had to face an elephant in the room at one time or another. It happens at work. Maybe it’s an addiction, a bad attitude, out-of-control spending, someone who is domineering or controlling, narcissism, or perhaps something far worse. Everyone knows this “elephant” exists, but it’s easier, for the time being, to just avoid bringing it up. It’s there, but no one talks about it.
The same thing can happen in a church. Sometimes we have questions about faith that we are afraid to address. On Sunday, we are beginning a series called Elephant in the Room. In this series, we will talk about five big things that we can’t ignore. These won’t be easy conversations. But we have some important things to talk about regarding our faith.
Here are the five questions we’ll be exploring:
April 24 – Is Jesus for religion?
May 1 – Is it okay to doubt your faith?
May 8 – Is the church relevant and necessary?
(May 15 – Pantano’s 60th anniversary celebration)
May 22 – Why does God allow suffering?
May 29 – Is the Bible out of date when it comes to sexuality?
We’ll also have an in-person Q & A on Monday, May 2nd at 7 pm in the Student Union. Glen will host Dana Yentzer, the founder and director of Ministry Resources Institute (Tucson). Dana will answer any of the difficult questions we have about faith.
What are you struggling with regarding your beliefs? What question keeps nagging you? What hurdle are you facing in going forward in faith? In this Live Q & A, Dana Yentzer will be answering questions that you have about faith, spirituality, and the Bible. You’ll have an opportunity to ask any questions you might have about your faith. This discussion will be a safe place to ask honest questions – a no-judgment zone!
I do enjoy the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. But my favorite holy day is Easter. Jesus is alive, and his resurrection power is still at work today. That’s why our Easter celebration will overflow with worship, joy, and celebration. You don’t want to miss our Easter celebration, either in person or online, at 9 am, 11 am, or 1 pm. I can’t wait to hear our new Lead Pastor, Trevor DeVage, share about the power of the resurrection.
If you’ll be out of town, join us online. Our services will be available to stream live at each service time on Facebook, YouTube, and our website.
We’ll also be celebrating baptisms in our service. What a great day to declare that you will die to yourself to be raised in baptism and begin a new way of living as you follow Jesus! If you would like to be baptized – let us know by filling out this form, and we’ll follow up with you to give you instructions.
Free Pancake Breakfast
Our Café is amazing, and they will be providing a free pancake breakfast after the 9 am and 11 am services!
Kids and Students
Our Kids Ministry is hosting an Easter egg hunt for our preschoolers at each service. And, all our children from birth to 5th grade will also celebrate that Jesus is alive! We won’t have separate services for our middle and high school students as they are encouraged to join their families in the main service.
Don’t forget that we are offering a self-guided journey through the twelve stations of the cross, ending with communion. You can participate anytime on Good Friday from 7 am to 7 pm in the Student Union.
Family Picnic – April 24
You and your family are invited to join us the Sunday after Easter for a family picnic after the 9 am and 11 am services! We’ll provide hotdogs and chips, and there will be games for the family in the outdoor areas.
Teaching Series After Easter
You’ve heard the phrase: ‘There’s an elephant in the room.’ This phrase has come to mean something so big that you can’t miss it, and it’s obvious to all, yet it’s something that no one wants to acknowledge or talk about. The Sunday after Easter, we will begin a series called Elephant in the Room. This series will explore five aspects of faith; things that are tough questions that people tend to have. These are questions about our faith that we can’t ignore. These won’t be easy conversations. But we have some important things to talk about regarding our faith. You don’t want to miss any of the messages in this series.
May you and your family experience a blessed resurrection celebration!
Our Mission – Launching
Our mission is “Loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference.” There are two phrases within that mission, and both are connected. In all we do, we want to love people to Jesus. One of the ways we love people to Jesus is to launch people in our church to engage and serve others. We have two new options to launch you to make a difference. One is far, and one is close.
Have You Ever Wanted to Go to Africa?
We want to launch you to serve in Ghana! We’ve got a short-term mission trip coming up that will take you to some amazing people and work that our church mission partner, Heartbeat for Africa, is hosting. Here are the details…
When: July 30th – Aug 13th
Activities: Working with Youth in an Orphanage, Conducting Development Training
Overview: Heartbeat for Africa (HBA), a Tucson non-profit, in connection with local churches, is leading a 10-12 person team for two weeks to Ghana to work with partner organizations (City of Refuge Ministries and African Internship Center). Experienced HBA team leaders will conduct all team training.
To Learn More: Attend an informational meeting at Pantano Christian Church on Sunday, 10 April @ 10:15 AM or 12:15 PM in the church office Conference Room
Questions: Contact Jeff Wesley at email@example.com or C: 520-370-5232
We Love Our Schools
National teacher appreciation week is the first week of May. We want to launch you to help us Love Our Schools and bless teachers and school support staff. With your help, our goal is to bless the entire staff at as many schools in the Tucson area as possible! We invite you to use the $200 seed money we will provide to bless the staff at your selected K-12 schools. Additionally, we encourage you to invite another family, small group, friends, and/or a surrounding business to join you to make an even bigger blessing – both to you, them, and the school!.
Sign up today! We have schools from all across the Tucson area to adopt. WE LOVE OUR SCHOOLS Signup
New Teaching Series – Three Days
There’s never been a greater good news story. It’s so good and great because it transforms all of life. The Gospel (which means good news) is centered on the three most critical days of human history. Our salvation rests on what Jesus did and what happened to him on the Friday of his death, the Saturday of his burial, and the Sunday of his resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, Paul declares that the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our deliverance from all the destructive effects of sin, now and forever. In this series leading up to Easter, we will take a deeper look into the meaning of each of those three days and how they affect and shape us now. We’ll explore what Jesus did for us each day and see how we are to respond to the unique spiritual truth of each event.
The Cross of Friday
This Sunday, we will look at Good Friday, the first of the three days. Jesus experienced excruciating pain and suffering as he was flogged and nailed to a cross. We can’t even imagine the extent of his pain. Right before Jesus died, he cried out My God, My God, why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:34 and Psalm 22:1). Crucifixion is primarily death by suffocation. Jesus could hardly breathe. When he spoke these last words right before his death, he had limited ability to speak, so he just quotes the first verse of Psalm 22. However, Jesus knew the entire Psalm by heart. I believe he was praying the whole psalm, not just the first verse.
We call Psalm 22 a “Messianic Psalm” because many of the things King David wrote about concerning his experiences were the exact things Jesus experienced. I encourage you to read and meditate on your own. Both David and Jesus were mocked and surrounded by enemies. Both had their bones exposed and their clothes divided up by casting lots. David describes his horrible condition and suffering in the first 21 verses, and God used David’s experience in a prophetic way to describe what Jesus experienced.
The most common view in Christianity today is that the moment when Jesus declared God had forsaken him was in fact the moment that God turned his back on Jesus. Why? Because God could not look at all the sins of all humanity that Jesus bore at that moment. Yes, Jesus bore all the sins of the world on the cross. But did God turn away from Jesus? Jesus was being fully obedient to his Father. He was sacrificing his life for our sins. Would God abandon him at that very moment? Or did it just feel that way to Jesus?
Let me make my case. Yes, I’m a rare voice that expresses this view, so, in humility, all I ask is that you consider it and make your own decision. Psalm 22 changes at verse 22. Remember that Jesus knew this whole Psalm. I believe Jesus was saying these very words in his mind. Look at verses 22-24 – I will declare your name to my people; in the assembly I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help (Psalm 22:22-24). David goes from lament and suffering (verses 1-21) to praise (verses 22-31). Psalm 22 and many of the other Psalms follow this pattern. When we are first honest with God about our pain, honesty and transparency bring us back to a God worthy of praise.
I believe it is not wise to say that God turned his back on Jesus at the moment of his deepest pain and suffering on the cross. The very Psalm 22 that Jesus quoted says God “has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Jesus’ suffering was so intense that he felt like God had forsaken him. But Jesus prayed this prayer in his mind to remind him that his suffering was not despised and God had not abandoned him. Nor will God abandon us in our most difficult and painful moments.
Join us this Sunday as we dig deeper into the meaning of that first Good Friday.
No one wins a war. One side might dominate another and claim victory, but no one really wins. As I watch the destruction of high-rise apartment buildings (most were built during the Soviet era), the loss is impossible to calculate. I lived in those kinds of apartments and spent so many hours visiting friends in them. Then, we consider what is more important – the loss of life. It just makes no sense. I’ve had a lot of hard conversations with God over the last four weeks. And like I’ve said before, while I still feel helpless, I refuse to be hopeless.
I still put my hope in God, who is greater than the missiles, tanks, or an evil mad man. So we need to pray to our God, who is still on the throne of the universe. We pray to our God, who knows each hair on our head and those of the 44 million Ukrainians and of the invading soldiers whose lives are not what they wanted them to be right now. He knows it all. He is compassionate, abounding in love and mercy. He is good… even when you or I can’t make sense of any of this.
So, we pray. And that is the most important thing we can do. It is not the least we can do; it’s the greatest thing we can do. Thank you for praying. Now it’s time for us to pray together. We have set up two options where we can come together and pray.
Join us Online
I’ll be hosting a prayer time online via zoom on Monday, March 28th at 7 pm. You can join the Zoom prayer meeting by clicking this link.
Meeting ID: 818 2868 4225
Feel free to invite others to join us.
Join us In Person
I’ll also be hosting an in-person prayer time. We’ll gather on Thursday. March 31st at 7 pm in the Student Union.
How to Pray
Here are some things you can pray about now, whether you can or can’t join us:
I’m so proud of our church. Your generosity overwhelms me. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than receive.” I’ve experienced the truth of those words, as generosity has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my life. Here are a few ways you have and can continue to make a difference through your generosity.
Pantano Christian Church
Thank you for your faithful support for the work and ministry of our church. Your regular and generous giving allows us to serve the people of our church, our city, and in strategic places around the world. We’re seeing thousands come to faith in Muslim areas of Africa and Hindu areas of India. Our global partners are helping villages create healthy communities while planting churches. And we’ve made it easy as you can give online!
Tucson Homeless Work Program
Thank you for the amazing Christmas Eve giving. We gave over $100,000 to the Tucson Homeless Work Program. You have made it possible to help those who want to work to get off the streets. Wow. Thank you!
You’ve given over $97,000 to help those facing war and devastation in Ukraine. The funds are going to one of our global partners who evacuated to Western Ukraine. They are funneling resources to 20 churches and organizations that are directly serving people in desperate need. You can follow me on Facebook to get regular updates. Wow! Thank you!
Journey of Generosity
If you’re already a generous person who supports your church and other non-profits, I want to invite you to a Journey of Generosity (JOG) two-day retreat. Generous Giving underwrites this free event to help you explore Jesus-like generosity without asking for anything in return. There is no cost and no surprise “ask” at all! At the retreat, you’ll see some incredible video stories, engage in personal Bible study, have focused solitude time with the Lord, and participate in authentic conversations.
My wife and I participated in this retreat, and it was a life-changer. I hope you can make this a priority! My friends Mark Harris and our elder Jim Weisert host this at the Tucson Country Club – 2950 N. Camino Principal, 85715. It starts Friday, April 1 at 2 pm and ends after dinner. Then it resumes on Saturday, April 2 at 8 am and finishes in the afternoon. Sign up and RSVP here. Email Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions.
Generosity Plus an Arizona Tax Break
It’s tax season, and the State of Arizona allows you to make a donation to a school or charity. You can claim the donation on your taxes for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit. In simple terms, you get to decide how you want some of your tax money spent! You can give to any public school or students receiving a Christian education through the Institute for Better Education. Or you can give to some amazing Christian non-profits we partner with like Teen Challenge, Arizona Baptist Children’s Services, Gospel Rescue Mission, and many more.
Thank you, Pantano, for your amazing generosity!
Last Saturday night Jolene and I put our granddaughters down to bed, and we had a great prayer time together. As often happens during this time, our granddaughters will ask questions. My oldest granddaughter asked if Russia was going to attack us. We assured her the war was a long way away and wasn’t coming here. Then our youngest granddaughter asked why we closed our eyes to pray. It was a precious time.
Then I got ready for bed. On Saturday nights before I preach, I try to go to bed a bit earlier as my Sunday morning starts at 5 am. My usual nightly routine includes a prayer time as I lay in bed. But I found my prayer going in a direction I hadn’t experienced in a long time. I started by begging God to stop the war in Ukraine. I prayed for my Ukrainian friends by name. But the longer I prayed, the more unsettled I got. I absolutely believe God is all-powerful. I also believe that he is good. So why doesn’t he stop this stupid useless war? He can. Why hasn’t he? The more intensely I prayed, the angrier I got.
Then the Holy Spirit reminded me that my anger, frustration, and confusion were not unique to me or this time. How many times during World War 2 did people beg God for the war to stop? How many times have parents of a child with a terminal disease cried out to God to heal their child? How many times have those who have been victims of evil pleaded with God for relief and help? There’s nothing new under the sun.
Then I remembered how David was also angry and prayed to ask God to severely punish those who are evil. Psalm 109 is one of those prayers. I’ve now read that Psalm over and over. As I read it, I substitute Putin and his cronies into David’s cry for punishment. If you’ve not read Psalm 109 lately, click here to read it. He prays that his enemy’s days would be few and that his children would become beggars without a father. He prays that all kinds of evil be done to one who did him evil. He calls on God to multiply curses on his adversary. That’s how I want to pray. I empathize with David’s anger and disgust.
In days past, when I was unaffected by evil, I would read Psalm 109 and think how strange that such a writing would be included in the Bible. About 30 statements of judgment, revenge, or curse are declared in this Psalm. These are in direct opposition to the teaching of Jesus – read Matthew 5. Frankly, this Psalm seems wrong and inappropriate. Why is it even in the Bible? Because that’s how godly people feel sometimes. It’s a reminder that we are broken human beings.
My two words for this year are kindness and gentleness. You don’t see any of that in Psalm 109. But the Psalms do not always proclaim an eternal truth for all to embrace, but rather express the real emotions of one who’s suffering. I’m suffering as my dear friends are suffering. I know that I’m not alone in this anguish. I hear from my friends in Ukraine their version of this angry prayer. I have prayed my version of this Psalm against Putin and his war on innocent people.
But you have to read the Psalm to the end (this is often the case in David’s psalms). Read Psalm 109:21-31. It describes me. It describes you. It’s an admission of our need for help. It is a confession of our weakness and brokenness. It’s an admission of our humanity with all its carnal reactions. It’s also a declaration that in spite of the evil, God has not abandoned us and is with us, and his love never stops.
This Psalm reflects life. We are human and react out of the flesh. We are also children of God who are led by the Spirit. Both are operating at the same time. Because the flesh and the Spirit are at war, Paul writes this in Galatians 5:16-17 – So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.
It is a daily journey in faith to learn to walk by or be led by the Spirit and not let the flesh have its way. What a difficult journey it is. And thanks be to God that his grace is abundant as we struggle to follow the way of Jesus.
I find myself breaking out in tears all through the day. For those who know me well, I’m not one who cries easily. My heart is broken. I’ve been in contact with many I know who live in Ukraine. I feel so helpless living so far away. I’m so grateful for so many of you who are praying and have opened your heart to the people of Ukraine.
Our family served as missionaries in a city called Kherson, Ukraine. CNN put a correspondent in Kherson so I’ve watched the invasion of “my” city on television. Both of my children have an amazing tattoo of Ukraine as they spent some of their childhood there. Kherson (the same size as Tucson) is the first major city on the main road out of Russian-annexed Crimea. It has the main bridge across the Dnieper River from Crimea to Ukraine so it’s a strategic point. It appears that the Russians now control Kherson.
We went to Kherson when it was part of the Soviet Union. We helped start churches. We saw thousands come to faith. We helped start Tavriski Christian Institute in 1997 which is training church leaders in Ukraine and Muslim Central Asia. We watched Ukraine declare independence in August 1991 and were there when the Soviet Union broke up.
Here’s what I want you to know. Ukrainians are the most peaceful people I know. Let me be clear. There are good and bad people in every culture and society. There are really good Russians. But Ukrainian culture as a whole loves peace and cherishes freedom. Before this week, I would tell people that Ukraine was the freest country in the world! Ukrainian and Russian languages are similar but different (like Portuguese and Spanish). But even the language tells us about the culture. Ukrainian is much softer than the guttural sounds of Russian. It reflects the softness of the people who love to be hospitable and cherish relationships. Ukrainians are loyal and very spiritual. To this day, my best and closest friends are Ukrainian.
Ukraine’s independence has lasted 31 years. Now get this. That is the longest Ukraine has ever had independence. Ukraine has no natural borders to protect it (the name Ukraine means “borderland”). It has been conquered and ruled by the Mongols, Poles, the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, and now an attempt by the Russian Federation. Ukrainians love their freedom and independence and they won’t stand for Russian occupation. Look at their recent history to keep their independence from Russia:
The cost of lives and property is immense. But there is another cost as well. It’s close to my heart. In 1997 we established the Tavriski Christian Institute (TCI). We were to celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. It is the first Christian college in Ukraine that has received state accreditation. TCI is sponsoring Christian training for pastors and leaders in central Asian countries where believers there are under constant persecution. TCI professors and teachers can go to these restricted places because they hold Ukrainian passports. TCI is helping support church planting movements in Muslim countries where few can go.
Today, TCI has been evacuated. The TCI property is right on the Dnieper River and is just a mile or so from the main Turupinski Bridge. This bridge is the main way to cross the river from Crimea to the rest of Ukraine. 20 helicopters of Russian special forces landed right by TCI. They burned and cleared all the cattails and brush from the river to make sure they can protect the bridge so their tanks and military support can cross the river. Russian snipers are controlling the bridge currently. Will TCI students and staff ever be able to return? Will TCI have to become remote and relocate? The future is unknown for TCI and 40 million Ukrainians.
Russia also invaded the south of Ukraine to get water. Their first main target was the hydroelectric dam in Kahovka (some 40 miles from Kherson). They needed to open up a water canal that is the main source of freshwater for the entire Crimean peninsula. When Putin illegally invaded Crimea and took it from Ukraine, the Ukrainians cut off their water supply in response.
Yes, in some ways there are two Ukraines. Western Ukraine (basically from the Dnieper river west) is predominantly Ukrainian-speaking. Eastern Ukraine is predominantly Russian speaking – however, almost all can speak and understand each other’s language. But even Eastern Ukraine is split also. Many who speak Russian identify culturally as Ukrainian and love their country. There are those who speak Russian who watch only Russian propaganda television and side with the Russian Federation. That’s why there have been the breakaway regions (instigated by Russian operatives). In general, there’s been peace between Ukrainian and Russian-speaking Ukrainians, until the Russian operatives began their work of disunity.
When Putin invaded Crimea in 2014, he sent Russian operatives into Kherson. They were driven out by a united city. Part of the unity in that city developed through the faith community. For decades, the Protestant churches and the Orthodox churches have worked for unity. Every Sunday, leaders, and congregants would meet in the central square where the statue of Lenin used to stand. They would pray together for their city and country.
So what can you and I do? We can pray. Like believers for the last 2000 years who have faced persecution, it seems so little. But do we really believe in a God who is greater than an invading army? I do. I’m praying daily that Putin repents and surrenders to Jesus. I’m praying for the Russian and Belarusian people to stand up and revolt against this tyranny. I’m praying the Russian oligarchs will take a stand against Putin (even if only for selfish reasons). I’m praying for a miracle of resilience on the part of the Ukrainian people. I’m praying that the West fully support and supply the Ukrainian people. I’m praying that the believers still in Ukraine will stand strong in their faith as they love and serve all and be a witness to the life-giving Jesus. I’m praying for peace as other bad actors in the world might be tempted to use this to further aggression in other parts of the world. Pray for peace. Pray that in the midst of chaos and conflict that the kingdom and influence of God will advance.
Many of you have asked how you can help financially. We’ve been able to set up a way to get the funds into Ukraine! The funds you give will go to help Ukrainian refugees and the churches and Christians who remain in Ukraine to serve their people and advance the love of Christ. You can give at https://pantano.church/give/. Select the Ukraine fund.
I’m now in daily contact with Ukrainians (thank God for the internet) and we have ways to ensure that help gets to those who need it. Thank you for your love, prayer, and support. Please keep praying. I’m confident that God will not ignore the prayers of tens of thousands of believers.
In my season of transition from being the Lead Pastor, I’ve reminded many folks that all of us are in an interim position. It’s not to be feared but embraced. Nothing in life lasts forever, including the honor of leading our church. All our jobs and roles are temporary. Life itself is temporary. So we plan wisely for tomorrow, knowing that at the same time, we can’t control the future.
James 4:14 reminds us of an important truth – Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. That truth is rather sobering, but we shouldn’t ignore it or deny it. While we can’t control what happens in our future, we can take some steps to make reasonable plans for the benefit of our family and be good stewards that can address the causes we care about.
I can’t even guess how many funerals, memorials, and celebration of life services I’ve done over my 45 years of ministry. Many deaths were a surprise due to accidents or sudden illness. Every family grieves the loss of their loved one. But for some, the situation after the funeral was just as hard. Why? The person who departed didn’t have a plan for their children or the possessions that they left behind. Loving our family includes helping them when we might not be here.
Here at Pantano, we offer a free service to help you prepare your estate documents with our ministry partner, Financial Planning Ministry (FPM). FPM is a trusted Christian organization that will help provide a complete estate plan (living trust, will, and power of attorney) at no cost to you. This can save you thousands of dollars. You will be asked to consider leaving charitable gifts to Pantano or other ministries within your estate plan so that in your passing, you can continue the generosity you’ve expressed throughout your life.
With an estate plan from FPM, your family can avoid paying probate costs and unexpected taxes on inheritance and have all your affairs set in order. Jolene and I are grateful for the legal documents that FPM helped us create.
Our next 90-minute Financial Planning Ministry Information Meeting will be Monday, February 28th at 6:30 PM in the Pantano Student Union.
To register for this event, fill out our FPM Registration Form. Feel free to invite friends and family to register and attend with you. If you have any questions about FPM or the estate planning process, you can email Roger at email@example.com and he would be happy to assist you.
FPM takes the mystery out of estate planning, guiding you and your family through a straightforward process and allowing you to design a legacy plan that blesses your family while honoring God. They can also update an old trust and prepare a special needs trust for families with children who will need care throughout their lives.
We are in a super important teaching series on Sundays called Playbook. We are looking at the eight plays of Jesus, called the Beatitudes. We have to execute these plays if we want to become more like Jesus.
They are hard. Poor in spirit is the utter need and dependence on God. Mourning is deep sorrow over our sin that leads to repentance and change. Meekness is surrendering our control over to God. And we have five challenging ones to go. I can’t wait until we consider “pure in heart.”
The spiritual life is and always will be a struggle. Even as we start to put the Beatitudes into play, we discover that we have to find new and deeper ways to live them out as we mature toward being Christlike. We never “graduate” from the struggle until we graduate into heaven. Daily, we are reminded of how deep our pride and sin go. It’s normal. We all struggle. No one is exempt.
Last fall, we looked at the fruit of the Spirit. We are to rely on the Spirit to develop our character to be like Jesus. But it’s a struggle because our flesh is weak, and it’s those weaknesses where we are tempted. There is a never-ending battle between our flesh (our tendency toward sin) and the Spirit. That’s why Paul writes:
So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. Galatians 5:16-17
Take some time to read all of Romans chapter 7. The great Apostle Paul, who God used to write the majority of our New Testament, struggled. Look at what this great saint said about his spiritual battle:
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:21-25)
Any of us could have and have voiced this. There’s not a day that passes that I don’t face how wretched, prideful, and sinful I am.
In the last six weeks, God has gently helped me realize how deep my pride still goes. There’s still so much selfishness that controls my life. I feel helpless to overcome it. I hate how it manifests itself and damages me and those I interact with. I want to change. Is there any hope for me and for you? Yes. Here’s how Paul answers that question:
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:24-25)
The struggle will never end, but growth toward being more like Jesus is possible by the power of God’s Spirit transforming us. Don’t give up. Stay in the battle. It’s worth it.
Super Bowl Sunday
This Sunday, February 13th, folks will be partying all around the United States as we celebrate one of our biggest unofficial holidays – the Super Bowl. And yes, I’m pretty excited that my Bengals no longer carry the “Bungles” label. Feel free to wear your favorite team’s jersey this Sunday. You bet I’ll be wearing my orange and black Bengals shirt.
We’re also going to have a party at church as we celebrate the completion of our auditorium remodel and reopening. Aren’t the new seats great?! By the way, every other row has seat arms that can raise to give you more room. And yes, the cup holders are coming. We’ll have our regular services at 9 am and 11 am.
We’ll have lots of food and fun after each service. There’ll be regular meals for purchase and free Krispy Kreme donuts and kettle corn after the 9 am service and free hot dogs and pretzels after the 11 am service.
There will be lots for the kids to do. The rock wall will be open for climbing. We’ll have inflatable obstacle courses, slides, and yes, an inflatable axe and football throwing option along with 9 Square and a kids train.
A Service Opportunity
We can use some help to make this party special! Sign up here to serve after one of the services.
This month, our Kids Team is hosting a food drive for our city as they put compassion into action. Please bring non-perishable food items to our Kids tent in the outside courtyard.
Trevor DeVage Speaking
And to top it all off, Trevor DeVage, our new Lead Pastor, will be teaching as we continue our series Playbook. Trevor will be unpacking the Beatitude – “Blessed are the meek.”
See you this Sunday!
Below is the latest report on the church plant Pantano funded through our Christmas Eve offering in 2020. We received this report at the end of last year.
Thank you, Pantano Christian Church! Your gift to plant Iglesia Cristiana Verbo de Guabo in Ecuador is currently impacting 787 children and their families. These families now have a safe space to go where they can learn, grow, develop, and be encouraged in their faith.
The gift by Pantano allowed the church to do the following:
View the full report here.
Not only are 787 children receiving holistic care in partnership with Compassion International, but the church has also been able to reach many adults in the community. Thank you, Pantano, for your amazing generosity that is touching and changing lives!
We’ve developed what we call our Discipleship Pathway. The Pathway has three groups that will help any person grow their faith no matter where they are in their spiritual journey. Each group starts new sessions soon. I have personally attended and led all three of these groups, and I’ve seen folks grow their faith deeper and watched them experience a real movement toward being more like Jesus.
The Discipleship Pathway starts here. Alpha is a group for anyone who’s exploring the Christian faith. It’s an eleven-week experience introducing different questions about faith. The group is designed to allow for honest, real conversations. Alpha is a safe environment where you can ask questions, share your doubts and struggles and seek real answers without the fear of being judged. Millions around the globe have taken this course. Alpha starts Wednesday, February 2nd, both in-person and online. Click here for more information and sign up!
This is an 11-week interactive Bible study that will help you build your foundation of faith as you grow in your knowledge of who God is. You not only learn about faith from the Bible, but you also learn how to read and study the Bible for yourself. The group starts Wednesday, February 2nd, and is available Wednesday nights from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm in the main auditorium’s indoor volleyball court. Bring your bible or electronic device. Click here to find out more or sign up!
Rooted is a 10-week, group-discipleship experience that introduces participants to foundational Christian beliefs, stories from the global Church, and the seven spiritual rhythms for daily life. If you want to connect and deepen your experience with God, His Church, and your purpose in His story – Rooted provides the catalyst for transformation. We are currently training leaders, and a church-wide launch will happen later in the year. Click here to find out more and sign up on our waiting list.
In addition to our three core groups of our Discipleship Pathway, we have some other great classes starting soon. Go to pantano.church/classes/ to check them out and sign up. Here are some of the classes offered that can help you go deeper in your faith:
Rooted is our One Word for our church this year. A tree that has deep roots is unshakable in high wind (unlike this tree). As we sink our roots deeper and deeper into Jesus, we’ll discover a depth of faith that will help us weather the storms that continually come. I think we need to be prepared for more storms.
I don’t want to be an alarmist, and I’m for sure not a prophet. But I do read, study and listen to what futurists are observing. Did you know that many people pre-Covid warned of a coming pandemic (they didn’t know specifics, they just observed our world as it is)? With our world being so globally interconnected now, almost anything far away affects us here. For decades, things seemed to be pretty predictable. I think those days are gone. I’ve heard many folks wonder what the “new normal” will look like. I think the new normal will just be more unpredictable than ever before. Disruption will be a part of the new normal. We’ll see more global internet disruptions, travel chaos, commercial inconsistencies, weather-related disturbances, and so on.
In a world that is being shaken up, more than ever, we need a deep faith that keeps us rooted. As I was reflecting on that, the Holy Spirit took me to Hebrews 12:28-29. Here it is in the Message Version –
Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
Could it be that God could use this past season and maybe a future season of disruption to shake us up? Could it be that what we’ve trusted (our control, regularity, predictability, comfort, continuity, etc.) is being shaken up, so we’ll be reminded of what is unshakable? Could God be using this disruptive season to “clean house” and show us that what we’ve relied upon and trusted is really a house of cards? Could this be a wake-up call from God to come back to him and put our full trust in him alone?
When my family lived in the Soviet Union in the early ’90s (that later became Ukraine), nothing was reliable, predictable, or trustworthy. We never knew when we’d have water or electricity or phone service. We never knew when public transportation would show up. We could never depend on stores having basics. Every day was an adventure, and we quickly learned that there’s only one you can trust – The King of the kingdom. In America, for a long time, we’ve trusted more in our dependable good life than our need to depend on God. Maybe there’s a shaking going on to remind us of what is truly unshakable!
As a follower of Jesus, we are part of the unshakable kingdom of God. Being a citizen of God’s kingdom means we’ve surrendered to him and given him primary influence in our lives. And because God is the King of this kingdom, it cannot be shaken! It’s trustworthy. It will endure forever. That’s where I want to sink my roots!
I’m so excited to have Trevor DeVage here this week. It’s starting to feel real! Trevor is Pantano’s 9th Lead Pastor since we started back in 1962. Yes, that is right, this year we are also celebrating our 60th birthday as a church!
You don’t want to miss this Sunday – in person or online. I’ll be formally passing the baton of pastor, oversight, and leadership of our church over to Trevor. And then, Trevor will deliver his first teaching message to our church.
I had the benefit 15 years ago of having an amazing and smooth transition into becoming the Lead Pastor. Tim Coop, my predecessor, handed me the proverbial baton of leading our church. He was so gracious, supportive, and encouraging of me. I knew Tim had my back, and he set me up to succeed. I am forever grateful for him, his role in my life, and the life of our church. It’s my desire to do the very same for Trevor.
If you haven’t picked it up, I’m thrilled that Trevor is my pastor. I trust him. He has a godly character. I so admire his love for lost people. I’ve seen him loving people to Jesus in action. We share the same basic values and beliefs. He loves how we are a church that cares and invests in our community. Trevor checks off all the boxes that were important to me for whoever would succeed me. And it’s a huge plus that we are friends.
It is an absolute honor to have Trevor DeVage succeed me, and I’ll be sharing a bit more about that on Sunday.
Some of you are wondering what’s next for me. Let me provide a friendly reminder – I’m not leaving. Trevor and I see this as a season of transition from now to June. Trevor and I have been discussing my new job description and plan to have it finalized by April. Trevor and his family will move here in June.
I’ve requested a six-month work sabbatical from June to November 2022. Why? There are two main reasons. First, I will have been leading at Pantano for 24 years (in various roles) by that time. I believe I serve Trevor best by being absent from the office and meetings for a time to ensure that staff and our congregation see Trevor in his new role. I won’t be completely gone from our church. You’ll see me on Sundays, and I’ll get to engage in the things Pantano is doing as a participant. I’ll start my new job description in December 2022. As things become clearer, I’ll share more about what I’ll be doing in my next chapter.
The second reason this Sabbatical is important is that while I’m not tired and for sure I’m not done in ministry, I’ve been serving full-time as a pastor for 45 years. I think I ought to take a little break from work! My wife retires from the UofA at the end of February, and we need to have a little freedom to travel a bit, be grandparents or do a few things we just have not had time to do.
So, for now, I want all of our love, support, attention, and honor to be focused on the man God has brought to Pantano. Trevor will lead us into our next season as we continue to love people to Jesus and launch passionate people to make a difference.
I’m in my 23rd year here at Pantano, and there has never been a new year with so much change and a profound sense of a new beginning. I believe God has timed everything to help us start 2022 fresh and new.
Our remodeled auditorium is almost done. The carpet will be finished this week, and the theater seats will hopefully be installed at the end of January (due to supply chain issues; we have temporary chairs set up)! We are installing the sound, lights, cameras, and video wall this week. We’ve moved the Café back inside. Since holiday break has ended, let’s all reconnect this Sunday as we start a new year and launch a new teaching series!
New Lead Pastor
Pantano has its 9th Lead Pastor – Trevor DeVage. Trevor will be with us the next two Sundays! Trevor and I are in a season of transition from now until the end of May. I’ll continue to lead and teach as the Campus Pastor until Trevor and his family move here in June. Trevor and I will be developing my new job description this spring that will take effect this summer. We’ll officially install Trevor as our new Pastor on Sunday, January 16th, and he’ll be teaching that day.
New Teaching Series
This Sunday (January 9th), we’ll start a new teaching series called Rooted. “Rooted” is our church One Word for 2022. It’s based on Colossians 2:6-7, and I’ll be sharing what it means for us. I’ll also be asking you to prayerfully identify your One Word for the year based on the idea of “rooted.” I really like how Jeremiah uses the rooted metaphor; take a moment to reflect on these verses:
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8
A New Beginning
Michael Goodwin has been hired as the new Lead Pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church (Alvernon/Pima). He starts on January 10th! I’m so excited to launch Michael to help Emmanuel be a life-giving church in a part of town that so needs Jesus. Our Elders will be ordaining Michael this Sunday, affirming our confidence in his call, character, and gifting. Pantano will continue to partner with Michael to help him thrive in his new role.
And Some Things Never Change
There’s lots of change and new things at Pantano these days. But, some things never change. Over the holiday break, I reflected on how amazing you are, Pantano. When I say that, I’m talking about YOU. I’m so proud of our church! You are generous! You serve our church, each other, and you serve our community in amazing ways. You faithfully give so we can to accomplish the mission God has given us. For our Christmas Eve offering, you gave $95,888 to support the Tucson Homeless Work Program. Wow! That’s incredible! Thank You! I’m so grateful to be able to serve with you all.
2022 brings a sense of a new beginning. That has never been more true than here at our church. 2022 will bring many new things. For one, we are just finishing up our auditorium remodel, bringing a long-overdue improvement. I think you’ll be very pleased with the results. 2022 also brings us our new Lead Pastor – Trevor DeVage. 2022 is also a year where, for the first time, we are adopting a “One Word” for our whole church, reflecting our focus for the year (more to come about that later). There are truly some wonderful new things happening.
So, to start the New Year, on Sunday, January 2nd, we are dedicating our attention to God through prayer. Facilities, staff, and programs are essential for a church. But to reach our city and help people follow Jesus well, that requires the work of God. We are completely dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide, equip, empower our church and do the powerful work of life change. Get your first experience in our remodeled auditorium at 9 am and 11 am (no 1 pm service) as we pray on Sunday, January 2nd.
We will just be moving back into our auditorium, and we won’t have all our sound and light equipment set up, so we’ll be doing a low-tech service. The fact is, prayer doesn’t need a lot of high-tech equipment! It will be so good to be back together in a spacious environment.
This Prayer Service will be a family service. We won’t have regular Kids or Students services that day. We’ll meet together in the auditorium for a couple of songs, communion, a short message by Michael Goodwin about prayer, and then we’ll pray together in our new digs. Then, I’ll give you instructions about how to spread out across our campus to pray as an individual, couple, or family. We’ll have various prayer stations with guides to help you know how to focus your prayers. If you are a family with small children, you can use this time to pray as a family in your own unique ways.
Folks will pray in various styles, and some will take longer than others. So, when you are done, you can depart for the day, or we invite you to hang out at our Café, which will be providing their usual great meals.
For those of you who will join us online, we have a special message prepared for you and encourage you to join us in prayer from your home or wherever you might be.
A happy and blessed New Year to you and your family!
Merry Christmas, everyone! It’s my hope that this Christmas, you’ll remember how God sent light into a dark world. His name is Jesus. This Christmas Eve, we’ll celebrate the light of the world! We’ve got an excellent Christmas Eve service planned. Here’s what to look forward to…
The service starts at 6 pm at the Tucson Convention Center arena. Doors open at 5 pm.
All the info you need to know is under the Common Questions section on our Christmas Eve page on our website.
Parking is free, but might be limited, as other activities are happening simultaneously. If possible, carpool, use public transportation, and for sure, arrive early. Check out the Christmas webpage for maps of onsite and offsite parking. Just inform any onsite parking attendant that you are there for the Christmas Eve Experience!
Come a bit early and take pictures at the photo booths. We’ll also have some fun entertainment to amaze the kids and adults alike! There will be cookies and water available in the breezeway, and our pre-show will include some fun surprises and giveaways. Don’t be late!
COVID and Security
The City of Tucson requires masks to enter the arena, and all those attending will pass through security. TCC prohibits bags that are larger than 14″ x 16″ through the security zone, and please note, there is a Clear Bag Policy. There is a clear bag exception for a guest if it’s a diaper bag or needed for medical purposes.
The theme of our service is “Light,” and it’s family-friendly, fast-moving, and will last about an hour and 15 minutes. We’ll be doing some regular favorite Christmas songs plus additional songs that connect to the overall message. In addition to an amazing video, we have a couple of other surprises that I don’t want to spoil for you! We can’t do live candles, so bring your phone for our Convention Center version of candle lighting. And yes, we will stream the service live on our website, Facebook or YouTube!
Sign Language Section
We’ll have a section for sign language interpretation on the main floor! If you would like to utilize this service, just ask one of our greeters for directions to that area.
We give our entire Christmas Eve offering away. This year, the Tucson Homeless Work Project will be the recipient of our gifts. My prayer and goal is that we together can collect and give them $100,000, which will provide funding for almost an entire year. Let’s help those who need help and hope to get back on their feet. Go to pantano.church/give and select the Christmas Eve Offering. Thank you!
See you at the TCC, and again, Merry Christmas!
With Christmas, the auditorium remodel nearing completion, and a new Lead Pastor confirmed, we’ve got quite a few new things coming. I know change is challenging for many. But these changes are leading us to an exciting great beginning for 2022 and beyond. Here’s what’s coming so you can keep track…
THIS Sunday (12/19) – Our volleyball court, used for our overflow during our auditorium renewal, will be closed to complete the remodeling. Our overflow is moved to the Student Union for this Sunday only.
6 pm Christmas Eve Service at the Tucson Convention Center. Things to remember:
Sunday, December 26 – No Sunday Services
There will be no Sunday services the day after Christmas. To give our staff and volunteers a break from this busy season and allow them to rest and spend time with their families, we’ll be closing our offices from December 27 to December 31, 2021.
Sunday, January 2 – Special Prayer Service
Sunday, January 9 – First Sunday Service in the Remodeled Auditorium
This will be our first regular service in our newly renovated auditorium. We’ll kick off the new year with our focus as a church for 2022, and our new Lead Pastor, Trevor DeVage, will be with us on campus!
Sunday, January 16 – Auditorium Remodel Celebration and Trevor DeVage Preaching
Today, we’ll formally celebrate our auditorium remodel! We’ll have Eegee’s, Krispy Kreme donuts, and the rock wall will be open for the adventure-seekers! We’ll officially pass the torch to our new Lead Pastor, and Trevor will give his first message.
The Christmas season is here! And for many, the tagline of Christmas was first declared by an army of angels before some bewildered shepherds. This heavenly chorus said:
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:14).
This theme is picked up in the famous Christmas carol – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The song’s refrain is: Of peace on earth, goodwill to men!
Peace. It’s a dream of this special time of the year. It’s something we all long for. It’s something the world desperately needs!
Last week I read this verse; it’s a blessing. I love this blessing. I encourage you to read this repeatedly. It’s found in Romans 15:13 –
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
That’s the blessing I wish for you now and every day of the year. May God’s Spirit fill you with joy and peace. And that joy and peace are available to us to the extent that we trust him. It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that hope can overflow that arises from joy and peace.
Peace is also part of the fruit of the Spirit. It’s the Spirit who produces peace in us. Don’t you want to experience God’s Spirit creating his peace in you? Join us this Sunday as we look carefully at another fruit of the Spirit – peace.
We are continuing our teaching series called Manifest. We are looking at nine qualities called the fruit of the Spirit. One of those character traits that the Spirit wants to manifest in us I’ll cover in this blog; it’s self-control. I’ve never met a person who didn’t want or need more self-control. We want to better control our words, our thoughts, or our screen time. We want to control our urge to laziness or lack of discipline. We want to control our addictions that are not limited to alcohol or drugs but include shopping, spending, gaming, or food.
The Greek word used in Galatians 5:22-23 to express this literally means “inner strength.” It’s an inner strength of character that helps us rule or control our desires. Trust, or waiting on God, renews an inner strength that allows us to control our thoughts and actions.
We live in a culture that highly values freedom. We want to be free from any constraints or limitations. We want to do what we want to do. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do. We want to be free from controls. That’s especially true here with our western independent spirit.
But taken to an extreme, an uncontrolled life without limits results in sexual freedom that leads to sexual immorality. It results in unrestrained words expressed in anger on our screens. It results in a culture that struggles with all kinds of gluttony. Gluttony is the biblical world for consumption. We are tempted to be consumers without limits. We want, buy, eat, drink and consume without limits. And, I don’t have to highlight the price we pay for our lack of self-control. The lack of self-control results in our unhealthy emotional, physical, relational, and spiritual conditions. But the bottom line is this: a life without limits or controls will never be able to reflect Jesus or even allow Jesus to have control over our lives.
Here’s a promise. No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13. This is a verse to memorize! It states the plain fact that you and I will be tempted. We’ll be tempted to look at porn or hold a lingering gaze at someone who looks hot. We’ll be tempted to eat the wrong kinds and amounts of food. We’ll be tempted to take shortcuts. We’ll be tempted to just unload on someone.
But when we are tempted, God is always present. He’ll help us. He’ll provide the inner sense and strength to say no. But that’s only if we want it and are looking for a way out. Inner strength or self-control is a fruit of the Spirit! He can help us say “no” when we need to say no or “yes” when we need to say yes. Self-control looks for the way out of the temptation and then chooses to take the way out.
So how does self-control play out practically? It starts by seeking how God’s Spirit wants you to live. If we know we are going into a situation or season where we’ll likely be tempted, we seek the wisdom and help of the Spirit. We acknowledge our weaknesses and admit those things that can trigger us. We set rules in advance to guide our behavior. Often the Spirit will guide us to involve others so that we don’t face our challenge alone or in isolation. Self-control believes and looks for a way to manifest the fruit of the Spirit. Ask the Spirit to give you the gift of self-control.
Happy Thanksgiving! I think this is my favorite holiday of all. It’s a simple holiday of family gathering around food to be grateful. When we lived in Ukraine, it was a bit more challenging as it was not a national holiday. Finding a turkey and all the traditional Thanksgiving meal favorites was a huge challenge. But no matter what we could find and make, the theme of the day was still the same. We set aside the day to be together and be thankful. Simple. Powerful.
Gratitude is one of the most important spiritual practices we engage in. Of course, it is not only to be remembered one day a year. Gratitude is a way of life, and it is so powerful. A lifestyle of gratitude changes our attitude from that of deficit to that of abundance. It moves us to trust God more because we remember and reflect on how good he is. With that attitude and belief, it changes what we do and how we do it. It is out of gratitude that we learn to be more generous toward others because gratitude overwhelms our natural greed. Gratitude is a game-changer.
If you want one simple daily practice that invites God to transform your ‘stinking thinking’ and bad attitudes, then practice daily gratitude. Try it. This Thanksgiving, have each person in your family complete this sentence: “I’m grateful for…” Then make that your practice every day. You’ll see a remarkable transformation of your soul.
Yesterday was my birthday. I’m thankful for 66 years of life. A great deal has been hard through these years, but I find what I have to be grateful for overshadows the negative. Today is our 42nd wedding anniversary, and I’m so thankful for Jolene. What a gift she’s been to me. I can’t imagine having traveled this life without her. I’m thankful for my two kids and two granddaughters. They are all such special people. I’m thankful for my church that exists not for itself, but to serve others. I’m grateful for my friends that are close and far away. Each friend has added so much joy and adventure to my life. I have so much to be thankful for that it’s actually overwhelming, and that’s the theme of thanksgiving. It overwhelms you and me.
May your Thanksgiving overwhelm you with the joy of rediscovering how much you have to be thankful for.
I have great news! We have a new Lead Pastor. With overwhelming joy, excitement, and honor, I get to introduce to you Trevor DeVage. Trevor will be Pantano’s 9th Lead Pastor in our 60-year history. See the DeVage Family photo here.
First, let me share the process that got us here. I’ve known Trevor for about nine years. He was one of the guys I wanted us to consider as my successor, but he wasn’t available until September of this year. I made contact, and he entered our process. His profile, which our search company vetted, was given to our interview team.
The team did two interviews and unanimously recommended him to our elders. The Elders did an interview and asked the Executive Team to do an interview. The Executive Team also did extensive social media and online reviews and unanimously recommended Trevor back to the Elders. Trevor just completed an onsite visit, met with the staff, and had two meetings with the elders. This past weekend, the Elders unanimously offered Trevor the Lead Pastor role, and he accepted.
Trevor checks off every box for the person we were looking for. While no one is perfect or the “complete package,” Trevor is uniquely suited for who we are where God is leading us as a church.
It took just under a year to find my successor. We had looked at and released 15 candidates previous to Trevor, and so I affectionately call him “16.” Thank you for all your prayers and patience over this past year.
Trevor went to college at Lincoln Christian University and completed his degree in preaching with a minor in youth ministry. He followed this up with a teaching degree from Wheaton University. During the next three years, he pursued his love of music, playing as a drummer in a band. However, the Lord led him back to ministry—first youth ministry, then preaching, where he spent ten years serving at Compass Christian in Dallas, Texas. Trevor joined Christ’s Church (Mason, Ohio) as Lead Pastor in 2013.
Trevor is married to his wife, Laura, and has two daughters, Ella (senior in high school) and Natalie (freshman in high school). They enjoy the outdoors, and this means lots of basketball and walks in the park. Trevor’s other passions are golf, music, photography, the arts, and the Florida Gators. His ultimate goal in life is “that it is evident that I’ve spent time with Jesus.” You can learn more about Trevor at https://www.trevordevage.com/.
Trevor is an excellent communicator. He’s creative. He’s a pastor who loves to be with people. He’s had excellent experience in some great churches and has great mentors. He’s a man with high integrity and passion for those not connected to Jesus or a church. He shares our Pantano vision, mission, values, and “DNA.” We are set to be led into an amazing future.
Here’s a summary of the plan and timeline for transition: Trevor and his family will be here over Thanksgiving, and we’ll introduce them on Sunday, November 28th. He will start part-time on January 2nd. His daughter is a senior in high school, so they will not move until after she graduates. He’ll begin full-time on June 19th, 2022. However, he’ll be here in Tucson for eight days each month through May. Those trips will include two Sundays; the first Sunday of his time here will allow him to connect with folks and observe, and he’ll preach on the second Sunday of his visits. During his time here in 2022, he and I will begin discussing what’s next for me. Trevor desires that I continue here at our church, and we’ll discuss what that might look like. I look forward to serving my new Lead Pastor!
Please pray for the DeVage family as they begin their season of transition and change.
There’s been a lot to beat us down these last couple of years. Covid related issues, racial conflict, political polarization, and more. It’s been a tough couple of years at Pantano as well. We’ve had more than usual staff turnover (like the rest of the country!). There’s no systemic problem here, as each person’s departure was unique. But that change has been disheartening, and it has especially affected our students. Relationships are important! Then, add that during Covid I announced our search for my successor. More unsettledness. Then, add the disruption of remodeling our auditorium…lots of challenge, change, transition, and uncertainty. That’s not good for a church or any group of people. But today, I’m so encouraged. Here’s why…
Serve Our City
This Sunday (November 14) is one of the best Sundays of the year. It’s Serve Our City day. Over 1000 folks have committed to serving all over Pima County. 11 other churches are joining us, and there’s still time to sign up! Find your place to serve by going to https://pantano.church/serveourcity/. Remember that we will not have regular Sunday services as we’ll be the church out in the city.
Our auditorium remodel is coming along well. The construction crew did their final cement pour this week. It’s all looking good for us to use the new room in January. But please pray, as our biggest concern is that the chairs arrive with enough time for installation. Shipping concerns are a challenge for everyone! By the way, you can help us pay for the remodel by giving to our Building Fund – Room for More at https://pushpay.com/g/pantano. And, we’ve got some great things planned for January to start the new year better than ever!
New Lead Pastor
We have a very promising candidate who has been enthusiastically endorsed through all the interviews that are a part of our process. We’ve carefully vetted him. Keep praying, as we will likely make an offer this week. It’s not done, but we are close. I can’t wait to introduce my successor to you. I’m so excited and encouraged!!! I’ll be giving you an update and more details soon.
Christmas Eve Service
I’m also so excited about our Christmas Eve service at the Tucson Convention Center (December 24, 6 pm). I love that we’ll all get to be together for one service! We are inviting the city, and we’ve got some ways to encourage our guests to begin a journey of faith. Plan now to invite your friends, family, and your “one” to join you. You don’t want to miss this.
I can also add how exciting it’s been to see and connect with so many new folks who are visiting Pantano for the first time each week. I’m encouraged that God is bringing us through a season of challenge and change!
My wife and I hiked and climbed Mt. Langley in California when we were in our prime. The peak is just over 14,000 feet high, almost 3 miles. At the top, we watched fighter jets flying below us! Altitude sickness is common at these heights. The air is thinner, and the oxygen is sparse. We call this rare air. Few get to experience the world at these levels.
We are in a series called Manifest, and we are talking about characteristics that are rare air in our world today. We are looking at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. These qualities are truly rare in our world. They are even rare among those who call themselves Christians. We don’t find many folks who are consistently at peace or experience joy. The social media, cable news, and talk radio worlds are devoid of kindness and gentleness. Who do you know anyone that claims to be patient? Where do you find goodness and faithfulness in abundance? And love… lots of folks talk about it and sing about it, but who practices it in the everyday moments of life? The fruit of the Spirit is rare air. Why?
I’ve been so personally challenged by the study and reflection I’ve done over the last several months as I’ve been preparing for this series. My first observation has been this: I’ve been more aware of the fruit of the Spirit and simultaneously aware of how I fail to practice these. Whether it’s with my granddaughter or other leaders in our church, I’ve seen how I’ve not been patient, kind, or gentle. How do I become love so I can give more love? How do I become joyful and peaceful regardless of the circumstances? How do I practice self-control when it comes to my worldly desires? I have to invite the Spirit to have a greater influence in my life.
My second observation has been how hard it is to see the fruit of the Spirit mature in me. I want to invite the Spirit to do his transforming work. That’s why Paul commands that we walk with the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, live by the Spirit, and keep step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 18, 25).
We all face a spiritual struggle. It’s a daily struggle for me. The Bible calls it the struggle of the flesh versus the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). The flesh is all those desires, appetites, and passions that come from self – that part of us that wants to protect, comfort, and promote ourselves. It’s the selfish part of you and me – what I think I want, need, desire, and deserve. It’s powerful. It rules much of our lives. It’s usually contrary to and in conflict with the will of God.
How do we deal with our selfish self? Paul says we have to kill it – Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:24-25).
The antidote to the power of our selfish flesh is the power of the Spirit of God. God can transform us. In the same passage, Paul describes what the Spirit can and wants to produce in our lives – Love, joy, peace, forbearance (patience), kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul calls these the fruit of the Spirit. They are the product of living and keeping in step with the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit are, in essence, the character of Jesus that God wants to produce in us.
That’s why we started a new teaching series last week called Manifest. If you missed the introduction to the series, you can watch it here. We call this series Manifest because the word “manifest” means to display, show and make clear. God wants to manifest the character of Jesus in us – the fruit of the Spirit.
Spiritual fruit will be manifested in us if God is living in us! The fruit is a godly character and the actions that flow from being like Jesus. I love how Jesus describes how this works in John 15:1-8. Jesus uses a metaphor and says he’s the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in him and stay connected, then we will produce fruit. But if, as branches, we are disconnected from him (the vine), then not only will we not produce fruit, but we’ll be pruned because of our lack of fruit.
Jesus makes it clear that we can’t produce anything like the fruit of the Spirit on our own. We can’t create that kind of character. Willpower isn’t enough. We need to stay connected to the Spirit of God. So, how do we do that? We do that by practicing the same things Jesus did while he was in the flesh. He regularly prayed. He relied on the truth of God’s Word. He fasted. Why? He needed to live and be led by the Spirit.
One of my favorite Sundays of the year is the Serve Our City Sunday. This year, eleven churches will also be taking “church” to the street, joining us to make a difference in Pima County.
In place of our normally scheduled services, you can join us on Sunday, November 14th, between 9:00-11:00 AM and 1:00-3:00 PM, as we serve our city. You can serve with your friends, family, or group. Every year the families of the life group I’m a part of serve together. It’s a blast. Many of our serving opportunities are kid-friendly!
There will be serving opportunities across five different areas of town to allow you to choose a project near your location, or you will be able to serve within your neighborhood by listing a serving project of your own design. For those who are only online, think of a way to serve in your area and let us know!
We’ll be serving our first responders, schools, various non-profit service organizations, and more.
Childcare is available on our East Campus for kids from birth through 4 years old. Please RSVP by [clicking this link].
Don’t wait. Sign up now. Select an area of town or serve your neighborhood. We’ll also be providing Free t-shirts.
If you have questions or need more information, contact Lisa Flowers at 520.298.5395
Remember – no regular Sunday services (in person or online) on Sunday, November 14th.
I wanted you to be aware of a couple of really powerful conferences hosted at the Pantano campus. Both of these are valuable to anyone who wants to serve others – students, kids, schools, small groups, etc.
3rd Annual Reclaiming Hope Conference, October 22, 2021 – 8:30-4 pm
Almost everyone has been touched by some level of trauma. Divorce, abuse, health, financial issues, and the list never ends. Many of our emotional, relational and physical problems trace back to some kind of trauma. This conference focuses on being equipped to help others. The interpersonal skills being taught are invaluable. Check it out at and register at: https://www.4tucson.com/reclaiming-hope/
Chaplain Training – October 25-29, 2021
You do not have to be a pastor to be a chaplain. Anyone who has been called to serve in a ministry can become a chaplain! As an IFOC (International Fellowship of Chaplains) chaplain, you will have training in areas such as: providing support to your schools, to youth, to pastors/churches, a minister in hospitals, nursing homes, to the disabled, as a first responder, and more. Chaplaincy training can enhance your ministry wherever the Lord has called (or is calling) you to serve in our community.
The training includes but is not limited to: stress management; depression/suicidology; domestic violence; grief and loss; Critical Incident Stress Management; Post Traumatic Stress Injury; human trafficking; death notifications; disaster preparedness, Chaplaincy, and the Law, and more. When you complete the training, you can choose to use the knowledge informally, or you can choose to be a licensed Chaplain. You can also choose to be a licensed and ordained Chaplain.
Register here: https://pantano.church/event/chaplaincy-training/
In my Bible reading, I consistently return to reading the Gospels because I want to keep coming back to Jesus. I’m just finishing reading Matthew. This time I noticed something I had never observed before about Jesus’ teaching. Mercy was a big deal to him.
I love Compassion International’s definition of mercy – Mercy is a gift given to someone who is suffering by someone acting with compassion. To be honest, I would say I’m pretty lousy at mercy. It’s not natural for me. But because it’s a big deal to Jesus, I have to look at this much deeper.
Jesus said that “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7). Core to being a follower of Jesus is one who gives mercy to others.
Several times folks came to Jesus and begged for mercy. They or those close to them were suffering. Their common words were, “Lord, have mercy on me…” And in each case, Jesus was merciful and compassionate. Here are some of those instances:
Then there’s the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. I urge you to read it. It’s a powerful lesson. Peter asked a question that prompted Jesus to tell the story. He asked how often we have to forgive someone who sins against us. Jesus tells a parable about a lender who settles accounts. The first guy owes an astronomical amount which he can’t repay. He begs for mercy. The lender generously forgives the whole debt.
That same man who received mercy finds a guy who owes him equal to 100 days of work. The debtor begs for mercy, but the guy who just had a fortune forgiven refuses and throws him in jail. When the original lender finds out, he’s furious and says to the man – Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you? (Matthew 18:33). That’s not just a question in a story; it’s a question for you and me. Out of gratitude for God’s goodness to us, we should generously give mercy to others.
Finally, we have the story about how the religious leaders shamed Jesus for hanging out with bad people, sinners, and undesirables. Jesus says to them – It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. (Matthew 9:12-13). Those who are far from God are struggling. Some know it; some don’t. Jesus wants us to show mercy to those who are still in sin’s bondage.
How is your mercy quotient these days? How would those close to you rate your level of mercy? Who needs some mercy right now? What might the gift of mercy look like? How might you respond with compassion, forgiveness, and grace?
The record monsoon rain has brought us an abundance of weeds. I drive past houses that are overgrown like I’ve never seen before. I just happened to be reading the parable of the weeds that Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-30 last week. He explained the parable in verses 36-43. Take the time to click the links to read the parable and explanation. What was Jesus’ message through this story?
Those of us who sincerely (not perfectly) seek to follow Jesus live in both the kingdom of God and a world of weeds at the same time. Jesus explains that “the weeds are people of the evil one” (vs. 38). The weeds Jesus was referring to have poisonous seeds. The struggle and pain we experience in this world is the work of the devil. Weeds can do a lot of damage. They damage good crops that provide nutrition and income. And the weeds themselves are poisonous.
The workers in the parable ask Jesus if they should get rid of the weeds. That’s logical! But Jesus gives a surprising answer. Speaking for the farmer in the story, Jesus says that they are not to pull the weeds but wait until the harvest. They are to wait! It’s at the harvest that the weeds and good crops will be separated.
In Jesus’ explanation, he teaches us that the kingdom of God has this reality – weeds and good crops exist side by side. His exact words are: “Let both grow together until the harvest” (vs. 30). There are those who seek to be and do good following Jesus, and there are those who follow the spirit of the world. We live together. We are not to fret over that. That’s the reality of this life. Our purpose in this life is to continue to be good seeds, sow good seeds, and stay faithful to the end. We wait, for there will be a harvest day. For Jesus, the harvest means a day of judgment.
Jesus’ description of judgment (vv. 39-43) is so clear. At the harvest or judgment, the angels “weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (vs. 41). All that’s evil will be destroyed in the fire, which is a reference to hell. Those who seek what is right as kingdom people will shine like the sun (“you are the light of the world” – Matthew 5:14).
It’s so tempting for Christians to want to take on the role of harvesters and rid the world of evil. That’s not our job. It is Jesus and his angels who will do that in the end. We will exist side by side in this life with the weeds. We must resist the temptation to abandon seeking Jesus and his righteousness. We must be the good seed that gives life to this world by being Jesus in a very evil and perverse world. We leave the purifying and judging to God and his holy army.
But we get impatient. We want to take things into our own hands and get rid of the weeds now. But we won’t see the uprooting or elimination of evil until the very end of the age. We have hope. Hope is confidence that evil will be defeated, even if we can’t see it now. There will be a day when sin and evil are uprooted and eliminated. But until then, we embrace the words of Paul – Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Galatians 6:9).
What triggers you? What sets you off? Long ago, I learned that when someone disrespects me (which is different from disagreeing with me), I am tempted to respond in anger. Why? What’s below the surface that causes disrespect to trigger an irrational emotional response? For me, the disrespect was tapping into my own sense of self-worth. So the problem turns out not to be the lack of respect, but that I have placed my need for validation and worth in a person more than in God himself. God loves me, cherishes me, values me, and has made me a part of his very family as his child. And when I’m in a healthy place, I know that’s all the respect I need.
We are starting a new series this Sunday called Triggered. We will look at some of the hard teachings of Jesus that are challenging to hear and put into practice. If you or I had been present when Jesus gave these teachings, we could have easily been triggered in some way. These words of Jesus touch things in us below the surface. Jesus loves us so much that he asks us to stop sinning, love our enemies, give whatever it takes to follow him, and choose to live as people rejected for our faith. In each teaching, Jesus takes us below the surface to examine the reasons why these hard things can trigger a strong emotional reaction. But Jesus’ radical call to action has one purpose. He wants what’s best for us so we can thrive in a challenging and hostile world.
Jesus has a way of getting to the things that are hidden and below the surface. I love the story of a wealthy man in Mark 10:17-23. The man runs up to Jesus, falls on his knees, and asks what he must do to ensure he has eternal life. Great question! Jesus tells him to keep the commandments of God, and he assures Jesus he has done this well since he was a boy. Then it notes that Jesus loved him. He had a deep compassion for him. Jesus could see into his heart.
Then Jesus gets to the hidden thing and says, “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” The man’s face fell. He was triggered. His emotional response was a deep sadness that he could not hide. You see, he was a man of great wealth. While he kept the commandments, in his heart, there was powerful greed. His greed was a hidden thing that hindered him from loving well.
That day could have been a great day for that wealthy man. He could have been freed from the bondage of his wealth and greed. But he walked away. In this series, our goal is not to just trigger your emotional reactions; that would be mean and cruel. Our hope is that we’ll all let Jesus speak to the hidden things in our lives and expose what needs to be healed or changed. Jesus came to give us life that overflows with the good he has for us, allowing us to thrive.
Clarity is critical for healthy relationships. Lack of clarity can lead to disappointment, disorientation, and disequilibrium. For a while, I’ve come to realize that we have some core beliefs that govern and shape our church community and ministry that we need to make more clear and easy to find. When folks are checking out our church, there are some things they want to know beyond our basic doctrinal beliefs (you can find them here).
The Elders and Executive Team decided it was time to clarify some core beliefs that shape our church. We believe our statement of belief is non-negotiable for unity in our church. While we believe our core beliefs are biblical, we also understand that not every Christian will agree with these beliefs exactly as stated below.
Why do we need to add these core beliefs to our statement of faith? The simple reasons are clarity and transparency. When people are looking or searching for a church, they will often look at a church’s statement of belief and core values. Adding the core beliefs makes it easier for folks searching to see if Pantano would be a good fit for them. These core beliefs are often the questions we get when folks visit Starting Point or attend our Discover class and are looking “under the hood” of our church.
Are these core beliefs new? No, these beliefs or values are not new. They already exist in various places like our core values, marriage policy, the elder’s policy regarding women in ministry, and our All In partnership. We’ve just collected them in one place so folks can find them more easily.
Core beliefs that shape who we are as a church community and define how we do ministry:
I hope this brings more clarity to the unique nature of the church we love called Pantano.
This past Sunday, I challenged our church to look for ways to connect with those who hold a position we disagree with. We may hold a true or better position or belief (or we might not), but Jesus is passionate and clear that we seek unity with those who follow Jesus, even when we disagree. Read John 17:11, 20-23. And if you missed my message, I encourage you to watch it here.
If we indeed value the unity that Jesus prayed for, we still face the hard reality of connecting in a healthy way when we don’t share a position with someone. The key is to respond carefully. There’s a world of difference between reacting and responding.
I challenged everyone on Sunday to first do this. I got this from somewhere but can’t remember the source:
Pause before you post.
Think before you talk.
Relax before you respond.
These are critical seconds before you respond. The pause and reflection won’t fix anything automatically. During the pause and reflection, we ask ourselves this question that has been so helpful to me – “What story am I telling myself about what I heard or experienced?” Often it’s my stuff that makes me hear things that were not really said or intended. I can easily misread someone or even the position they hold.
Then we need to determine our goal. Is the goal to be right and prove it, or is it to make a healthy connection? What’s crazy is we fall into either/or thinking. You can be right, and you can make a connection! You can be wrong and make a connection. For Jesus, being right isn’t the only right thing. The connection is also important. Here’s how I’ve learned to respond when my goal is a healthy connection:
You might have seen the famous sign hung in many homes – Live, Love, Laugh. I’ve changed those words to Listen, Learn, Love. As we pause, reflect, and determine the goal of unity is just as important as trying to persuade someone to our point of view, then the next step is to really listen. When we listen, we put our agenda aside for the moment and give our full attention to the person we are listening to.
Then, we seek to learn. We ask questions. Not questions with an edge, but questions seeking to learn. The questions might be like these: “Why is your position so important to you?” “How did you come to that position?” “How does that position make things better for you or others?” And really listen. What often happens when I do that is that I begin to hear the person’s story. And often, the whole discussion changes from the issue or position to other matters of the person’s life.
You still might not agree with the person or their position, but having listened and learned (acts of love), you can then identify ways you can love them. Love seeks the best for the person. Love is a choice. Love is an action. What can you do (actions or words) that would serve the person you are having a discussion with?
Try it! Go to someone you’ve had a disagreement with and say, “I know we’ve disagreed in the past. I’d like to really listen to you and learn more about your position.” While you’re listening and learning, pray for ways you can love the person. After all, Jesus said it all boils down to this – love God with your whole being and love your neighbor as yourself. That’s more important than being right and winning the argument. Listen. Learn. Love.
I was reading Paul’s words that he wrote in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 1 – Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. I paused for a long time, reflecting on what he wrote. My strongest initial reaction was that I would or could never write that. I don’t think that I’m following Jesus to the level that I could invite others to imitate me. I’m too broken to ask anyone to do that. My motives are still far from pure, even if my actions on the surface look okay.
And then I wondered how Paul could write that, even if he were an apostle. The apostles were just mere men who were sinful and broken like all of us. We see how they had to confront one another on their errors (see Galatians 2:11-13). And Paul admits to having lots of weaknesses throughout his two letters to the Corinthians.
There are a couple of things I discovered as I dug deeper into what Paul wrote. I’m fully convinced that he wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, so I don’t question its trustworthiness or value. However, we need to remember a few things. First, Paul and the writers of the books of the Bible did not insert the chapters and verses we have. The Holy Spirit does not inspire the chapters and verses; it’s a work of people long ago. I think whoever put verse 1 at the beginning of chapter 11 made a mistake. It really should be the last verse of chapter 10. Many scholars agree.
Second, any challenging verse in the Bible has to be looked at in its fuller context. That’s when I realized his invitation to imitate him was about what he talked about in Chapter 10:23-33 (not primarily about what he says in chapter 11).
Paul wanted the Corinthian church (and us) to understand that in Christ we are free from all the religious rules and rituals, as they don’t build a relationship with Jesus. However, we are not to use our freedom from religion to hurt or damage others. He said everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial or constructive, and we should seek the good of others, not ourselves (1 Corinthians 10:23-33). Well said!
He concludes this section and theme by encouraging us in whatever we do, do it to give honor to God while making sure we don’t cause another person who follows Jesus to stumble (verses 31, 32). Then he repeats his main idea in verse 33 – For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Now, that’s how I want to live my life! That’s the example that Paul wants us to follow.
Third, notice carefully what Paul invites us to do or what he doesn’t ask us to do. He invites us to imitate him only as he follows Jesus. He’s not boasting and saying we all need to be just like him. He’s asking us to not seek our own good but the good of others so that they might find Jesus and the love of God. That’s the example of Jesus that he’s following. We only imitate someone to the extent that they are following Jesus. I want to love well and seek the good of others above myself. That’s a life worth imitating! We should ask ourselves: Am I living the kind of life that I would invite others to model?
We finally have our permits, and demolition is beginning in the auditorium! Pantano folks took about 23 pews. We have moved our stage, lights, sound, and video equipment to Coop Court, and we’ll meet there starting this Sunday – August 29th.
The remodeling work will take about three months or so. As you know, it’s tough to predict and trust construction schedules as there are always variables that can’t be foreseen. But, I’m confident that we’ll have our grand reopening in January of 2022.
All the seating in Coop Court will be on the floor (no bleacher seats). There are two door entrances to Coop Court – one off the outdoor court on the northside of the property and one through the lobby. Both entrances are accessible for those with disabilities.
Many of you don’t know where Coop Court is or why it has that name. This court was named after Tim Coop, our Lead Pastor – my predecessor – a man of deep grace and faith who welcomed everyone into his life. See the map below for its location.
1 PM Service
We are adding back our 1 pm service this Sunday – August 29th. Please, if you can, consider attending the 1 pm service as it will help make more space for guests at 9 am and 11 am. We’ll have a kids ministry for ages birth to 5 years old, but no kids or student ministry at 1 pm (we’ll have our complete program for kids and students at 9 am and 11 am).
Should any service reach capacity, we have overflow seating set up in what we call the Volleyball Court (see the map). We’ve put up a giant screen that will allow for excellent viewing. You might like to use the overflow room if you prefer more physical distancing.
We Need Your Help
Since COVID, we’ve had a more difficult time getting the volunteers we need for our Kids, Students, Café, and Host Teams on Sunday. Adding the 1 pm service increases our need. PLEASE consider serving at one of our services. I would be grateful if you would consider attending one and serving in one service. Visit our website, click our “Get Involved” button, then scroll down the page to join one of our teams.
Our Café is open three times on Sundays in the outdoor court – before the 9 am service, between the 9 am and 11 am service, and between the 11 am and 1 pm service. There are always free drinks and coffee available out in the outdoor court.
We look forward to having you join us during this season to see the exciting updates unfold!
One of the key characteristics and core to our DNA as a church is to be externally focused. That means that while we care for and disciple our own folks who regularly attend, we also make sure that we are engaged in serving our city and beyond. We will never lose sight of reaching those who are not connected to Jesus or a church, one at a time. We’ll keep looking for ways to serve our city. Here are some updates from Pastor Michael, who leads our Outreach Team.
Compassion International, Santa Rosa, Ecuador
We have received an update from Compassion International about the church and Compassion Center we are helping build in Santa Rosa, Ecuador, with last year’s Christmas Eve offering. In their update, we learned that this church is actively engaged in evangelism, and they recently saw 300 people come to Jesus within 60 days! A revival is breaking out! This news blows us away, and we’re excited to be partnered with a group of people so committed to Jesus and the community they are called to serve.
You can read all about this update and see some pictures by [CLICKING HERE].
We’ll start sponsoring the kids at this church on August 29th. Start praying now about being a sponsor to a child in Santa Rosa, Ecuador.
J. B. Wright Elementary, Amphi Middle School, and Craycroft Elementary
For the past year, we partnered with J.B. Wright Elementary in a variety of ways. We helped clean their campus, assisted families and children during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and did a large shoe and school shirt donation drive at the beginning of this year. They were so grateful. Pantano delivered in a huge way! Thank you! This was possible because our Mighty Mentor team, led by Faye Chandler, and Deanna Campos, the school principal, opened the doors wide to us.
Deanna is now the principal at Amphi Middle School and has asked the Mighty Mentors and Pantano to follow her there. We go where the doors are open! We have already started our partnership by providing over 250 backpacks for this school.
J. B. Wright Elementary has not been abandoned. Elements City Church will continue to support J. B. Wright, so they will continue to be blessed!
We also delivered 150 backpacks to Craycroft Elementary school for their students.
Serve Our City – Sunday, November 14
Mark your calendars as our next Serve Our City is coming this November. Over a dozen other churches are joining us as we make a difference in Tucson.
Thank you Pantano for continually Loving People to Jesus – both in Tucson and around the world!
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
We are finally starting the auditorium remodeling project! Before I get into the details about the necessary moves to make this happen, I’ll explain the WHY behind the remodel; the carpet is 30 years old and beyond repair, the pews are breaking, and more importantly, we need to fix the dangerous slope. But, there’s a more significant reason; We want to have a facility that is welcoming to not only those who follow Jesus but to those who have yet to connect with God through Jesus. Like Jesus, our focus is always on those who are yet to step into faith. Target and other retailers remodel their facilities every seven years. Those who didn’t, like Kmart and Sears, are out of business! Churches don’t have to be fancy, but those who fail to keep their facilities up find they can’t connect with new folks.
We will be holding services during construction! Starting this week, we are configuring Coop Court (the indoor cafe prior to COVID) for our worship experience. We are putting in wires, lights, sound, and a stage. Seating will be on the flat floor. So, Coop Court will not be open for the next two weeks and until we all meet there on August 29th (when we’ll close the auditorium, as that’s when the demo starts). Until then, we’ll continue to meet in the auditorium and Volleyball Court. Beginning August 29th, we’ll offer overflow seating in our Volleyball Court with an extra-large screen to view services in that area if you arrive late or want more physical distance.
Our lobby will remain open and available during services.
Restarting Our 1 pm Service
We will also be adding our 1 PM service time again! May I encourage you to consider our 1 pm service to make more room for others, especially guests, at 9 am or 11 am? The 1 pm service time is an excellent option if you like to sleep in or if you want to take advantage of the cooler morning hours to get work done around the house.
Café, Kids, and Students
Our Café will be extending its hours and will remain open up until the 1 pm service. Students will not be holding services during the 1 pm service time, however, our Kids Ministry will be offering nursery and preschool for kids ages 0 – 5 years old.
Our online services will continue to be available for all three service times, as well as on-demand throughout the week.
You can go to our remodel webpage to see what the project will look like when it’s finished. We’ll keep this page updated with any new information. You can reserve a pew if you’d like one for your patio, to make a kitchen table nook, or however you would like to use one! Visit https://pantano.church/remodel/ for more information.
Change is never easy or fun. But this change will be worth it. Thank you in advance for your patience and cooperation!
Last week, we began an eight-week teaching series called Bigger Than. It’s a title that lacks a subject and object! What’s bigger? The kingdom of God. What’s the kingdom of God bigger than? Everything except God himself! The kingdom of God was the central theme of all of Jesus’ teaching and it’s a huge concept found throughout our New Testament.
We are to seek the kingdom first. When we decide to follow Jesus, we make him the king or lord of our lives. We enter his kingdom where we have to live as citizens of his kingdom, under his authority. The kingdom overshadows all other concerns.
As we begin this series, may I encourage you to do a little study on your own about the kingdom of God. I prepared a Kingdom Study Guide that will take you to all the significant scriptures and teaching about the kingdom of God in the New Testament. The verses are printed out for you, so all you have to do is read them. You’ll be amazed at how vast this concept is. Get the Kingdom Study Guide here.
As you start the study, pray this simple prayer; ask the Holy Spirit to reveal how he wants you to respond as you read. Don’t just read the verses for information about the kingdom; read them asking God to guide you in how you need to be a greater part of and seek first the kingdom of God.
One of the texts you’ll read is from Luke 17:20-21. It says: Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” Other translations say “among you.” What was Jesus saying about the kingdom of God here?
The Pharisees asked about the kingdom because every kingdom is led by a king. They wanted to know if Jesus thought he was the Messiah who would rule over an earthly kingdom. It was a trap because they had already decided Jesus wasn’t the Messiah.
Jesus’ response is that the kingdom won’t be found by looking for signs of the end time. Wars, disasters, pandemics, or some show of power are not signs of the kingdom coming. Instead, the king of the kingdom was, in fact, standing among them. That’s the point. The kingdom of God is centered on Jesus. He’s the king. We are the subjects of the king and his kingdom. As his subjects, we follow him, honor him and live the life he sets before us. Our values, agenda, commitments, actions, and very lives are to be shaped by his values and agenda, and our actions and character reflect the king.
Over the next seven weeks, we will look at how we allow the eternal kingdom of God to overshadow our petty human kingdom. We’ll look at what it means to be a part of the kingdom in our everyday life. Jesus is here among us. The kingdom is here!
My goal is to update our succession progress every couple of months. I’m a month behind due to vacation! Last summer, I asked the Elders to begin the process of finding my successor as Lead Pastor. We actively began looking at candidates as 2021 began. My plan is not to leave Tucson or Pantano; however, I think everyone is best served to have a younger man lead our church in the near future. Here’s where things stand as of today:
The Search Process
Here’s the process in review; Slingshot, our search company, gives the Pantano Interview Team extensive portfolios vetted based on the profile of the Lead Pastor we are looking for. Our trained Interview Team of diverse non-staff members takes an initial look at a candidate’s profile. They decide whether to offer the person one or more interviews. After one or more interviews, they may or may not recommend a candidate to the Elders for review. Then, our Elders look at the profile and hear the Interview Team’s recommendations and decide if they want to interview the candidate. If they have a favorable interview or interviews, they will ask our staff Executive Team to interview the candidate. If the Executive Team makes a positive recommendation, the candidate might be offered onsite interviews. That last step hasn’t happened yet with any of the potential candidates.
The Last Seven Months
Slingshot has sorted through many candidate profiles. Since we started, we’ve received 12 candidates from the search firm. All 12 have been dismissed after various levels of interviews.
The candidates were dismissed either because there was a lack of experience and/or formal ministry and Bible education, their teaching style, or concerns about being a good fit at Pantano. In addition, there are two main reasons why some potentially qualified candidates might not want to consider our church: 1) location (the hot, dry desert or far from extended family) and 2) concerns about following a long-tenured pastor who’s been at Pantano as long as I have (wondering if the church will support the “next guy” as you’ve supported me).
The Elders met with Slingshot to refine the kind of Lead Pastor we are looking for to get a more focused set of candidates. We want to look at racially diverse options, and we want candidates with at least seven years of experience in an executive-level leadership position in a large church.
Slingshot said they would be providing us with some new candidates in the upcoming weeks. We are also confirming that our Interview Team is willing to continue to serve. This process takes a lot of time, and the team members are spiritually and emotionally invested in this process.
Finally, be assured that I’m still leading our church. I haven’t checked out, but rather I’m invested in helping Pantano be healthy, strong, growing, and vibrant. Like the words from the song My Testimony that we sang the last two Sundays:
If I’m not dead, You’re not done
Greater things are still to come
Oh I believe
Well, Jesus isn’t dead, so I’m not done. I’m not tired. I believe God still has greater things planned for us. And I always value and appreciate your prayers as I lead our church.
Please continue to pray for Slingshot, the Interview Team, and Elders as we continue this process. And pray that God will provide the right person of character and vision to lead us forward to an even better future as a church.
The majority of Americans have a favorable view of the Bible. In 2020, Bible searches rose significantly. No doubt that was due to a combination of folks being home more due to COVID, the social, racial, and political tensions we experienced, and the general upheaval that sent folks looking for trusted answers. The top search words were: love, peace, hope, and fear. There was also an increase in searches about sickness – no surprise there.
In 2020, Isaiah 41:10 ranked as the most searched, read, and bookmarked verse in the YouVersion Bible app.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Overall, Bible reading dropped 5%. That was a surprising discovery. Even though searches were up, we wrongly assumed that folks would be reading more, not less.
128 million Americans regularly read the Bible. But 30% never open it. 54% say America would be worse off without the Bible, while 14% say America would be better off without the Bible.
Currently, 54% say that the Bible provides everything a person needs to live a meaningful life, but that is down from 68% the previous year.
I’ve been reading through the Bible. I’m just now moving into the New Testament. I found myself thinking a bit broader about God after rereading the Old Testament. The Old Testament doesn’t present a “different” God, but it did remind me and give me a bigger view of him. While there are some really challenging situations and events in the Old Testament, what I came away with was that God is God, and he’s tough. Of course, he’s loving and an abundant grace giver, but you also don’t want to mess around with him. He’s bigger than just a pal, and he won’t be manipulated. While God is love, he’s also fair and justice-based too. I needed that re-calibration.
How is your engagement with the Bible these days? Are you regularly reading and reflecting on what you read? We know from research that the Bible is one of the keys to continued spiritual growth. It’s vital for spiritual correction, which we all need from time to time. It faithfully and reliably points us back to its ultimate author – God himself. Is it time to get reacquainted? You can find a Bible reading plan in the YouVersion Bible app or use our Pantano plan at pantano.church/biblereadingplan. Or, if you’ve been reading the Bible, maybe it’s time to slow down, absorb it, and do what it says, not just read what it says. Blessed reading!
I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with what it means to really love others. I’ve been following Jesus for 50 years, and I feel like I’ve barely moved the dial in being one who consistently loves like Jesus. In addition to loving God with our whole being, Jesus said nothing more important than to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This is the heart of what it means to follow Jesus. I still have so far to go.
As I engage people, especially difficult folks, I’ve been trying to ask a question Pastor Andy Stanely famously posed: What does love require of me? It’s a tough question. My challenge isn’t so much an unwillingness to answer it in the right way; it’s just difficult to remember to even ask the question. My natural response to so many people is to be thinking about how they should act or be rather than how I should respond – that’s called an agenda.
I came across a quote from Jimmy Spencer from Love Without Agenda: Moving Our Spiritual Goalposts from Heaven and Hell to Wholeness: We can stop focusing on an agenda for others and find the freedom to focus on a purpose for ourselves. While agenda is rooted in how we see others, purpose is rooted in how we see ourselves. While agenda requires us to conquer others, purpose requires us to conform ourselves. While agenda relegates us to coercing others, purpose releases us to appreciate others. While agenda reduces us to a sliver of life, purpose moves us toward a whole humanity. And we – as Christians – may actually start to look and live like Jesus.
My agenda for others is a huge obstacle in loving others the way Jesus loves. Whether it’s a bad driver or someone painfully slow in a check-out line, or someone I care deeply about, I have great ideas and plans for how others should speak, act, and live… if they would just care enough to listen!
Spencer’s quote reminds me to ask – What’s my purpose? It’s the same as the mission of our church – Loving people to Jesus! My agenda comes far too often before my decision to love others.
I have a simple definition of love. Love is to seek the best for others. What’s best for others may or may not fit my agenda. The point is that my agenda for others often snuffs out love and can, in fact, drive people away from Jesus.
This Sunday, we start a short two-week series called Story. We are going to look at how to share our story and God’s story with anyone, but especially with our “One.” Not long ago, I encouraged all of us to prayerfully identify that “One” person we would engage as we pray for and love them. In this series, we’ll look at how we can use our story and God’s story to help our “One” find hope in Jesus. But we have to be so careful that we are not just operating out of our agenda. What comes first and motivates our storytelling is love. Love first.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
I’ve started re-reading the New Testament, and I’m in the Gospels. I love to read the teachings and life of Jesus. Jesus grieved and lamented often. Twice he laments over the fate of Jerusalem. He wept when he was in the presence of those mourning the loss of his friend Lazarus. His heart was heavy and grieving at the last supper with his disciples. He was in deep agony in the garden right before they arrested him. On the cross, he quotes part of one of the Psalms of lament (Ps. 22)
Lament is a key part of our spiritual journey. 42 of the 150 Psalms are considered songs of lament – that’s almost a third of the Psalms! There’s a whole book of the Bible called Lamentations (over the destruction of Jerusalem). A good portion of the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament were statements of lament over the sin of Israel and the destruction and hardship that came or was coming due to their disobedience.
We have long lost the ability and even the understanding and language of lament. Our culture implies that we are to avoid anything that might bring lament. But our Bible says differently. James 1:2 says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds. Then James goes on to say that we grow and mature through our difficulties.
What does it mean to lament? We lament as we face our emotions and verbalize our grief, sorrow, or heartache. We don’t avoid it. We face it squarely with God.
Right at the beginning of Matthew are what we call the Beatitudes. One stood out to me like never before recently. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4). Blessed is a place of deep joy, contentment, and satisfaction, and that place is found through mourning. It seems so contradictory, doesn’t it? When we suffer or struggle, all we want is for it to pass and go away. But Jesus is letting us know that rather than avoiding loss, pain, hurt, or grief, we need to see it as an opportunity to invite God into our sadness. Rather than trying to avoid grief, we learn to find God in the deepest ways in the lowest parts of life.
The best way we can approach loss, grief, and pain is to let it teach us. Mourning is a path to a deeper experience with God, which creates a deeper soul and character in us.
This Sunday, I’ll finish our series Summer Playlist, and we’ll look at one of the Psalms of lament. We’ll also be remembering and honoring some of the folks we’ve lost this past year. And, I’ll be sharing how communion is a time of lament where we weekly reflect over our sin and what it cost Jesus. You don’t want to miss this special service.
I’m starting this summer by being on vacation. I got to take my granddaughters to a water park in Scottsdale, and Jolene and I got out of town for a few days just by ourselves! I’m doing some major projects around the house (painting, kitchen, etc.). I’m also doing major motor work on my ‘92 boat. If I can get my boat motor fixed, I hope to spend some time at the lake! I’ll be back at the beginning of July refreshed with lots of new energy. I’ll be taking a break with my blogs until July.
The current auditorium hasn’t been remodeled or improved in over 30 years. We are overdue for an upgrade. We are getting permits now and hope to start in July. It will likely be a three-month project that includes: 1) A stepped floor with lighting versus the horrible current slope. 2) Theater-style chairs will replace the pews – some of which are broken. 3) New carpet. 4) A unified room that connects with the current courts and much more. During renovation, we’ll convert Coop Court (the basketball court) into our temporary auditorium. More details will be coming.
The Reich Family
Josh and I have had several discussions, and we agree that Josh will thrive as a lead pastor. Josh applied for the Lead Pastor position here at Pantano and had conversations with some other churches. Josh was not selected to be an active candidate for the role at Pantano. While Josh has many strengths, including his teaching, there were other factors that were a part of that difficult decision.
Our sovereign God has provided what appears to be an excellent opportunity for the Reich family. Josh has accepted a lead pastor role at Community Covenant Church in Massachusetts. There are so many amazing and miraculous things about this opportunity. So, the Reich family is getting ready to sell their house and move to the east coast on or around Father’s Day. Josh’s last teaching will be on June 6th. Josh and Katie have done an excellent job here at Pantano, and we’ll greatly miss them. Keep them in your prayers as they make this significant transition.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support for Pantano,
Revolution Church merged with Pantano officially on Jan. 1, 2020. It was our hope (and still is) that we would plant churches and campuses together. Then COVID hit. Empire High School was closed. The timing could not have been worse!
We went fully online for a few months last year, and the roles of the Southeast Campus staff shifted. Jerry Tipton became our permanent Student Pastor. Katie Reich oversees Digital Discipleship. Josh Reich is leading the Teaching Team, creating content for the Next Steps, has led the Engage One strategy for our church, and more. They’re all crushing it. I’m so grateful we were able to keep them as a part of Pantano.
Here we are, 16 months later. Our leadership has talked, prayed, and asked God what is next for Pantano and the Southeast campus, and we have decided not to reopen the Southeast Campus. I know that is not the answer some attendees at our Southeast Campus want to hear right now, but I believe it’s the right one. Here are a few of the reasons why:
2020 didn’t go the way any of us expected. It’s been exhausting, frustrating, and deflating in various ways to all of us. But God was not surprised. And I see God’s faithfulness in so many ways.
For those who were a part of Revolution who merged with Pantano and those who moved from Pantano East to the Southeast Campus, I want to encourage you to engage or re-engage here at the East Campus. If, for whatever reason, that’s not a good move for you, please let us help you find a healthy church option where you can be connected and invested.
Our vision to plant churches and/or campuses has not changed; we just had to adjust our timing and expectations. It is still our commitment, and it is what we are doing to help create healthy, life-giving churches across our community. Please keep praying as we seek God’s leading for what’s next.
We are clearly in the rebuilding phase as we continue to move past the COVID world that limited so many for so long. Here are a few areas where we are making progress:
Our Interview Team has spent a lot of time looking at the profiles of 10 candidates and interviewing them. Four candidates are still in active status with the Elders. Keep praying for the Interview Team and Elders as they continue to look at and speak to these candidates.
We gave our Christmas Eve offering to help a church plant in El Oro, Ecuador. They are making steady construction progress. Currently, 150 adults and 100 children are attending the church! The church team reports that they feel the grace of God surrounding them and are so grateful for our partnership. They have completed the bathrooms, two classrooms, and the kitchen. The construction of the multipurpose room and two more classrooms are still in process and will be completed in 2 months.
The church holds times of fasting and prayer, and Bible studies. The church has baptized 250 people, and more than 300 people have made a profession of faith. The church sees God’s power at work in their community. Men who were drug addicts, gang members, and criminals are converting to Christ and serving the church.
It’s been over 30 years since we have addressed the lower part of our auditorium, and it’s long overdue for some repairs and upgrades. We are just finishing up the architectural drawings for some updates, then we’ll be in the process of getting permits. Possibly in July, we’ll start a 3-month project that will: 1) remove the dangerous slope and install lighted stairs, 2) replace the pews that are breaking with theater-style chairs, 3) install new carpet and a few other needed fixes. As we get closer to actual construction, we’ll give you more details. During construction, we’ll be turning the café court into our worship area that will continue to facilitate an excellent worship experience.
Thank you for your continued partnership with Pantano and all God is doing in 2021!
Goodness. It’s not a word we are attracted to. It has connotations of being weak and wimpy. Goodness doesn’t win the races of life. The words of Billy Joel’s song ring in my ears: “Only the good die young.” We are more drawn to words like “strong.” Also, there’s a sense in which goodness is unattainable since the Bible says that no one is good. We are all sinners (Romans. 3:12). If we say we are good, others might accuse us of being arrogant. Yet, the root word for “good” is used over 700 times in the Bible.
God is good (Psalm 119:68). God, through his Word, implores us to be good. Goodness is a fruit of the Spirit having influence in our lives (Galatians 5:22). It characterized Jesus – “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Act 10:38). Jesus says others are to see our good deeds – that is how we shine as a light for others (Matthew 5:16).
But here’s three of my favorite encouragements to take seriously having a character of goodness:
Goodness is doing what is right and just. Goodness is how love is expressed. Goodness results in generosity. When goodness is present in us, we will respond with empathy to the wounded, neglected, or marginalized. Goodness is itself a power that resists fear and offers grace. Goodness always puts people first over cultural or institutional pressures that are demeaning to folks. Goodness embraces truth as it seeks it and refuses to put a spin on things. Goodness seeks to empower others.
Goodness is at the heart of who Jesus is. After all, he is our good shepherd (John 10:11 and 14). Jesus embodied all that’s in the paragraph above.
A church that has a powerful culture of good will reach lost people! (Matthew 5:14-16). Goodness draws people. If you are good to your “one,” that person you are praying for and want to engage, your “one” will notice your goodness. “Never tire of doing what is good.”
Sunday, we started a new series, “Should Happens.” If you missed it, you can watch it On Demand. I chose this title not just to be “edgy” but to picture how distasteful and even dangerous all the shoulds in our life can be.
Some “shoulds” are good. We should be the people God wants us to be, and we should do what God wants us to do. Life would be great if we stopped there. But then we are tempted to add a myriad of other “shoulds” that overwhelm us.
Many “shoulds” are not necessary. You don’t have to clean your bedroom every day. They just add extra burdens and can rob us of joy. And some “shoulds” are actually dangerous. Here’s how that works.
The Devil is called “The Accuser” (Revelation 12:10), who seeks to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8), and he’s an expert. We know from God that we “should” do this or that or be a certain kind of person in the image of Christ. But when we fail, miss the mark, fall short (all terms to describe sin), the Devil jumps on us and highlights our sin, and drives home the idea that we are not good enough. That’s the basis of shame, and shame, I believe, is the great enemy of grace. He exaggerates our failure to do and be all our “shoulds” in our minds. When we take the bate, we obliterate the grace we are to rest in.
Grace is what assures us of a living relationship with God. The last thing the Devil wants is for us is to be drawn to and even more dependent on God. So he tempts us to focus on what we should do and makes sure we know what a mess we are. The focus moves from God to me. Our focus on all the “shoulds” is just a focus on ourselves. That’s always a losing option. That’s a victory for the evil one.
The Apostle Paul uses the word “law” to describe the principle of the “shoulds” that we labor under. Notice his warning in Galatians 2:21 – I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Paul refuses to push aside grace. He knows that trying to be right and do right cannot be accomplished by living the “should” life. It is only as we draw near to Jesus and invite him to live large in us that we’ll be transformed from the inside out.
Grace is God’s answer to the law and all the “shoulds.” Grace is the path to joy and freedom. Grace frees us from all the shoulds we won’t or can’t do and leads us back to the One we need, adore, and love – Jesus.
If you haven’t done so yet, you can view the Reflection Guide I prepared to help you move from living under the weight of the “should” life to rest in grace.
If you or someone you know is on the journey toward faith, I’m urging you to consider the eleven-week Alpha Course. This is a course that over 30 million people in 169 countries have taken. Our whole church staff just completed the course.
Alpha is for anyone at any level of faith or no faith at all. It provides a safe opportunity to explore life and faith in a friendly, open, and safe environment. The presentations are of high quality and engaging. Each week there’s time for questions. In fact, questions are welcomed and encouraged! That’s why the question mark is the key symbol for Alpha.
Everyone is welcome to Alpha, but it is specifically designed for people who would not yet describe themselves as following Jesus or being a church-goer.
We’ll be offering it both in-person and online starting Wednesday, April 14th. This is a special opportunity to invite your “one” and others like your “one” to join us. Sign up here – pantano.church/event/alpha-course/
We live in a world of “shoulds.” We know that we should have a daily quiet time, keep a budget, spend more time with the family, eat well and exercise and a bunch more “shoulds.” The expectations that we put on ourselves, others, and God and that others put on us can be overwhelming.
But do these expectations help us live the story that God wants us to live? In this new series that starts Sunday (April 11), we’ll become more aware of the expectations that burden us and take up residence in our minds. The “shoulds” in our heads have the power to form stories that narrate and shape our lives. But we have to ask continually, who will we allow to be the source of the stories we live? Should we listen to the “shoulds,” and if so, which ones? We are about to learn how to move from the “should” life to the good life God wills for us.
Invite your “one” to explore how practical, helpful, and freeing the Bible is about everyday life.
Free Estate Planning – Trusts, Wills, and More
We don’t know when we will die, and we’d rather avoid thinking about it. But it is so wise and loving to have an estate plan for the benefit of your family. Are you in need of having a will and a medical directive? Would you like to understand the value of family trust? Pantano Christian Church is providing this service at no cost to you. We have partnered with Financial Planning Ministry, an organization that we worked with a few years ago. I and many others here at Pantano created a trust, will, and medical directives a few years ago, and we are bringing back this service. Check out Financial Planning Ministry at https://www.fpm.org/.
We’ll have a free estate planning seminar on May 3rd, 6:30-8 PM. Register in advance for this webinar here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.
We look forward to seeing you, your friends or loved ones at these upcoming events.
Happy Easter! I love Easter! It helps that it comes every Spring that parallels the rebirth of our natural world. It reminds me every year that God is still in the business of bringing newness to our lives. He’s the author of new life! Easter brings hope. It declares that while death dominates this world, which Covid has made so obvious this year, that God ensures that we don’t have to fear death for there’s life after death.
Here’s the scripture that I’m going to be speaking about this Sunday. It’s from Ephesians 2:1-5 in the Message version:
It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ.
God took our “sin-dead” lives and made us alive in Christ! That’s Easter! That’s what we’ll be celebrating this Easter Sunday.
Join us online or in-person at 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, or 1 pm. The music will be outstanding. We’ll be celebrating baptisms. If you want to be baptized, let us know or simply come to the service of your choice and respond when I provide the invitation during my message. Our kid’s ministry has planned an amazing experience for our children. And at our East Campus, we offer a free breakfast outside – pancakes and sausage for all, and there will be a couple of Easter photo spots.
Don’t forget to reserve your spots for the Easter service. You can sign up at www.pantano.church/easter. Easter services provide a great opportunity to invite your family, friends, and even your “one.”
One Person Matters
Jesus told a parable or story in Luke 15:1-7 about a shepherd who left ninety-nine sheep in the dangerous open field to find one that was lost. That one sheep mattered to the shepherd. That one represents anyone who is not connected to God and has lost a life-giving relationship with him. The lost ones of the world matter to God. I believe Jesus wants us also to focus on our “one,” loving people to Jesus one person at a time.
Who’s Your “One”?
We just finished a series we called Engage One. If you missed any of the three messages, I encourage you to watch them through our Pantano On Demand channel. This year, our focus as a church is to identify and pray for one person that we can love to Jesus. Who’s your “one?” Who has God put on your heart to pray for? Who can you love through kindness and service? Who is that “one” whom you can engage with both the love and hope of Jesus?
Need help identifying, praying for, engaging, or sharing the hope of Jesus with your “one?” We’ve created a resource page to help you. Go to pantano.church/engageone/ and you’ll find ideas and five short videos to help you love your “one” to Jesus. We’ve also listed some additional books and articles to equip you to engage and help your “one” find Jesus.
Invite Your “One”
We’ll be providing regular opportunities to invite your “one” to discover faith. For example, I’ll be sharing the message of Jesus and salvation on Easter Sunday, April 4th. Invite your “one” to join you. Don’t forget to reserve your in-person space at either 7 am, 9am, 11 am, or 1 pm services. We’ll have additional special times when you can invite your “one,” like our Father’s Day car show and our Deeper Dives as well.
Our teaching series after Easter will speak to the challenge of living under the burden of “shoulds.” We’ll explore the dangers of when we put “shoulds” on ourselves, others, and on God, as well as the “shoulds” others put on us. Invite your “one” to explore how practical, helpful, and freeing the Bible is about everyday life.
On Easter, we’ll encourage folks who are not yet following Jesus to consider the eleven-week Alpha Course. Over 30 million people in 112 countries have taken this course! We’ll be offering it both in-person and online starting Wednesday, April 14th. I’ll specifically be inviting your “one” and others like your “one” to join us. Sign up here – pantano.church/event/alpha-course/
If you haven’t yet selected your “one”, pray about who that might be, invest in the relationship, and prepare to watch God move in their life!
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Last Spring, as a staff, we prayerfully sought God regarding what our church’s priority focus should be over the next year or so. Little could we have imagined the impact of Covid. But, that didn’t change the direction God had for us. It was clear that God wanted our church to fulfill our mission – Loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. We needed to provide practical help for all of us to do this well.
We concluded that the best way to do that was to have each person in our church focus on one person following the parable Jesus gave in Luke 15:3-7: A shepherd had a hundred sheep. One was lost. He left the ninety-nine in the open field to search for the one. All of heaven celebrated when the lost was found.
I’m asking each of us to identify one person who’s lost, meaning they have lost a connection or relationship with God available only through Jesus. I’m asking you to start by praying to identify your “one.” Ask God to help you love that person through an authentic relationship. Ask God to help you engage them and for the Holy Spirit to open up natural opportunities to have spiritual conversations.
We are calling this focus – Engage One. This past Sunday, we began a series that addresses this, and we’ve created some practical help, resources, and tools to help you love your “one.”
Please go to our Engage One webpage – https://pantano.church/engageone/. You’ll find a brief description of how to go about praying for and identifying your “one.” We’ve also prepared some short videos to help encourage and guide you to love your “one.” There are two videos there based on the teaching I presented on Sunday. An additional video will be added each week of our teaching series, for the next two weeks.
We have listed some books, articles, and video suggestions if you want to go further and deeper regarding how to love and serve your one and how to engage in spiritual conversations and share the Good News of Jesus.
You’ll also notice on our Engage One webpage that we will be offering the Alpha Course right after Easter. We’ll announce more information coming up about options for an in-person and online version of this course. The Alpha Course is a world-wide phenomenon designed to help those who don’t know Jesus, the Bible, or much about faith to begin the journey toward God. While experienced disciples of Jesus will gain from the course, it is primarily intended for our “ones” who are open to, new to, or on a journey toward faith.
Who’s your “one”? Who’s the one you are praying for?
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
March is here, and in my mind, that translates to Spring has arrived. Even though we are in a drought, somehow, the weeds are starting to pop up at my house! This is a good time to give some updates, and look forward as Spring approaches here at Pantano.
Lead Pastor Search
Please remember that we are not in a hurry to find my successor. We will be prayerfully careful in our process and selection. Please pray for the Interview Team and Elders as they do the initial work, which requires lots of time and is not an easy process. Once we find my successor, there will be a period of overlap, which could take a year or so. So, you won’t see any real changes until possibly sometime in 2022.
Let me clarify again that I’m not retiring. At 65, I’m not done in ministry. I’m just looking for a change of role. I will give my successor the freedom to determine what that role might look like after I pass the baton.
The Interview Team and Elders are well along in the interview process of the first round of candidates. They started with six candidates. We have recently received five new candidates that the Slingshot Group vetted, and the Interview Team is just getting started with those candidate profiles. We are not releasing the names of any candidates at their request and for their well-being.
Engage One Series
This Sunday, we launch a new series that I personally believe is one of the most important that we’ve done in the 22 years I’ve been at Pantano. Why would I make that huge statement? Here’s why: About 85% of Pima County doesn’t go to any church. Most of our neighbors are post-Christians, meaning that they lack an understanding of who Jesus really is or what the Bible and the church are all about. Except for a few Atheists, most are not against God; they just don’t know him or have a relationship with him. They are unlikely to visit a church, and COVID has made it even more unlikely that folks will want to go to a church building.
So we have to go to them. Our mission and purpose is to love people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. In this series, we are unveiling a year-long effort to equip and prepare our church to intentionally engage those not connected to Jesus. Starting Sunday, I will introduce this idea and share with you some of the tools, resources, videos, and courses we’ve been developing over the last year.
We need to fix some things in our East Campus Auditorium. The carpet is beyond repair. Many of the pews are broken, and we can’t fasten them to the floor. The floor has a terrible and dangerous slope, and the list goes on. For years we’ve tried to push the proverbial can down the road, but we’ve come to the place where we need to make some changes. We are in the process of planning so we can’t give details yet, but once we decide and commit to a plan and have permits, I’ll let you know more about the details, timing, schedule, and cost.
Easter – April 4
I love to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus! This year, we’ll have four Easter Sunday services, both in-person and online, at 7 am, 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. We are using a reservation system (choose a service here) for in-person attendance to ensure that none of our services are too full and provide safe physical distancing. Sign up now!
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
We are in a series called “This is the Way.” The “way” that we are focusing on are some of the ways, practices, and rhythms of Jesus that kept him connected to God, which allowed him to obey God, even when it was hard.
But what about those times when we carve out time to focus on God, seek Him, and pray passionately but can’t seem to sense his presence? How do we navigate those times when God seems silent, distant, or even absent? What happens when we practice the ways of Jesus to connect with God, but it seems like God isn’t responding?
At the beginning of the month, I listened to the horrific story of a pastor whom I deeply respect and admire. He went through a devastating betrayal at his previous church that deeply wounded him. It sent him into a season of deep depression that caused his health to deteriorate. The season was painful and awful and lasted over two years. As he told his story, he couldn’t keep back the tears, and neither could I.
Even though he begged God constantly for relief and healing, God didn’t seem to answer. Then my friend said these words: God’s silence is not a sign of God’s absence. I need to be reminded of that. Maybe you do too.
That truth doesn’t change how frustrating it is when day after day, night after night, we plead with God for an answer, an insight, or relief, and all we get is silence.
There’s no doubt that the silence of God makes the suffering more acute. But suffering isn’t time wasted. Reflect on that! God does his best work in us in our suffering. The Bible is so clear about that over and over. For example:
Romans 5:3-5 – We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
1 Peter 5:10-11 – In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation. All power to him forever! Amen.
James 1:2-4 – Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
The silence of God is not an indication that God doesn’t care, or can’t or won’t change things. Rather, his silence is part of his greater work of grace to transform us in ways that a peaceful, happy, chaos-free life will never be able to do. Faith is trust that even in God’s silence, he is working out something better for us than the pain and suffering we experience in the moment. And yes, faith is a mystery.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Our Christmas Eve offering of $73,149 was used to start a church and build a building in Ecuador to house a Compassion International project. Thank you, Pantano, for making that possible! We are expanding the reach of the gospel and bringing the hope of Jesus to children and families living in extreme poverty. Your amazing generosity allows us to partner with Compassion and a church in Ecuador to plant Christian Church Arco in El Oro Province, Ecuador.
This church plant is part of our vision to be a catalyst to help a local church create a permanent presence for their ministry. Having a safe new building to meet in gives the church room to grow and the capacity to offer Compassion’s holistic child development program.
The local Compassion International staff members work closely with our church partner in Ecuador to help the church’s leadership grow strong through wise counsel and mentoring. Our three-way partnership values and encourages local resource mobilization and local ownership from the beginning. We aim for this not only in the initial construction of the church plant infrastructure you have helped fund but also in the child development center’s ongoing program implementation.
Pantano, because of you, the church in Ecuador is now mobilized to expand and help more children be known, loved, protected, and discipled for a hopeful future. Thank you again for investing in this opportunity for a new church to positively impact a community in Jesus’ name.
I’ll keep you updated on the progress of the new church. Later this year, we’ll start sponsoring the children in the program, and when international travel allows, we’ll start making visits. Stay tuned for more!
Have you wondered what Lent is all about or how to practice it? You’re not alone! You’re invited to attend our Lent service, where we’ll guide you on how to practice Lent. Lent is a time of repentance and refocusing to experience intimacy with God at a deeper level. It is a time of 40 days that prepares us for the celebration of Easter.
Our Lent service is also a part of our This Is the Way teaching series as we look at the ways of Jesus to help us engage and connect with God. One of the “ways” we do that is through the practice of fasting; setting something aside to focus more on God. Fasting is an ancient and tested way to lessen distractions, set aside time, and be intentional to seek the presence of God. If you’re ready to deepen your faith, consider attending our Lent Service on Wednesday, February 17, at 6:30 PM at our East Campus. It will also be online.
Childcare provided for kids through 5th grade.
As we begin Lent, we’ll challenge you to fast from something you’ve been dependent on. As we fast from things we’ve relied on, we often become more aware of our need to depend on Jesus more. The things we fast from can tempt us with a false basis of support, protection, comfort, or what we wrongly consider will give us “real” life. We’ll encourage you to “fast” from something that promises to offer what only God can ultimately provide. Then, use the extra time and energy to talk to and focus on Jesus, the One who truly supplies what we need most.
Start now by asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in what you should fast. You can choose to fast from a meal or a certain kind of food or drink like sugars, caffeine, soda, etc. Some choose to fast from social media, TV, video streaming, gaming, music, or anything that you rely on daily or that’s an important part of your routine.
Our Lent service will begin with worship, and then Sean Haynes, our NextGen Pastor, will bring a message to help us prepare for our celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection on Easter. We’ll partake in Communion together, and then as we dismiss from the service, you’ll have the optional opportunity to receive ashes on your forehead or wrist (a symbol of death and repentance). The service will also be streamed online using our usual channels (Pantano.online, Facebook and YouTube).
In October, I announced that we were starting the public process of looking for my successor as Lead Pastor. You can read through the details of this process by visiting https://pantano.church/leadpastor/.
Every week people talk to me about my “retirement.” Let me be clear about something: I’m not retiring. Retirement is the wrong word. I’m transitioning. I’m not done in ministry. I still need and want to work. So the right word is transition. I’m transitioning out of being the person who has the overall responsibility of leading our staff and church.
Many have asked what my future role will be. As I write this, I don’t know for sure. My successor will decide that role. Once we hire my successor, we’ll have a season of overlap, and during that time, we’ll discover together what my next role will look like. I’m at complete peace about that, and the unknown doesn’t create anxiety for me. I’ve walked with God now for 51years. He’s never failed me, and I fully trust him.
Here’s where we stand today in the process: We’ve formed a diverse Interview Team led by two of our Elders. There are no paid staff members on this team. The Slingshot Group search company gave the Interview Team six candidates. It is a standard courtesy not to release candidates’ names until they are selected to do onsite interviews. This is for the protection of the candidates.
The team has completed the first round of interviews, and they have released three of the candidates. The more extended second interviews for the remaining three candidates will occur over the next two weeks. The team has common questions they will ask all the candidates and some unique questions for each individual. The candidates’ spouses will also be a part of the second round of interviews.
Before the first interviews, we informed Slingshot that we would accept additional potential candidates at any time up to an actual hire. It’s possible we might still get additional candidate options as we continue forward.
During this process, I have formed a Succession Prayer Team who are praying for the whole process, the Interview Team, our current candidates, potential candidates, our staff, elders, and Jolene and myself.
Please pray for the Interview Team and for God to provide the right person to lead us into our next season as a church. If you have any questions, there’s a place at the end of this webpage to send your questions to me.
I’ll send out another update on this before Easter!
We just finished our series Difference Maker. We spent four weeks looking at the story in Nehemiah to gain insight into how we can join God to make a difference. It’s been my hope, prayer, and challenge that you would be ‘all in’ to experience all God wants to do through you. God wants us to join him in making a difference in our unique context and calling. So it’s time to commit to that by becoming an All In Partner. It takes all of us who are part of Pantano, being fully devoted to the mission God has given us, to see God show up and change people and things.
What’s an All In Partner? Every year, we ask you to recommit to partnering with others who are part of Pantano to fulfill our mission – loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. This commitment isn’t just an annual “check the box” or fill out the form kind of deal. I want you to truly take some time to reflect on your calling and commitment. God is calling our church to make a difference. That means the more of us who are truly ‘all in’ will be used by God for collective difference-making.
If you’ve decided to follow Jesus and made him Lord of your life, we ask you, as an All In Partner, to actually do four things; this is what you are committing to over the next year as an All In Partner:
The commitment is for one year. If you were an All In Partner in 2020 or any previous year, we start over. Take the time to reflect and make the commitment anew. Together, we can make a difference. We can accomplish more. Imagine if all of us were ‘all in’ what a difference we would make. Let us know you are ‘all in’ by completing the short digital form – click here. I’ll be following up with you in a few weeks.
You can also purchase an All In t-shirt at our Pantano shop.
Next week, we start a new teaching series – This is the Way. Followers of Jesus are to be connected to Jesus, abide in him, to experience a real relationship with him. But often, our lives are too busy and full for that connection. Jesus practiced some things that kept him close to God and grounded in his faith. It’s through these same practices that our souls are filled, and we thrive. We’ll be exploring several spiritual practices that help us to be present to ourselves, with God, and with others.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Make a Point or Make a Difference
We can opt to make a point, or we can attempt to make a difference. I’ve seen this idea quoted in several places, so I don’t know who to attribute it to, but it’s right on. In this polarized, divided, angry, broken, messed up world we live in, we are tempted to use social media to make a point and it’s so easy to do. Making a point almost always leads to arguments, or it sends people into retreat or silence. But making a point rarely makes a difference. And isn’t the idea of making a point to make a difference?!
Several people have asked several times directly and indirectly why I don’t take immediate stands on controversies in our culture. Let me assure it that my caution to make a point is not out of fear, cowardice, or lack of conviction. The fact is whatever I say or don’t say offends someone these days. Long ago I chose to make a difference and when I’m doing that I don’t have to make a point through a reactionary post or tweet. Making a difference requires a long term personal investment.
In our current hyper-divided, polarized, angry, and judgmental world, we have to be wise. I’ve taken seriously the teaching in the Bible (especially Proverbs) to act and live as a wise person and not as a foolish or evil person. I want this to guide me on how and when I respond and react. Unfortunately, I sometimes act like a fool. I’m still tempted by evil sometimes. But wisdom wins the day.
Proverbs is very clear on how a wise person lives and acts. I’m putting the links to the actual Proverbs below. It’s worth the time to actually read them. A wise person…
I want to be wise in what I say, write, and post! These are some of the things that guide and temper what and how I communicate. A wise person doesn’t seek to make a point, they want to make a difference in a way that honors God.
Then, the Proverbs warns us about being a fool and about how to relate to fools. This term is not meant to be just a derogatory label but instead describes people who act foolishly. Here’s what we know about fools from the Proverbs: Fools don’t seek the truth; rather, they twist the truth to fit their own agenda. Fools care first for themselves and are driven by pride. They don’t listen, period. They will react harshly when confronted with the truth. Here are just a few of the Proverbs that describe a fool – 9:6-8; 12:16; 14:3, 7-9; 18:2, 6-7.
Finally, there are those who are evil. They reject the truth outright and want to hurt you. Dr. Henry Cloud says it this way: You should: 1) Talk to wise people about problems;
2) Talk to fools about consequences; and 3) Not talk to evil people at all, period. We did a whole series on this in 2018 called Peopling. On our watch page under “Messages,” you can find the four-session “Peopling” series. Select “All Series,” then look for Peopling at the end. I’ve learned from the Proverbs and life that it is useless to “make a point” to foolish or evil people. They will only make a point back, usually in a selfish and/or hurtful way. The internet is full of foolish and evil people who will not listen but react in anger. Only the wise will listen.
This past year we witnessed racial injustice and demonstrations across our nation. I decided to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, as the Bible teaches (James 1:19). I did eventually write and speak about it, but it wasn’t about making a point! Rather, I want to make a difference.
I started over eight years ago to intentionally engage with the black pastors and churches in our town. As wise men of God, we learned from each other and really listened. As trust grew, we developed a number of programs and events to address racial injustice in our churches and city – Pantano hosted most of those events. In fact, we were able to have conversations with our police department. Long before the events of 2020, we were working to make a real difference through wisdom, starting right here at Pantano.
We are in the midst of divisive political tension and hostility. I will address things like I did last week in my blog, “The Path to Change,” about rejecting violence to follow the humble way of Jesus. But a post or a tweet doesn’t change the world. In the end, rather than alienating people, I choose to engage people while never forgetting that a post or a protest doesn’t change people’s hearts. Only Jesus changes hearts which results in changed lives. Only a life submitted to Jesus will change our culture for the good. A wise man and woman of God who seeks to make a difference does so by putting Jesus first, ahead of political, COVID-19, or racial biases and issues. Be wise! Make a difference, not just a point.
This past year we saw the violence in reaction to the need for changes to bring racial justice. This past week we were mortified by the violence inflicted to and in our nation’s Capitol. I’m not writing this blog about the right or wrongs of these causes and of the changes sought. I’m writing only about HOW change is sought. Of course, as followers of Jesus, we want to pursue changes that reflect the heart of God. But the “how” must be considered, as well, and the path to change must also follow the way of Jesus.
I believe that violence does not bring about real, significant, and lasting social change. Humans are tempted to think violence will bring quick change, but if it does, it is usually only short-lived. Long term change happens not by force, but by winning over hearts.
In a few days, we’ll celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was a man of faith. He was a man with a vision for racial justice, but his “how” was unusual and rare. He sought justice through nonviolence. And he was not the first. There was Gandhi. And before him was Jesus, who transformed all of humanity through nonviolence.
Nonviolence is a clear and understandable strategy. But there’s something deep and profound that underlies a nonviolent approach to change. It is not talked about enough. It is even more rare to find. It is key to real, lasting change. The lack of this is why real change often fails to materialize. I’m talking about the foundation of nonviolence and lasting change – humility.
Jesus is the supreme example of this “how.” One of my favorite passages of scripture is found in Philippians 2:6-8. It appears in the form of a Hebrew poem or song. Jesus…
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Jesus, who is God, gave up the peace, glory, and safety of heaven to come to earth. He gave up all the privileges of heaven to come to suffer with us. He did so willingly. He came to serve us, not to be served. This was the ultimate act of humility and flowed from humility. He gave his life for us to bring us peace with God through his sacrifice. He gave us abundant life now and for eternity. Our salvation and hope are all a reality because of his humility.
He changed you and me and changed the world we live in through humble nonviolence. In our actions and in our hearts, we may choose out of humility to serve others to bring about the change that our world needs. May humility become the dominating character trait that moves us to live for others above ourselves. May we follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
This is the seventh year we, as a church, have participated in the One Word year focus. What is “One Word?” One Word is the Pantano alternative to New Year’s resolutions. While New Year’s resolutions are good, we know they are not as effective as focusing on one thing for a whole year.
As we begin 2021, ask yourself these questions. What does God want me to focus on in 2021? How will I let God use me to make a difference in 2021? What one word would capture the change God wants to make in me or through me?
We prayerfully pick one word that represents the change or the focus God wants for us. It should be more than a good thing or idea. It should be a God thing or idea. Don’t get a good word, get a God word.
When we focus on one word, our mind and heart are more open to how God is at work in ways we might have otherwise missed. Once we choose one word and intentionally focus on it, then we see more of the ways God wants us to embrace that word or the idea that word carries. One word is a powerful way to focus our thinking. Focused thinking and praying rewire our brain as we cooperate with God to experience real transformation. A better 2021 is possible…with God and with a focus.
We focus on our word for the whole year. God’s transforming work often happens over time. We might not see a huge change in January. But if we’ll keep focusing and praying about our one word, we’ll see God, over time, do powerful things in us and through us.
We’ve created a One Word resource page to help you discover your one word. That page also gives you access to a four-day one word Bible reading plan as well as some social media graphics. Once you find your one word, go to that page and let us know your one word for the year. As I write this, 50 folks have recorded their one word. Here’s the link to our #ONEWORD site: https://pantano.church/oneword/. Or you can text “one” to 31996 to access the page.
My one word for 2021 is “neighbors.” I want to love my neighbors to Jesus. I want to connect with my neighbors, love them through genuine service, and pray for opportunities to have natural spiritual conversations. That’s my focus this year. That’s how I want to make a difference. What’s your One Word? Let us know at https://pantano.church/oneword/#share.
What was the best gift you ever got? What was the best gift you ever gave? Is there a special gift you are hoping for this year? Is there a gift you can’t wait to give? Christmas is all about giving. It was God who gave the most significant gift ever that first Christmas – the gift of Jesus. The Magi traveled over 500 miles to give their gifts to the new king of the Jews.
The heart of Christmas today is still found in giving, but not primarily in giving or getting the perfect, cool, well thought out Christmas presents. The best gift is when we give ourselves to others. Here are some options to give and serve this Christmas:
Wrap presents for Healthcare workers at TMC – Our healthcare workers are overworked right now. We can help them out! Tucson Medical Center has asked us to help wrap the presents of the healthcare workers who don’t have time to wrap them for Christmas. You can sign up for two-hour shifts (10 am – 12 pm) or (12 pm – 2 pm), Monday through Friday, December 14th-23rd. Sign up here!
Senior Santa – Here is an opportunity to bring a little joy to a senior this Christmas. This year has been especially hard on seniors, and Senior Santa provides Christmas gifts to low-income seniors in assisted living facilities. This year our Senior Santa program has moved online, and you can purchase a gift from Amazon, and it will be shipped directly to them. Sign up here!
Serving at our Christmas Services
We have opportunities to serve families at our Christmas services by helping out in our Kids Ministry or serving in our courtyard or cafe. Sign up here!
Christmas Eve Offering
Our Christmas Eve offering will help build a church that will host a new Compassion center for children and families that are struggling. Compassion International in Ecuador thoroughly investigated and identified a target area in need of a Christ-centered church that preaches God’s Word. Your gift will help build two classrooms, bathrooms, and a water system that will serve over 300 under-resourced kids.
The cost of the facilities to start a Compassion center in Santa Rosa, Ecuador will be $75,000. You can give online and choose the Christmas Eve giving fund in the drop-down menu. Everything collected on Christmas Eve will go to help build a church to host a Compassion program. What a great way to celebrate Christmas and make a difference for hundreds of kids and families!
Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
This is a challenging command. Giving thanks in ALL situations alludes almost all of us some of the time. Recently I’ve been doing nearly a funeral a week. These folks have died from accidents, old age, cancer, and other diseases, including COVID. Try telling a grieving family to give thanks in their situation.
Some of our circumstances are just plain horrific. I know because you share them with me. All of our lives have been disrupted in so many ways by this pandemic, the election, and the racial tension we’ve experienced. I’ll just state the obvious – it’s been tough to be thankful in 2020! But as we come to Thanksgiving in this crazy year of 2020, I’ve been reflecting on President Abraham Lincoln and the context in which he instituted our Thanksgiving holiday. In 1863, Lincoln declared that the last Thursday of November was to be a day of thanksgiving. It’s been celebrated ever since.
Think back to 1863. It was a time when our country wasn’t just polarized; we were thick into a civil war. The country was literally torn apart and killing each other. The battle of Gettysburg had just been fought in early July. Some 50,000 soldiers died – the most in any American battle. Then later that same month, there was a massive riot in New York City – the largest urban racial riot in American history. It started as a draft riot that ended up becoming a race riot. Troops from Gettysburg were called to restore peace. What a season of chaos, fear, loss, disruption, and yes, for many, hopelessness!
Our current season of disruption isn’t anything close to the horrors of 1863. Yet, as that year ended, Lincoln reminded us that there was much for us to give thanks. Giving thanks in all circumstances does not mean we are thankful FOR bad situations. Instead, we look for ways to be thankful IN all difficult circumstances. We all have much to be grateful for, even in 2020! Don’t let 2020 rob you of the joy of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is a gift God gives us to pull us out of sadness, fear, hopelessness, anxiety, and worry!
This Thanksgiving, take some time to slow down and reflect on all the things for which you are grateful. We can all be thankful for the grace God has shown us. He loves us, forgives us, is merciful toward us, is for us, promises always to be with us, and has adopted us as his children. That alone is cause to be thankful, no matter what 2020 has looked like. Then add to your thanksgiving your family, our freedom, and our faith. 2020 is nothing like 1863 when Lincoln declared a day of thanksgiving. Give thanks!
I was reading an article by Colin Smith where he made a simple point from an unusual story in scripture. The point is that God notices. The story was of a poorly treated Egyptian servant named Hagar.
The story is found in Genesis 16. God had promised Abraham and Sarah they would have a huge family. But Sarai (before God changed her name) was without a child, so Sarai gave her servant Hagar to Abraham, and she bore him a son – Ishmael. That starts an ugly rivalry between the women, and their marriage becomes dysfunctional. All of this was predictable. Pain, hurt, jealousy, and broken relationships are inevitable when you or I refuse to trust God and then take things into our own hands.
In jealousy, Sarai mistreats the pregnant Hagar so badly that the servant flees to the desert. Abraham didn’t protect her. She’s alone, abused, afraid, and in danger. It’s in this condition that an angel of God finds her and tells her to go back to her mistress, which was the right thing to do. It is back “home” where she bore a son who was given the name Ishmael.
But there is one verse that most of us miss when reading this story. It is Genesis 16:13 where Hagar says to the angel: You are the God who sees me, for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” God saw her in her greatest need. God saw her when no one else saw her. God noticed her when others had rejected her. God had mercy on her when others abused her. God went looking for her when others had given up on her.
God sees us. He notices when we are struggling and in pain. He notices us when we are being tempted and giving into temptation. He has compassion on us in our suffering, and he hears. And God will direct us to do the right thing if we’ll seek him and listen.
All this is summed up in the name of the baby boy born to Hagar – Ishmael. The name Ishmael means “God hears.” God hears! That’s the only hope in this whole story. The story of Hagar and Ishmael doesn’t have a storybook ending where everyone lives happily ever after! But in the next chapter (17:20), God promises that he has heard Abraham. We don’t know what Abraham specifically asked for, but God promises to bless Ishmael, who will have a large family.
God hears! Even when the circumstances look bleak, he hears us. Even when God feels far away, he hears us. Even when we are upset or angry at God, he notices. God is with us. God is for us. That’s all we truly need to know. That’s the basis of faith.
From time to time, someone in our church shares something that I want to pass on. This story is from Donna Gudgel, who’s been a part of Pantano for almost two decades and served on our mission’s leadership team.
Have you ever been the “first in the world” for something? Anything? Or have you ever wished to be the “first in the world” in something – like an astronaut? That one’s taken. Perhaps the first to find a cure for a disease – like many are trying to do today for the COVID-19 virus?
If you were asked, “What would you like to be the ‘first in the world’ in?” What would that be? For me, it’s hard to think of something that’s not already achieved. Plus, I am not really interested in being the first in the world for anything.
Recently I had a procedure done to treat a large aneurysm in a carotid artery in the left side of my brain. My surgeon asked me to be a part of a trial study for an improved flow diverter called the Evolve. Since I was willing to help pave the way for others, I agreed. I knew it was experimental, and I thought I was one of the first groups of patients for this procedure. It was not until a month after the procedure that I learned I was not only one of the first group, not only the first in Tucson, not only the first in the United States, but the “first in the world” to receive this procedure. The world!
I got to thinking about the question above. If God asked me to be the first in the world, what might that be? If it seemed impossible or risky, would I trust Him?
Then I got to thinking about what was said about Pastor Bryan Lee at his memorial – that he daily asked God how he could serve Him that day. We would do well to bring that question to our lives daily in our known world. What if we asked each morning, “God, what do you want me to be the first person to do today in my world?” Call someone and pray with that person? Be the first one to take a plate of cookies over to the new family in the neighborhood? Be the first one to stop and pray with a homeless person that day? Be the first one to love someone to Jesus? The questions can go on and on.
Some months ago, I was the first one in our neighborhood to take a plate of cookies to our new neighbors, welcome them, and ask if they had a church home. Now months later, I have been asked to come alongside the grandmother and daughter to pray with them, encourage, and support through difficult times.
So again, I ask: “If God asked you to be the first one in your world to do something, what might it be?” Would you trust Him to give you the courage to do what he asks? Will we experience “His incomparably great power for us who believe” (Ephesians 1:19)?
– Donna Gudgel
We are not having services again… but not because of COVID. There will be no services on Sunday, November 15th so we can be the church in our city. Serve Our City is returning this year, and it’s bigger than ever. We have 15 other churches joining us in loving our city. Imagine what an impact on our community that the church of our city will make!
If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time. Sign up here. The time slots for Sunday are 9 AM-11 AM or 1 PM-3 PM. We have options on-site at the East Campus, off-site all over Tucson, and even some at-home projects. There are opportunities for all ages and abilities. You can serve as an individual, as a family, or as a group.
Childcare is available at Pantano from 8:30 AM to 11:30 AM for children four and under. Sign up here for childcare.
We have a new t-shirt design this year, and you can pick them up beginning Sunday, November 8th, in the courtyard of the East Campus.
Can’t serve with us? Maybe you could provide some of the donations needed for our day to bless our city. Click here to provide donations.
For more information about Serve Our City and to learn about all of the projects available, please visit pantano.church/serveourcity. We look forward to serving with you! This is who we are at Pantano: We are generous in serving our community and joining God as he impacts our city.
We are beginning the search for the next Lead Pastor at Pantano. You can find out more details about the plan and process at pantano.church/leadpastor. However, you might have some questions that we haven’t addressed, or you’d like some clarity. I’ve scheduled three question and answer sessions. Join me if you’d like to have a better idea about our plan to ensure a smooth and healthy transition to our next pastor and leader.
Or, you can email me your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for supporting me and our church through this process. Your prayers are greatly appreciated!
During Pantano’s 58 years, we have thrived because of the quality and depth of its shared leadership. Our health and effectiveness as a church is not dependent on one person but shared by the great team of leaders we have.
I’ve been recently reminded that everyone is an interim. Every job has a season. Even our life on earth is only for a season. Many years ago, I started to prepare our Elders for a day when I would transition from my current role as Lead Pastor. That day has come.
I’m turning 65 next month, and I’m ready to begin the search process. This has been my choice, which I initiated. No one asked me to step down. The best time to make this kind of change is when the church and the Lead Pastor are healthy.
I believe with all my heart that this is what’s best for our church and me. To reach the emerging generations and keep our vision and mission alive, we need a younger leader who has fresh energy and ideas. This leader will build on the systems and success of today to move us into the future.
Let me be clear about a few things; first, Jolene and I are not intending to leave Tucson or Pantano. Second, I’m not retiring! And third, I’m not tired, burnt out, or done in ministry. Instead, God has clearly guided me and our leadership to enter this season of transition.
We have started a national search for our next Lead Pastor. We are using the Slingshot Search Group, who has helped us develop our succession plan. We have created a public church and position profile, and Slingshot has made that public and will do the initial screening and vetting of candidates. Slingshot will present qualified candidates to Pantano, and we’ll prayerfully and carefully select the best candidate. For more details of the succession process, click here.
We are looking for a younger man qualified to be an Elder. We are looking for a Christ-like character with experience and skills to lead a large multi-site church. We want someone who loves our vision, mission, and values and holds our biblical beliefs. We want someone who can build on the past but take us further! We are not looking for someone to take us in a completely different direction, while also giving him the freedom to innovate and bring creative ideas.
I’ll be hosting some meetings where I’m happy to answer any questions about our succession.
We ask that you would join us in prayer for God to bring us the right leader for Pantano’s next season. I’m excited about our future!
I do a Discovering Faith Bible study with a neighbor every week. He is reading the Bible for the first time, and every time we meet, he’s discovering new things about God, Jesus, the Bible, and about himself. It’s so fun to watch the proverbial lights go on and all the “ah-ha” moments. But just as rewarding are the discoveries I make. Even though I’ve read, studied, and taught what we study each week, I, too, find I’m getting new insights. The Word of God is living and active, and it speaks to us no matter where we are in our spiritual journey.
Recently we were studying just one verse. It was Matthew 7:12 – So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.
It is known as the Golden Rule. It shows up in the negative form in ancient Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism in some form of “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.” Jesus’ teaching is in the positive. It requires action; thus, the word “do.” We are to do or act toward others in ways we would want to be treated.
But this time, I noticed a few more details. Jesus started by saying, “In everything…” Every single conversation. Every encounter with someone. Every reaction. Every action. This response is to be our guiding principle for all of life.
Then I noticed how Jesus concluded this simple one verse teaching. He said that it “sums up the Law and Prophets.” That is the same conclusion he made with Great Commandment in Matthew 23:37-40. We are to love God and love others, and he concluded by saying: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” All the Old Testament laws and teaching point to love. And the Golden Rule is all about love and gives us a great definition of what love is! The way of Jesus is the way of love. We have to get this right! We have to practice the way of love and treat others as we want to be treated.
It’s so simple. It’s so profound. What if we practiced this today with every person we meet? What if every encounter, every day, we lived this principle out? What a change would happen in our homes. What a transformation in our marriages. What a difference we would make where we work or hang out. Others would see Jesus in us and be drawn to the one we follow. Today… in everything, do to others as you would have them to do you.
We just finished our Peacemakers series. I wanted to share a story of someone who’s part of our Southeast Campus. Wendy took peacemaking seriously, which resulted in reconciliation with an old college friend. Here’s the story in her words:
Ernie and I first met in our freshman orientation at Wheaton College back in the fall of ’79. We gravitated towards one another since we were both city kids and political science majors. He was from inner-city Chicago, and I was from the Washington D.C. area.
One day, early on in the school year, when we were walking across campus together from the freshman dorm to the cafeteria, Ernie turned to me and said, “There is something weird about this place.” I said I felt it too, but neither of us could put our finger on it. We walked on a bit and then looked at one another and, at the same time, said, “There are too many white people here!” We laughed until we nearly fell over, and were good friends for the next four years. I am white and had grown up in a predominately African-American school system in the D.C. suburbs, and Ernie is an African-American guy from downtown Chicago.
We kept in touch over the years via social media as well as phone calls and the occasional visit when my husband and I visited the Chicago area.
Over the last few months, I noticed Ernie becoming more and more radical, voicing support for rioters and other destructive groups. I tried reasoning with him via private chat, but he rebuffed me.
The peacemaker series touched my heart and made me think of Ernie. I prayed about how to reach out to him. A few days later, when in Ace Hardware, I found the perfect card to send Ernie. It had a frazzled looking little girl on the front holding a coffee mug in one hand, and a laptop under her other arm. On the cover, it read, “First, Coffee…” Inside it continued, “Second, try to change the world.” I included a few personal lines about how Ernie and I both loved our families and wanted to make the world a better place for them. We just disagree on how to get there. I told him that I loved him, that I valued our friendship, and that I hoped we could stay in touch.
I prayerfully mailed the card. A few days later, I received this response: “Wendy, I received your lovely card. It took me back and reminded me of my affinity towards you. I was beginning to think the political divide between us was too much for our friendship to survive. That should never occur.
Thank you for your wisdom and thoughtfulness to point this out. I appreciate and love you more for that. I believe we want a better world for our families. I know I am probably set in my world life-views at 59, but I promise to move forward with an open mind.
On election night, let’s both have a drink to the future and the respect and longevity of our friendship. Be happy. Be well. Love, E.”
God, through the Apostle Paul, says: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). Well done, Wendy!
We are excited about regathering this Sunday, October 4th, for onsite worship at 9 am and 11 am. For those of you who are not ready to return in person, that’s totally fine. Please continue to join us online on Sundays at 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm, or on-demand during the week.
For those of you who want to physically regather, we will continue to follow necessary safety measures to ensure we can remain open and keep everyone as healthy as possible:
Our Kid’s ministry will also begin on Sunday, October 4th at 9 am and 11 am. Check-in will be touchless! When you arrive, we’ll have folks with iPads to check you in at the Kids ministry check-in tent. Room occupancy will be limited to protect our children and staff. Should we fill up a room, we’ll ask your child to attend worship with you. We’ll be diligent in cleaning the rooms and toys and follow standard health procedures.
Our main Student worship time has moved to Wednesday nights at 6:30 pm. Starting Wednesday, October 7th, our high school and middle school students will meet in the Student Union for worship, teaching, and small groups. On Sunday, starting October 4th, we encourage our students to either worship as a family or volunteer. We’ll also provide a student Bible study at 9 am and 11 am in the Student Union. Here’s the student ministry welcome and instruction link.
I titled this blog, “Politics and Peacemaking”. Those two ideas never go hand in hand. In our current cultural environment, there is no peacemaking attached to politics. Due to various reasons (which are being documented and verified), our culture and even our church are more polarized than ever. The right is further right, and the left is further left, and the two see each other as enemies rather than citizens of the same country with differing opinions.
So why would I be so foolish to even think that politics and peacemaking can both be pursued? Because God, through his Holy Word, has directed us to be peacemakers. The Apostle Paul wrote: live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18) and make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification (Romans 14:19). “Everyone” includes those of a different political persuasion. “Make every effort” means that division and conflict over politics is a realm to be included in our peacemaking efforts. And Jesus says that if we want to be children of God, we need to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
Making peace doesn’t mean we don’t have political opinions. Making peace doesn’t mean we give up our convictions. Making peace is all about how we think and respond to those we are not currently at peace with. I can disagree with you and still be at peace with you. Making peace is one of our best paths to bring our Jesus-centered faith and concerns into conversations. However, it means my disagreement will take a different tone. I’ll be willing to honestly listen and try to understand your viewpoint. I’ll refuse to judge you for having a different view. I’ll try to understand your concerns, fears, perspectives, and your story that led to your position. And no matter where we land, I’ll respect and honor you.
I know this whole area of politics, for some of us, is so incredibly challenging. I’m seeing families and friends torn apart by political conflict. So as we finish our series on Peacemakers this Sunday (September 27), we want to add a Deeper Dive on politics to the discussion. In the Deeper Dive, we will not be directing you to vote for a particular candidate or party. We won’t debate the current political issues. We’ll save that for the candidates to debate. Instead, we’ll look at how we can be peacemakers in a world where politics equals war.
Join us for another live Deeper Dive on Monday, September 28, at 7:30 pm. Note that we moved this from Tuesday to Monday because there is a presidential debate scheduled on Tuesday (which I encourage you to watch). Remember, our focus is on how to be peacemakers in a polarized political culture. Send us your questions and watch us live by clicking here to link to all our digital channels (Facebook, YouTube, Online Campus, and our app).
Peace, for many, is now a pipe dream (sorry for the drug culture connotation). The hostility, incivility, hate, violence, and polarization is so prolific that the idea of folks choosing peace seems ludacris. We are in a series we call Peacemakers. The Bible is clear that as followers of Jesus, we are to be peacemakers.
There’s a group that is being led by the wife of my good friend from high school and college days – Lisa Jernigan. She leads a group called Amplified Peace. They specialize in bringing peace to places all around the world that are in conflict and chaos. They provide an incredibly practical list of the Principles of a Peacemaker:
May we stand on truth, justice, and righteousness AND be peacemakers! May we more and more practice the principles of a peacemaker. More than ever, our world needs peacemakers. Following the way of Jesus, we can make a difference!
We just started a new series called Peacemakers. Why? Our nation (and world) needs peace. You and I need peace. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers to fulfill our true identity as his children (Matthew 5:9). But on our own, we can’t make peace. Peace first starts inside us before it can move beyond us. The source of peace is God and God alone.
God reminded me of a situation in the book of Acts. It’s found in Acts 12:1-19. King Herod has just arrested people in the new church that had formed. He put James and John, some of the first disciples, to death. Being an astute politician, he saw that made the Jews happy so he arrested Peter too. He was going to do to Peter what was done to Jesus!
Then there’s Acts 12:5 – So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. The church prayed earnestly! What happened? An angel appeared, his chains dropped off and he walked right past the guards. That would be a great ending, but there’s more.
He goes to the very place where people had gathered to pray. Can you imagine the celebration that occurred when Peter showed up? Peace came over the church. They saw God act in a mighty and powerful way. God did the impossible.
What if today we decided to do less talking, posting, complaining, and venting and focused more on praying? What if we did like the early church and prayed earnestly as we head into this toxic and partisan election season? What if we asked God to do the impossible – unite our city and nation and bring peace? What if…?
Here are some practical ways you can pray:
J17 Ministries has initiated the #PrayForTheUSA prayer movement. It is a very specific call to pray…
This call is NOT for prayer that a specific candidate or party wins or loses the election. Learn more here and join the movement!
10 Days of Prayer for Tucson
4Tucson is sponsoring a 10-Day prayer meeting for Tucson. It starts Friday, September 18th. We are praying for God’s kingdom to advance, for supernatural unity in God’s church, and for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Click here to find out more.
We encourage you to intentionally pray in the upcoming weeks. God hears us, and it changes our hearts in the process.
Pantano fall classes are open for enrollment now!
Beginning on August 29th, we are offering a variety of classes available to take digitally via Zoom. Our classes cover topics such as finances, marriage, parenting, and more! Take a look…
Marriage and Parenting
Personal Growth and Development
You can find the full list of classes with detailed descriptions and enroll by visiting www.pantano.church/classes. If you have any questions about our classes or how to enroll, please contact Liz Kim at email@example.com.
For the last few teaching series, we’ve been adding a digital Deeper Dive live event. Deeper Dives allow us to address specific things at a deeper level and in a Q & A format. For the current series – What Would Jesus Undo, we thought that a Deeper Dive on racism was needed and would be helpful. I’m confident that Jesus came to undo racism in addition to many other things.
Join us this Tuesday night, August 25th, at 7:30 pm for our live Deeper Dive through our normal channels: Online campus, YouTube, or Facebook. I’ve invited my friend Pastor Grady Scott to join me in what will be a great discussion. Send in your questions on race – click here.
Jesus gave the church the purpose of going and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). What’s interesting is that the word translated “nations” is the word from which we get our English word “ethnic.” It means races, ethnicities, cultures, and nations. Jesus wants his church to take the good news to every racial group. The New Testament is also clear that the members of the church are to be equal, one, and united regardless of categories like male or female, or socio-economic standing, or race (Galatians 3:28).
Racial unity and reconciliation have been a passion of mine for the last eight or nine years. For me, it started by actually meeting with Black and Latino leaders and asking questions (sometimes hard questions) and trying to listen and understand. I had to find a way to move from a “you” and “me” stance to a “we” position. That’s why we’ve done four film nights at Pantano with other predominantly Black churches. We watched movies about race and then had discussions where we could talk, listen, and understand each other. The Deeper Dive this Tuesday is meant to be another opportunity to talk openly and honestly about race, culture, and ethnicity. Very few of us consider ourselves to be racist. But we do have blind spots. We are by nature, more favorable to our own race. We all have room to grow.
My hope and prayer is that you’ll have an open mind and heart to understand the challenges and complexities of racism. Neither Pastor Scott or I speak for our races, nor are we the experts. But, both of us have learned to listen to each other, trust each other, and come to some new understandings about race. We won’t avoid the difficult racial issues that most are talking about like Black Lives Matter, white privilege and more. We’ll answer as many questions as we can. You don’t want to miss this Deeper Dive – Tuesday, August 25th at 7:30 pm. If you can’t watch it live, you can watch it On-demand at a more convenient time.
I’m a full-blown extravert! I miss connecting with people. I miss you! I love to sing worship songs with the band in a full room! I know that’s true for many of you also. Yes, I’m excited to regather! My two main goals as I lead our staff and volunteers in regathering are to create as safe as possible experience with the quality and excellence we are used to at Pantano.
We will regather in physical services on Sunday, October 4th at 9am, and 11am. That’s six weeks away. For some of you, that’s still too soon. That’s okay, and we respect your decision. We will always provide a quality online experience for you. For some of you, that is too far away. I get it and feel it too. We have a pile of things to address and work on to be able to regather with my two key criteria: safety and excellence.
There are a ton of factors that led to deciding on this date. None of this is born out of the fear of the virus, the government, or whatever. This date was set because we are a bit short on staff and have some staff schedule issues we need to consider. We are contacting our volunteers to ensure we’ll have enough volunteers willing to serve. We are also in the middle of some major program changes that require staff attention and energy which would be diluted once we restart our physical services. We have to train our volunteers and then put our new procedures for kids and students on video to help families prepare for regathering. And so much more. Please trust your leadership and me that we have tried to make the wisest decision to open as soon as we can.
Here are some more details about regathering:
Our safety measures will include:
Please check our website that we’ll continuously be updating over the next few weeks. As we get closer to our actual regathering, we’ll provide details regarding the procedures that will be in place for our kids regathering. Go to https://pantano.church/updates/ or the Covid-19 Response at the top of our home webpage.
Pantano, I’m so grateful for you. You have continued to be the church, the true church, that has not been dependent on a building. You have continued to love people to Jesus! Thank you!
You might be wondering when we will regather for physical services. Our staff is addressing that very question right now. I’ll share the details with you next week. There are lots of issues connected with such a decision. I want you to know the kinds of things we are considering to resume well.
I know that several other churches have opened. I’ve talked to over 50 pastors in the Tucson and Phoenix areas as well as pastors around the country. Many churches have yet to resume and several well-known churches (Northpoint Community Church) in the country have announced they won’t regather until 2021. One thing we’ve learned is that churches regathering, on average, are seeing about 25% of their normal pre-COVID19 attendance. I fully understand that most folks are not ready to regather yet.
Here are some of the issues and questions we are considering:
The list of questions is longer than this, but I won’t bore you with the details! I deeply appreciate your prayers for me, our staff, and our elders. Thank you to those who’ve sent cards of encouragement. These are hard times to live. These are hard times to lead! But we are still the church and I’m confident we will come through this season better prepared to be a better church tomorrow. I’ll update you next week with more of when we’ll regather and how.
I’ve been feeling, dwelling on, and thinking a lot about loss and grief these last few months. Every one of us has experienced a ton of loss through this COVID-19 season. We’ve lost freedoms. We’ve lost interpersonal connections. We’ve lost jobs or income. We lost our routines and “normal.” We’ve lost peace. Many of us have lost people we know and love to the virus. So much loss. Sadness has been almost a daily experience for me.
One of the things I’m trying to learn is to embrace sadness. It has been a feeling I’ve tried to avoid and move past as quickly as I can. That is not healthy.
All this sadness has been compounded for me. A guy I mentored and loved passed from this life to live forever with Jesus. Bryan Lee, the pastor of Elements City Church, died from an injury from a fall. He did not suffer I am told. But oh, how his family, church, and friends will suffer. Grief can feel overpowering.
I invited Bryan to join our staff a long time ago. We had Bryan start Elements as a service at Pantano on Sunday nights. Finally, we were able to launch them in 2014 to start as a church in midtown. I’ve had the privilege of being the chairman of the Elements City Church board and work with Bryan all these years.
Grief is a part of life. And we need to lament. Lament means to express our grief and sorrow. It’s vital that we express it. When we hold it inside, it finds its ways to disrupt our lives – almost never in a good way.
The Bible records many laments. We have a whole book of lament called “Lamentations.” About one-third of all the Psalms are categorized as laments. Here are the first few verses from Psalm 13 in the Message version:
Long enough, God—
you’ve ignored me long enough.
I’ve looked at the back of your head
long enough. Long enough
I’ve carried this ton of trouble,
lived with a stomach full of pain.
God can handle our lament. In fact, he wants us to share our grief. What do you need to lament? What grief do you need to verbalize to both God and others? What loss do you need to recognize inside you? In the end, we journey through the grief better as we learn to own the sadness and express it in lament.
As I write, I’m hurting. I feel the sting of the loss of a good friend. I have questions about so many things that I’ve lost. And it’s okay to lament and it’s necessary to grieve openly.
By the way, if you missed our Deeper Dive this week where we talked about loss and grief, you can watch it here. You are not alone in the grief you are experiencing during this season.
Do you want to go deeper in your faith and walk with Jesus? There are three opportunities coming up that will give you tools to grow closer to God:
Deeper Dive – Tuesday, July 28 – 7:30pm
Our Deeper Dives follow a teaching series; our next one concludes our series, The Eye of the Storm. We already have some great questions about worry, anxiety, prayer, breaking habits, grief, and more. Join us Tuesday evening, July 28 at 7:30 pm for a live discussion with Josh Reich, Rebecca Hamlin, and myself. Send us your questions by going to https://pantano.church/deeperdive/. That’s the same location where you’ll be able to find the link to watch the Deeper Dive.
July 31 and August 1
Men all across the globe will gather via live stream in their homes to experience the Promise Keepers 2020 Global Digital Experience. Some men’s groups will be watching the event together.
Keynote speakers include Mark Batterson, Bob Goff, Miles McPherson, and many more. There will be great worship as well.
It’s a FREE event! Register here. Invite others to join you.
The Global Leadership Summit – August 6-7
The Summit looks to be as good as it’s been every year. Take a look at the amazing 2020 faculty.
Pantano will not be hosting a live event this year – the first time in 11 years! However, you can join us virtually for the GLS Online Experience. Register Today >>
Take the step to go deeper with Jesus!
Some of my greatest regrets are those times when I failed as a friend. Just this week, one of those regrets came pouring into my mind.
One of my best friends is Ukrainian. When I started to investigate working in Ukraine, the communist economy created shortages and deficits of almost everything like toilet paper, food, clothes, or almost every kind of consumer goods. Before we actually moved there, I would stay at my friend’s small apartment as I was preparing for our relocation.
When I used the bathroom at his apartment, I discovered that the toilet seat had cracked. When I used the seat, it pinched me on a tender part of my body. So one day, while out with some other American visitors touring a factory and in the company store, I found a treasure: there was a toilet seat for sale. These were hard to find. So, I bought it, put it over my neck, and paraded around in public making all kinds of jokes about it. In my mind, I was a hero for finding a toilet seat for my friend.
But, he was completely mortified and totally embarrassed by this gesture. In his mind, I was showing all his esteemed American guests how “bad off” he was. I never, for a second, considered how my fun was ripping him up inside. I was such an insensitive and unkind friend that day.
Recently, I was challenged with this question: Am I the friend to myself in the same way that I want to be a friend toward others? I really try to be a good friend. I’m loyal. I want to encourage my friends. I’ll challenge them when I need to speak the truth, but I’ll do my best to make sure it is motivated by love. I’ll give a friend the benefit of the doubt. I’ll offer lots of grace to my friends. I’ll sacrifice for my friends willingly.
Do I do that to myself? Am I a good friend to myself? Not very often, unfortunately. I’m a terrible friend to me. I’m probably harder on me than Jesus is. I don’t give myself the benefit of the doubt. I rarely offer myself grace. I’m not kind to myself very often. Is that you as well?
I’ve been meditating on John 15:15 lately. It’s a profound statement that Jesus made. I would love to see the reaction of the disciples to what he said. Jesus said; I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. Jesus calls us his friends, with all that means. He is wide open to us and holds nothing back. Like a super friend, he speaks the truth in love. He encourages us to love and have good actions. He’s loyal. And he offers never-ending grace. What a friend we have in Jesus (someone should write a song about that… oh, they did).
If Jesus treats me as his friend, maybe it’s time I start treating myself as my friend. How about you?
I did a blog on May 27th called “Changes.” Well, more changes have been happening since then. That is the season we live in. So much has happened just in the last month. I’m back from my vacation I take during the month of June. It was more disrupted than usual (as has been the case for everyone), but I did get ten days on the lake with seven different families, including my own.
This is not new information, but it is now a reality: This Friday is our Shelly Vasey’s last day as our Kid’s Pastor. It was supposed to be on the last day of the Crazy Daze kids event, but that too had to be canceled. I’m still grieving over losing her. She’s been more than amazing with our kids and volunteers. She will be missed. We are actively looking for her replacement now.
Sunday was Nick Farr’s final day serving at Pantano. Recently both Nick and Pantano have come to a realization that we are moving in different ministry directions, so we released him. No party is “bad” or wrong in this. And to be clear, there was nothing Nick did that was immoral and there are no hidden reasons for this decision. Sometimes, terrific people and churches move apart. God will continue to use Nick to make a difference.
Nick has done an amazing job at Pantano. He came to Pantano 7 years ago to be our Youth Pastor. Then, he oversaw communications. And finally, he served as our first Online Pastor. Nick is cutting edge when it comes to digital technology and he’s helped place us in a great position to offer quality online services. His work will endure at a time when online connection is so vital. There’s so much more he’s done, including serving on our teaching team, and I’m so grateful for him and will greatly miss him. Please pray for Nick and his family. We all want the very best for them in their next chapter of service.
A couple of weeks ago we had to discontinue physical services again. That was another change. It seems this COVID-19 season will stretch out longer than any of us thought. So the Executive Team is meeting this week to identify how we’ll be the most effective church we can be in light of this new world we live in. We’ll be putting together some plans that will guide our church to continue our mission and reach the people we need to reach. This clarity will allow us to re-allocate our resources and staff to accomplish our passion to reach people not connected to God or a church while discipling those who know Jesus to become more like him. We’ll look for new and creative ways to stay connected, get the training we need, and have an active part in impacting our city. God is present in the midst of all these changes and will guide us to be an even better representation of Jesus in our world. Please pray for your leaders and staff in these changing and challenging times. Above all, we want to follow Jesus wherever he leads.
In an effort to continue to work together to stay healthy, and with much thought and prayer, we’ve made a few decisions. Before we talk about those decisions, we want to remind you of this: We are still the church! We can still be Jesus to our families. We can still be Jesus to our friends and neighbors. We can continue to find ways to love people to Jesus and make a difference, by reaching out to others. Don’t let fear take a grip on you, but rather, let fear be a reminder to draw nearer to God. Our God is still the same God He was before this pandemic appeared.
The decisions that we’ve made have been formed through love, not fear. They are painful and not what we wanted to do, but with the current circumstances, we believe the following plan is best at this time:
We are committed to continuing to provide a high-quality digital experience with our online campus. Sunday service times are 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm. Plan in advance to have bread and juice to partake in communion at home. We are still providing online options for students and children – go to our online campus page to access those – www.pantano.church/online.
One way is to download our app. You’ll be able to access our adult, student, and kid’s online content, and several other tools [download here]. Another way is to join a Group. More and more Groups are doing this virtually and finding it to be an amazing experience. You can also Find A Group online!
As we navigate through our current circumstances, we will continue to reevaluate our resources and staff to align how we can engage with our church and city. Remember, we are NOT closed. The church is not a building; the church is a movement of people who live to help others meet, know, and follow Jesus.
Would you continue to pray for our church to be unified as we manage the tension of all the needs, wants, and desires of those impacted by these decisions? Please also pray that we would use this time as an opportunity to reach our neighbors, co-workers, city, and world in new and unique ways. We thank you, our Pantano Family, for your continued support.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Global Leadership Summit
You and I are living and leading through very difficult times. God wants to use you to have a good and godly influence on those he has placed in your life. But to hear the words, “you have influence” may feel like a weight of responsibility you don’t have the strength to carry right now.
Only you can bring your strengths, heart, and skills into the world—your leadership matters now more than ever.
This is why the Global Leadership Network is committed to delivering the best Global Leadership Summit event on Thursday and Friday, August 6-7.
Are you discouraged? Uncertain? Burnt out? Anxious? This is your chance to get equipped, encouraged, and refreshed for your leadership journey ahead. Learn more here.
Give yourself something to look forward to this August!
The 2020 faculty is awesome again this year. They are eagerly preparing to bring you timely advice and support to equip and encourage you in your leadership during this season. Some of the topics the faculty will dive into this year include:
Pantano will not be hosting a live event this year – the first time in 11 years! However, you can join us virtually for the GLS Online Experience. If you already bought a ticket, it will be honored for the online experience.
Get today’s lowest Super Early Bird Rates before June 30th and save up to $40 per ticket! Register Today >>
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
You won’t see me for three weeks as I’m taking my annual break. I usually use vacation time to take off the entire month of June, but with resuming services last Sunday, my break will be a week shorter this year. So, if you don’t see me, it’s not because I have COVID-19 or I’m afraid to gather; I just need a break.
For the last 13 years, I’ve put the principle of Sabbath into practice as I take off the month of June. God taught us the principle of Sabbath; in fact, he modeled it. He created the world in six days and on the seventh, he rested. I think this shouts out to us that God himself rested! His rest wasn’t because he was tired or exhausted; it was to take time, reflect, and enjoy his amazing creation. We are not God, so we get tired. But we also need to pause regularly to reflect on and enjoy the life God has given us.
Sabbath is not so much about a particular day or a particular season; it’s less about when and more about what we do with that time. It’s about resting from work to reflect and refresh. We all need to practice this. I try to put a sabbath moment into each day (some call it quiet time), each week (some call it a day off) and each year (some call it a vacation). My yearly sabbath break is how I use my vacation time.
I love what I do as a Pastor. I feel called to what I do. I pour myself into being the Pastor of our amazing church, but it takes a toll on me (it would on anyone, for that matter). Leading has been especially difficult and demanding as we’ve had to pivot, adjust, and change just about everything through this pandemic. The pandemic and now the racial tensions have increased interpersonal conflict, which drains me even more than usual.
So, I block out time so I can really unplug and have a break from the daily stress of leadership and pastoring. I need the time to refresh myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I need this time to refresh my vision for the next season of our church. If I don’t, I end up leading and pastoring out of an empty soul, and that is not good for our church, our staff, my family, or myself.
What will I do? I’ll do projects around my house. I love hard physical work (like moving two tons of rock) and using my hands (like replacing fascia boards). I’ll go to the lake with my old boat that I’ve completely rebuilt over the years. I love to take families to the water and help them enjoy one of my favorite and refreshing places. I enjoy water skiing. I treasure being away from my work world for a while!
I’ll be back teaching on July 5th, Lord willing. I really look forward to seeing you all and leading us into our new normal!
I know some of you can’t wait to worship physically this Sunday, June 7th, as we resume our services on the East Campus. I also know some of you have concerns about your health and the risk of gathering as a group. If you are at higher risk, we encourage and affirm your choice to continue to attend our online service from home or wherever you might be. If you are feeling sick or have been sick recently, please participate in our ONLINE service from home. Remember that we are following a phased plan of resuming services – check here for details.
We are asking a few things of you in order to protect you and others and mitigate any outbreak that would require us to close our campus again. Here’s what to expect this Sunday:
We’ve developed a touchless system as you enter into services; when you arrive, the doors will be propped open. Pick up your prepackaged communion as you enter and a Bible if you need one. Coffee, water bottles, and lemonade or punch will be available at the outdoor basketball court. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout our campus.
I am well aware of the many different perspectives on COVID-19 and how to care for ourselves and others. In this season, our focus is on caring for others, even if it means some inconveniences and setting aside personal preferences out of care for one another. We want our worship experience to be a judgment-free zone (see Romans 14).
We’ve asked our staff and Sunday volunteers to wear masks at least through June (then we’ll assess the current situation). You are not required to wear them, however, we do recommend them and please feel free to wear one if you are comfortable doing so. We will be providing masks if you forgot one or decide you want one.
PLEASE practice safe physical distancing. Refrain from handshakes, hugs, or any close physical contact. Wave, smile, or talk to each other at a safe distance! You personally might be comfortable shaking hands and hugging, but many people are not, so please help us make everyone, especially our visitors, feel comfortable and safe. Also, please consider attending our 1 PM service where there’s more room to physically distance; it’s hot outside and cool in our auditorium that time of day!
We encourage everyone to give using one of our online options (phone app or website). If you wish to give by check, please visit one of the giving boxes located in the lobby, auditorium, or courts or you can mail it to our office at 1755 S. Houghton Road.
Please be vigilant to practice physical distancing as you exit and avoid crowding at the exit doors. After exiting the building, please practice social distancing in the lobby, courtyard (where there are drinks and lots of tables), or parking lot if you visit with folks.
We look forward to connecting with you in a way that both protects the health of our congregation and allows for the freedom to participate in public worship. See you this Sunday – live or online at 9 am, 11 am or 1 pm!
When it comes to life on earth, we’ve all heard some version of the quote by Heraclitus – There is nothing permanent except change. Everything has and is changing as we find our way into the new normal. However, as people of faith, we also believe that God is permanent and he never changes (Hebrews 13:8)! He is our rock in the midst of chaos, uncertainty, and change!
We are all facing lots of changes as our economy begins to reopen. Here are some transitions that have or are happening at Pantano. Let me help us get “caught up” on some changes.
Physical On-Campus Services Resume June 7th
Services at our East Campus begin Sunday, June 7th at 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. Students will resume on June 21st – 9 am and 11 am. Kids will resume on July 5th. Please use our online service option if you are sick or have a higher risk of medical issues if you get sick or if you are choosing to avoid public places. We are waiting for permission from the Vail school district for our Southeast Campus to resume at Empire High School. No date has been given.
We have placed hand sanitizer dispensers all around the campus. Services will be as “touchless” as humanly possible (doors propped open, pre-packaged communion you’ll pick up, no handouts, etc.). While we are not requiring attendees to wear masks, our staff and key volunteers will wear masks through June. We are asking you to practice physical distancing for the protection of yourself and others.
We had signed a contract to repair and resurface our East Campus parking lot before the pandemic. It was way past due and several people were injured because of the cracks. It will be finished as we begin to resume on-campus services.
We have some staffing changes happening in our Kids and Student ministries. It’s with great sadness that I have to announce that Shelly Vasey is resigning as our Kids Pastor. Shelly loves our kids, church, and staff, but feels it’s time for a change for her and for Pantano. She’ll be with us through our Crazy Daze event ending on July 10th.
We’ve hired Sean Haynes to be our NextGen Pastor, who will serve on our Executive Team overseeing both Kids and Student ministries. With our middle school pastor vacancy, Sean will join Brian Lucas to provide special attention to our students as we are looking for our next Kids Pastor.
Everyone is wondering or asking “When will the church be open again?” My favorite answer is that Pantano Christian Church never closed! We’ve been the church throughout this whole pandemic.
We’ve offered outstanding online worship and teaching services to all ages. We’ve called almost every family in our church. We’ve made and delivered over 3,000 cards and 800 care packages to health care workers in our city. We’ve delivered 9 trailers full of food and supplies to the Gospel Rescue Mission and the Department of Child Safety. We’ve served over 3,000 kid’s meals from our parking lot. We’ve made and delivered over 2,000 masks. We’ve served meals and provided free child care for TMC and St. Joseph’s hospitals. We’ve had over 165 folks serve various non-profits. We have been open and we’ve been the church all along. Thank you, Pantano. Your generosity has made all this possible.
But, the question you are wondering is when will we resume physical meetings on our campuses? We have a phased plan that attempts to balance both protecting the health of our congregation and allowing for the freedom to participate in public worship. The stay-at-home order and physical isolation have created a hunger for many of us to connect with those of like faith. We will attempt to do our best to mitigate the spread of the virus while reasonably allowing for worship, teaching, and discipleship. We are trying to follow what the Bible teaches about love… “it always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Here is our phased plan to resume using our physical campuses:
Phase 1: Office Open and Groups can meet – Now
Right now, our offices are open. Small groups can physically meet in homes or at the East Campus if they feel comfortable. We also encourage small groups to meet for Sunday services together like a “watch party” or as a home worship group. We’ll continue to provide quality online services.
Phase 2: Worship will resume at our East Campus – June 7
Adult worship will resume in our East Campus auditorium on Sunday, June 7 at 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm. To allow for physical distancing, both courts will be fully extended so people can spread out. We’ll block every other row and provide a “touchless” experience (you’ll grab your prepackaged communion on the way in, no hand-outs, doors propped open, no cafe, etc.). Engaging online is still encouraged! If you are sick or have medical issues, please continue to stay at home until you are well or feel safe to return. Children are welcome to join their parents for the adult service, however, we will not be providing busy boxes at this time.
Phase 3 & 4: Students Services Resumes – June 21 & Kids Sunday Classes – July 5
High school and middle school students will meet in the Student Union starting June 21 at 9 am and 11 am. Kids Sunday services will begin July 5.
Phase 5: The Cafe Will Open – TBD
Phase 6: Resume Services at our Southeast Campus – TBD
We are awaiting word from the Vail School District about when our Southeast Campus will be able to meet at Empire High School. Until then, anyone from the Southeast Campus is encouraged to attend the East Campus or worship online, and groups can consider doing “church at home” together.
Let’s Work Together to Stay Healthy
We are asking everyone to follow the familiar drill and CDC guidelines, including but not limited to:
For our part, we’ll do our very best to sanitize areas likely to be touched before and after every service or event and we will also be sanitizing our HVAC system. For more details and updates, be sure to check our Pantano Updates on our website at https://pantano.church/updates/
We want to love people to Jesus, so our staff and volunteers will wear masks, we’ll observe the 6-foot rule, wipe down surfaces, and go the extra mile to make sure people experience the love of God. That’s the Pantano way.
Glen ElliottSubscribe: https://pantano.church/blogsubscription
Every single one of us struggles in judging others. Every so often, I hear that voice in my head that is judging someone’s actions or behaviors, whether it’s how they drive or the type of music they listen to.
I was standing at a restaurant entrance to get take out to honor my wife for Mother’s Day. There was a crowd waiting for the take-out and myself and others were trying to respect proper physical distance. Then, some guy stands within a foot right next to me. What?! I started to make judgments about him. Judgment comes fast and easy. Unchecked, they cause us to act and react in ways that are not like Jesus.
Jesus made it clear – “Do not judge.” (Matthew 7:1-5). James repeats the caution – But you—who are you to judge your neighbor? (James 4:12). And Paul says it this way – Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another (Romans 14:13).
In fact, all of Romans 14 is about how we are not to judge one another. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. Basically, Paul is saying that followers of Jesus often have strong opinions and disagree about matters of opinion and preference. We have different concerns and convictions. To that Paul says; Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. (Romans 14:1). There are so many disputable matters that we easily judge, whether its politics, proper social customs, or how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is growing discord in the church and between churches regarding COVID-19. Some who follow Jesus are demanding we meet in our church building, as it is a constitutional right. Others are saying it is unwise and unsafe and will refuse to attend. Some applaud the use of masks while others jeer those who do. Some judge others on the mask issue as being either soft or reckless… depending on the choices they make. Yes, this is happening between brothers and sisters in Christ and between churches. May I encourage us to choose kindness and grace and refuse to judge one another?
Let me speak into this a bit more. Our Governor and Attorney General have been very clear that churches are considered an essential service and are constitutionally protected to meet, so any church can physically meet right now. The question of when to physically meet is not a constitutional matter or about religious persecution. The question is only about what is safe, wise, and prudent.
Some churches have started meeting while others are not. Every church is different because of their buildings, their programs, their size, and complexity. Smaller churches can meet much more quickly than can the larger ones. Let’s not judge each other.
We are looking at the soonest date it is wise to resume physical services on our campus. There are a huge number of factors and realities we have to face in order to open with reasonable safety and protection for all attendees. Here’s just a few of the myriad of issues and questions we are dealing with: How can we provide meaningful worship in an auditorium while practicing physical distancing guidelines? How will we adequately sanitize the facilities before and after each service? Can we count on enough volunteers willing to meet and serve? Is it wise to open in phases?
I hope I can answer these questions, and more, as early as next week. Stay tuned! No matter what we decide, some will be eager to physically meet while others may choose to never attend a church service again and only participate online. Let’s not judge one another on disputable matters. What I’m sure of is that the love taught by Jesus and presented in our Bible is one that puts others first, sacrifices for others, accepts others even when there are differences, and is patient and kind. Let love overwhelm any temptation to judge.
Everything in our physical world can be shaken. Nothing is stable. Our health can deteriorate – virus or no virus. Our bank accounts and the stock market are never stable. Our jobs are never secure. Even relationships change… sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse. We live in a world that not only can be shaken; it will be shaken. Who would have guessed in January that our world would be so shaken by a new virus pandemic?
This week, I was reading Hebrews chapter 10 for a message I’m teaching this Sunday. I kept reading and came to chapter 12. The writer of Hebrews 12:18-29 reminds us of the time that God descended on Mt. Sinai in the desert. It was there that God gave the law to Moses. There were flashes of lightning and peals of thunder. A dark cloud hovered above. The whole mountain shook and it caused everyone to be terrified.
Mt. Sinai is a real place, but it is also a symbol. It’s a metaphor for the law. The law reminds us of our guilt, sin, and punishment. It is a mountain of doom. It helps us realize how much we long for a different mountain.
The writer then contrasts Mt. Sinai with another mountain that he calls Mt. Zion (vs. 22). This is a mountain of joy. This mountain is a symbol of the grace God has given us in Jesus. In Jesus, we have the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of an eternity with God. It too is a metaphor about something much bigger. It represents the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is anywhere God has influence! You and I are a part of this kingdom as long as we allow God to be the primary influence in our life.
God will shake the earth once more. At the end of time, he will remove all that is temporary, impermanent, and passing and create a new heaven and new earth. God will forever establish eternity that will never be shaken. It is an unshakeable life where our well being and very life will be permanent, lasting, and secure.
I love how chapter 12 ends in Hebrews 12:28-29 (The Message) – Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!
In this life that’s shakeable, God is “cleaning house.” In this season of unprecedented disruption, God wants to refine us and remove the “junk” that hurts us, others, and our relationship with God. Our God is a consuming fire who wants to eliminate all the useless things that need to be burned away. Yet, we are not afraid, because we belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken. That causes us to overflow with thanksgiving in the midst of an unstable world. We are in awe of a God who is not an “indifferent bystander,” but who is working all things for good for those who love and trust him.
The internet is an amazing tool that allows us to do so much. We can’t even imagine life without it. Our stay-at-home life now would be miserable without the internet. More than ever, our kids and grandkids are dependent on the internet to do their schooling.
Yet, most of us are unaware of the dangers to our kids via the internet. I’m not just talking about porn or “R” rated movies that have reached pandemic levels for students of all ages (90% of all children 8-16 have watched porn). Many don’t realize that kids are being trafficked primarily through the internet. Cyberbullying is perpetrated online and via social media. Toxic relationships formed digitally often lead to severe emotional trauma, sometimes leading to suicide. Students are being tricked and tempted to engage in sexting, a criminal act that can ruin their future lives.
I’m not just trying to raise everyone’s fear quotient; there’s enough fear-mongering going on these days. There’s a real danger that comes right into our homes and phones. Internet and media filters are necessary to protect our children for sure, but we need more. We need to educate our kids to be wise and protect themselves from harm.
We have been friends and partners with a nationally recognized ministry here in Tucson called Sold No More. Our friends at Sold No More have been invited to schools all across Tucson (and the nation) to help students avoid toxic, dangerous relationships that can cause trauma and harm. They are offering their program online for free, called Power Over Predators.
Now, all lessons of the Power Over Predators online student course are now available!
Log in or register at poweroverpredators.org to view the online student course and share it with the students in your life.
What parents and teens are saying…
After hearing Lesson 3: Safe and Supportive Relationships, “Mark”, a senior in high school said, “Where has this been all my life??? Now I know how to avoid toxic relationships!”
Janet, a mother of five writes, “My 15-year-old daughter met a guy while playing a game online. He convinced her to send him nude images of herself. When she tried to block him, he started posting her pictures on other sites and was threatening to hurt her. It has been a nightmare for her. She did not want to stay trapped and had the courage to tell me. She is getting the help she needs. This program empowers kids to tell their stories. Thanks for all you do in protecting kids and helping families.”
The online student course is available for free until July 31, 2020. Take advantage of this valuable tool which is sure to bring awareness to you and your family.
Almost everyone is thinking or saying something like this – “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” We want to go back to our normal work environment. We want our kids to go back to school. We want to resume our normal routine. But does God want to take us back to normal? Was normal that good for our souls?
What if “normal” never returns? What if normal has been forever changed? I’m not sure that life will go back to the way it exactly was before COVID19. I think more companies will figure out that working from home is a better financial option. Education and shopping might not ever be the same. Travel, especially internationally, will likely never be the same, much like after 9/11. However, I’m no futurist who can prognosticate what things will look like in a year from now. No one knows for sure!
But here’s the bigger issue: Do we want things to go back the way they were? Yes, we want to have the freedom to go out and eat and shop without fear or worry. Yes, we want to have access to basic services. But the fact is that having to shelter in place for the last five weeks or so has taught all of us some things that need to change about ourselves and our lives. We’ve discovered and are now doing things that in fact are valuable and important. We’ve learned that what we thought was essential and important wasn’t so valuable while replacing those things with things that matter.
I’ve heard fathers talk about how they are more engaged than ever with their kids and are loving the extra time with them doing silly kid things that just didn’t happen before. Do we want to go back to “normal” when we didn’t have lots of margin for our kids?
Parents are engaged more with their kids’ education and are taking responsibility for their spiritual development because they have to. Do we want to go back to “normal” where we left that all to other people?
More people are attending church right now than at any time in American history. Half of all churches are reporting growth right now. Decisions for Christ are at an all-time high! Do we really want to go back to the normal of the past where folks routinely disregarded God?
Personally, I’ve spent much more time in prayer and the prayer times have been richer, deeper and longer. I’ve needed God more now than before COVID19. Do I really want to go back to the days before when I thought I could manage most things on my own?
What if God has a purpose in this time of disruption to take us to a new and better “normal?” What if we were to seek God asking him what he wants us to take into our new world after COVID19? What if God is trying to help us see what needs to be changed in order to be transformed into someone more like Jesus? God does work all things for good when we trust him, seek him and desire him to work through our hardship and trials (Romans 8:28).
If you missed last Sunday, I spoke about this in my online message based on James 1:2-5. You can watch it or share it with those who need a message of hope and encouragement right now. Watch What in the World is Going On? – click here.
Our Time to Shine
I know this may shock you, but I love the season we are in. I don’t like that people are dying. I don’t like that people are losing their jobs. In fact, the list of things I don’t like is rather long. But I love how we, the church, have the best opportunity, maybe in my lifetime, to fulfill our mission. Being the church is not about gathering in a building. Being the church is when we bring the love of Jesus to others and shine like a bright light in the darkness.
The Early Christians
Did you know that when the church first began, it was considered a dangerous cult by the Roman Empire and was severely persecuted? In the absence of our modern understanding of disease and proper sanitation, pandemics were common back then. And when the pandemics hit, it was the Christians who refused to flee the cities and stayed and served the sick, risking their own lives. That was a key turning point for the church. The Romans realized that Christians actually loved people and sacrificed to serve and gained the respect of many.
The mission God has given our church is more important than ever – loving people to Jesus, launching passionate people to make a difference. This is the time to be on mission. This is not a time for our church to hunker down in fear. This is our opportunity to rise up and serve our city in the name of Jesus. And this week, we are in full focus to do just that. Here’s how you can love people to Jesus:
If you have a need, or if you know of someone in need, we have an awesome team of volunteers that are willing to shop for folks and help with groceries & supplies. Fill out a request by going to pantano.church. On the front page, you’ll see a red section called “Loving Our City.” You can let us know if you or someone needs help or you can sign up to volunteer.
Collection and Distribution
We are also collecting items needed by the Department of Child Safety, the Gospel Rescue Mission, AZ Baptist Children’s Services and specific families in need. Go to the Loving Our City page at pantano.church/lovingourcity and you’ll find the list of items these groups need. Drop them off at the office curbside bins at the East Campus (1755 S. Houghton Rd.) Mon-Fri 9am-4pm.
Front Line Hospital Staff
Pantano Christian Church is the point of contact for TMC and St. Joseph’s hospitals. Here’s what they’ve asked the church for and what’s in the works:
There are hundreds of ways you can love people to Jesus. Folks in our church are mailing cards to those stuck at home. At last count, over 600 face masks have been made and delivered. Look for ways to serve folks in your neighborhood or network of relationships. Find a way to encourage, serve and lift up someone in this time of huge disruption. All of these things can be done in a safe way that respects physical distancing.
Now, more than ever is our opportunity to be Jesus to our city. Rise up church, and make a difference that not only affects life today but also for eternity.
Happy Easter everyone! Who would have ever guessed that we would not gather physically for Easter services in 2020? But, we are in a critical time when physical distancing is vital, so we’ll celebrate digitally this year.
I know many are disappointed that we can’t gather for worship this Easter. We love to dress up! We look forward to the energy of celebrating the resurrection. We can’t wait to sing the songs of hope. May I encourage you to be intentional about making worship this Easter just as meaningful as any Easter in the past; but it might take a little more thought and effort. Maybe you dress up this Easter, even though you won’t be leaving your home! How about preparing a special set up for communion and make it something you’ll never forget? But most importantly, prepare your heart to worship and celebrate that Jesus is alive.
I find the conversation Jesus had with a Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 so applicable to our current situation. She was focused on the “proper” physical location where worship is to happen. Jesus replied by saying it is not about where we actually meet, rather, he said: Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. (John 4:24, 25). This Sunday, as you watch online, prepare yourself to worship in the Spirit and in truth.
I believe more than ever we need to celebrate Easter, even if it is digitally. Our team has worked hard to prepare a meaningful Easter service. You can watch at 9 am, 11 am and 1 pm online, on Facebook or YouTube. In case you didn’t know, we have an amazing service for our students on Instagram and YouTube. And, there’s something for our kids online also on Easter Sunday.
Also, in case you missed this, our student leaders are connecting with our students live on Instagram every weekday at 9 am and 8 pm.
This COVID19 pandemic has created a profound interest in spiritual things. I just read a report about the spike in Google searches about prayer over the last few weeks. It’s in times of crisis that folks are open more than ever to the Gospel. Folks need to hear the message of hope found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Invite your friends and family to watch. You can even do a watch party on Facebook! We have created some social media Easter graphics for you to use to invite others.
More than ever we need to stay connected. I was pleasantly surprised as I listened to Governor Ducey announce the stay at home executive order. He made a very clear emphasis on maintaining social distance without losing relational connection. Even though our church offices are closed to the public, we are still operating and serving our church and our city. Here are just a few, but important reminders of how to stay connected.
We’ve been working overtime to make sure we can stay in touch as a church. We just launched our brand new mobile app. You can find it on the Apple Store by searching “pantano.church,” and find the Android app at this link – click here. It’s simple and amazing. You’ll be able to access the adult, student, and children’s online services, and several tools. You can watch past messages, and the notes for those messages are right there, too. You can give financially from the app. And my favorite part: touch the Bible icon at the bottom and you’ll have access to our Pantano Bible Reading Plan! Now, more than ever, we need to keep up our diet of feeding on God’s Word.
Don’t forget; you can text “Pantano” to 31996 to get notifications and updates from our church.
You’ll always be able to find most of what you need at pantano.church, including asking for prayer, food, or supplies.
If you need to talk to a pastor or elder, we have someone available to talk to you anytime. Just call 520-298-5395. We’d love to talk with you and pray with you.
Continue meeting as small groups. More and more groups are doing this virtually and finding it to be an amazing experience. There are plenty of free options to meet with your groups online like Zoom, Google Hangouts Meet, Facebook Messenger Video Chat and more. You can also Find A Group online!
Friends and Neighbors
I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to bring someone to your mind. Just try it. Then as a name or face comes to mind, pick up the phone and call them. Or call someone you haven’t talked to in a while.
9/11 changed our world forever. COVID-19 will do the same. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that when the crisis passes, we won’t go back to the way things were before. More folks will work from home. We’ll use all our digital tools in new and deeper ways. Small groups will utilize online meetings more. And we can’t even imagine how it might change shopping, food delivery versus eating out and more.
A couple of years ago I committed our church to develop a legitimate online campus with the technology and the staff needed to make that happen. That included having our first online pastor – Nick Farr. I’m so grateful we did that as we were able on day one of this crisis to provide a quality online alternative to a physical worship service. I’m so grateful for our amazing production team who are working overtime to provide great online options not just for adults, but for students and kids too.
By the way, some of you had trouble getting online through our website last Sunday; the reason was the platform we use added 12,000 churches in one week and their server had issues. They’ve purchased extra bandwidth and servers to keep that from happening again. We should be fine going forward. Every week there are three ways to watch: 1) Pantano.Online; 2) Facebook live or; 3) YouTube.
Stay Up to Date, Connected, and Get Help
We’ve set up a special web page titled COVID-19 Update to keep you up-to-date on what’s happening. With things changing so fast, we are even dating the updates! On that same page, you or someone you know can also request help like food, supplies or help shopping. You can leave prayer requests or ask for pastoral help on that page also. To get updates to your phone text “Pantano” to 31996.
Day of Prayer and Fasting
In times like these, we need the church to come together to pray and fast. Wednesday, March 25th was a day set aside by church leaders from around our city for prayer and fasting. If you missed this announcement, you can choose any day to pray and fast for our city, nation, and world. Our tech team and leaders (Did I say how proud I am of our team?) were able to help broadcast a one-hour prayer service from our auditorium. If you missed it, you can watch it at pantano.church/LightUpTheDark
Deeper Dive – Thursday at 7 pm
Thursday night at 7 pm Josh Reich, Michael Goodwin and I will be hosting a Deeper Dive into the Holy Spirit. This will finish our teaching series called Ghost. We received about 3 pages of questions and we’ll be able to answer most of them. Go to https://pantano.church/online/ to watch the Deeper Dive. I’ll also make my notes available online at Deeper Dive along with the video, so you can watch if you miss the Thursday 7 pm broadcast.
During this time, be confident in the fact that our God is in control. Ask the Holy Spirit to continue to lead Pantano as we Love People to Jesus.