December 2, 2016
From Pastor Steve, Thoughts on the Sale of our Equestrian Property
In my time with the Lord this morning (Friday, Dec. 2nd), I came to three chapters that all carry the same theme. Psalm 38 is David’s plea for God’s mercy and forgiveness as he feels the weight of his sin and the attacks of his enemies. The thought that hit me as I read it was, “God uses some pretty flawed and imperfect people who made some huge mistakes.” Although David was a man after God’s heart, he also had some glaring sins, even years after walking with God. And yet God used David as a type of Christ, the son of David.
Then I read Genesis 46, the moving story of how the aged Jacob was reunited with his beloved son Joseph, whom for years he had thought was dead. In the middle of that chapter is a long list of Jacob’s family that accompanied him on that move to Egypt to escape the famine. Most of the names mean nothing to us, since the Bible does not tell us their stories. But if you’ve been reading through Genesis, some of the names stand out like sore thumbs. There is Reuben, who slept with his father’s concubine, Bilhah. Simeon and Levi are there, who deceived and then ruthlessly slaughtered the men of Shechem because one young man in that village had raped their sister, Dinah. Judah is there, who mistook his disguised daughter-in-law as a prostitute, and slept with her. Ten of the brothers had sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. And, of course, Jacob himself was a notorious deceiver. Yet these were the descendants of Abraham, heirs of God’s covenant, the fledgling nation through whom God would bring the Savior to bless the nations.
Then my New Testament reading brought me to Hebrews 11, the great “hall of faith” chapter. Yet all of these giants of faith were also flawed characters, some of them glaringly so. In addition to some of the ones mentioned above, there is Rahab, the harlot, who ended up in the genealogy of Jesus. Samson and Jephthah are there, hardly paragons of virtue! And not all came out victorious. Some “experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated” (Heb. 11:36-37). Yet they were men and women of faith.
What does all of this have to do with the sale of our Equestrian property? Well, it’s been an almost ten-year ordeal that has been a bumpy ride! Hindsight reveals many shortcomings and mistakes on our part, but in spite of our imperfections, God has been faithful. Through the faithful giving of our people, we’ve made every payment on time and we have been pretty close every year on our annual budget.
Let me recount a brief history for those of you who are newer in the church. Before we bought that property, we were almost at capacity in both of our services here. As we waited on the Lord in prayer, a couple in our church offered to sell us the Flagstaff Riding Center for $2.5 million, which was a million dollars under what they had been offered for it. We prayed and sought the Lord’s guidance, we sought counsel from real estate developers, and we had a number of “safeguards” in place that would have allowed us to bail out if we later decided not to develop it as a church. When we brought it to the church, we quickly raised about $750,000. It seemed like a green light from the Lord.
But no sooner had we bought it than the real estate market collapsed, leading to the “Great Recession.” We were immediately upside down on the mortgage. All of our “safeguards” evaporated, unable to bail us out because they also were hit with the real estate collapse and the recession. The neighbors threatened to sue us if we built a church there. We realized that even if we won the lawsuit, we’d lose the neighbors. So we put the property on the market. But for eight years, we had zero legitimate offers. We kept “chasing the market,” trying not to lose too much on the sale. But we still had no offers. Following our real estate agent’s counsel, we kept lowering the price. Meanwhile, with Tom Boggess’ help, we subdivided four one-acre lots and sold them to home-builders, recouping over $600,000 of our expenses.
A year ago, we got an offer that we accepted, but three days later the potential buyer backed out because his source of financing dried up. In line with counsel from those who know real estate, we kept lowering the price. Then recently we got an offer from another party. He wanted to lease the property, paying all our expenses until April, 2018, when he would purchase it for our current asking price of $695,000. That offer seemed a bit risky, in that a lot could happen between now and then. So we offered to sell it to him right now for $650,000. He managed to get funding and that offer just closed November 30th! Hallelujah!
After closing costs and real estate commissions, we came out owing the bank about $11,500, which is less than two months of the $7,000+ per month payments we were making. We plan to pay that balance off soon to avoid further interest costs and to be totally debt-free. Meanwhile, on the Riding Center we’re free of all maintenance, repairs, taxes, insurance, and finding renters for the duplexes. And, we don’t need to refinance our loan, which would have been required early next year. Now we can be relieved of those constant concerns and focus on our mission, the Great Commission. Thank You, Lord!
I also want to thank Myron Leppke, Ron Talbott, Tom Boggess, our other elders, and others who have spent countless hours helping us through this long ordeal. May the Lord reward you in heaven, but also bless you before you get there!
In the next few months, we want to use any funds that would have gone to that property to replenish our funds to purchase the parking lot across Beaver Street if it should come up for sale. (We own the corner lot, but not the lot between there and our Lighthouse property. We currently lease that lot and wouldn’t want to see it sold to a business.) We will need at least $125,000 for that. We also need to replenish our roof fund, since the current roof is well over 25 years old and failing. That will probably cost at least $75,000. Our current giving compared to our budget for this point in the year is about $70,000 in the red, so we need to get out of that deficit. Beyond that, at our annual meeting in May, we can perhaps focus on future improvement needs on our properties here.
Thanks for reading this long letter. I wanted to convey how in spite of our shortcomings, God is faithful. Just as He used the imperfect people mentioned in the Bible, so He can and will use us in spite of our mistakes as we continue to seek Him and make Him known. In addition to whatever other lessons we may have learned through this long ordeal, I hope that we’re all thankful for the Lord’s faithfulness and grateful to Him for His abundant grace. Our future is as bright as His gracious promises! Let’s continue to trust Him and ask Him to use us in His eternal purpose.