As I reflect back on the last 3 years of ministry at Calvary Chapel Skyline (2 of them full-time), I’ve learned so much from Pastor Manny that it’s hard to grasp. I’m sure that as the months and years go by, I’ll realize I’ve learned even more than I thought I had. In the meantime, I thought I’d share with you the top 5 things I learned from him.
These concepts aren’t necessarily something I’ve heard only from Pastor MannyO, but they are things that I experienced directly from him as we ministered together.
1. Tattoos and Muscle Cars are Awesome.
I never was a muscle car guy. I grew up envying high-end sports cars. Maybe it’s just simple maturity in life that has given me more appreciation for old-school American-Made raw horsepower. Nah. I think it was the first time I rode with Pastor in his ’65 Mustang. I’m not sure if it’s when he broke the tires loose for the 3rd time in as many stops, or when I could feel my cheeks press back against the side of my head as he got on the freeway that made me think “Whoa.”
To go along with that, I never really saw much art in tattoos. Pastor had some tattoos on his shoulder from his old days running with gangs. He expressed a desire to get rid of them. When he had his left shoulder covered up with an image of a Lion (the Lion of Judah), I got to see not only how artistic tattoos could be, but also an awesome metaphor for how the True Lion covers up our old regrets. The old man in all if us can be covered up by Jesus if we want Him.
I still haven’t gotten any ink (and doubt I will), but I have a respect for the meaning behind it. I don’t think of it as necessarily “Hey, look at me!” anymore. It can be that tattoos help people to notice God. Regardless of if it’s fast cars or tattoos, everything we have can and should be used to turn people’s heads to Jesus. I’ve seen that in my Pastor.
2. Appearances Matter
I think it was a Thursday afternoon in 2010. Pastor is sitting in his office, and I was alone in the main office. There was a quiet knock at the door, so I opened it. Pastor Steve Mays from Calvary Chapel South Bay walked in and chatted with us a bit. He wanted a copy of a recent sermon to share with a friend of his. He had a chance to talk with Pastor Manny, and he was extremely pleasant to be around. It was great to have him stop by. There was a problem, however: the office was a complete and utter mess. It took me too long to find where we had stashed the blank CDs, and I had to move more than a few boxes to get to the CD copier.
The next staff meeting, Pastor Manny gave all of the staff the “what for” about office cleanliness. I mean, a pastor of a 1000+ member church just walked into our pig sty of an office, and it gives the impression of disorder and chaos. That’s not how we ran the church, and it’s still not.
I still remember that incident (obviously!) but it impacted my thoughts on the maintenance and upkeep of the building. I used to think that the appearances didn’t matter too much. That’s not true. Appearances matter to visitors, the congregation, and in some sense, even God. There was a reason that the plans for the tabernacle and the Temple were so meticulous in the Bible. God is a god of order, not chaos. Our attempts to be as orderly as possible (even when we fail) are attempts to please Him with our best. Maybe it was his military background, but the importance of appearance is something Pastor Manny nailed home.
3. Haters Gon’ Hate
I think it was 2010, but maybe it was late 2009. Either way, we got an anonymous note in the Agape Box in the back of the church. The writer expressed how difficult it was to approach Pastor Manny after service, and then asked why Pastor used a certain phrase during prayers. Then, the writer requested (aka demanded) that Manny address this from the pulpit. And here’s the kicker – the letter was typed.
I read the letter first, and I about blew a gasket. Who has the audacity to type out an ANONYMOUS letter, criticizing the pastor?!? And then expect an answer from the PULPIT. I was irate. Also, the person didn’t even change the default font from MS Word 2007. I concocted all sorts of ideas of how Pastor could address this from the pulpit and correct these people, but he decided to sit on it and pray about the response. That was wise.
The next week, there were 2 MORE LETTERS! At this point, we thought something needed to be done. I wasn’t in service, but the next Sunday morning, Pastor Manny mentioned something during 1st service. Someone from the congregation came up to him afterwards and encouraged him, saying, “Don’t give place to them. God has ordained you for this position – don’t doubt it!” With that slight word, he dropped the whole thing.
When I asked him about it later, he reminded me that we are called by God to be on mission, regardless of what other people say. There are people from every walks of life, believers and non-believers alike that will attempt to derail the mission. We can’t let them stop us from doing what God has called us to do.
Since the letter incident, there have been people who have complained, slandered, and some have left the church. Pastor Manny lets it roll like water off a duck’s back. There will always be critics. The tough part – they will be right sometimes. None of that matters. What matters is if you and I are obeying specifically what God has told us to do. And, for all the naysayers, well…haters gon’ hate.
4. It’s OK to Grieve
This one seems like so simplistic, you might think to yourself, “Christian, it took you 30 years to realize that it’s OK to grieve? You’re an idiot!” And you’d be right, but this isn’t a blog about you, so be quiet.
The funny thing (OK, one of many funny things) about Christianity is that we EXPECT to go to Heaven when we die. Logically, then, if someone you love dies, you should be happy for them, right? You shouldn’t be crying because YOU lost someone YOU love, and how are YOU going to get on with YOUR life without them? It’s all about YOU, isn’t it?! Seriously, though, in some Christian circles, although they would not express this outright, it’s almost a bad thing to grieve the passing of a loved one. In contrast, the Bible says that there is a time to grieve.
Yes, we should be absolutely excited for people who now find themselves in the presence of Jesus. They are in a far better place than we are, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t grieve ourselves. We’ve suffered loss, and God knows how we feel – He suffered even worse than us.
I’ve heard Pastor use this phrase as a reminder in every funeral I’ve joined him at. It’s true. It’s OK to grieve. This was a helpful reminder for me when our time in foster care hadn’t worked out like we expected. Although the situation was complex, I still felt grief when the girls we loved so dearly went to another home. We knew (And know!) that God has his intentions, and we trust Him, but Pastor Manny reminded us repeatedly, that it’s OK to grieve.
5. Grace is Underrated
God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. That’s grace, right? It’s just that whole salvation thing. Not to be too critical, but I think in Christendom we should change the name “Grace” to “Grace Mutual” because we basically treat it like insurance.
“Yeah, I believe in Jesus, and His Grace saves me!” can be translated, “I just purchased a free fire insurance policy from Grace Mutual! <cue theme song>” Grace, while it is free to us, was not free for Jesus. It cost Him His life. Think about that for a second: Jesus Christ, who was God, died for us. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that God’s grace is under-rated these days.
I’ve seen Pastor Manny give grace upon grace to people. Whether it’s the haters, the staff not cleaning the office, or people who need room to grieve, Pastor Manny is always full of grace.
I can say I’ve experienced this first hand – almost daily. Pastor has shown me and my family so much grace, I can’t even write it all down. I have not been as good an assistant to him as he’s been a Pastor to me, and that’s no pity-party statement. If I had been at any other job, I would have been fired. Not for misconduct, mind you, but I think most bosses would be more harsh on timelines, office cleanliness, oh yeah, and tardiness!
Pastor has always been gracious to me, even when I walked into his office and said basically, “I want to quit working for you, but I’d like to still work for a year before I move to Eastern Europe. Is that OK with you?” Not only was the answer “Yes,” but it was spoken with an enthusiasm that couldn’t be faked. I like to think that he sees something in me that I don’t really see myself, but that’s just pride
The fact is, I don’t show that same grace to others, and that’s hard for me to swallow. Not only have I seen a good example, but I’ve been the recipient of grace for 3 years, and I still struggle bestowing it on others. I’m a practical-thinking, problem-solving type of person. If someone’s made a mistake, they better fix it, NOW. In my mind, there’s no room for mistakes in the Kingdom of God. But that’s because in my mind, Grace is Under-rated.
I’m not talking about “Sloppy Agape” where you let obvious sin continue with no accountability, but I do think we are trying to skimp out on our command to disciple people. Discipleship is dirty work. It takes a sacrificial amount of time spent with people to help them grow in the Christian walk. Grace is the only way that discipleship can work. Pastor Manny creates disciples, and he does it with grace – the only way.
When I reflect on my time working closely with Pastor Manny, all of these ideas flood my thoughts, but the “biggest” thought is how he highly regards grace. He has been my Pastor, Mentor, and Friend. I know that I will continue to learn from him, even when I’m half a world away.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside my Grace-Filled Pastor.