Re:MARKS

How to host a Church gathering in your home

Many of us around the world are under a shelter-in-place order. Most are limited to gatherings of less than ten people. Many do not have the option of streaming a live service. At such a critical time, how can we continue to meet and encourage one another as the body of Christ? Here is how we do it.

 

 

• Meet with other believers in your home. Keep the gathering under the number allowed by your local authorities.
• Instead of trying to do a service, host a gathering of the body. See below.
• Care for one another.
• Pray with one another using the prayer gathering model.
• Share a meal.

Here are the details.

Meet with other believers in your home.

Keep the gathering under the number allowed by your local authorities. This is important. In our area, we can have religious gatherings if the attendance is below ten people. On a practical note, this is also easier for the host to have enough seating for everyone. Keep it small. Keep it simple.

If you are not able to physically meet together, consider using online meeting apps such as WhatsApp, Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc. Again, keep it small. It is much easier to use an app with fewer people.

Host a gathering of the body instead of trying to do a service.

I encourage you to have a gathering instead of a service. Let me explain. A gathering is different from a service.

We usually think of church as a service instead of a gathering of the body of Christ. In a service, we tend to have a time of worship, then a time of announcements and an offering, then a message. The service usually lasts about an hour.

When we have a gathering of our house church on Sundays, we meet together for three to four hours. How can we possibly meet for that long? Because we have a gathering, not a service. Think of it this way. If I have a gathering of close friends in my home, it would seem weird if we all left after only an hour. It would also seem odd if one of us dominated the conversation, and the rest of us just sat there and listened. It is the same with our house church gathering. When we meet together, essentially, it is a group of close friends gathered together as the body of Christ. The conversation flows naturally. We learn from one another and pray for one another. We find out what God is doing in each other’s lives throughout the week. We meet each other’s needs. When we do this, our gathering lasts around four hours.

Since we have a gathering and not a service, it’s okay if kids are coming in and out, sitting on laps, or playing in another room. Encourage participation as the earliest age possible.

Have a gathering, not a service. When you gather, begin by caring for one another.

Care for one another.

Take some time to find out how everyone is doing. How has God been at work throughout the week? What is God teaching you? How do you see God at work around you? Learn from one another and encourage one another. During this season, find out if anyone in the group has a financial need. Encourage everyone to meet one another’s needs. Pool resources together. What’s mine is yours.

Pray with one another using the prayer gathering model.

Have an extending time of prayer together. This is vital. This time of prayer is the one non-negotiable we have each week. We use the prayer gathering model. The focus of the prayer time is to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking to the group. This is how it works.

1. Assign someone to start the prayer time and someone to close. The one who closes the prayer time should be comfortable with the long gaps of silence. Don’t close it down too quickly. Remember to wait on the Lord.

2. We don’t expect everyone to pray. We do not pray around the room. Pray as you feel led to pray.

3. Expect long gaps of silence. Wait on the Lord. Become comfortable in the silence. Remember, we are listening to God as he speaks. When he speaks, then we respond. In the silence, listen to him talking to you in your thoughts, then answer in prayer.

4. Respond as others pray. As you are listening to someone pray, something may deeply connect with you. Respond to God with your prayer on that topic. Often, the Holy Spirit will develop a theme as the prayer time continues.

5. If a passage of Scripture comes to mind, read it to the group. You may think, “This passage doesn’t have anything to do with what is going on in my life.” Read it anyway! The Holy Spirit may be trying to speak through you to another member of the group.

6. If a worship chorus comes to mind, play it to the group on your cell phone. Often, worshiping to these songs is as powerful as a corporate worship experience. (Tip: If you use a Youtube video, silence the media volume on your phone until you can skip the ad. Then bring up the volume for the song. I’m smiling as I write this because this will probably happen in your gathering. Just laugh it off when it does.)

7. The prayer time ends when the person assigned to close in prayer believes the Holy Spirit has finished speaking. When I am assigned to close, I just ask God, “Are we done?” If he says, “Yes,” then I end our time with prayer. If he says, “No,” then I wait. Often, God is just getting started, and we shut it down too soon. Sensitivity to the Spirit is essential. One time I thought a guy shut it down too quickly. It felt like we were just getting started. But then I watched the Holy Spirit guide the conversation that followed. The Spirit was still moving. God wanted to minister to a need in the body. It was powerful! So just follow the Holy Spirit.

8. Sometimes while we are praying, the Holy Spirit may speak to someone with a thought that maybe for someone else in the group. This word can be shared as the prayer time is progressing or after we have closed in prayer. We never say, “I have a word from the Lord…” We say, “I feel like God may be saying this for you.” We always want humility and godliness in our words. If done at the end, then ask if anyone feels God was speaking something to them, which might be for someone else in the group.

I encourage you to read this list to the group at the beginning of the prayer gathering, so everyone understands how the prayer time progresses.

And finally,

Share a meal.

We usually have a meal together. There is something about food with friends that binds us together. We keep it simple. The host provides a protein, and the rest of us bring a side dish. No one should feel pressured to make something from scratch. It does not need to be complicated. Hot dogs and chips work!

This model is how God has led us when we gather as a body. I imagine there are other ways to do this. Whichever way you choose, let’s love on one another and focus on the needs of our neighbors during this challenging season.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact to me. I am glad to help.

 

A letter to the Church during the Covid-19 Pandemic

I love the Church. I love the body of Christ around the world, but I have a special place in my heart for the Church in my country. It saddens me to see her struggling. For many years, I have prayed for a renewal of the Church in North America. Now, with fears of the virus spreading, our church buildings are closed. Most gatherings are suspended in our churches. On a personal level, many wonder how long it will take to get through this. How long will it take to recover economically when all this has passed? As I ponder these thoughts, I wonder if we are missing the point. What if God is trying to speak to us? And what if we miss it?

I want to be clear; I am not claiming this pandemic is a judgment from God. But I think we have to ask, is God trying to speak to us? Do a simple word search in Scripture for “plague” and read the number of times God used outbreaks to speak to his people. Over and over again, he sent plagues to initiate repentance. He sent plagues to show those in authority he was God alone. He sent plagues to bring humility. He sent plagues as judgment. These are all ways God has already used plagues in the past. Therefore, if historically, God used plagues to initiate change among his people, isn’t it likely he is doing the same for our generation?

In 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, God says to Solomon, “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Notice the pattern: God initiates a trial. God’s people respond. Based on the response, God responds with forgiveness and healing.

God longs to forgive. God longs to heal our land. He wants the very best for us. So he sends a drought, he sends an invasion of locust, and he sends a pandemic. Why? Because he loves us and wants our hearts to return to him.

Naturally, we tend to focus on how we can get out of the situation. We want to get back to normal life as quickly as possible. All of us want this to be over. This desire is human. But I doubt this is God’s perspective. What if God calls us to change, and we miss it? God help us if he has to send something worse to get our attention.

In this passage, we see four areas where God desires transformation: humility, our prayer lives, turning from sin (repentance), and seeking the presence of God. Based on this word from God to Solomon, here are some questions we might ask of ourselves and our churches:

1. Am I humble? Are there areas in my life where pride or self-sufficiency has taken hold? Before we answer, remember, pride is easy to see in others, but it is almost impossible to see in ourselves.

As a church, are we humble? Do we rely on God alone, or is there a part of us that relies on a great band, cool lighting, a beautiful building, quality teaching, or other resources to build the body? Do we believe God alone is enough, or do we think we can take of it ourselves?

2. Am I praying? Do I regularly spend time talking with God? Do I listen to him? Am I bringing my financial needs to him, or am I looking to others, a bank, a credit card, or the government to meet my needs?

As a church, are we praying? Do we believe that prayer matters? Do we spend time as a staff praying together? What part does prayer have in our services? Are we teaching our people how to hear God speaking to them through prayer? Are we expecting God to speak to us when we pray? Are we listening? Is God leading our church, or are we? Are we trusting God alone to meet our financial needs, or are we looking to others, a bank, a credit card, or the government to meet our needs? Is it time to call our people to fast and pray?

3. Am I seeking God’s face? Am I seeking his presence in every aspect of my life? Does his presence matter to me?

As a church, are we seeking the presence of God, or are we content to have a service done with excellence without a clear realization of the presence of God? Does the presence of God matter in our services? If so, what are we doing to foster his presence? How are we making room for his presence in our orderly, timed-to-the-minute one-hour service? What if the presence of God filled the temple? Would we continue doing what we already had planned?

4. Am I repentant? Am I turning away from known sin in my life? It is one thing to ask God to forgive me for sin. It is another thing to turn away from that sin, so I don’t repeat it tomorrow. Repentance involves turning.

As a church, are we repentant? Do we even realize we need to repent? Are we leading our people to repent? Is there brokenness over sin? Should we start over with the list and ask ourselves if pride is present? Is prayerlessness a sin? Is neglecting to seek the presence of God sin? Ask the hard questions.

I believe God is speaking to us as a Church. I’m concerned that we may not listen. I doubt God wants us to return to business as usual. I believe He is calling us to humble ourselves. He is calling us to pray. He is calling us to seek his face. He is calling us to turn from our wicked ways. Then he will hear us. Then he will forgive us. Then he will heal our land. This progression seems to be the pattern in Scripture.

It is likely, once again, God is speaking to his people. Oh, that we as a Church would hear his voice and respond.

 

 

Listen

I am back from Singapore and still processing what God did during the trip. The two weeks in Asia were a mountain top experience for me. God increased my understanding of how he is at work in my life personally and in the body of Christ worldwide. God refreshed and renewed my relationship with him through a clearer understanding of the love of the Father. I made many connections with godly men and women. It was hard to leave. Now, I struggle to communicate what God did there, and what God is doing in my life and ministry now.

To put this in context, it is helpful to remember the process God has taken me through over the past few years. If you follow my writing online, you’ve read about the times of waiting and testing God has taken me through over the last five years. It was some of the most difficult yet rewarding seasons in my life. It appears those seasons are behind me. Now it seems God is doing a new work in my life and ministry. I suspect my future ministry will not look anything like the ministry I’ve done in the past. I am reordering my life to follow where he leads. I may close down my home rental business. I may sell my home. I may sell the boat. Everything is on the table. I don’t know how God may lead. I want to free my schedule so God can use me anywhere and anytime he may direct.

For those of you who are not aware of the Singapore trip, here is the backstory. In July, I spoke at a conference in New Hampshire. While there, I met Barry Chua from Singapore. We spoke at length about what God was doing in Singapore and across Asia. I was intrigued. Much of what he shared was similar to what God has led me to do, especially in the area of our prayer gatherings. After I returned home, we stayed in contact. As a result, in August, I flew to Singapore for a two-week visit, including attending a conference there. It was one of the few times in my life I’ve traveled to a place without a clear understanding of why I was going. I just felt I was supposed to go. It was a pivotal decision for my life and ministry.

When I arrived in Singapore, my goal was to listen. I wasn’t there to teach or share. I was there to learn what God wanted me to learn. Countless times, the Holy Spirit spoke through others to me. Every conversation was an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to speak. When I met total strangers in the hall between sessions at the conference, I intently listened in case God was speaking through them. Prayer gatherings with brothers and sisters in Christ became megaphones for the Holy Spirit to shout truth into my life. Conversations late into the night with new friends from Cambodia and Thailand further stirred the working of the Holy Spirit in my heart. Over and over again, I marveled at the moving of the Spirit. It felt like there was barely a gauze between heaven and earth.

Most of the conversations were about God and what he was doing in our lives. Several times God orchestrated conversations to speak to me about questions I had in my life and ministry. One of the key questions I had was in regards to my area of focus. For many years, my passion for the Church in North America has dominated my focus. Recently God opened a door in Bolivia to share the prayer gathering and house church models there. I’m going there at the end of this month. During my time in Singapore, I received invitations to minister in Cambodia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka. This is far outside of my normal area of focus. What do I do? I had a conversation with one of the leaders there and shared my heart and questions with him. He shared from his own experience and encouraged me to see God doing a new thing in my life and ministry. I came away from the conversation encouraged in my relationship with God and committed to following the Holy Spirit wherever he may lead. My heart and passion are still for North America, but I’m committed to saying, “Yes,” to God without needing to know why he is leading where he leads. My sole concern is to hear him speak. I’m learning to listen.

Not only did the Holy Spirit speak to me, but there were also times I witnessed the Holy Spirit speaking through me.

For as long as I can remember, in my relationship with God, I’ve heard God speaking to my spirit simple truths, words of comfort, and sometimes words of conviction or warning. Sometimes it happens while I’m reading Scripture. Sometimes it happens when I am praying. Sometimes it happens in the most mundane moments like driving down the road, taking a walk, or even when I’m dreaming. I’ve shared many of these moments with you through my writing, speaking, and even in the lyrics of songs I’ve written. Sometimes these moments are for me personally, and I share them only with my closest friends. Sometimes he speaks truths I later share with the Church. Only recently have I learned to listen for times when the Holy Spirit may speak to me something for a specific individual instead of the body at large. In Singapore, I saw this happen several times. In each situation, I did not treat it as if I had a word from the Lord. Instead, I approached it with humility saying, “I feel like the Holy Spirit said this. I may not apply to you, so if it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.” Then I would share with my friend what I felt the Holy Spirit was saying. There were a few specific incidents when this happened, and it was clear the Holy Spirit was, in fact, moving. It was a great encouragement to me to see how the Holy Spirit worked through me for their benefit in their relationship with him. The Holy Spirit used those experiences to encourage me to listen closely to him as I grow in relationship with him.

While there, I stayed in the ACS Oldham Hall boarding house with seven men from Cambodia and two from Thailand. These men were in Singapore for the conference. This was an important aspect of the trip. We spent a great deal of time together, sharing stories of what God has done. I grew to love these guys. Lord willing I will travel to Cambodia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka early next year to minister with them in the ministries God has given them. For now, I’m grateful we remain connected with technology.

What I found in Singapore is that it is not necessary to know in advance why God wants me to go somewhere. I need only to listen carefully for the voice of the Father. When he leads, then follow. When I follow this way, I get the privilege of joining God in what He is already doing. Let him orchestrate what he wants to do. The key is to find where God is at work and join him.

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:18-20, ESV). Here we understand that even Jesus did not come up with his own agenda for what he wanted to do for God. He looked to see what the Father was doing and then joined him. When God shows us where he is at work, this is his invitation for us to join him in what he is already doing.

When I returned home, I was anxious to share with my friends in our house church how the Holy Spirit moved. We’ve seen God clearly moving in our little gathering. Now we are seeing God moving in similar ways in other countries. We are seeing others praying like we are. We are seeing others reach out for help in planting prayer gatherings in their homes. It feels like we are in the midst of a move of God. I suspect it is because we have learned to listen to him when we pray. It is the heartbeat of our gathering.

My take away in this is to listen better no matter where I am. What if I made a point to listen to God here at home as I did in Singapore? What if we approached every moment as a moment the Holy Spirit might speak to us, or even through us? What if we expected to hear from God today? What if we viewed every conversation as a possible divine appointment? What if we actually expected he would move?

Imagine what could happen if we could learn to listen.

I enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

If you need more information on how to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you or learning how to follow the Father, I highly recommend the Bible Study “Experiencing God” by Henry Blackaby. You can order it here: blackaby.org/experiencing-god

August Ministry Update

Over the last year, I started a prayer gathering in my home town, modeled after the prayer time I experienced when I was with my friends in San Francisco in August of 2018. After praying together for eight months, we officially joined together as a house church. Nothing I have done in ministry over the past thirty years has brought me as much joy as our little gathering. The Holy Spirit is clearly moving. I am helping to oversee the church, but I am not the pastor. This was a strategic decision on my part. I help with oversight, but not in the day to day role of shepherding. I believe the role God has for me is to plant prayer gatherings, not to pastor house churches. My hope is to plant multiple prayer gatherings with the intention of seeing house churches planted as a result. I am interested in seeing people connect with the Holy Spirit through prayer. Out of that connection, God may lead to a house church. He may not. Either way, people will connect with God in intimate prayer gatherings. That is what matters most.

I know this sounds odd, but I am not interested in planting house churches for the sake of planting house churches. I am concerned that with the house church movement, we may merely create another model of ministry that does not rely upon the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead of relying on the work of the Holy Spirit through prayer, we may depend on our creativity. We may depend on good programming. We may depend on good branding. We may depend on good Bible teaching. We may depend on beautiful worship experiences. My concern is that if we do not solely depend upon the Holy Spirit, we have nothing that will last. Just as the traditional church model is struggling, so will the house church model if we do not build upon the right foundation. It will not last. Ultimately, my prayer is that both the traditional church model and the house church model would be built on a foundation of prayer. This remains to be seen.

This is why I am interested in planting prayer gatherings instead of planting house churches. Our local group gathered for weekly prayer for eight months before we talked about becoming a house church. As a result, our DNA is set. We pray. When we became a house church, our focus on prayer did not change. Prayer is the heartbeat of our gathering. Our DNA is that we pray and connect with God. Out of those prayer times, the Holy Spirit leads, and we follow him. Yes, we enjoy deep community with other followers of Christ. Yes, we enjoy deep fellowship with others seeking to live out their faith. Yes, we meet each other’s needs. Yes, we study the Scriptures to learn what it means to follow Jesus. But beneath it all is a dependence on the Holy Spirit through prayer. It is the one non-negotiable item when we gather together.

Typically, our house church meeting is unstructured compared with a traditional church service. Usually, we meet for three to four hours on a Sunday. We share a meal together. At some point in our gathering, we devote an hour or more to prayer, using the model I wrote about here: https://timothymark.com/teach-us-to-pray/  This is the heartbeat of what we are about – the richness and beauty of intimacy with God in prayer.

Our local house church is still an infant, but we are already developing leaders to establish house churches in two neighboring communities. We currently meet weekly on Sunday mornings. I love spending time with these folks. At a recent meeting, one of the members said, “I wish we could meet like this more often.” That made me smile.

Beyond my home area, I’m excited to see how God is opening up opportunities to model the prayer gathering in other regions. I am currently in the beginning stages of mentoring a prayer gathering in Southern Michigan. In September, I travel to Santa Cruz, Bolivia through the invitation of a friend there to establish a prayer gathering in that region.

God is also moving in Singapore. At a recent conference in New England, I met a man from the small island nation. We talked at length about what God is doing there. I was excited to hear story after story of how God is at work. After I returned home, I received an invitation to attend a Christian conference and meet with other Christian leaders there. I am excited to travel to Singapore on August 6. I will be there for two weeks. I am most interested to learn how God is at work there. I will also attend prayer gatherings with men who are meeting daily for prayer in a model similar to ours. I can hardly wait to see what God has planned for me there.

In all, these are exciting days. You may wonder what my plans are for the days ahead. The truth is, I have no idea. All I know is God is moving. I try to join him in what he is already doing. My plan is to pray and seek God’s direction one day at a time. My plan is to surrender in love to him. I think that’s a pretty good plan, don’t you?

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

 

Surrendered to God

For the past few months, I’ve pondered what it means to surrender to God. The Holy Spirit has repeatedly whispered to me, “Surrender to me.” Traditionally, I viewed surrender as bowing before God, laying down my sword at his feet. It is giving up my right to my life and giving him authority over every aspect of my life. In this context, I tend to view surrender in terms of losing a fight. I am brought to a place of brokenness. I can’t fight anymore. I finally give up and surrender to God. This is one perspective.

Recently, I thought about it in another way. Now I think it looks more like the time John laid his head on Jesus’ chest, reclining at table with him at the last supper. It is falling so in love with someone that you surrender everything to them. Your love for them obliterates any thought of self.

We view surrendering to God as an act of resignation, but actually, it is an act of love. I sit on God’s lap. I am a child on the lap of his father. I lean back into his chest. He wraps his arms around me. I surrender to him because of his love for me and my love for him. At that moment, I am fully surrendered to him. I am his, and he is mine. Nothing else matters. Money doesn’t matter. Houses don’t matter. Careers or ministries don’t matter. My dreams and plans don’t matter. Everything fades away at that moment. I am fully surrendered to him.

The question of surrender takes us back to the first commandment, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Our lack of surrender to God reveals our lack of love for him. A problem with surrender indicates a problem with love. We love God, but we also love setting our own agendas. We love our careers. We love our homes. We love having the finances to do what we want to do. We love our dreams and plans.

When I mention these things, we may feel a tension rising within. We start to imagine what it would mean to give up control in these areas. The tension we feel is actually the Holy Spirit. He shows us places in our hearts, where we are not fully in love with God. This tension reveals we view surrender as losing a fight. We see surrender as losing control. Maintaining control seems silly when you love someone who is truly in control of all. Far better to view surrender as an act of love. We give God full control because we are overwhelmed with his love for us. Our love for him swells within, and nothing else matters. We are hopelessly in love with him.

God’s call for surrender is a call to a deeper relationship with him. “Surrender to me,” he says. “I love you more than you can imagine. Let go! Let me take care of you. I have plans for you far greater than anything you could imagine. Take a deep breath. Sit still. Let me hold you for a while. Surrender to me.”

That’s a model of surrender based on love, not resignation. Admit it, don’t you want to be held like that?

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

How Should We Give?

Over the past few months, I’ve shared how the Holy Spirit led me to start a prayer gathering following my time in San Francisco with the house church movement there. Our Southwest Florida group has prayed together for nine months. Along the way, we added folks and saw others leave to form groups on their own. The Holy Spirit has worked in individual lives and collectively as a group. Each week as we gather, we see the Holy Spirit moving among us. We’ve witnessed physical, spiritual, and emotional healing. Personally, I am overwhelmed by what I see the Holy Spirit doing among us. I am more excited about this gathering than anything I have done in the past thirty years of ministry.

Recently I sensed the Holy Spirit was forming two prayer gatherings out of the one group. Several couples regularly attend another church in the area. It seemed to me that the Holy Spirit was forming one prayer gathering made up of those members attending the same church, and another gathering made up of those of us who were not connected with a local traditional church. I brought up the idea at a prayer gathering in early April. Much to my surprise, the folks in attendance that night were excited about moving to the next phase in our gathering – becoming a house church. The decision was made to move forward. Those who wanted to attend their home church were encouraged to continue gathering with those in their home church. The remaining group decided to have our first service as a house church on Easter Sunday morning.

On Easter Sunday, we gathered for a potluck breakfast, and then had a time of discussion, a time of prayer, and communion. All agreed that the Holy Spirit had brought us to this point, and we would rely on the Holy Spirit to lead us into his design. During our discussion, one of the members asked, “What do we do about our giving?” You may question this as well. Here’s my approach.

How does giving work in a house church?

There are several types of giving mentioned in the New Testament. As the New Testament church was formed, there was a spirit of generosity moving among them. “And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45, ESV). Later in the book, Luke describes people selling houses and land and giving the proceeds to the leaders of the church to distribute to those who had needs. There was a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others. In this instance, folks were bringing financial resources to the church leaders to distribute as needed. This is what we commonly think of when we think of giving to the church.

Another type of giving is mentioned in John’s writing. He writes about a personal responsibility to meet the needs of those around us. This is what he says:

“If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18, ESV).

Here we see a personal responsibility in the area of giving. When the Holy Spirit brings someone into our lives and shows us a need they have, it is our personal responsibility to meet the need if we have the resources to do so. Again, there is a sense of sacrifice involved. In this instance, it is helpful to remember that we, as individuals, are the church. The Holy Spirit may bring someone with a need across your path. According to this model, if you have the ability to meet the need, then meet it. Do it in the name of Jesus! Remember, you are the church. Be the church! It is exciting when we are set free to give in this way!

In my personal life, I take this type of giving seriously. This type of giving goes far beyond giving money to the leaders of a church body to distribute. It means personally entering into the world of an individual and meeting their need. This way of giving requires I live with sensitivity to the leading of the Holy Spirit. I need to know that the Holy Spirit is leading me to meet a need. Once that is clear, then I move forward. This is vital. This is why listening to the Holy Spirit is so important.

Through the years, this approach has led me to meet the needs of many individuals. At one point, I cleared out my savings account meeting other people’s needs. At another time, I cleared out my retirement account meeting needs. Meeting needs may not involve money. It may involve time, service, or other resources. On two different occasions, God led me to invite a homeless person to stay with me. This shouldn’t seem exceptional. It should feel normal if we understand what John is teaching. How many extra bedrooms do we have? In the two instances I mentioned, I did not even have an extra bedroom. I had a couch. How many couches do we have? Remember our example of the early church. There was a willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others.

At this point, I imagine I am freaking out some of you. The reason this makes some uncomfortable is that we tend to view our responsibility to others through the lens of an American, instead of through the Scriptures.

The American dream is exceptionally individualistic. We are taught that if we follow our dreams, we can succeed at anything. Work hard. Make lots of money. Live comfortably. You’ve earned it! Conversely, since we live in a land of opportunity, we may subconsciously think that someone who has needs is not applying themselves. It’s their fault. They should work harder. They must have wasted time and money they had. When confronted with someone who has obvious needs, we tend to look the other way. But is this how Jesus taught us to live?

I think about the story we commonly call, “the Good Samaritan.” It is an interesting conversation between Jesus and a lawyer. Here is what Luke wrote:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”

He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”

And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37, ESV).

Loving our Neighbors as Ourselves

This manner of giving fulfills the second commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. The end of the story shows the motivation behind this type of giving. It is characterized by mercy. In the Hebrew language, the word for mercy conveys the idea of bending down to someone of lesser position to hear a petition or request. It reflects the relative position of two individuals. In the story of the Good Samaritan, one party has resources, and the other does not. The one with the resources met the need of the other, and by doing so, showed him mercy.

Jesus concludes, saying, “You go, and do likewise.” His words ring out across the centuries to those in our generation who claim to follow Jesus. Love your neighbor as yourself. Selflessly love others. Show mercy. Meet needs. You personally go and live like that.

At some point, our little gathering of believers will likely have a bank account set up so we can pool our money together for the leadership to distribute to meet needs. We have no building and no paid staff, so we don’t need any money for ourselves. For now, we are individually setting aside what we believe the Holy Spirit is leading us to give and looking for those divine appointments to share with others in need. It is exciting to give like this!

I am the church. You are the church. We are the church. Not a building. Not a denomination. You, me, us. We are the church. For so long, we have thought of the church as a place we go to, but that is not accurate. A church may meet together in a building, but the building is not the church. We are.

It seems to me, the original question remains. If we are the church, how should we give?

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

For more on the model of prayer used in our prayer gatherings, see the blog post here: https://timothymark.com/teach-us-to-pray/

 

Open to Change

I remember as a child in Michigan longing for the first warm breeze signaling spring was on the way. I looked forward to the snow melting. I watched for the first crocus pushing through the earthy crust and blooming in the beds along the sunny side of the driveway. There was an anticipation of good things to come. Even though winter often fought back, eventually spring reigned, and the dark, cold days of winter receded from view.

In many ways, the idea of a new season accurately describes where I find my life and ministry. I see God at work around me. The warm wind of the Holy Spirit blows through my life reminding me He is at work. Change is on the way. I anticipate good things to come.

Change happens constantly, but I have seen it more clearly in the past year or so. Navigating the change has greatly challenged me. I shifted from career ministry to working full-time outside the ministry, fitting in ministry responsibilities as I am able. As a result, my focus had to shift as well. For the first time in almost thirty years, I now focus on something outside of full-time ministry.

Ministry-wise, my focus shifted to the house church ministry. I still have several speaking events and conferences scheduled this year, but now the primary focus of my life is the local house church in which I am involved. I am more excited about house church ministry than anything I have done in ministry over the last thirty years.

In August last year, after I returned from the time in San Francisco with the house church movement there, I gathered friends to pray. We’ve continued meeting weekly since that time. I am full of joy to share with you how God moves in these gatherings. Every week we sense the Holy Spirit moving as we pray and seek what he has for us. We pray between one to two hours with no agenda. We listen for his voice. We expect to hear from him. We expect physical transformation when we pray for healing. We expect healthy marriages when we pray for troubled relationships. We expect wayward children to reconnect with parents when we pray for restoration. We expect the Holy Spirit to speak to us about needs in our lives when we give him room to speak. And he does not disappoint! He does exceedingly abundantly beyond all we could ask or think. At this time, we have not officially launched as a house church. We are only holding prayer gatherings. I am confident God will direct us when he is ready for us to take the next step.

I’ve also seen changes in my life in the way the Holy Spirit is transforming me. One of the noteworthy areas was an ungodly desire for significance. Ouch. Seeing God humble me and remove this from my life is a great blessing.  As a result, I no longer care about my social media presence. You may have noticed I am rarely on Facebook or Twitter anymore. I’ve turned away from caring about how many followers I have on Facebook or Twitter. Frankly, I’ve lost interest in it entirely. I have huge questions on the benefits, if any, of social media. What this means is the manner in which I communicate with you changes as well. Going forward I will likely update less frequently. My hope is to keep you posted when I see God at work and keep the focus on him, and less on me.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18-19a, ESV). The entire passage is a blessing. I encourage you to read it. I love how God understands the challenge we face with change. He speaks to our tendency to hold onto the past when he says, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” It is our nature to try to keep things the same. God kindly nudges us to let go of the past. When we hold onto the past, we are unable to open our hands to what God offers for our future. This is where I struggle the most. I can see where God has changed my life and ministry, but I often try to maintain different aspects of the ministry I’ve had in the past while trying to move forward into what God has given me for today. For example, I’m aware I missed several months of updates online. It haunts me as I scramble to take care of projects pressing into my schedule. How freeing to read those words reminding us to let go of the past. When I do, I find I have everything I need to fulfill the ministry God has given me to do today. I rest in this.

Where are you in the process of change? Like me, do you struggle to let go of the way things were in the past? Do you find it challenging to adapt when change comes?  Gratefully God understands. Keep turning to him as change keeps coming our way.

Wait. There it is. Did you feel it? I just felt a warm breeze.

 

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

For more on the model of prayer used in our prayer gatherings, see the blog post here: https://timothymark.com/teach-us-to-pray/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transformed Lives

Last month I was in Rockford, Illinois where my entire family gathered for Thanksgiving. It was a privilege to see everyone again. We are spread out over the United States from Washington State, Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. It is a rare treat when we are all together. While there, I stayed at my nephew’s home. He and his wife recently purchased the home and are slowly remodeling it.

One morning I sat in the guest room with a cup of coffee and looked around the room. There were a few quirks that needed addressing, but I love his house. It is a mid-century modern design. I can already see in my mind how amazing it is going to be someday. I don’t see it as it was. I don’t see it as it is. I see it as it will be. I see it complete. And I love it!

I took a sip of coffee, and it occurred to me that God sees me like I see this house. God looks at me, and he doesn’t see me as I was. He doesn’t see me as I am. He sees me as I will one day be. And he loves me!

I love my relationship with God. Through my relationship with him, the Holy Spirit has transformed many areas of my life. I look back with gratitude at all he has done. At the same time, I am aware of areas in my life that still need transformation. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows me the dark corners of my heart where sin still lurks. Hidden sins like pride, lust, or seeking glory for myself slink away from the light. They try to hide, but the Holy Spirit shines his light upon them. At that moment, my tendency is to focus on all that still needs to be transformed. It can feel overwhelming. The solution is to understand how God sees me.  

None of us have arrived. In the end, we are men and women trying to follow Jesus. Some days we follow well, some days we do not. On the days when we have blown it, we tend to get discouraged. This is why it is important to understand how God sees us.

Remember, God doesn’t see us as we were. God doesn’t see us as we are. He sees us as we will be. This is because God sees us through the cross. He sees the sacrifice of Jesus paying the penalty for our sin. His death paid for all the sins we’ve done in the past. His death paid for all the sins we may commit today, and his death paid for all the sin we may do in the future. His blood covers them all. That is why God does not see us as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. He sees us completely sinless, perfect, and holy, like Jesus. This is amazing!

Sometimes I look back with regret on sins of my past. At other times I may look at my life now and see so many areas that still need improvement. Whenever I do this, I may become discouraged. Instead, I need to look forward to the day when God completes his work in my life. Like my nephew’s home, I need to imagine how amazing it will be when God completes the work in my life.

Romans 8:28-29, ESV, says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

In God’s plan, all things work together for good. This does not mean all things are good. Sin is not good. But God still uses it for good in our lives. This is because his idea of good is when we are more conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. When we recognize our sin, it should bring us to repentance. In that repentance we are humbled. When we are humble, we look a little more like Jesus. When we look a little more like Jesus, it is good! And on it goes….

In Paul’s second letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he wrote, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18, ESV).

Here we see the ongoing nature of this transformation. How we wish the transformation in our lives could be completed now. Unfortunately, that is not how it works. God continues to transform our lives into the image of Jesus as long as we live on this earth. Thankfully, you and I are in an ongoing process whereby God the Father transforms our lives through the work of the Holy Spirit so that we progressively look more like his son, Jesus. The process continues until we finally die or the Lord returns to take us home. Then the transformation is complete.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, he wrote, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, ESV). This is great news! This is worth celebrating! God begins the work of transformation the moment we accept his forgiveness of sin through the cross. This same God continues the work within us until finally, we are complete in him. What a day that will be!

My friend, this is my encouragement for you this month. God knows all our faults yet loves us anyway. He looks at our lives and sees the man or woman we will become. He sees us not as we were, nor as we are, but as we will be. And he says, “I love you!”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

Solving The Puzzle

In July 2018, I flew to Los Angeles to tape my episode of Wheel of Fortune. The episode aired October 5. The entire experience was more than I could have imagined.

My flight arrived in late afternoon. I spent the night in Culver City, a few miles from Sony Pictures studios. In the morning, I dressed and made my way to the studio lot. I was nervously excited.

At 7:45 AM, I met the other contestants in the parking garage ground floor. We were escorted through security and into the studio building. For the next four hours, we were trained and coached in everything related to spinning the wheel. We were sequestered in a room separate from the rest of the studio. Legal contracts were explained and signed. The contestant coordinators took us out to the main studio so we could get comfortable with the surroundings. We were taught how to spin the wheel, and we each took turns practicing. We practiced our introductions. We filmed a short promo for our local TV station. The experience was surreal.

Late in the morning, my team assembled at the wheel to do a practice game before recording our episode for TV. There were stand-ins for Pat Sajak and Vanna White. We played a condensed version of the game including introductions, toss-up rounds, and regular rounds. As the practice round progressed, a contestant coordinator came to me to coach me in the game. “Tim,” she said, “don’t look at the wheel or the other players. It can be mesmerizing but don’t do it. Just focus on solving the puzzle. Don’t think about anything else. Just solve that puzzle.” It would be the best advice I received.

The wheel hypnotizes, and there are many distractions in the studio. Off camera, in front of the wheel, is a TV monitor showing how much money you have on the board, what you have already won, and any prizes you have won. The audience cheers you on. Large cameras shift positions. Between rounds, contestant coordinators encourage. Make-up artists touch up your make-up. Distractions abound.

Finally, the time came to record our episode. I stood at the wheel as the announcer Jim Thornton announced, “Please welcome the hosts of our show, Pat Sajak and Vanna White.” The game was on!

Everything went quiet. Adrenaline surged into my veins. Time slowed down. And one simple thought locked into my brain: “Solve the puzzle.” Nothing else mattered. I did not look at the monitor to see what I had on the board. I didn’t look at the wheel. I didn’t look at the other players. I didn’t even pay attention to Pat. Everything in me was focused on solving the puzzle.

In the end, I ended up solving most of the puzzles. I think back to that moment when the contestant coordinator told me to focus on solving the puzzle. That made all the difference. I share this because I think there is an interesting correlation between my experience on Wheel of Fortune and the Church in North America. Let me explain.

The decline of the Church in North America is a puzzle to me. As an itinerant minister, for the past thirty years I’ve ministered in churches across the denominational spectrum. Across denominations, it is increasingly difficult to find a healthy church. Most are in steep decline. This should alarm us. We must solve this puzzle. This is the one thing on which we must focus. We have to come to the place where nothing matters but solving this puzzle.

Unfortunately, often we are mesmerized by lesser things. We are easily distracted by things that do not matter. And we must change.

On Wheel of Fortune, when I landed on bankrupt, I lost everything I had accumulated in that round. It didn’t faze me in the least. I didn’t care. Honestly, I didn’t even know what I had lost. All I cared about was solving the puzzle. With the church, all I care about is solving the puzzle of why we are in decline. I don’t care if I lose everything in the bank. I don’t care if I lose my retirement account. I don’t care about anything but solving this puzzle. It may cost me everything. I don’t care. I have to solve the puzzle.

On the set of Wheel of Fortune, there’s a used-letter board. It hangs from the ceiling just off camera to the left of the puzzle board. It shows all the letters that have been called and any letters that have not been called. When a contestant guesses a letter that is not in the puzzle, a loud buzzer sounds, and they lose their turn. The letter is marked off on the used-letter board. You don’t want to call the same letter again. That would be foolish. In the church, we’ve tried to solve the puzzle of our decline with programs, better music, and more interesting messages. But those things haven’t solved the puzzle. We’re no closer to solving the puzzle than when we started. Sadly, we keep calling the same letter. At some point, we have to call a new letter. To continue to try the same things and to expect a different result is foolishness on a Biblical scale. We’ve already proved that those letters are not in the puzzle solution.

For the church, let’s consider using some of the letters that have not been called. How about prayer? How about fasting and prayer? How about an utter dependence on the work of the Holy Spirit? How about an expectation of sacrifice, of putting it all on the line for the cause of Christ? How about discipling one another? How about confessing sin to one another? Perhaps we might solve the puzzle by trying some of these things.

What if we stopped calling the same letters and tried one of these options? For example, what would happen in our churches if for forty days we stopped all of our programming, our worship music, and preaching, and simply fasted and prayed over the state of the church? What would happen? It’s a letter worth calling. Perhaps it would help us to solve the puzzle.

These things might not draw a crowd, but they may solve the puzzle of why we are in decline. Personally, I’m willing to try. I’m not going to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them and expecting a different outcome. Something has to change.

It’s more than just a game. In the end, the only thing that matters is solving the puzzle.

 

Behind the Scenes on Wheel of Fortune

It was a blast to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune, and it was a privilege to watch the show live with friends and family. Thank you to everyone online who sent pictures and posted on social media. You made it even more special. Thank you!

I get loads of questions regarding the experience. WheelofFortune.com asked me to write a blog about my experience for their site. It is a privilege to be the featured contestant this week! They published a condensed version of this blog. You can read the WheelofFortune.com blog here.

I had often wondered what it was like behind the scenes, so it was a thrill of a lifetime to experience it first-hand. Now I get peppered with questions whenever someone finds out I was on the show. Here are the top ten questions folks ask when they discover I was a contestant on America’s Game:

#1. Did you win?

Yes! I won $20,050 in cash and a trip to Antigua, a total of almost $27,000 in cash and prizes. Wow! The trick is keeping the results secret between the time you tape and the time the show airs, usually around two months. Mums the word. I taped my episode on July 28, 2018, and had to keep the secret until October 5 when it finally aired.

#2. Did you get to meet Pat Sajak and Vanna White?

Yes! Early in the morning Vanna came into our contestant room and introduced herself. During the game, I stood next to Pat in position number one and got to chat with him between rounds during a commercial break. Since I went to the bonus round, I spoke with both of them during the closing credits section of the show. We discussed organ donation. (I’m a living organ donor, and it was mentioned in my introduction.)

They are humble and kind. They make you feel really comfortable. When Vanna came into our contestant room, she was wearing a pair of jeans and a t-shirt with her hair pulled back and no make-up. She was super down-to-earth.

#3. How did you audition?

I submitted a video online on wheeloffortune.com in November of 2016. (That’s right, 2016!) A few weeks later I was invited to a live audition in Tampa in January 2017. I auditioned in Tampa with sixty other hopefuls. Two weeks later I received a letter stating I was selected as a contestant. In the letter, they stated they would try to get me on the show sometime in the next 18 months. In early July 2018, I received a call from the producers asking if I was available to tape on July 28! Game on!

I auditioned because I wanted the experience. I wanted to see what it was like behind the scenes. I highly recommend auditioning for the show. What do you have to lose?

Here is the link to audition online at WheelofFortune.com. Go for it! http://www.wheeloffortune.com/jointheshow/

#4. Were you nervous?

As a minister, I am used to being in front of crowds, but this was different. During the morning training, I was so nervous I was sweating profusely. I had massive underarm sweat marks on my shirt! Finally, I asked a contestant coordinator if I should put an undershirt on. With a look of alarm, she told me to change as quickly as possible! I didn’t know we were about to head out to the studio to shoot the promos for the local stations. So yes, I was nervous.

#5. Did adrenaline kick in?

Once the game started, my adrenaline kicked in so hard I could hardly think. The first toss-up felt like it was in slow motion. My brain was completely overloaded. Somehow I was the first one to ring in, and I solved the puzzle.

From that point on, I remember very little. Adrenaline was surging, and my brain was fried. Everything was in slow motion. I could hardly hear anything. I remember thinking to myself, “Why is my brain so foggy? Why is Pat speaking so softly? Why can’t I hear the music?” I think the adrenaline was affecting everything. I had no idea how much money I had on the board at any given time. All I knew is that somehow I was solving puzzles. I remember at one point going bankrupt and hearing the audience groan. I had no idea how much money I lost. It didn’t faze me in the least. My brain was so foggy that the bankrupt didn’t register. Still, I won the round. At this point my brain was mush. I remember a producer saying to me, “Pastor Tim, you’re doing great!” All I could say was, “My brain is so fried…”

I vaguely remember winning the second toss-up and the first round. I won the second round, but I have no recollection of what happened or how much I won. I won the prize puzzle round. I do not remember Pat coming over and telling me I was going to Antigua. My brain was busy trying to figure out insignificant things. My belt buckle kept sliding to the right when I spun the wheel. My brain locked onto that. I shifted it back to center while Pat was congratulating me on winning the trip. I don’t even remember what Pat said. For some reason, my belt buckle seemed more important at the time! I laugh every time I think about this!

#6. What was the studio like?

It was a thrill to see the wheel for the first time! When I first stepped into the studio, I was struck by how much smaller it is than it appears on TV. The wheel seems smaller. The distance between the contestants and the puzzle board feels smaller. Everything seems condensed. Off camera, in front of the wheel, is a monitor that shows how much money you have on the board, how much you have already won, and any prizes you have won. Over to the puzzle board side of the studio, the used letter board hangs from the ceiling to the left of the puzzle board so you can refer to it as the game progresses.

#7. Did you have to wear makeup?

Yes, and I loved it. Ha! The makeup artist was fantastic, and it was one of the most relaxing moments of the day. I almost fell asleep while she was working on me. Eventually, I completely forgot I was wearing makeup. After taping the show, I almost left the building with it still on. One of the contestant coordinators stopped me at the last moment. That would have been awkward!

The studio at Sony Pictures where Wheel of Fortune is filmed also houses the studio for Jeopardy. The make-up artist that did my make-up also does make-up for Alex Trebek. I felt like royalty!

#8 How many shows do they film in one day?

Six. Taping begins at noon and ends around 6:00 PM. Contestant training begins at 7:45 AM. My episode was the first taping of the day. Special thanks to the contestant coordinators who take people like me off the street and get them ready for a national television appearance in four hours. Amazing staff!

#9. Do you have to pay taxes on what you won?

Yes, or go to jail. I’ll pay State of California tax because the money was earned in that state, and then I’ll pay my normal federal income taxes. An interesting side-note is that you also pay taxes on non-cash prizes, like the trip to Antigua I won. (See bonus question #11 below.) The tax is on the estimated value of the prize. You have the option of forfeiting any prize if you do not want to pay the taxes.

#10. When do you get your winnings?

Four months after the episode airs. I should receive a check on February 5, 2019.

#11. Bonus Question: When are you going to Antigua? Who are you taking with you?

I forfeited the trip to Antigua. The trip was valued at almost $7,000. The income tax on that would be about $1,700. If someone offered me a trip to Antigua for $1,700, would buy it? Probably not. So I forfeited the trip. I decided I would rather save the tax money for something else, maybe a trip to Australia. I do not receive any cash value for the trip.

Another issue with the trip is that I could not transfer it, sell it, or exchange it. I had to be one of the two people on the trip. So who do I take with me? Who do I leave home? It quickly becomes complicated! I think if you are married, then it is probably a good value. As a single, it just didn’t make sense.

It was a privilege to have a small part in the history of this iconic show. I am grateful for everyone involved from the producers, the contestant coordinators, the makeup artists, and of course, Pat and Vanna. Even though my brain was fried, I will never forget the incredible experience of being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. I am so blessed.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.