This past Sunday was our last at Three Lakes Community Bible Church, having been there since it began some 37 years ago, growing out of a home Bible study which my Father-in-law, Pastor Clarence Kutz taught for Rocky Mountain Bible Mission. I had left my engineering job at Hyster company in Portland, Oregon in March of 1974, having just recently received my five-year pin. God had been really at work in our lives and we had a passion to become involved in full-time Christian ministry. It was an exciting, frightening experience to leave a good job and begin a whole new adventure of being missionaries for a rural mission and having to raise financial support.
We moved back to Montana where we had grown up to work for Rocky Mountain Bible Mission and apprentice under Kathy’s dad who had retired from his pastorate at Faith Bible Church in Libby to become one of the first missionaries with RMBM. One of Pastor Kutz’s Bible studies was held near Troy on the Bull Lake Road by Milnor and Savage Lakes. He taught the adults in the living room of a trailer house while Mrs. Kutz and Kathy held a children’s class in a bedroom, and I had a youth group in the shop. One night the group decided they really needed to begin a church so they took an offering that very night and got the ball rolling, with property next door being donated and Three Lakes Community Bible Church began.
By late summer of 1975, Pastor Kutz was diagnosed as having a rapidly progressive leukemia and he went to be with the Lord in October. Before he died, he directed our crew as we set forms for the church basement, so he was literally in on the foundation of Three Lakes, but now, all of a sudden, I was a pastor. I had gone to Montana State University to become an engineer, not a pastor, but as I looked back over the past half a century, I could see how God was preparing me all along the way for the ministry to which He called me. I was overwhelmed to think that I had to fill in for Pastor Kutz, who was a fantastic Bible teacher and gifted pastor. But I realized that “God’s commands are His enablings,” and that He would be with me each step of the way, and if I would depend on Him, “He and I” could do this!
For the next nearly four decades, several hundred people would come and go at Three Lakes, and a Bible camp was started, along with a Christian school and an AWANA ministry. Many would receive Christ and lots were baptized and a number have gone on into full-time Christian vocational work and most to serve God effectively and faithfully in their vocations.
This Sunday a number of past members were able to join us for a “Celebration Sunday” to praise God for what He has done over these 37 years, and as we stepped down as pastor of Three Lakes. It was so exciting to see a cross-section of the history of the church represented by those who came and to hear what God is doing in their lives now. I even had some of my original youth group with us to celebrate, one of whom is now a pastor’s wife. Our theme was very appropriate: “To God be the Glory” for truly, “great things He has done.” We were privileged to have Kathy’s brothers Ray and Larry (from the Seattle area) with us to give a challenge to the church and to us. They have both been instrumental in helping our church get established and prosper, so it was very appropriate that they have part in our celebration.
The person who was overseeing the plans for the celebration called to ask me if I had a “life’s verse” that she could put on the powerpoint presentation. I have always been reluctant to pick out just one verse as a “life’s verse,” because I have so many, but as I reflected on what God has done in our lives and how I became the pastor at Three Lakes, I chose Prov. 16:9: “The mind of man plans His way, but the LORD directs his steps.” Pastoring a church was definitely not what I had planned for my life, but it was what God purposed. A similar verse is found in Prov. 20:24: “Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD, how then can man understand his way?” I like how it is worded in the Living Bible: “Since the LORD is directing our steps, why try to understand everything that happens along the way?”
Since I didn’t take the typical path to becoming a pastor by going to Bible school and/or seminary, I had to really dig into the Word on my own and lean heavily upon the Lord, but I discovered the same truth that Paul expressed in his letter to the Philippian believers: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). I also clung to Paul’s statement in II Cor. 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.” There were times along the way that I tried to handle things on my own, in my own strength and wisdom, and have the failures to prove it! But, I also discovered the truth of which King David wrote: “The steps of a man are established by the LORD; and He delights in his way. When he falls, he shall not be hurled headlong; because the LORD is the One who holds his hand. I have been young, and now I am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken…” (Psa. 37:23-25).
Is it wrong for us to plan? Was it wrong for me to go to school for an engineering degree? No, but when we do plan we need to acknowledge that God can and will have the final say. We need to heed the admonition given in James 4:13-15: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.'” When people ask us what our plans are now, we do have some, but we must be quick to add, “Lord willing, this is what we will do!” And what is that? We plan to focus on some personal evangelism in the area with folks with whom we have built relationships over the years. We plan to continue teaching Bible studies, to hopefully write and publish a few books, to fill in for vacationing pastors on occasion, to build picture frames for my flower and scenery pictures, and to see more of the kids and grandkids. We also have lots of yard and a big garden to take care of and I teach tennis lessons during the summer. All of this, of course, is prefaced by: “The Lord willing.”
Anyway, we find ourselves in a situation much like we faced 37 years ago when I resigned my job at Hyster and suddenly had no income and a lot of unknown ahead of us. It is an exciting, frightening time. But we have definitely learned that God is faithful and we are putting our trust in Him. We do covet your prayers for His continued daily direction and open doors of ministry. As Christians we don’t retire, we just switch from one ministry to another until He takes us home.
To God Be The Glory,