- Jesus- No surprise here as He always takes this number 1 spot on my list, in my heart and in my life. We recently wrapped-up a 6 –week series at Exponential looking at the story of the Prodigal Son. The last 2 weeks of the series as I was talking about the son returning home and the love and grace the father showed him, I couldn’t help but get choked up. It’s been 24+ years now since Jesus welcomed me…a prodigal… home and His amazing grace still wrecks me every time I really stop to think about it. Thank you Jesus for all you’ve done and all you continue to do!
- Lisa- Yet another relationship that I don’t understand it fully but somehow we fall more and more in love as the years go on. She is quite simply the most amazing person I have ever met. Smart, beautiful, talented and funny are just a few of the words to describe her. But even more so she demonstrates the love and serving heart of Jesus to those around her and that starts right here at home with me. Since I get to be a somewhat “public figure” I often get credit for things I really shouldn’t. Fact is, I’m an idiot in so many ways but Lisa is always behind the scenes, loving, praying, encouraging and serving me in every way she knows how. I didn’t deserve Jesus amazing grace and I certainly don’t deserve Lisa’s amazing love but yet she freely gives it any way. I’m thankful for her and love her like you wouldn’t believe!
- Family- Growing up I was surrounded by lots of family. Sunday dinners at the family farm would most weeks be 30+ people. As the years have gone on though distance and death have begun dwindling the numbers, which makes the times we have together now even more sweet and wonderful. There are many parts of me that longs for “the good old days” but yet I recognize that can’t happen so I’ve got to live in the moment and maximize the times we have now. So I’m thankful for my parents, in-laws, both sides of our siblings, their spouses, our nieces and nephews, our aunts and uncles and all my crazy cousins. I’m also thankful for the many wonderful memories of grandparents. Lisa and I were blessed to have 7 of our 8 grandparents still alive while we were in our 30’s. Now in our 40’s only Lisa’s grandmother remains. She is 98 and such a wonderful lady. She’s still physically and mentally very active and I’ve begun to believe she may outlive us all. So thank you to all family both past and present for being so awesome!
- Exponential Church- It’s now been over 7 years since Lisa and I moved to Harrisburg to begin Exponential Church. It has been full of challenges but one thing has remained consistent, the people have been extremely supportive and encouraging. Now the faces have changed through the years but with the exception of 1 time, we have had no real drama as a church family and even then the issue was quickly resolved. This attitude of sacrificial love makes my job as pastor so much easier and is one of the big reasons why I think we continue to be “the little church that could”. While we may be small in numbers it continues to amaze me in the ways we rally together as a church body to love and serve our community and the world. I won’t get into all the examples but I’m so thankful for the unity we show and the love we express in showing the community that You Matter to God and You Matter to Me.
- Bill Butler- Bill is Exponential’s worship pastor and only remaining original staff member. That Bill has put up with me for 7 years means he deserves a medal! But not only does he put up with me, he and his wife Meghan and son Ryan have become incredible friends with Lisa and I. Some people drain you when you spend time with them and others energize you and they are certainly all energizers. In fact, Bill and I went to dinner late last night after the worship team had their practice and talked about a wide range of topics…ministry, hobbies, life, you name it, it was all on the table and the time flew by. I’m so thankful for his passion for Jesus, his heart to lead people into worship, his leadership of the team and his friendship with me. Thanks again Bill for all you do!
- Lifetogether- During my years at Purpose Driven Ministries, I got to meet, work with and become friends with Brett Eastman. Brett had formerly been the Small Groups Pastor at both Willow Creek (Bill Hybels) and Saddleback (Rick Warren). By the time I met Brett he had started his own ministry called Lifetogether which helps churches with custom campaigns, curriculum , church innovations and all the coaching and consulting that is needed for those things. In any case, late last year Brett asked me to join the team as a consultant and so for the past year in my “spare” time I’ve been doing just that. It’s been wonderful getting to work with Brett again along with the other consultants; Rod, Dom, Phil, John, and Alan…and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention both Dave and Christie who have kept us on track. Thanks Brett and team for a great first year and I look forward to continue working with you and all the wonderful churches we get to help.
- Photography- Now it’s funny that I say this because I don’t do photography. However, Lisa has picked it up as a hobby the past few years and it’s done some cool stuff for us. First, is it’s a common hobby she shares with her mom and brother so it’s a way for them to stay connected even with the miles separating them. Second, it has made Lisa more adventurous when it comes to the outdoors. So it’s been a lot of fun doing hike and exploring. I get to be her scout and “go off trail” finding unique things as she takes shots of whatever the previous thing is that she or I found.
- XChange- Last fall through our denomination I was introduced to a pastor from Florida named Steve McCoy. Steve has developed a 1-on-1 discipleship process called XChange which is simply incredible. Now to be honest when I first heard about it my initial thought was, “been there done that”. Every program I had ever done was incredible and the person I discipled got a lot out of it but it was not something then that they could easily take someone else through themselves. In other words, I was the bottle neck…it was always dependent on how much I could do on my own. Also, many of the programs were quite dry…it was a ton of great information but the transformation wasn’t always there. XChange though is completely different. I’m not going to go into all the details here but for the past few months I’ve been separately taking 2 guys from Exponential through it with the hopes of rolling it out to even more people in 2018. So far the results have been great. Both guys are growing tremendously and the process is not only transformative but the whole thing is set-up to be duplicatable so they too will be able to lead someone through it once were done. Steve has now come up to Exponential twice to lead conferences on how to do this and how to implement in a church and I’m so thankful for this new friendship I’ve made and his willingness to take this dream God has given him and get it out to as many churches as possible.
- So many other things- Truth is if I had the time, I could list so many other people and things that I’m thankful for over this past year but as with most years I’m looking at the clock and it’s almost time to leave for family events. Here’s the truth, if you’ve read this far then you’re someone who I must be close with and I’m thankful for you! Thank you for being a part of my life and journey…here’s hoping to many more years!
Don’t do as much blogging as I used to but every year since 2007, I have done this list of things I’m thankful for so not stopping now!
1. Jesus– Surprise, Surprise…the now 9 time champion! What else can I say but that He is everything to me and I’m continually amazed that not only has He forgiven me but He uses me to accomplish His will here on the earth sometimes in the most unusual ways. I don’t deserve anything from Him yet He keeps blessing me. I know some of you reading this think that Christianity is restrictive, but it’s actually the opposite…the freedom to know you’re exactly where God wants you to be is such an awesome feeling and it’s something only Jesus can provide. I liken it to traffic laws…they aren’t there to restrict you but to keep you safe. Because of them you have more freedom not less because there is order to things. God and His Word are the same way. The more you get to know Him the more you realize He always has your best intentions at heart whenever He says to do something or not to do it.
2. Lisa– This year we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and I know it sounds like a cliche but our marriage just keeps getting better and better! Words can’t even begin to describe how awesome she is and everyday I thank God that I won the wife lottery because I definitely don’t deserve her. Can’t wait to see what the next 20 years brings!
3. My Health– As many of you know I contracted some sort of bacteria/virus this summer while in Costa Rica which had me basically lying in bed extremely sick for a month. So I’m thankful I have my health back but I’m even more appreciative of those that have chronic illness, etc. I only had a month of illness and the mental side was as bad as the physical side. So for those of you who suffer all the time, I can somewhat empathize and want you to know I’m praying for you. Everyday now even with my minor aches and pains of getting older, I realize what a gift my somewhat normal health is.
4. New Building– Last year at Thanksgiving we thought it was just a matter of time until we closed on our new church building. Little did we know that it would take an entire year to finally close…which we did 17 days ago! The Church is people not a building but a building will definitely help. Can’t wait to see how God is going to use this new tool on our tool belt.
5. The People of ExponentialChurch.tv– Our church celebrated it’s 5th birthday this year and through those years literally hundreds of people have walked through the doors and been a part. Some were there just a week, some months, others for years. Each and everyone is loved and appreciated but I’m especially thankful for those we have right now. They have stuck through the good and the bad times and are currently a part of God being on the move in our midst. Their generosity of time and money is inspiring and I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years will bring as we continue to communicate through our words and actions that You Matter to God and You Matter to me.
6. My Mom and Dad– They are a part of #5 above…which is kind of funny. When I pastored a church 20 minutes from their home, they would show up 1-2 times per year. The when I pastored a church 30 minutes from their home, they started showing up 3-4 times per year. Now that I’m an hour plus away, they show up every week! What an honor to be able to be your parent’s pastor. But even more so, what dedication on their part to come up not just on Sunday’s but sometimes multiple times during the week to serve the people of Harrisburg in various ways. I’m so thankful that we get to work side by side in the most important task in the world…showing other people the love of Jesus.
7. Family on Both Sides– Lisa and I are fortunate to have relatives that we actually really like. I can’t think of a single relative that we ever dread having to be around. While we don’t get to see everyone as much as what we’d always like, things like Facebook help to keep tabs on everyone and stay invested in some way in their lives. I love the times we are able to get together and the fun we have!
8. DrewPeacoq8– In the real world better known as John Gonzalez. 3+ years ago John was the first of my 3 poker coaches that I hired. Immediately we hit it off and as the years have progressed he has gone from coach to friend to as of a few weeks ago a brother in Christ. Almost daily, whether it be phone, text, chat, email etc we are in communication with one another and increasingly it’s less and less about the game we both love and about life and living life to it’s fullest. He truly has become one of my best friends…in fact, Lisa and I are leaving tonight after family stuff to head to North Carolina to spend a few days with John and Brandy. Can’t wait to hang!
9. Poker in General– It’s amazing all the ways a card game has impacted my life. First, I still find it extremely relaxing as a way to unwind after a day of church stuff. Second, it has allowed me to expand my ministry reach. Whether it’s helping local players through various personal issues or the opportunities I’m getting nationally and globally to share the good news of Jesus, it’s so cool to be able to make an impact for the Kingdom of God in an area that so desperately needs it but yet many Christians would steer clear of. Third is from a financial stand point. This year especially I have been crushing tournaments which has allowed us to not have to depend on Lisa for any income, which in turn is allowing her to pursue some of her own dreams and goals. Last, it is an avenue to keep my naturally competitive juices flowing. Not only from tourney to tourney, but also each week when the new global rankings come out it’s fun to see how I stack up. As of this week, I’m the #1 online player in PA, #16 in the United States and #1110 in the world.
10. You– If you’ve read all the way through this then chances are you’re someone close to me and I just want to say thank you for your love, encouragement, friendship and support. No matter what area of life I know you from, my life is better because you’re in it…here’s to many more years of doing life together! Happy Thanksgiving!
- Jesus. I know what you’re thinking, “He was number 1 last year, and the year before that and the year before that, etc”. Yep and He’ll be number 1 every year. Without my relationship with Him I am absolutely nothing. I don’t deserve anything from Him, but yet each year He keeps helping me and blessing my life more than I could ever hope.
- Lisa. No surprise here either. While God sort of has to love me, Lisa chooses to love me and that love grows every year. She is such an awesome wife! I’m also so proud of her accomplishments. Her business continues to grow and her heart for helping and mentoring others is making a major impact on people’s lives and organizations.
- Stories of life-change at ExponentialChurch.tv. Yes it’s cool that we’ve had over 200 first time professions of faith at ECTV in our 2 year existence, but we’re not called to just make converts, we’re called to make disciples. So when we moved here and started, “A Church For People Who Don’t Like Church”, we wanted to not just give them a cool Worship Experience but a place they could come and connect with God in a real and personal way. Here’s an example from an email I just got this week…
Gilbert,I just want to take this time to thank you. On & off for many years I’ve tried to connect on a deeper level. I would pray for understanding and guidance, would visit different churches, I even joined a church, got baptized & married in the Church. I’ve always been a Christian but not a practicing one if that makes sense. From the first day at exponential I felt a connection. When I listen to you I ‘get it’. It feels as though your sermons are customized just for me. It’s weird. Can’t explain it. Thank you for turning me on to Jesus in a different way. In a way that no one else has. I crave God’s word daily now. I’m not afraid of it. I welcome it, accept it, & try my best to obey it. I feel a greater sense of peace, happiness and confidence. I’m a very quiet person. Not outgoing & not one that likes to be the center of attention. Therefore you would probably never know or hear things about me. But I couldn’t let this go without telling you the effect you’ve had on me over the last year and a half. You have a special gift and I hope & pray that all your dreams and prayers for exponential church are answered.
- Family. Lisa and I are very fortunate in that not only do we get along with each others families, but we’re all also very supportive of one another. No matter what it’s nice to know that there’s a group of people who have got your back. Thanks to the Thurston, Simmons, Bish and Gayman families for who you are and all that you do!
- Old Friends. Haha…Andy, Gayle, Bill and Nicole will love being called old! There’s an old saying that says, “You become the people who are closest to you”. With this principle in mind it’s very important that you only allow people into your life who you want to be like…not people that will drag you down. I love these 4 because of their passion for Jesus and to make a difference for Him. I also love that 3 of them are self-employed. I love that Bill set a weight loss goal this past year and lost over 70 pounds. I love that they all model serving and are generous givers of their time and resources. They make me better because of who they are…thank you!
- New Friends. Over the past year guys like, Vince, Claude, Steve, Bratz and Steve have all become new friends. I look forward each week to seeing you guys and hope our friendship continues growing in the years to come.
- My Staff. For years I said that “Church planting is for stupid people” and that I’d never do it. When God did call me to do it, I said there was no way I’d do it without a team. I’m glad I made that decision. This has been one of the toughest and at times frustrating things I’ve ever done. Chad, Bill, Brenda and Chelsea have all been there to help ease the burden and for that I’m so grateful.
- House Sale. Just a few weeks ago we finally closed on our old house in Chambersburg. 2 1/2 years, 2 tenants, $5000 in repair bills, 6 total months of it being vacant and having to pay 2 mortgages later we are now free of it. While we loved that house, the stress of owning another piece of property over an hour away that you’re never sure what’s happening in it was not worth it. Glad to have that chapter of life over.
- Orioles Made the Play-offs. I’m a huge sports fan and having grown up in MD, I love the Orioles, Redskins, Caps, Wizards and both Maryland football and basketball. If you know anything about sports you know that over the past 2 decades that list has not included many winners. So imagine my surprise when the O’s started well and then continued that throughout the summer and into the play-offs…made summer a different type of enjoyable I had forgotten about.
- Audible.com. I am a huge believer that a self-education is far superior to a formal education. I’ve been saying for years that you need to make your vehicle a University on Wheels. A few years back I invested in myself by getting a subscription to Audible.com. For only $14.95 per month I get 1 audio book per month on the subject of my choice. If you want more than that you can buy more at prices that are usually less than the printed version. Basically any book you can get in print, you can listen to it as well. I’ve made the choice to not waste my driving time but to instead use it in a productive way…I hope you do the same!
- Jesus- Well who else did you expect at #1? As every year passes, I realize more and more how ugly, sinful and broken I am inside. Yet Jesus loved me enough not to just be my friend, but to die for me so that my relationship to Him could be even greater. I don’t deserve a love like that and so my only acceptable response is to offer a life of sacrifice back to Him.
- Lisa- Again who were you expecting? Before each of my bi-monthly calls with my church planting coach (thankful for Vince’s friendship as well), I have to fill out a form reporting on various areas of my life and ministry. One of the questions is, “How is your marriage”? Recently during a time when I was feeling a bit down and depressed, I wrote for this question, “No matter what else is going on, this is the one area that I can count on to be great”. Trust me, Lisa has far more to do with that than I do. Every year I can’t imagine our marriage getting any better but yet it does…wow I’m such a lucky man that God gave me such a Godly wife. Her passion, hunger for growth and servant spirit are truly an inspiration to me.
- My immediate family- I’ve seen my mom, dad, sister and niece as much in the past year as I probably did in the 10 years prior to that. The irony is I had to move further away from them for it to happen. Regardless, one of the highlights of my week is knowing that I’ll get to see them on Sunday mornings. I’ll see them again today and tomorrow and I’m sure there will be times that we pick-on each other but underneath it all is a love and a bond with and for one another that can not be broken no matter how many miles the highway may now separate us.
- My cousins- This year has also given me a few times to reconnect with my cousins that I grew up with. Life and circumstances have kept us a part for many years but I’m looking forward to hopefully more opportunities to hang-out and reconnect.
- My long-term friends- Andy, Gayle, Bill and Nicole. It’s been an interesting year and not at all how I had envisioned it but yet these 4 at multiple times and in many ways continue to be there for and with me. Words can’t describe how grateful I am for the 10+ years they’ve put up with me.
- My new friends I’m developing- Some of these are at church but many of them are from the community. As I mentioned in our current series, one of the problems many pastors have is waking up one day and realizing you don’t have any significant relationships with people who are far from God. So this year I have been intentionally going out and building new friendships. Not only have I been having fun meeting new people and hanging out, but a few I can see as becoming close friends. Most significantly I can already see the difference I’ve been able to make in people’s lives.
- My staff- Chad, Bill and Chelsea. To be quite honest, I’m in way over my head with this whole church planting thing, but these 3 make me look a lot better than I am. I’m so grateful God has brought us together as a team and can’t wait to see how God will use us to further His Kingdom. It’s an honor to be able to lead them and I pray I do it well.
- That ExponentialChurch.tv survived it’s first year- I wish this were hyperbole but it’s not. Most church plants die within their first 3 years. We’ve got one of those under our belts but we’re not out of the woods quite yet. However, as I already mentioned we have a great staff that’s sold out to seeing God’s Kingdom advance. More importantly we have many others who serve week end and week out because they realize that life is not about them but in helping people far from God come back into a relationship with Him and then grow to become more like Him. Thanks to all for an incredible year where we’ve now seen over 120 people come into a relationship with Jesus…but remember…the best is yet to come!
- Lisa’s business/God’s blessing- In order to start ExponentialChurch.tv, we had to sacrifice a lot to move here to Harrisburg. One such sacrifice was I voluntarily took a 23% reduction in salary. This meant the possibility that Lisa might have had to get a job (which would have been a huge sacrifice on her part because of health issues). However, despite it all we continued to tithe and trust that you can’t out give God. Sure enough He began to bless her business ,which for years had pretty much always made the same amount of money. All of the sudden…through no real effort of her own, she has been swamped with work which has allowed her to stay at home!
- Chuck Frank- Chuck is a long-time friend and more recently became the Director of Church Planting for the Eastern Regional Conference of the Churches of God General Conference (catchy isn’t it). It was Chuck’s email that spurred on the vision I had for Exponential originally. Over the past year he and his team have been incredibly helpful and generous in numerous ways in helping us launch. Chuck is a great cheerleader for planting and evangelism and his support this past year has been invaluable.
- Technology- It can be both a blessing and a curse but for the most part I am very thankful for all that technology allows us to do. Especially this past year I am grateful for two tools that make my life so much easier. The first is www.audible.com. Audio books have been around along time, but now with the ability to download them to my smart phone and then play back through blue-tooth on my car stereo, life is so much easier. Literally I turn my car into a mobile classroom and can usually get through 3-4 books per month just during my normal driving time. The second tool I’m thankful for is the Getting Things Done Outlook Add-In Tool. One of the audio books I listened to this past year was Getting Things Done by David Allen. His system is tremendous and when I found out there was an add-in for Outlook, it was an easy decision to spend the $70+. My life, tasks and schedule have never been more organized and de-cluttered and for that I am very thankful!