Following God’s Will Together
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Listening to God’s voice as a married couple, Levi and Jennie Lusko left what felt like an easy life to begin a new adventure. Listen as they tell of their ups and downs and the blessing they found in following the Lord together!
Following God’s Will Together
Dave: Alright; as you think back on marrying me—
Dave: —your biggest thought was: “I will never marry…”—what?
Ann: —“a pastor and go to Detroit.” [Laughter]
Dave: —“and a bald guy.”
Ann: Well, I never thought about that; but that could have been one, too. [Laughter]
Dave: So how did that work out?
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: So how did that work out? [Laughter]
Ann: It’s so funny; because I thought, “These are the things that would be horrible if I did them.” And now I’m living it, and it has been the greatest journey of my life.
Dave: It has been an amazing journey.
Ann: And it’s because of Jesus, because He’s taken us—
Dave: No, it’s because of me; come on.
Ann: Oh, I’m sorry. That’s right; that’s you, honey.
Dave: Yes, it’s because of Jesus.
I bring that up because we’ve got a couple today that’s lived a similar journey, in terms of Levi and Jennie Lusko have started a church in Montana.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today you guys.
Levi and Jennie: Thank you.
Jennie: Thanks for having us.
Levi: It’s so fun.
Dave: Not only are you pastors of Fresh Life Church in Montana, and Wyoming, and Utah, and all kinds of different places—which you’ll have to tell us how that happened—but also, prolific authors of incredible books. We’re going to talk today about Through the Eyes of a Lion; but you’ve got: I Declare War and Swipe Right.
How do I know all these things?—because our son is your agent/your literary agent, which is really, really cool.
But talk a little bit about your story.
Ann: Wait, wait, wait. I want to hear—
Dave: Look at that; see how she cuts me off!
Ann: I know; I’m already interrupting. How many years have you guys been married?
Levi: Seventeen years.
Ann: And then how many kids do you have?
Levi: We have to do a head count—a bunch of little hooligans. [Laughter]
Dave: You guys are looking at each other like—
Jennie: —five; right?
Ann: How old are they?
Levi: That’s a tough question to answer always. We always struggle with it; because people will ask/will see us on an airplane and they go: “How many kids do you have?” or “Is that all your kids?” For us—of course, and we’ll talk about it, I’m sure—the tension is we have a child in heaven, so we have four kids on earth; one child in heaven. The asterisk on that is people ask: “How many kids do you have?” or they see us with the girls and they would go, “Oh, all girls.”
It’s just funny because, when you have a child in heaven, the clumsy articulation of an answer to that question is: “We technically still have that child that’s not here with us but five altogether.”
Jennie: “I gave birth to five babies.”
Levi: “She gave birth five times.”
Ann: How can you not include her, because she’s such a part of your story and your lives.
Jennie: Right; yes.
Levi: Our oldest is 15 and our youngest is 3. We have four girls in a row and then a little boy three years ago.
Ann: How has it been having a boy? Is it different?
Levi: Amazing; everything’s different. [Laughter]
Jennie: It’s so funny. At Christmas, Levi was preaching, obviously. He had ordered a suit—
Levi: —for Lenox. I got Lenox a little kid’s suit.
Jennie: —for Lenox. But for Levi, he was wearing a suit. Lenox was like, “I want to wear a suit, too.” I hadn’t planned his Christmas outfit, so Levi ordered one for him.
The whole time he was like, “I’m going to get married on Christmas,” because he thinks like wearing a suit he was going to get married on Christmas. It was just so cute; because even now, he always talks about his wife, and how he’s going to meet his wife at church, and how he’s going to kiss her on the lips. That’s one of his big obsessions.
Levi: Pray for us.
Ann: You can tell he has sisters.
Levi: Pray for us; we’ve got problems.
Jennie: I know; I know! Anyway—
Levi: He’s watched Beauty and the Beast a few too many times with older sisters.
Dave: Tell me this: “Did you guys sort of meet the way Lenox wants to meet? Did you kiss in church? Is this how your relationship started?” [Laughter]
Levi: What a great question.
Jennie: Yes, that is a great question.
Levi: We did meet in church.
Jennie: We did.
Levi: Jennie was an intern in the mission’s department. I was the assistant youth pastor. We met serving in the youth ministry, setting up chairs for the youth service. She was volunteering; I was volunteering—well, it was my job—she was volunteering.
I knew immediately; it took her all of two minutes. We both kind of had like this sense—she tells the story—she saw me and said, “I would like to grow old with that person.”
Levi: I just remember seeing and thinking she was beautiful. I didn’t think anything about old age, but we definitely hit it off pretty quickly.
Ann: Jennie, what made you say that? That’s interesting.
Jennie: Well, I think I said that further on in our relationship. I don’t think I—
Levi: Oh, I thought it was early.
Jennie: I remember/I think we were dating; but I remember just looking up at you one day and thinking, “I’d just love to grow old with Levi”; because obviously, he loved Jesus. You’re just fun, kind of a weird—I don’t think of that often—but I just think it was just a sweet little moment that God kind of brought that to my mind. It was really sweet.
Dave: It wasn’t this moment was it?—do you know this song? [Singing Grow Old with You]
Dave: [Continuing to sing Grow Old with You] Come on; you don’t know that?
Jennie: No, that’s so sweet though.
Dave: That’s Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer.
Levi: I remember it vividly now that you say that; that’s a great movie reference.
Ann: Take us back, Levi. You’re a PK; your dad was a pastor. Where did that begin? Did they grow up in the church? Take us back to that.
Levi: My parents were both radically saved in the midst of the hippie movement; they’re both first-generation believers. Their families before them: atheism and secular intellectual. My mom’s mom was married and divorced three times. My dad was raised by his stepfather and his mother; he never knew his dad. He was told by his stepfather—he called him his dad—he put a 20 dollar bill down on the table one day and said, “That’s the only god you ever need to worry about.” Basically, that was the only education in spirituality he was given is the “Almighty Dollar.”
No upbringing of faith to speak of, or really love or affection for either of them, on both sides; so they just had to find their own way in the world. My dad got saved in Hawaii—he was there to join the Green Peace—saving the whales. My mom got saved, I believe, through Intervarsity®. She and [he] had dated before they were/and lived together before they got saved; went their separate ways. Both found Jesus—ended up coming back together, got married—super involved in church ministry and church planting. They ended up, later, getting divorced; some things surfaced. Both of them had lots, of course, trauma, especially my mom from things that she faced before they came together.
They’re no longer together; but I had a very happy life—grew up in the church, knowing Jesus my whole life as a second-generation Christian—so very different than them. Since I was two years old, felt a call on my life to: “Be a pastor like my dad,” is how I used to always say it. I’ve never really done anything else but that.
Dave: If we would have seen you in high school or maybe college, would we look at you and go, “There’s a future pastor”?—you’re living a life that would make me think, “He’s going in the ministry.”
Levi: I mean, I was not without my dips in sanctification/the sanctification journey, to be sure. But I preached my first sermon at 14. I would get dropped off, after school, at church and served in the youth ministry, helped plan summer camps and mission trips.
I had a real significant challenge/a crisis of faith my senior year in high school, where for a few months—I mean, I was the chaplain of my Christian high school as a volunteer; I mean, I was literally/you would have thought, “Future pastor for sure,”—but for about a three- or four-month period, I really wandered away and thought—you know, it was kind of one of those proving times—I had given my whole life up to this; and it had come to: “Do I really believe this? Is this what I really want to do?” and dabbled in drinking a little bit during that period and, really, had a wakeup call of: “This is/I was running.” It was my Jonah moment.
I think it was mostly just feeling that panic, like, “Maybe I made a mistake; maybe I missed out.” I realized, through those few moments of sin, it was kind of like a prodigal son coming to my senses, realizing how good I had it at the Father’s table and, really, never looked back from following, whole heartedly, Jesus.
Ann: Jennie, what about your faith? When did that become really important to you?
Jennie: I grew up in a Christian home. I remember, when I was seven, and I had seen the gospel presentation at church with Psalty the Singing Songbook.
Ann: Yes, Psalty; our kids loved Psalty. [Laughter]
Jennie: Yes, I remember that night; I remember my dad praying with me, and I accepted Jesus—understood that I was a sinner and I needed/and Jesus died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead. I remember understanding that to some extent when I was seven; and then it’s really kind of been that journey of what it has looked like, throughout different seasons and stages of my life, to love Jesus and to follow Him; I’m so grateful.
When I was in middle school, we were super plugged into our church. I just immediately got plugged into a small group, and going to church, and really having my people at church, and loving it. Mission trips: I feel like mission trips, where we would go to Mexico every summer—and we thought we were doing something good for other people—but, ultimately, looking back, I see how God was just getting a hold of my heart—and so grateful for that.
Then just journey through high school and boys—that was always a struggle—wanting to be liked by a boy; wanting to like a boy. But when I was ten was when my mom brought me to this purity conference; it’s called A Garden Enclosed. I remember hearing, for the first time, that God wanted me to save sex until marriage and to save myself for my future husband. I didn’t even know exactly what that meant, but I knew I wanted God’s best for my life. I remember, at that point, really having that goal of like: “I want to live my life for God. I want to honor Him, and I want to save myself for my husband one day whenever that is.” What’s so sweet was that—was that at age seven and ten were very significant moments with God—and it just kind of led me through. But I still had struggles with wanting to be liked by boys and stuff like that.
It was just really special when I was 19, and I felt like God was calling me to New Mexico and to be a part of their mission’s internship there. It’s so funny, because my whole—even through high school—like I wanted to be a missionary. I always thought I was going to be a missionary in Africa or Asia. Literally, missions moved me from Monterey, California, to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Levi and I met right away. But I had made a decision to not date that whole year—just to focus on the Lord and not have any distractions—we met halfway through that year. Looking back, it’s just so special; because God truly gave us the gift of a foundation of friendship—where my whole life, even from kindergarten on—I’ve always wanted to be liked by a boy and me to have that relationship with a boy. Here I am—I meet the man I’m supposed to marry—but there’s the decision I had made to not date. We literally were forced to be friends; so looking back, we’re so grateful for that. But then we started dating right after my internship and got married.
That’s kind of—my parents both gave their lives to Christ when I was five, I think—that was kind of a legacy for me to walk in. Since then, my parents aren’t married anymore either; but they laid out a good foundation for me. Now, I’m so grateful.
Dave: Here you are, and I’d love to hear how you end up in Montana. I know that you had sort of a youth pastor/maybe teaching pastor job in Southern California, but then you get this call. Tell us that whole story.
Ann: And you said it was kind of a cush job.
Levi: Yes; meaning [I] didn’t have a lot of responsibilities outside of communicating a message, which is, in and of itself, a challenge, of course. Anybody who’s ever had to preach, it’s hard work; it takes time if you’re going to do it well.
Jennie: Levi’s always put his heart and soul in messages. Even when we were leading youth group in New Mexico together, he would pour time and effort/energy and prayer into these messages for these students. Looking back—and seeing the love, and the care, and the effort, and energy going into messages back then—that’s just kind of been a thing through his whole life.
Levi: I mean, you guys know it’s hard work. But I didn’t have any of the other responsibilities that make ministry more challenging: dealing with teams, dealing with the burden of finance, HR, all the things that really bring headaches and complexities to a ministry.
Yet, we always deep-down knew, that one day/ that we had the desire—kind of entrepreneurial mission—like we said, we both got our start in missions. That missionary spirit—that is at the core of church planting—you guys are church planters; you understand that. We felt like the time was going to come when we would probably feel that call. We weren’t in a rush or a hurry. We were always under good leaders; and so we knew the time would come when God was going to show us, and we would be given the go-ahead to go do that. It was a good paycheck; we had a great life. We lived a mile from the beach; had season passes to Disneyland—it’s Southern California—who doesn’t want to live there; right?
Jennie: When you say “cush,” that was kind of what we’re—
Levi: That’s why we called it a cush job.
Levi: We could have very much stayed on auto-pilot there—and given a message once a week, and basically just—but we wouldn’t have felt right. And we knew that, if God called us to something else, to say, “No,” to that would have been missing an opportunity, even though it seemed like the path less taken.
For us, that ultimately led us to Montana, which didn’t feel like suffering; because I grew up in the ski towns of Colorado, and I loved that. But it just wasn’t the metropolitan area that we always kind of deep-down suspected we would end up in: Los Angeles, or New York City, or Chicago, or something. It was mountain towns/small little area; yet, it was what God put into our hearts.
Ann: Did you have kids at the time?
Levi: We had one, and Jennie was pregnant.
Jennie: But I didn’t know I was pregnant until we moved to Montana—
Levi: Right when we got here, we found out.
Jennie: —with Lenya; we were pregnant with Lenya.
Ann: Your church started to grow quickly/rapidly. I mean, God was really moving. And your family started to grow, too. Take us to that point when you have four kids.
Levi: Oh, goodness gracious, like rabbits—cold winters; got to stay warm—that’s how we had all those kids. [Laughter] How do you get/how else are you going to stay warm?—right?
The church grew. Soon we had—I know you guys’ story is similar—the trajectory of just growth, and new cities, and opportunities. We had multiple campuses and, then, multiple kids. You have four daughters; and then a little boy came way, way, way later. It was very much like, every day, a new thing—it was a beautiful—we’ve always said, like, “The church plant journey was like skiing in front of an avalanche.” God’s Holy Spirit was in it; and people are getting saved and touched, and lives are being impacted. That’s been the fun beautiful thing, watching.
Dave: Talk about calling, as a couple; because you’ve talked about your call. How do you know/how do you sense what God wants you to do?
Levi: I think that asking of the question is where the journey begins. It’s one of those paths that you don’t find until you’ve started trying to walk it. I think, where we begin in Scripture, is always with the general will of God. God’s will said: “None should perish”—“So am I saved?” God’s will is that I’m sanctified and sexually pure, that I’m thankful and rejoicing always. So when we start to do those sorts of things, I think the more specific, tangential areas of—“this school,” “that brand of toothpaste,” those things God—as you’re walking in the general will, puts in your heart the desires that He wants you to walk in.
I think it was Augustine, who said, “Love God and do whatever you want.” There is some truth and some freedom to that. God’s call is: “Whatever you do to [His] glory as you walk with Him in relationship.” Colossians says, “…the peace of God will rule in your hearts to which you are called and be thankful.”
I think there’s a sense in which you can say: “Look, I’m saved. I’m not in gross sin. I’m serving, tithing, giving;”—all these things that I’m supposed to be doing—“and now, I get to do whatever I want.” “Is God/is my desire to take this job?”—“Great! Take it.” “Do I desire that sport in school?”—“Amazing! Go for it.” I think there’s a freedom in it, where you view God’s will more as a launch pad than a lock down.
Jennie: That’s good. I think also, in the marriage, where both the husband and the wife are following hard after God individually—because I think, when we’re hungry for God on our own, and then we’re together asking God to lead us in what He has for us in the daily things, too—it’s easier; because we’re both listening for God’s voice, and we’re both wanting to be strong in our relationship with Him individually, that it makes it easier and it takes the pressure off of each other to try to like: “Well, Levi, you’re leading me; so you have to make all the decisions.” But it’s like, “No, I’m also hearing from God; and there is such a peace right now in this decision.”
Honestly, there is such beauty in that when we’re both following Jesus, and loving Him, and then letting Him lead us together.
Ann: As I listen to you guys, what I hear and what I see are lives that are just surrendered, like, “God, here we are. We’ll do anything and go anywhere for You, because we want to make Your name known.” I think that’s the key.
Maybe you’re listening, and your spouse isn’t on the same page spiritually; but you still can go before the Father, who hears every single prayer, as you call out to Him: “I want to live the life that You’ve called me to.” He’s not going to say, “No, I’m not going to do that.” He’s like, “I’m all about that. I want you to live; because I’ve created you, and I’ve put gifts in you and strengths in you to bring glory to My name, and it will bring you joy.”
As I look at you two, that’s what you’ve done: you’ve surrendered; you’ve heard the call; and you’re just walking this path of what He’s placed before you, because He’s put so many gifts into you.
Dave: I also sense that it’s a joint calling—
Dave: —that He calls the two of you.
I know that, when we got married, I knew that my call would be our call. If we’re one, He’s going to call us together. Obviously, we walked a similar path in terms of planting churches; but I think that’s true for every couple. When you’re married, it isn’t a separate/it’s a calling, as a partnership, for kingdom impact.
Levi: Yes, and that’s true regardless of how it actually works out mechanically. I think, if someone listening—if their husband is on the road or whatever—it’s like, “You’re still a part of it, even though you might be behind the scenes.” Someone asked John Glenn what it was like to be the man who orbited the earth for the first time; and he said, “Well, I got to actually be there; but there was 400,000 people at NASA who put me out there.”
I think there’s maybe—in our roles, we get to serve more publically: you’re on the radio together; we lead as a church-planting couple together—but for the couple, who maybe the mom stays home or whatever, you still are a part of what God’s called your husband—
Levi: —or your wife to do, even if you serve in a way that’s unseen. As Paul says, “The hand needs the eye. The eye needs the foot,” etc.
Jennie: I think knowing that it changes, too—because for us, there was a season I was literally home all the time with our kids, and home schooling, and all that stuff—now, it just looks a little bit different in this season. But knowing—that it’s not like just because it’s one way, it’s always going to be that way—but being sensitive to the Spirit leading.
Levi also was so amazing in leading in that way, too, of giving me more of/kind of pushing me; because I’m like more of reluctant leader, I guess. He’s more like: “No, I want you to say something,” or “I want you to choose this.” That has been super helpful for me as being more of a: “No, actually, I like being in the background; and I don’t want to do anything like that.” That’s been helpful, just in even our relationship, too.
Dave: I also think of, when you think about calling—especially as we’re talking about a married couple—you think: “God’s call will not involve pain,” “It will not involve loss.” As we step into the rest of your story, we’re going to find out, sometimes, it doesn’t go the way we think; and it’s going to be really, really hard.
Bob: Anytime we’re facing an option between a place that looks good and the place that God is calling us to, it’s always the right choice to go where God is calling us. That’s a great conversation today with Dave and Ann Wilson talking to Levi and Jennie Lusko about their story/about their life. As Dave mentioned, there is more to this story that we’ll be hearing this week.
Levi has written a book called Through the Eyes of a Lion: Facing Impossible Pain, Finding Incredible Power, which is the story we’re going to unpack. That book is available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you can join us back again tomorrow when Dave and Ann Wilson will, once again, be talking to Levi and Jennie Lusko. We’ll hear about the day right before Christmas, several years ago, that was one of the darkest days in their family’s history and how God met them in that moment. That comes up tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife; a Cru® Ministry. Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Song: Grow Old with You
Artist: [Sung on broadcast by Dave Wilson]
Album: Wedding Singer Soundtrack (p) 1998 by Maverick/Warner Bros.
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