My friend and sister in Christ Madison was new to the area and looking for a home church with her husband. They tried several churches over the months, but didn’t feel quite at home at any of them. After continued searching and praying… “I think we found our home church!” Madison told me excitedly one day. “They have beautiful worship music, the sermons are true to the Bible, and the congregation was so welcoming!”
That church was Good Shepherd Lutheran in Irvine, southern California. Once my husband Elijah and I started attending services and met Pastor Mike, we understood Madison’s feelings. Pastor Mike has a call to disciple others and help new members find their place in the congregation. With his passion for teaching, it is easy to see how he fits perfectly into the role of Pastor of Adult Education and Discipleship. It is hard to believe that he once refused to lead a Bible study. Here is his story.
“Do you think you might want to be a pastor?” Those were the words that Mike’s dad told him as a young boy. Though Mike wasn’t quite ready commit at such an early age, the stage was set.
Through his high school years in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, Mike joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. The group met for Bible study every Thursday at Denny’s diner. “Through these studies, gradually God was drawing me to truly understand who Jesus was and what He did for me. The Bible came alive,” Mike recounts. The leader, Andy, was passionate about discipling others and took a special interest in Mike. One evening, away from the group, Andy asked Mike a tough question: “If you died, would you go you to heaven?”
“I’m not sure” Mike replied.
“There is a way to be sure,” Andy said confidently. “And that way is Jesus.”
“I knew to the bottom of my heart this was the truth,” Mike recalls. “Then Andy prayed a prayer with me to receive Jesus personally right then. I have never felt the same since. I have always sensed the presence of Jesus in my life.”
Mike’s friends from his sports teams were initially skeptical of his new relationship with Jesus, but then they saw the difference in him. “I was less selfish, more caring, and had more self-control,” Mike recalls. Yet he struggled with staying away from the worldly lifestyle of some of his friends. He went back and forth between the way of Christ and the way of the world. This created inner tension and guilt when he felt he had let Jesus down.
There was a time when Mike was asked to lead a Bible study. “In fear of what it might mean, I ran from this opportunity,” he admits. This led to a slow and gradual drifting away from his relationship with Christ.
This drift continued when Mike went to college at the University of Iowa, where it was hard for him to resist the allure of the “party life.” When he joined a fraternity, his relationship with Christ took a back seat. Mike says, “I think I basically left Jesus behind. I didn’t want him to ruin my fun. Though I had some great times and had some great friends, deep down I was really missing the peace and joy I felt when I was walking with Christ. As I look back now I often wonder what college would have been like if Jesus had been in the front seat. But through it all God was merciful to me, and many of the mistakes I made helped me later in life with others who struggled with some of the issues I struggled with.”
After college, Mike took a sales job in the suburban Chicagoland area. He remembers one of his coworkers, Jim. “Everybody in the company loved him,” compliments Mike. “He was a Christian who really lived out his faith in the sense of being kind and non-judgmental.”
Jim kept inviting Mike to his church. “He never pressured me,” recalls Mike. “He was consistently patient and friendly.” One day, Mike was hit by the realization that something was missing in his life. “I was suddenly overcome with longing,” he tells. “I missed the peace and purpose that can come only from Christ.” At last, he accepted Jim’s invitation to attend church.
“The instant I entered the doors, I felt like I had come home to Jesus,” Mike smiles. It wasn’t long before he made a public re-affirmation of his faith in Christ, with his parents looking on proudly. “That began a whole new journey of giving everything I have to God and answering the call to disciple others.”
Mike began serving as a small group leader for fifth graders, and also started an adult Bible study. At the suggestion of his pastor, he took an assessment inventory of his spiritual gifts. “I scored high in the areas of the pastor and teacher,” he recalls. “I remembered the words of my dad predicting that I would one day be a pastor. I knew it was time to re-devote my life and disciple others.”
Mike asked God for guidance about whether to attend seminary. “That very same week, I received three brochures in the mail from three different seminaries,” he remembers. That gave him the initiative to visit the campuses in person. “As soon as I stepped onto the campus, one word came overwhelmingly into my mind: Yes.”
Mike enrolled in the Fuller Theological Seminary, north of Los Angeles, and earned his Master of Divinity Degree in 1994. He then needed to choose how to be ordained. He recalled the influence of Martin Luther’s teachings on his life. “Martin Luther was willing to do anything to reach others in the name of Jesus,” Pastor Mike marvels. “He had a heart for evangelism and did everything to disciple others. He inspired me to become ordained as a Lutheran minister.”
An answered prayer
Pastor Mike recalls the very first sermon he delivered at a Lutheran Church in Monterey Park, California. “I never considered myself a public speaker,” he acknowledges. “I said, God, you have to help me. At the end of the sermon, I felt joy and exhilaration of sharing God’s Word with the congregation.”
In 2004, a pastor friend referred him to Good Shepherd Lutheran, and he has been here ever since. His wife Francheska is not only his faithful supporter, but a planner too. “She is always throwing engagement parties and baby showers for members of our congregation,” he smiles. In fact, her organizational skills brought them together. “We met while running a class on the introduction to the Christian Faith,” Pastor Mike recounts. “I did the preaching, and she did the planning.” He proposed to her in the prayer room: “I handed her my written prayer request: Will you marry me? Fortunately, it was an answered prayer!”
As a dad and leader, Pastor Mike takes his responsibility to disciple others seriously. “I strive to teach my kids and the congregation that our ultimate fulfillment lies in our personal relationship with Christ,” he expresses.
Pastor Mike devotes time to the Lord every day. “I’m a writer. I connect to God through writing my prayers and journal entries.” He also meditates on the “Daily Bread” blog. One of his most meaningful life verses is:
”Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
“This verse is meaningful to me because it shows us that all we do for God is in response to what he has done for us,” Pastor Mike explains. “As we offer our bodies and minds back to God we can live the life we have always wanted to live and can only do with His help.”
Pastor Mike rests assured in the promise of salvation through Christ. Even in the time period in college when he temporarily strayed away, the truth was always in his mind. “I never once doubted that Jesus died for me,” he declares.
He emphasizes that is it critical to stay focused on the Kingdom. “Once my pastor asked me, What are you going to do to make a difference for eternity? That is when I realized I would never regret doing anything to disciple others and lead them to Jesus.”
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