It was eight years ago this month that I spent my first Christmas as a pastor at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa.
Pastor Chuck had just two months prior (October 7, 2004) hired me to start a Bible study on Friday nights for college students. I remember my initial thoughts when Pastor Chuck said that the college Bible study was to be held on Friday nights were that Friday nights, college students, and Bible studies were all mutually exclusive.
On the first night of our college Bible study we had about 12 people in a building that held over 300, and half of them were my family and the band. That night would prove to be a very interesting night due to the fact that I would have my very first encounter with what I believe to have been a demonically influenced, or possessed man.
This man was waiting for me before my study at the entrance of the church, and without introduction told me that I was the evangelist. Understand, that at this point I was not teaching Monday Nights LIVE, and the only person that I had told that I felt called to evangelize was Pastor Chuck. I figured he must have had the wrong guy.
This man, whom I’ve never seen before, began to tell me that I should quit, that no one was ever going to come to my Bible study, and that I was going to fail.
As he went on and on about my ministerial demise, I was thinking to myself, “You gotta be kidding me.” After he concluded his rant, I remember looking at him dead in the eyes and saying, “Just as Pastor Chuck teaches the Bible in all the main services, I’m going to teach the Bible here!” The man took a couple of steps back, and had a look of shock on his face. His attacks emboldened my spirit.
I proceeded to enter our building where I opened the service, welcomed everyone, and introduced the worship band. After our time of singing concluded, my brother came up to me with a very concerned look on his face. He told me that normally he doesn’t look around when he’s worshiping, but he did for a moment and saw this same guy sitting in his seat convulsing as everyone was singing praises to Jesus.
As my brother and I were making our way over to this man I knew he had to go. However, I couldn’t help but think what a shame it was that I would have to kick someone out of my study when attendance was already so low. When this man saw us coming he jumped out of his seat, sprinted past me out the door, hopped into his vehicle, and burned rubber out of our parking lot! I have not seen that man since that day.
Little did I know what the Lord was preparing me for! The Lord would eventually give me 7 years of teaching that college Bible study that grew to fill our sanctuary, had multiple, college campus Bible studies, and eventually became known as theHOUSE College Bible study. I guess Friday nights, college students, and Bible studies weren’t mutually exclusive after all!
In addition to teaching theHOUSE College Bible study, I was serving on Monday nights with Worship Generation pastor, Joey Buran. Joey was a huge encouragement to me in my rookie season at Calvary Chapel. I’m blessed to be able to call him a friend, and it’s always a blessing speaking with him.
A few months into my time serving at Calvary Chapel I had a really disturbing dream. In my dream God was telling me that Joey wasn’t going to be doing Monday nights anymore, and that they were going to ask me to do the Monday night study. I recall arguing with God, and telling him in my dream that I didn’t want to do Mondays because I could barely handle doing Friday nights at theHOUSE. I even suggested another pastor on our staff to God that I felt was a better fit than myself.
That following week in our meeting, Joey stated that he felt that God was calling him to start his own church, and that he’d be leaving shortly. The following week Pastor Brian Brodersen called me into his office, and said that he and Chuck decided that I should take over the Monday night Bible study slot in addition to teaching on Friday nights.
I was speechless. I didn’t know what was more shocking: the fact that I was going to be teaching a main study at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, or the fact that God told me beforehand that it was going to be so! The date was set for me to start, and on Joey’s last Monday night the sanctuary was packed out. Pastors, worship leaders, and bands from all over California came out to support Joey as he would be saying his farewell, and planting his church - Worship Generation.
I remember that night how humbling it was when I was announced to be taking over the Monday night Bible study. As I later came to find out, people were thinking to themselves, “Who in the world is this guy?!” Believe me, I was thinking the same thing. I still do actually, and there isn’t a night that I teach where I don’t ask myself how I am even doing this.
I felt completely out of place teaching a service in the main sanctuary. Especially considering the "lineup" of great pastors, and men of faith that were teaching the other nights of the week. At the time I was hired, there really wasn't one night that didn't have a heavy-hitter teaching a Bible study at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. By heavy-hitter, I mean guys like Chuck Smith, Don McClure, Jon Courson, Brian Brodersen, and Skip Heitzig - all teaching weekly services.
On Sunday night, May 1, 2005, I was sitting at my kitchen table preparing my first Monday night message for the following day. As I sat there, I felt really worried. There I was, a 25 year old guy, who nobody knew, and who wasn’t Joey Buran or Greg Laurie (who were my predecessors). I knew that I couldn’t try to be either of those guys. I have a hard enough time being myself, let alone somebody else.
Yet, in the midst of my concern, the Lord spoke clearly to me and said, “Garid, this is My church, My people, and My work. When I work no one can hinder it, not even you.” I felt such a touch of reassurance that night that God was in control, and that He was the one who was orchestrating all of these things. I didn’t do anything to be in the position that I was in. I didn’t have a desire to take over the Monday night study. I was quite content, and still a bit overwhelmed teaching on Friday nights alone. Yet, the Lord had a plan.
On May 2, 2005, I taught my very first Monday night Bible study. I waited backstage (actually the same place where the above photo was taken) to walk out to begin the study. What would people think? Would there even be anyone out there? I took a deep breath, prayed, and walked out onto the stage with the words of the Lord in my heart that it was His church, His people, and His work. That opening night proved to be exactly that as over 20 people made professions of faith! Week after week more and more people continued to show up bringing their unsaved friends and family.
Over the last eight years we’ve seen thousands of professions of faith from the Monday Nights LIVE study and Vision Evangelistic Events. We’ve seen entire families repent of their sin and turn to God. We’ve had people give their lives to Christ on one Monday night only to go home to be with Him before the next Monday. We’ve seen people demon-possessed set free. The Lord has done great things, and He alone truly knows the extent of what He has accomplished by the Gospel going out weekly through the internet webcasts and radio broadcasts. To God be the glory!
For those of you that feel God’s call into ministry don’t doubt it, charge it. Know though, that you will face adversity. You will experience discouragement, and the devil would like nothing more than for you to quit before you even get started. Satan would have you to believe that you will fail, no one will come to your study, and that no one will be ministered to by you - just like the strange man said to me before I started teaching the college study. Don’t believe it. Be faithful to teach the Word. Trust God’s omniscience.
The Lord tells us in His Word that we are to trust Him with all of our hearts. In light of that, we must not lean on our own limited understanding of what we think is happening or really going on, but to continue to pray and seek the Lord knowing He will direct our path. So, hang in there, and remember that it’s the Lord’s church, His people, and His work. And, when God works no one can hinder it. Not even you.
“But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2Timothy 4:5