Nearly everyone has someone in their circle of acquaintances who struggles—an out-of-control friend or relative whose habits or relationships are in chaos. Is there any hope, or is he or she doomed to self-destruction?
Pastors Rob Cowles and Matt Roberts say God is equal to the challenge! New beginnings are possible, no matter how broken, devastated, or crazy someone’s life may be. Yet today’s churches don’t do messy very well.
The Genesis Project is a network of believers whose goal is to plant churches in dark places, targeting people who don’t normally “do” church. Reaching drug addicts, convicts, strippers, and gang members, they’ve seen God do some amazing things with seemingly hopeless lives. The God of New Beginnings tells these dramatic stories, offering practical wisdom for breaking through the darkness in a person’s life:
Pursuing real relationships Opening up true stories Pulling together safe communities Getting honest about sin Extending God’s forgiveness and freedom Helping people reset their lives and habits Coping with ongoing complications Not giving up when setbacks occur Freely sharing the victories Keeping the faith life simple Love never fails. And when we incorporate God’s love into our lives and relationships, redemption is possible.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
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About the Author
Matt Roberts is the founding/lead pastor of Genesis Project in Ogden, Utah, a church that has grown from one local site to become a model in multiple cities and towns across the United States. He began his ministry as a youth pastor in the inner cities of Tampa, Fla. and Portland, Ore. In addition to his present ministry in Utah, Matt has consulted with various churches and denominations seeking to reach dark areas with the hope of Jesus. He and his wife, Candice, are the parents of four sons.
Rob Cowles is the founding/lead pastor of the Genesis Project in Fort Collins, Colorado. He has served in full- time pastoral ministry since 1988, including roles as senior pastor of Radiant Church (Colorado Springs) and executive pastor of Timberline Church (Fort Collins). He and his wife, Joy, use some of their spare time to carve canyons on their Harley- Davidson motorcycle. They have two adult sons.
Dean Merrill is the author and coauthor of 46 books, including Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Church and three other Jim Cymbala titles: Fresh Faith, Fresh Power, and You Were Made for More. He and his wife live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Read an Excerpt
"Anybody Wanna Buy a Strip Club?"
If you follow the various best-places-to-live-in-America rankings, you would not imagine that a city as classy, beautiful, and educated as Fort Collins, Colorado, would even have a strip club. Nestled up against the majestic Rocky Mountains, with world-class ski slopes less than two hours away, its 160,000 residents enjoy more than 300 days of sunshine a year. Biking trails are everywhere, much to the delight of the 33,000 students at Colorado State University, the city's intellectual anchor.
My family and I have enjoyed the Fort Collins culture ever since 2005, when I (Rob) became executive pastor of Timberline Church, the city's largest, with more than five thousand attenders and a beautiful, expansive campus. I loved the opportunity to speak in the midweek services (as well as some weekends) while also managing a staff of a hundred. My wife, Joy, was a devoted mom to our two sons, the younger of whom was still in junior high, coming up through an excellent school system. We hardly noticed the seedy industrial area on the northeast side of town called the Mulberry Corridor (along Mulberry Street) near Interstate 25.
One day in the spring of 2013, I got a text from our senior pastor, Dary Northrop. He mentioned a guy named Aaron, who had come around saying he had given his life to Jesus and wanted to get out of the strip club business he and his two brothers had inherited from their father. Aaron Bekkela called again and is asking me to come over and at least see the property, Dary wrote. I agreed to meet him there tomorrow afternoon. Want to come with me? I texted back a yes, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. I had never been to a strip club before, and the only time I had even passed by the Hunt Club was when I was dropping off my kids at the curiously placed roller-skating rink next door.
The next day after lunch, the two of us plus another staff pastor made our way to the establishment. There we saw a nondescript, low-slung building with a small parking lot and a dingy sign out front that read
Hunt Club — GIRLS — GIRLS. Open Daily @ 4:00 pm. Open Friday @ Noon.
Up and down the block were various auto repair shops, a heating and plumbing contractor, and a tattoo parlor; directly behind the club was a trailer park.
Aaron, a fortyish man with red hair and a goatee, was waiting in his standard jeans and T-shirt to meet us. His personal story, I found out later, was no charade; he had been affected years before by a brief conversation one night at the end of a shift when one of his dancers had stopped by his office before leaving. Hanging around the door frame, she said, "Um, my mother asked me to give you a message."
Aaron had braced himself. Hearing from a dancer's mother could never go well, he assumed. But to his great surprise, the dancer had meekly said, "She just said to tell you, she and her friends [who happened to be Timberline women] are praying for you." This was a seed that would germinate in Aaron's life for years.
More recently, a random flyer had shown up in his mailbox promoting a Christian conference. He decided to go and ended up making a commitment to Jesus at that conference. His new life as a Christ follower prodded him to try to convince his two brothers that they should sell. He was tired of living with the tension of doing a men's Bible study in the morning and opening the club at night. He had approached several northern Colorado churches to step up and repurpose the property. He was desperate to extricate himself from this wretched livelihood. Maybe this building could even be redeemed for something positive.
One after another, the various pastors had replied, "That's an intriguing idea, and I commend you for living out your new faith in this way. But I have no idea what my church would do with a strip club!"
When he felt like there was nowhere else to turn, Aaron and his brothers tried to sell the business to another club in Denver, an hour away. In fact, they had landed a contract, but just before closing the deal, the buyer backed out with no explanation.
Now he had come knocking on Timberline's door once again.
The Perfume of Brokenness
We followed Aaron into the dimly lit building, which was entirely quiet at that hour of the day. Immediately I noticed how utterly dirty it was. No broom, vacuum cleaner, or dustcloth had been used there in a long, long time. Just inside the front door was a small office, and then a bar stretching along one wall. A vending machine on the left offered an array of candy bars, soda, cigarettes — and panties!
A coatrack with old, dirty housecoat-style robes caught by eye. What were those for? I found out later that when the scantily clad girls would go outside in the winter for a smoke, they'd just throw on one of those robes to keep from freezing.
Down three steps to the right was the main area, with three large floodlit stages, perhaps ten feet by twenty feet. Each had a stripper pole in the middle, and customer chairs all around. Against the back wall was a deejay booth for playing the necessary music. There was also a VIP area with its own stage and pole, where guys could pay more to have nicer furniture and their own private bathroom.
Then to the left were the alcoves, where private, one-on-one lap dances would happen, for an additional charge.
Dary, our colleague, and I were silent, trying to take everything in as Aaron gave the tour. Soon he led us back behind the deejay booth through a doorway and down a hall. Along one side were the well-stocked and locked storage cabinets filled with whiskey, gin, and other alcoholic beverages.
When we passed through a second doorway, we entered the locker room. Again, it was a dirty, nasty place with only a concrete floor. In the middle was an oversized vanity setup — a mirror some six feet long with bulb lights all around — where the dancers did their makeup before going onstage. Surrounding on all sides were rows and rows of metal lockers.
I was stunned as I stared at several with pictures of children taped onto the metal doors. Who were the boys and girls in these photographs? In another moment it hit me: these were the kids these women were trying to feed and clothe by working in this place.
A knot began to tighten in my throat. Here, behind the scenery of what men viewed as a sensuous house of glamour, was the total opposite. A lot of these women came here night after night trying to hold their lives together.
The room reeked of a certain overused perfume. (To this day, if I pick up that scent from any woman wearing that brand, it puts a tear in my eye.) I learned later that in the winter, the room wasn't adequately heated, so the dancers would shiver until they could get out onto the stages. In the summer the air-conditioning (actually, just a "swamp cooler") didn't work.
Nearby was another smaller locker room for the girls with the most seniority, where they had their own private bathroom. And finally, there was the manager's office.
A Crazy Notion
We were speechless as we followed Aaron back through the main room and toward the entrance. Again, I stared at the stages, the poles, the lounge chairs. I shuddered at the thought of men my age sitting around drinking and ogling somebody's daughter, sister, granddaughter, wife, mom. It just wrecked me on the inside.
"Well, Aaron, we will think and pray about this," Dary finally said, shaking his hand. At least I think that's what he said; my brain was churning. We then turned toward our car and got inside. As Dary started the engine, he looked at me and noticed tears in my eyes. I looked at him and uttered one sentence, my voice cracking as I spoke:
"Dary ... we have to do this, and I want to put my name in the hat to lead it."
I hadn't thought through the ramifications. I hadn't calculated how much money this would require. I hadn't weighed what it would mean, here at age forty-nine, for my very comfortable (and desirable) career at Timberline, where I enjoyed a great deal of respect as well as flexibility. Good grief, I hadn't even yet talked to my wife about this.
Plus, I'd never planted a church before. My entire ministerial career had been in established congregations. But I knew this had to happen.
Dary stared at me for a moment, his face a puzzlement. The first word out of his mouth was "Really?"
"Yeah," I replied. Thereafter, the car was mostly quiet as we drove back to our well-furnished, handsomely carpeted offices. I walked up to my second-floor office, looked out the expansive windows across the Fort Collins horizon, and then picked up my phone to call my wife. She was two hours south in Colorado Springs, taking care of her father, whose late-stage cancer was worsening by the week.
"Honey, I need to tell you what's been happening here," I began. I described the building, the possibility of starting something entirely new there, and how moved I had been by it all.
She and I had received previous inquiries from other congregations in the past few years to come be their senior pastor, but we had never felt led to follow up. This, however, was very different. In a way it tied in to our early years in youth ministry when I'd led a weekly Bible study at the local juvenile detention center. A number of kids had gotten saved. Once discharged, these gang members and their friends had started showing up in our youth group meetings at the church, to the point that we had to have a police officer on hand just for safety's sake. (Some of the clean-cut church kids and their mothers were a bit unnerved by all this.)
Now Joy, who had loved this ministry to kids on the edge, replied, "Well, to be honest, what you're talking about sounds terrifying. But God might be in this." We said we would talk more about the possibility as soon as she came back to Fort Collins.
Meanwhile, Dary and I kept talking about my crazy notion. We wrote down Aaron's asking prices: $720,000 (driven by an earlier appraisal) for this dilapidated 7,300-square-foot building in the Mulberry Corridor, plus another mandatory $300,000 for the business itself to compensate them for lost revenue.
In a couple of weeks Dary reached out to some key donors at Timberline. We described what we had seen on the tour and talked about how God might redeem this dark place in our city, turning it into a beacon of light. Their hearts were moved as they began to see the vision of what could be. Their generosity could make it possible to purchase the building and buy out the business.
While we were grateful for this breakthrough, Joy and I knew we still had a long way to go. The renovation costs would be high, and we would need to raise money for start-up and operating costs. But we knew God was calling us to reach broken, hurting people, including those who patronized the Hunt Club as well as those who worked there. We wouldn't scare them off with the word church. Instead, we would call it the Genesis Project —" a place of new beginnings."
Over the spring and summer hundreds of people from Timberline Church gave sacrificially through a giving campaign toward this new endeavor, thanks to the leadership of Dary Northrop. It was clear God was up to something.
Closing the Deal
My last day at Timberline was September 30, a few weeks after the papers had been signed. The actual closing of the club had been awkward, to say the least. Aaron's brother, who was running the club while Aaron did the bookkeeping, called everyone together at 2:00 a.m. on a Saturday night (actually, early on a Sunday morning), as they were changing clothes and getting ready to leave.
"Hey, everybody, I have something to tell you," he announced. "It's all over. My brothers and I have sold this building, and we're closing — as of right now. You can come back tomorrow afternoon and clean out your lockers."
Whaaat? Dancers, bartenders, and waitstaff were shocked. They had gotten no warning that their income was lurching to a halt. Some of them had been pulling down good money — a lot of it in cash (through tips) and therefore untaxed. Now what would they do?
My heart was broken. We wanted this church to help people, not hurt them. But to them, I was the cause of putting them out on the street. No doubt they hated me and everything I stood for at that moment. They couldn't just go and get hired at another strip club across town; there weren't any. What could they do?
Some of them headed off to clubs in Denver, or Cheyenne, Wyoming, about forty-five minutes north. But others couldn't see their way clear to leave town. My friend Mark Orphan, missions pastor at Timberline (who now serves as executive pastor at the Genesis Project in Fort Collins), found a donor who was willing to give a large sum of money to help former employees with the transition. When our offer was extended, some twenty of them took us up on it, allowing us to help with everything from rent and utilities to groceries, counseling, and even tuition for going back to school.
Aaron told me at one point — with tears — that in earlier years, while his father was still alive, his job had been to recruit good-looking coeds from CSU. "I had the spiel down better than any door-to-door salesman," he said regretfully. "I told them that they could graduate debt-free by working just a few nights a week. Some of them would, but I knew most would end up dropping out of school, sucked into the vacuum of the business, destroying their futures."
Though the club had very strict policies against drugs and prostitution, there were still drug sales that happened. A former dealer who sold drugs at the club attends our church now, and former dancers have told me that sometimes dancers would go home with clients.
The three brothers each received $100,000 from the proceeds of the business. Aaron promptly turned around and donated his slice back to Timberline — even though he and his wife were hardly making ends meet themselves. He had enrolled in a master's degree program at Colorado Christian University to study counseling, while his wife was also in school. They had needed to sell their home and downsize into a place that had no Wi-Fi; they shared a laptop between them. But they were committed to pursuing a new life in Jesus, regardless of the cost.
Turning On the Light
The building became for us a metaphor of what God might do in people's broken lives. He would take all that was dirty, ugly, and shameful, redeeming it for a great kingdom purpose. The remodeling took all of 2014 and cost around $650,000, as we pretty much had to gut the building and start over, with all-new electrical, heating, and air-conditioning systems. It would have cost even more than that amount had it not been for wonderful contractors and subcontractors who donated material, or labor, or both. A drywall company owned by a Christian believer did the whole drywall job — then wrote us a check for 100 percent of his profit. I was amazed.
Here in this run-down, beat-up, shadowy place where so many dreams had died, God was getting ready to turn on the light of the good news. I had men coming to me with tears in their eyes saying things like "I'm so thankful for what this place is becoming ... because I lost my marriage here."
One young man, a student at CSU, had been married just two years when a friend had invited him to a bachelor party at the Hunt Club. That very first night, he was smitten with one of the dancers. He eventually left his wife to marry the girl. Both of them soon got addicted to methamphetamines. He started selling, got arrested, and wound up in prison for a term. Once he was released, he and the dancer had a child together, but soon thereafter divorced.
Eventually he came to faith in Jesus. He made a point to come and tell me, "This place stole ten years of my life. Now I'm so very grateful it's been redeemed for something good."
No Pit Too Deep
While all the remodeling was going on, I was busy assembling what I called a "launch team" of people who could help once we moved in. We met for a full year in a coffee shop in Old Town, the trendy strip of boutiques, cafés, antique shops, and confectionaries along both sides of College Avenue just north of the CSU campus.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The God of New Beginnings"
Copyright © 2018 Rob Cowles and Matt Roberts.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: A GOD FOR MESSY PEOPLE,
1. "Anybody Wanna Buy a Strip Club?", 3,
2. Immersed in a Messy World, 17,
PART TWO: WHAT REDEMPTION LOOKS LIKE,
3. We Pursue Real Relationships, 33,
4. We Open Up True Stories, 55,
5. We Pull Together Safe Communities, 69,
6. We Get Honest About Sin, 79,
7. We Extend God's Forgiveness and Freedom, 95,
8. We Help Reset Lives and Habits, 109,
9. We Deal with Ongoing Complications, 121,
10. We Don't Give Up When Setbacks Occur, 137,
11. We Share the Victories, 147,
12. It's Simple (but Not Easy), 159,
PART THREE: BEAUTY IN THE BROKENNESS,
13. The Art of Spiritual Kintsugi, 171,
14. The Gospel Still Works — Here and Now, 177,
Appendix: For Pastors and Other Leaders: Can Regular Churches Do This?, 185,
About the Authors, 213,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
We hear it often, the gospel of Jesus is good news. If you don’t hear that often, consider why. The point is, in a world full of bad reports and churches that are neglecting the true work of gospel, we need to know what is real religion. The God of New Beginnings is a book which delivers this in a very personal and powerful way. The authors present real life moments where people came face to face with the redemptive power of Jesus. With great use of biblical precedent and a drawing from their own ministry work we are given a walk through of what is possible when people take hold of the passion Jesus has given them. The fact is I’m not big into books about testimony. I picked this book up with the hope I would at least have some basic inspiration or maybe a sermon illustration or two. What I came away with was hope. We live in a world that is increasingly removed from one another, a world which begs for being alone yet also craves being near to others. This book has redefined the term relationship in my heart. It has shown the need to be present and not just physically there. Without the practice of being involved in the relationship, the redemption shown in these stories does not happen. Churches must make the impact through relational ministry. This book will speak well to many people, even those who don’t like reading testimonies. It’s really the heart of Jesus on display through others lives into others lives. Pick it up and take your time going through, I’m sure you will enjoy it as well. *I received this book from the publisher through Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. These are my personal thoughts.