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13-Year-Old Napkin Notes

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It was somewhat surreal, and a little surprising. Not that I had expected something really different, but it was still a reason to raise the eyebrows a bit. 

That was my reaction to an email from Pastor Chris, one that contained a letter and some initial “napkin notes” I wrote back in 2003. The letter was to the elders at Grace West Church, and the napkin notes? Broad vision strokes for First Family Church. It seemed like just yesterday that I was jotting down those thoughts, yet here it was 13 years later, and much of what I was reading now had concrete names and places.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the overall themes of small groups, church planting/multiplication, a strong staff, and missions are woven all throughout the letter and penciled scratchings. You can see why my facial expression was one indicating pleasant surprise—God was growing this type of fruit right here within this local faith family! Frankly, a few chuckles accompanied the raised eyebrows as I remembered the times I wondered if what lay ahead was actually possible. For instance, 

  • We started with seven Lighthouses. Could we recruit and train enough leaders year by year to keep up with our growth? Would our church respond well to this form of community and care?
  • We bought land, but then tabled our construction plans. Would we ever find a permanent place we could afford? 
  • We noticed a core group in Bondurant as well as an excellent opportunity. Would 40 people really answer the call to go to Bondurant?
  • An open door existed in central Asia. And God gave us a potential planter. Would both merge in the right way? Could we really plant a church halfway around the world?
  • Cross-cultural missions continues to gain traction, and multiple people sense God leading them to live overseas as gospel “partners.” Can we send and support them appropriately? Can we mobilize everybody else for God’s passion here as well?

But little by little, through the ups and downs and the good and bad, God was—and still is—actually accomplishing His will right in the middle of our messy lives and young church. Those initial thoughts are becoming a humble and delightful reality by God’s grace and goodness. 

By no means am I saying we have arrived. Not at all! There are many miles left to travel, much yet to learn. There are corrections to make and adjustments to aim for. But the call to keep on keepin’ on is always heard with a bit more clarity when you look back and see the Lord’s faithfulness. He has not been detoured by our mistakes, nor derailed by our missteps. Not our sin nor our success has thwarted His sure will. Seeing that truth in the rearview mirror always provides a more beautiful windshield vista.  

I’m probably not alone. Raised eyebrows and under-the breath chuckles are things you’ve experienced as well, right? That’s often our reaction when we spot God’s sure but admittedly slow hand of divine providence. You see, God’s work crawls along at a pace few of us actually notice sometimes; we too many times fail to see His sovereign will being fleshed out in the midst of all our life’s intersections and connections. After all, God’s sovereignty moves ever so subtly. But moving it is. Confidently. Completely. Convincingly.   

That’s why it’s always too early to quit. Though you may not see it, though you may be unaware of it, and though you can rarely pin down the specifics, rest assured God is working. He’s faithful to his Word, committed to seeing us—you—all the way through to the end. Galatians 6:9 is precisely spot-on: “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”

In a peculiar way, reading that email reminded me of what occurs when you see a wall tapestry. Ah, yes, the front is always beautiful, and makes visual sense! But turn it around, and what do you see? A scrambled mess of threads that appears to have no order or purpose. But it actually does—to the designer!

So it is with our lives. Our church. Even this world. God is weaving His purposes and accomplishing His plan, even in the times when you don’t think it looks right or makes sense. The Grand Designer is working. He’s active. He’s in control. And sometimes all it takes is a 13-year old email to help us see it.


The Target of this Year's Harvest Offering

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One year ago, the elders announced our simple, but all-encompassing objective for First Family–to mobilize 800 people for the gospel. This is an audacious goal that cannot be accomplished in two years or 10 years. It is a lifetime goal that is in complete synchronization with the Great Commission.

A year ago we outlined for you the purpose for 2016-17, which is to lay the foundation for the future, both strategically and financially.

Strategically, the elders and GO Team have worked extensively this year with Matthew Ellison of 1615 Ministries to develop a strategic plan for our church. Through this process, we identified four spheres of influence that encompass local, state, national, and global fields of opportunity. To give each of these areas focus and energy, each sphere will be led by a team that is passionate about reaching this sphere of influence with the gospel. We are excited to begin outlining the details of our mobilization plan during our Remember 2017 service on January 4.

Financially, we need to create a solid financial base from which to operate. Our goal is to increase the funds available for mobilization to $200,000 a year starting in 2018. This is a 100 percent increase from the funds available in 2015. These funds will be used to support a portfolio of mobilization projects within the spheres of influence.

What is most exciting about our future as a church is that, Lord willing, we will see each and every one of you mobilized for the gospel. Many of us will experience missions first hand by going on a short-term mission trip. Many of us will get involved in local ministries that minister to the poor and vulnerable within our community. Many of you will become a link in the chain of support with our global partners as we seek to provide personal, real-time prayer and emotional support to these families who serve overseas. And some of you will commit to go, either as a part of a church-planting team, a support ministry here within the states or overseas, or to a closed country where the message of the gospel shines the brightest.

This is the start of a new era for our church. For the last 10 years the focus of our planning and giving was to build the necessary tools in order for First Family to have a base of operations here in Ankeny. Through the Lord’s blessing and your giving, this has been accomplished. Now, it is time to shift the focus of our planning and our giving to what the Lord has called us to as Christians–to go and make disciples in all the world.

On November 20, our church will give to our annual Harvest Offering. For this year and next year, the purpose of our special offerings is to build our savings as a church family. Granted, that is not an exciting objective, but it is necessary as we build the financial foundation for 2018. Our goal for this special offering is $75,000. 

Concurrently, we are striving to grow our regular, weekly giving to $24,400 by the end of 2017. At the conclusion of the third quarter this year, we are averaging right at $21,000 a week in our weekly giving. During this year and next year, we are committed to holding our expenses to our 2015 budget levels. It is our prayer and hope that one year from now we can report to you that we are closing in on a weekly offering of $24,400 and can increase our budget for mobilization in 2018 to $200,000.

The purpose of all of this is to give intensity and focus to our mobilization efforts. For the last 10 years, the focus of our planning and giving was to build the necessary tools in order for First Family to have a base of operations here in Ankeny. Through the Lord’s blessing and your giving, this has been accomplished. Now, we need the focus of our planning and our giving on accomplishing the task the Lord has called us to as Christians–to go and make disciples in all the world.

The Lord has blessed our church with many children and students. These kids are growing up in godly homes with parents who are serious about the Great Commission. This is the next generation of Christians who will serve the body of Christ in locations here in Iowa and around the world. This is our prayer and our goal. Join with us in praying this prayer.


- The Elders of First Family

Posted by FFC Leadership with

New Year's Resolutions from an Old Dead Guy

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It's the second week of January; how are your New Year's resolutions going?

Is this year truly going to be the year you turn over that new leaf, or will 2016 be similar to last year? I hope and pray that 2016 will be one marked by growth and accomplishments for you. 

A website called statisticbrain.com predicts the following top 10 New Years resolutions for 2016:

10. Spend more time with family 
9. Fall in love
8. Help others in their dreams
7. Quit smoking 
6. Learn something exciting
5. Stay fit and healthy 
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
3. Spend less. Save more.
2. Get organized.
1. Lose weight.

Is your resolution for 2016 on this list? These resolutions are honorable, but I can’t help thinking that the majority of them are still pretty selfish and shortsighted, aren’t they?

Can I challenge you to compare this list to the Puritan preacher and reformed theologian, Jonathan Edwards? He created a list of 70 resolutions, beginning with this foreword: "Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake."

If you read through his 70 resolutions, you'll find that, in true Puritan practice, most of his statements beginning with the word "Resolved" have to do with reflecting on his spiritual life, refining his character, or readying himself for earthly death/meeting Christ.

It is as if Edwards was answering the question, “How can I please God more this year?”, instead of “How can I be happier?”

I find this amazing. 

Here are a few that strike me as good examples for us in 2016:

5. Not just to lose weight, but to never lose (or waste) one moment of time honoring his heavenly Father.

37. Not to go to bed earlier, but to go to bed every night and confess the sins of the day.

65. Edwards resolves to exercise more, not for physical gain, but to exercise himself in spiritual habits. E.g. Bible reading, prayer, memorization, etc. 

Please don’t hear this as guilt ridden or judgmental.

I'm realizing that the older I get and the more in love with the Gospel I become, the more I desire to please the One who saved my wretched soul. These thoughts are just encouragements to help you in this regard, and not steps to help you earn God’s favor.

Let’s not forget that 2000 years ago, Christ fully earned the favor of God and imputed that favor to us the day that we believed. 

Would you consider, right now, making a few “eternally focused” New Year’s resolutions?

Here are a few of mine. Please, sometime this year, ask me how I am doing on these:
- Read 1 book a month that is for my spiritual growth.
- Share the Gospel with those on my “white harvest” card.
- Read a book of the Bible for my quiet time often, instead of small chunks.

What would our church look like if all of us committed to honoring and pleasing God more with our lives in 2016?

Let’s commit to making resolutions this year that have eternal, rather than simply earthly, value. We have a choice whether we lay up treasures on earth or in heaven, for where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also!

Posted by Travis Walker with

Welcome to the FFC Blog

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From the very beginning of First Family Church, personal growth has been a high value (2 Peter 3:18; Luke 2:52). In fact, it’s one of three key words we use to describe what we do week after week—celebrate, grow, and serve. Whether spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, or socially, growing matters.   

Understanding that, you can see why we seek to employ numerous avenues to help our faith family grow. Whether it’s customized curriculum for our small groups, online classes, series-related books authored or recommended by our pastor(s), seasonal devotionals written by our members, FFTV, the Extra Point podcast, or the recent FFC Bible Institute, we are aware that growing must be a regular pursuit through a variety of platforms.

So we strive to facilitate that within the culture and environment of this local body of believers.  

It’s from that desire that we introduce the FFC Blog—a regular collection of articles designed to help you grow. This blog brings together many gifted writers within our church, trusted people whose experience, knowledge, or understanding will undoubtedly benefit the faith community here.

The topics will vary, but you can rest assured that each “release” will be soundly theological, culturally practical, and vividly personal. Consider this blog an opportunity to peek inside the life and mind of someone growing alongside you from your own church, someone seeking to live out their life in a gospel-centered, disciple-making, world-impacting, God-glorifying fashion. 

You can access the FFC Blog here on our website, or click the subscribe button on the home page. We will also post the link to each new post on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Take your pick. Just don’t miss this opportunity to grow.

Of course, each issue will be archived on our site as well, so you can reference it at specific times when you need a bit of information or encouragement. 

Feel free to share this with others, too. It may only take a few clicks to get the “growth” ball rolling in someone else’s life. 

Our first official post will be dropping next week, written by one of our own FFC members. I’m looking forward to what this blog will become, and hope you’ll grow with me this year.


Pastor Todd



Posted by Todd Stiles with