The Church in Troubled Times

Yes, we are living in difficult economic times, this is unquestioned.  But is the Church in troubled times?  Or maybe the better question is how do we know if the Church is in troubled times?  Let me answer a few ways, but all of which are completely independent of economic hardship, or the cultural issues we may face in any given community.

1- Is Christ being preached?  When the Church moves away from the message of the cross, troubled times are upon us.  When the Church feels the need to be “relevant” over being “right” we’ve headed down a dangerous road.  We are only as “right” as we keep Jesus central in the teaching of the Church.  In a time when messages abound for “recovery” and “bailout”, our message rings constant and hopeful.

2- Are people being cared for?  When the Church moves away from the “one-anothers”, troubled times are upon us.  If people start looking out for themselves, keeping back for themselves, and trusting in their own resources rather than the limitless resources of God, trouble is upon us.  We are never, never called to hold back from giving to others, even when we have needs perhaps going unmet.  This is a time where the Church gets to stand out as very different from the messages of the day.

3- Is the Church moving forward in its Mission?  When the Church hesitates, or stops reaching out, troubled times are upon us.  We are called to the Great Commission, period.  And the reality of Church History is that often times her mission advanced greatly when troubled times were upon her.  So if anything, these days should be rich mission-directed times for the Gospel to advance through the Bride to the World.  

Let’s not change our message, stop our giving to others, or falter in pushing the mission forward.  This is faith in action, trusting God over trusting men, and being influencers of our culture, not scared of it!  

Join me in the Mission,

Pastor Mark

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Gideon Reaches Lake County

Ok, so who doesn’t love the story of Gideon?  Why?  Because he was so … well, so like us, so lame.  Check it out, in Judges 6 we find the nation of Israel yet again in opposition to what God has called them to be, they “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (6:1).  And so the cycle of Judges kicks back in, this time with the very polite, very careful, very comfortable Gideon.  The angel of the LORD shows up on Gideon’s dad’s property, what’s Gideon doing?  He’s being very careful to make sure he’s got some food to eat without the enemy Midianites knowing what he’s up to (beating out wheat in the winepress, huh?  Isn’t that for wine, not wheat? – 6:11).  He’s greeting by being called a man of valor (yeah right) and rather than that making him bold, it makes him polite, “Please sir (6:13) … please Lord (6:15)”.  Then he uses stall tactics, let me “bring out my present and set it before you (6:18).”  The meal is consumed by fire springing up from the heart of the rock as the LORD touches it with his staff (6:21).  He gets that he has met with God now and bolstered with confidence (well, sort of) he goes by night to destroy the altars of the false gods because “he was too afraid of his family and the men of the town to do it by day (6:27).”  Of course in the morning everyone is upset and wants to know who did this thing … and well he hides behind dad (Joash) who tells the people to let the false gods defend themselves (6:30-31).  Then of course it’s the infamous give-me-a-sign fleece episode.  Wet fleece, dry ground … then dry fleece, wet ground.  OK, God, I give!

Then, once God has thoroughly established a weak leader, He thins out the troops – all the fearful ones are told to go home and the ones who get on their faces to lap water like dogs are selected – to establish a weak army.  Now, God has everything as He wants to put Himself on display, and the 300 men rout the Midianites, Amalekites, and all the people of the East who were “like locusts in abundance and their camels were without number, as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance (7:12).”   Do you get it?  A fearful, proof-needing, comfort-driven group was the victor in one of the greatest military engagements of all time!  Not by might, not by power, but by My Spirit says the LORD.  Let’s take our fears, our comfort, our need for proof, and like Gideon keep moving forward until God makes His name known throughout all Lake Country and beyond.

A Weak Warrior,

Pastor Mark

A Growing Concern about “Honor”

OK, I rant … The established Church has often grasped for power, the true Church sought to live out love and humility.  Those interested in change grasp for having a voice, those passionate about God’s glory for unknown lives of faithfulness that point people to an all-glorious God.  I fear sometimes we get confused on this issue when it comes to how we treat, talk about, pray for, love and honor those in leadership over us … specifically now speaking of President Obama.  I have a concern for “honor” in the American conservative church these days.  I have read, heard, and observed those who seem to think whoever doesn’t agree with a Biblical World View should be treated with disdain, called evil, maybe even undermined.  This is so contra-Biblical and opposed to the Gospel Christ preached and lived.  Let me offer these few arguments in my defense …

(1) The word “honor” (timao) used in 1 Peter 2:17 – Honor everyone.  Love the brotherhood.  Fear God. Honor the emperor (king) is the same verb Jesus used speaking of honor to His father (John 8:49), in the calling of honor to the Son (John 5:23), in honoring parents (Matthew 15:4; Mark 7:10; Luke 18:20; Ephesians 6:2); in honoring widows (1 Timothy 5:3); and in those the Father will honor who serve Him (John 12:26).  If we teach our kids to honor and obey their parents, but speak disrespectfully about the President we have established a double standard.  If we offer love and compassion to widows in need, but speak without love toward our leaders we are hypocrites.  If we say we love the Lord Jesus Christ, but refuse to speak with grace and honor to those He has put over us, we are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.

(2) If we take the example of Christ as a model for our service (Philippians 2:5) then our heart is to be that of humility and service, selflessness and not grumbling.  He loved to the ultimate, is our response to complain and attack to the ultimate?  He came for the sick, to heal and help, not to ridicule and despise those who stood against him (He reserved the ridicule and attacking for the religious frauds).

(3) How about the example of Joseph, mistreated by Potiphar’s wife, forgotten by friends, and he made no attacks, complaints against the leadership, he humbly endured and God elevated him.  What about Peter and John (Acts 4) who when they were told to stop preaching said they couldn’t but were willing to accept whatever consequences without grumbling or harsh words against their accusers.  Then there is Paul, who faced some pretty aweful stuff (2 Corinthians 6:4-10) but never attacked those over him, called them names, or dishonored those he sought to lead to Christ.

(4) If, as some believe, President Obama is evil and against the plan of Christ, then shouldn’t their response be as Jesus directed in John 15:20, not suprised and no need for alarm or attack in response, but rather humble acceptance as Jesus, our Master did?

(5) It seems to me I recall the Sermon on the Mount talking about loving enemies and praying for them.  I actually read a “Christian” leader say we shouldn’t pray for President Obama because his agenda is evil.  I guess I missed that caveat in Jesus’ sermon.  He said loving those who love and agree with you isn’t that hard, even the unbelieving world does that.  Do not you who oppose the President have an opportunity to demonstrated that you live the words of Jesus by how you respond to a situation that you call unjust?  Maybe it should be practiced.  I also recall that when President Bush was in office, these same voices wanted his attackers to treat him with honor, why do we not offer the same thing we were asking of others a few years ago?

(6) In a world where terrorism is an ever present reality we need to be far different.  Terrorists attack their enemies to hurt and destroy.  The pattern of the Christian martyr is to love their attackers and pray for their salvation. Why would Christians resort to attack, to dishonor and disrespect?

(7) If God wants to bring about His purposes for you, for the awakening of the Church, and for the glorious display of His character, we should welcome that, not only when it comes as we think it should, but whenever it comes.  

You can certainly disagree with leaders.  You can oppose what they teach and stand for.  You can debate and vote against an elected official, but let us follow the call of the Gospel in the way we love all people and honor the President.  I pray the Church in America will stand for truth these next four years … and will do it with amazing grace!

For the Love of the Church,

Pastor Mark

Partnership & Purpose

Well, what’s on my heart this morning is how much I love talking about the Gospel, like I got to yesterday morning.  And the thing that enhances that all the more is, (1) to feel like I’m doing it with a group of people who thirst for it, want it, want God to use them.  I do feel so blessed by my pastoral partners Jeff and Tom, and by a group of elders that are my friends and partners.  Then to look out at a group of people who resonate with the message, even when it hurts (I saw some squirming yesterday).  You have no idea how that fuels the heart of a preacher, a pastor, a leader to do even better than he thought he was able to.  The Spirit of God uses you to strengthen me, how cool is that!  (2) to feel like we are moving somewhere for the right reasons.  There really just is such a sense of the Spirit of God at work in this community, and I’m excited to hang on as we step out in faith.  The blessing of praying with a room full of people on New Years Eve who so want the glory of God displayed in their lives, in our world, and in this community and beyond.  May God do as He wished through us in 2009!  Let’s do our part to be people of ONE message, people devoted to PRAYER, and people given over to LOVE!

 

Bring on 2009,

Pastor Mark

A Boasting Bride

I love the Church!  With all her stains and wrinkles, her messy hair and mismatched shoes, she is the Bride.  If ever God came up with a plan that exalts HIS glory and not man’s, it’s the church.  And funny thing is, I’m so glad He did it that way.  I know that churches feel the pressure to do church “better” and unfortunately many think better means the way of business, or the way of entertainment, or the way of purpose, or the way of belonging.  And in each of those, there is good happening and good to be learned, but it’s not ours to make the bride … Christ purchased her, He’s purifying her, and He’s one day going to present her glorious to Himself at the greatest wedding party ever!  That’s all Ephesians 5:25-27 in case you missed the sermon Sunday (http://www.sermoncloud.com/Leroy-Chapel).  It’s ours to get the message right as we live on mission to the glory of God (Ephesians 3:8-10).  

Honestly, it’s easier to build a church on business principles, with motivational slogans, and top-notch marketing … just get the bride out of her dirty dress and put her in something hip and cool.  Get her some plastic surgery, bring in a fashion consultant, and fill her closet with a dress for every occasion.  The downside is Christ gets moved from the center as the bride is enamored looking at herself in the mirror. And its hard to preach a message of Christ crucified when He’s not the one being put on display.  The glory of the church is Christ!  God’s glory exalted in man’s weakness, sin exposed, and the Gospel as the only medicine for the soul.  So the work of the church is worship!  Sure, she ought to do her best at all she does – excellent programs, thorough planning, and diligent administration, but her calling in to boast in her husband.  And that’s what has stuck with me from Sunday’s message – A Boasting Bride.  Call it evangelism, call it missions, call it making disciples, OR call it a Bride who can’t stay silent about telling everyone she meets that her husband is the greatest!  He paid the highest price, is 100% committed to her growth, and will never give up on her until she is made perfect.  That’s a husband to be envied, a husband to be sought, a husband that’s worth glorying in.  So boast with me, Leroy Chapel, as the messy, in-process, dress-stained Bride in our glorious Husband to the people of NE Ohio and beyond.

 

For the love of the Bride,

Pastor Mark 

Because the Days are Evil

I lost a good friend last week.  His name is Phil Presley and he now lives in glory!  I’ve always been blessed by older men in my life.  Having lost my dad at the age of 19, I’ve learned much from those God has placed around me regarding manhood.  Phil was one without a doubt.  I got to participate in his memorial service last night and the testimonies flowed of Phil’s love for the Gospel and intense devotion to making it known in the world.  To say the service was inspiring would be an understatement, it really was about a life lived to the glory of God.  I got to share the Gospel alongside of Phil on many occasions, got to bless many people together in the community through practical ways, assist people struck by tragedy, and have him love my kids.  God used him greatly to build the Kingdom … and still is.  People came to Christ last night hearing how the story of Phil was the story of the Gospel in his life.

For me, Phil’s life will always call me to Ephesians 5:15-16.  As those redeemed from darkness and made alive in Christ, our call is to “redeem the time.”  Make the most of every opportunity.  When God puts an idea for ministry on my heart, when the Spirit impresses on my soul a call to action, I hear Phil telling me to not put it off, to not just talk about it, and to be a man of action.  We always reminded each other of the great quote “Expect great things from God, Attempt great things from Him.”  Careful living (v.15) is not about being cautious, it’s about being careful to not waste your life, careful to not miss an opportunity to serve someone up good dose of Gospel.  I’m always struck by the motivation the apostle Paul gives in that passage – “Because the days are evil.”  It seems foreign to our thinking.  We motivate by telling someone, “these are good days, he’s a good guy, good things are ahead.”  Paul motivated by saying these are “evil days”.  Why?  If we knew the days were good, we’d grow comfortable, procrastinate, and become apathetic.  But when we recognize this world is headed down the road to ruin, we feel the urgency of the call to “redeem the time”, to make the most of every opportunity.  Maybe it’s talking to that neighbor, praying for that waitress, or getting involved with that hurting family.  I venture to say, it’s not about you and I trying to figure out “what” to do as much as it is determining “to do.”  

The effectiveness of Leroy Chapel will not be what we do inside our four walls, but what we do outside them … making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.

Be Careful to Not Live Carefully,

Pastor Mark