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Antarctica Update

Saturday afternoon, I received a phone call from my contact with the Lodging Department at McMurdo, Antarctica. I was surprised to get a call on the weekend. She called to offer me a Primary Contract as a janitor. Of course, I said, “Yes!” I am over the moon excited. I was driving when she called. After I hung up, I looked around the car to confirm the windows were rolled up,  and I shouted for joy!

So it is official! I deploy September 11 for orientation in San Francisco and then two weeks of quarantine in Christchurch, New Zealand, before flying to the ice sometime around the beginning of October.

What Matters Most

This morning in my time with the Father, I spoke with him about an issue that has been hounding me – my alternate status with the team preparing for Antarctica. I envy the folks who have primary status. When I scroll down the page of Facebook post of team members, I am excited for them, and frustrated at the same time. Their plans are set in place. As an alternate, I prepare as if I am going on October 1, with no idea if that will actually happen. I’ve scrutinized the gear needed down to the specific fabric content of the recommended base layers. Amazon delivers packages to my front porch almost on a daily basis. A storage bin in the back of my closet, dedicated to McMurdo, is overflowing at this point. But the one thing I cannot purchase is peace over not yet having a job placement. Over the past few days, I’ve talked with the Father about my longing for a primary position. I’ve asked him to give me a job placement. I’ve told him how unsettled I feel in the process of waiting. I’ve asked for resolution, not because I want a specific job, but because I want certainty.

But this morning, my mindset changed. As I sat meditating and praying, I was reminded of the joy of experiencing the presence of God. The manifest presence of the Father in the midst of the everyday moments of life is a treasure. To know he is near brings me joy. When his love washes over me, the unnecessary things fade away. And the things that are critical come clearly into focus. Distinguishing between the two is crucial to understanding the peace the Father longs for us to experience.

When I was reminded of his presence with me, suddenly the room felt illuminated, lighter, carefree or at least care-less. In that moment, whether or not I even went to Antarctica did not matter. If I got a job assignment, or what placement I got did not matter. Only the presence of the Father mattered. Suddenly praying for these things seemed frivolous. The Bible says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9, ESV). The Father thinks thoughts that are far different from mine. To flip the script, my thoughts are lower than the Father’s thoughts. My ways are lower than his ways. I’m a low-thinker. I’m concerned about a job placement. The Father is a high-thinker. The Father is concerned about drawing his kids closer to himself. He longs to dwell with them. This is the thought that consumes him. The key is to learn to think like he thinks, prioritizing thoughts of his presence with us. Focusing on the one thing that matters: dwelling with him. When we do this, we find the other things we thought were so important are not. Suddenly it no longer matters what job I get, or even if I go at all. All that matters is that I dwell with the Father wherever he leads. Today, in this moment, I dwell with him. Tomorrow, whatever may come, I choose to dwell with him. I practice the priority of his presence and nothing else.

This is not to say that my low thoughts do not matter to the Father. It is just that he sees them in the proper context. It is the difference between how a toddler thinks and a father thinks. A toddler thinks about what will make him happy in the moment. If he wants a toy, he will cry if he doesn’t get it. All that matters is his happiness in that specific moment. The father understands, but he also is thinking about the health and safety of the child. The father is thinking higher thoughts. The child is thinking low thoughts. The father loves the child, and loves doing things that will make the child happy. But the father is always aware of the higher issues – the health and wellness of the child. The happiness of the child is far less a concern.

So I let go of my toys, and crawl unto his lap. He lifts me unto his knee, and brushes a hair from my face. I reach up with my tiny hand to feel the stubble on his chin. He laughs. He smiles as he looks into my eyes. I collapse unto his chest, feeling the warmth of his breath on the back of my neck. All is lost in the moment. All concern, stripped away as his chest rises and falls beneath me. I am a child with my Father. In this moment, nothing else matters. His thoughts become my thoughts. And the things I thought were important suddenly seem so far away, so distant, in a muffled haze.

In the stillness of the moment, I realize I have forgotten what I wanted to ask.

Antarctica!

Lord willing, this October through February of 2022, I will work at the McMurdo research base in Antarctica as support staff for the ongoing work of the National Science Foundation. I imagine this is a shock to many of you. My disdain for cold weather is legendary. But my love for adventure is far greater than my dislike of the cold. And, as a bonus, the Extreme Cold-Weather (ECW) gear is provided.

Let me explain how the idea of working in Antarctica came about.

For over twenty years, I have wanted to experience Antarctica. Cruise ships can take you there, but you hardly get any time off the boat on land, and it is costly. I wanted the grand adventure of living there. In 2007, I applied for a position but did not make the cut. Usually, my ministry schedule doesn’t allow me to consider the idea. Enter the pandemic, and the ministry schedule ground to a halt.

Last October, I realized the pandemic opened up an opportunity to work in Antarctica. I researched job opportunities at the three United States bases. On December 31st, 2020, I applied for eight different jobs. I applied for anything I was remotely qualified for, from janitorial, kitchen crew, and administrative positions.

On March 22nd, I received an email stating I met the minimum requirements to work as a janitor at the McMurdo base. I was beyond excited to learn I had the bare-minimum skills necessary for a job as a janitor! I laughed out loud. I was over the moon. I couldn’t sleep. I called friends and family with the news. Next, I had an hour interview with the head of the Lodging Department. Finally, on April 30th, I was offered a contract with the United States Polar Services as a Janitor Alternate. The alternate status meant I was not selected for a primary role but would have to wait for a position to open. It also meant I needed to get a background check, drug testing, and an extensive medical clearance. I had to get Physically Qualified (PQ’d).

First up was a trip to my local lab for bloodwork. Next, I had a complete dental check-up. The physical exam lasted two hours. The staff at the medical clinic said it was the most extensive physical they had ever done. It certainly was the most intrusive medical exam I’ve ever had! There are limited medical resources at the base, so it is critical to know if I have any health issues which would preclude me from going. Finally, I submitted the completed paperwork to the University of Texas Medical Unit Polar Services and nervously waited. On June 3rd, I learned I was officially PQ’d! UTMU cleared me to work in Antarctica! It was the final hurdle.

At this time, I am in limbo for a job assignment. The Program Director said they expect all the alternates to receive a job placement this year. Any open position I am qualified for becomes an option, so I may not work as a janitor in the end. I would happily take the janitor role, but we will see what becomes available. McMurdo is the largest of the three U.S. bases, with around 300 support staff supporting approximately 600 researchers. It is the primary hub for most of the research in the region.

There is the possibility I will not go this year. The Bible says it is better to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:15). Submitting our plans to the will of the Father is an important truth. Budget cuts affecting the National Science Foundation Antarctic research may cause a reduction in support staff.  A primary position may not open up. I wait to see what God has planned. I am content to know he is entirely in control.

Ministry-wise, I have planned the time in Antarctica into the timeline for launching the book I am currently writing. I am excited by the progress I am making on the book. Every weekday morning from 7 – 11, I write. I shut off my cell phone and block off distractions. I usually start with some time sitting on the lap of God, asking him what he would have me to write. Lord willing, I will have the first draft completed by the end of July. When the rough draft is complete, I will begin rewriting, editing, designing the cover, developing the marketing plan, etc. Some of this process will transpire while I am in Antarctica. When I return in late February, I will set in motion the process leading to publication in June 2022. If for some reason, I do not travel to Antarctica, the timeline would remain the same. There is a strong fatherhood message in the book, so I want to launch around Father’s Day next year.

With my ongoing ministry work with house churches and prayer gatherings, I hope to plant a prayer gathering at McMurdo. Isolation so far from home draws many together who seek community in interest-based groups. Outside of work, there are music groups, crafting groups, lectures, and community bulletin boards to gather like-minded folks. There is no internet to speak of, no cell phones to distract, just long conversations with friends. I hope to share the prayer gathering model with other believers who work there. And I hope to connect with the military chaplain there to support their ongoing work of ministry. I can hardly wait to see what God has planned.

Throughout the long, drawn-out process, I saw the Father at work in my personal life in my relationship with him. At times, I felt anxious. I sensed I was pushing too hard to make it happen. The goal seemed so close. I grew weary from the adrenalin roller coaster from getting good news and waiting for long periods for the next step to happen. In the quiet moments, I heard the Father say to me, “Tim, do you trust me or not? Do you trust that I am in control? Are you willing to let me orchestrate whether you go or stay?” Those times with him led to sweet conversations about his love for me. I rest in his embrace. I love him alone. I am content with whatever he chooses for me.

Last month, in the monthly newsletter, I wrote about learning the art of sitting still on the lap of God. Now you know why I was learning that lesson. In his love for us, God longs to see our relationship with him growing in depth. He longs for us to experience the fullness of our relationship with him.

Have you experienced moments of anxiety as I have? At the core of our stress is a lack of trust. We doubt the Father can take care of our situation. We lie awake into the night, trying to figure out what we need to do to see a resolution. Far better to find ourselves safely on the lap of the Father as our concerns melt into a sea swirling at his feet. It is as if a hurricane of needs whirl around him in ever-widening circles. But at the center, in the stillness of the eye of the storm, the Father’s sits quietly, playing with his child. To our wonder, we discover it is the Father who swirls the storm with his finger.

Yes, he is trustworthy. He is worthy of our trust. When we are near him, we are at peace. When we stray from his lap and try to make life work apart from him, we find ourselves in the storm.

The Bible says, “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hand” (Psalm 31:14-15, ESV).

What a treasure to rest in his care.

Summer Update

When the year began, none of us expected a pandemic would turn our lives upside down. Yet here we are! I pray you are well. I am well and getting along fine with minimal interruptions to my daily routine.

I am grateful to share an update with you. God is still at work. He is still speaking to us. In this update, I share a recent experience I had in learning to trust God more. I hope you are encouraged when you read it.

Update on the Giving Challenge and the Love One Another Challenge

Thank you to everyone who participated in the 2020 Giving Challenge in April despite the pandemic hitting at the same time. The Giving Challenge is a matching grant campaign provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with funding provided by the Patterson Foundation. We participate in this unique giving opportunity every eighteen months. This time I did not feel comfortable marketing the matching grant campaign with so many people out of work and struggling financially. Instead of marketing it on social media, I only shared the information with you, our core supporters. I was surprised by the response. With matching grants, the ministry received over $4,000.00 because of your generosity. These resources help tremendously, especially with the external work of the ministry shut down for the foreseeable future. Thank you for your kind and generous giving!

Publicly, instead of promoting the Giving Challenge, we asked our Facebook friends to find someone in need and meet those needs instead of giving to the ministry. We called it “The Love One Another Challenge.” For several weeks, I updated Facebook with thoughts on how loving others matters. Again, the response was outstanding. I don’t know the exact amount of gifts made to others. However, I received many stories of how God was using folks like you in radical ways to meet other people’s needs. One artist sold several pieces and used the income to bless a waitress with a need. Some used their government stimulus check to meet someone else’s needs. Someone gave an extra car they had to a family with a transportation need. It was exciting to watch God moving people to love one another. From my perspective, this giving blessed me as much or more than the Giving Challenge matching grant campaign. As a ministry, our goal is to influence others to love God with abandon and to love others selflessly. It was a blessing to watch others fulfill the mission of our ministry through their kindness and generosity.

As a ministry, we have a small group of friends who support the ministry on a monthly basis. If you’re interested in supporting the ministry with a one-time or monthly gift, click here for our secure giving platform:  https://timothymark.com/financial-support/

In the holding pattern

As uncertainty over the virus continues, I am focusing my efforts on the final edits for a new book and working on new music. In time, I look forward to ministry in Seattle, southern Michigan, Bolivia, and Asia with prayer gatherings and house church planting. Thank you for your part in all that God is doing through your prayer and financial support. You are a blessing!

Learning to trust

As you can imagine, ministry wise, everything is in a holding pattern right now. Here in Florida, my home is in an area with minimal impact from the virus. I am not traveling with the prayer gatherings or house church planting ministry. I have had only one ministry event since the pandemic began. At this time, there is nothing on the schedule for the rest of the year. However, seeing God at work motivates me for the ministry ahead.

In June, a conference center in New Hampshire asked if I would speak for seven sessions in a Family Conference. The conference was in two weeks! Oh my! I said, “Yes,” and immediately started praying. It is pretty much impossible to prepare seven messages in fourteen days. So my goal was to spend as much time in prayer as possible. I wanted to make sure my heart synced up with the Father’s heart. If I could align myself with his heart, he could say what he wanted to say through me. I chose to surrender my voice to the Holy Spirit. I decided to focus on sharing my passion instead of points. I would share my hunger for a relationship with a loving God. And I would wait for the Holy Spirit to tell me what he wanted to say.

I wish I could say I trusted God fully in this, but the reality is I went back and forth with God on whether I would trust him or not. What if I didn’t prepare well enough, and I look like a fool when I speak? What if I only have ten minutes of material but am expected to share for forty-five? One day, in a moment of panic, I heard the still small voice of God speaking to my spirit. “Tim,” he said, “I am only giving you two weeks’ notice so you will not over-prepare. I want you to rely on me instead.”

The Holy Spirit reminded me that I had decided to focus on sharing my passion instead of points. He just kept saying to me, “Tim, will you trust me to speak or not?” For two weeks, it was a reoccurring conversation with him. Would I trust him or not? Some days I felt a surge of confidence. Other days, not so much. I am not the Apostle Tim. I am just Tim trying to follow God the best I can. Notice the issue was not for wisdom to know what to share at the conference. The question was whether I would trust the Holy Spirit to speak through me. Was I willing to step into the pulpit with little preparation and let the Holy Spirit have the floor? As a result, I spent more time in prayer than preparation. And, oh my, what a difference!

I’ve never seen anything like it. Session after session, the Holy Spirit took over the room. In one session, I started the introduction and finished speaking forty-five minutes later. It was then I realized I had never walked back to the podium. The sermon notes I had prepared sat unused in a neat little stack on the podium. Yet, from my perspective, it was the clearest I have seen the Holy Spirit move while I was speaking. It was shocking.

I am still riding the high from the week of ministry. What a privilege! I believe the lesson God taught me in trusting him will stay with me for a long time to come. Just yield. Let go. Let God take over. Imagine what God could do if we yielded fully to him.

Surrender

My story is unique to me, but I suspect the principle behind my experience is universal to all who follow Jesus. We surrender to him. We lay down our abilities, our talents, our desires, and we follow Jesus. Jesus then takes our abilities, our talents, and our dreams, and the Holy Spirit uses them to bring others to the Father’s love.

Friend, is the Holy Spirit speaking to you, asking you to trust him more? What area of your life are you struggling to let go and let God take control? When we surrender to him, we find he does much more than we could ever think or imagine. Trust him today!

 

 

 

The Love One Another Challenge

Quick facts:

April 28-29, noon to noon

Find someone in need and give generously to meet the need.

Challenge your friends to participate using the hashtag #loveoneanother

 

Background

Every 18 months, Timothy Mark Ministries participates in a matching grant Giving Challenge funded by The Patterson Foundation. During this 24-hour event, the Foundation doubles any donation to the ministry up to $100. Many of you have participated in the past, and you know what an exciting event this is. This rare opportunity helps fund our mission to see renewal in the Church in North America and abroad.

However, the timing of the 2020 Giving Challenge comes during an unprecedented shutdown of the world economy. Millions have lost their jobs. Countless are struggling to pay bills. Some are struggling just to provide food for their families. Many feel a sense of uncertainty for the future. Many feel lonely and isolated in this new world of social distancing. I understand. I hurt for the many lives that are affected.

The Crazy Idea!

So I came up with a crazy idea. What if we encouraged people not to give to Timothy Mark Ministries during the event, but to give to meet a personal need instead? What if we could start a movement of generous giving to see needs met across the world? That’s where the Love One Another Challenge was born. As a ministry, our mission is to help others to love God with abandon and to love others selflessly. When you personally give to meet a need in your neighborhood during the 24-hour Giving Challenge instead of giving to us, you multiply our influence. When you give to others during this event, you help us to fulfill our mission.

Find someone in need

Right now, think of someone you could bless during the Challenge. Pray and ask God how he would have you to give. Then, on April 28 and 29, noon to noon, bless them with your gift! I promise, it will feel incredible!

Maybe your finances are tight, and helping someone with a financial gift is impossible. Consider baking a batch of cookies for a neighbor, and write a note of encouragement. Share your extra toilet paper! Ring the doorbell and run! Giving is fun! Plan now how you will participate.

Usually, when we participate in a social media challenge, we support a great organization. This time, we are supporting people with needs. What could be more rewarding!

Share on Social Media – #loveoneanother

You can make a difference by challenging your friends to take the Love One Another Challenge. When you share, add the hashtag #loveoneanother so we can follow where God is moving around the world.

Will you take the Love One Another Challenge? Let’s make this an exciting 24 hours of giving! Love God with abandon. Selflessly love others. Be the one to share the love of the Father during the Love One Another Challenge!

 

If you are also interested in supporting Timothy Mark Ministries during this 24-hour event, click here for information on the 2020 Giving Challenge matching grant campaign.

2020 Giving Challenge

 Quick facts:

 

 

The Details

During this trying time, I’m focusing my efforts on encouraging folks to bless those around them with the Love One Another Challenge. Some of you may also want to support the ministry during the matching grant campaign.

The 2020 Giving Challenge is an exciting 24-hour giving event taking place from Noon to Noon on April 28th and 29th. To strengthen giving, The Patterson Foundation will provide a 1:1 match for all unique donations, up to $100 per donor. All donations made during the Giving Challenge are unrestricted gifts to the ministry.

How to Give

On April 28, beginning at noon, follow the link to the Giving Challenge website. You can check out the site in advance, but the option to donate is not available until the Giving Challenge begins at noon. The event ends at noon on April 29.

Click here to give with matching funds during the noon to noon window. Only donations made through the Giving Challenge link will qualify for matching funds.

Prior to and following the event, click here to support the ministry through our regular giving page. We appreciate your support all year long. Thank you!

Matching Grant Information

The Foundation will double a maximum of $100 from each unique donor. If you want to give more than $100 and want to get the best donation possible for the ministry, then individual family members can each make a donation with different credit cards. A husband and wife could split a gift of $200, and each contribution of $100 would double. But the Foundation will only double a maximum of up to $100 of any unique donor’s gift. For example:

If you give $25 to the ministry through the Giving Challenge portal, the foundations will match your donation, and the ministry will receive $50. If you give $50, the ministry receives $100. If you give $500, the Foundation will match $100 of your gift, and the ministry gets $600.

The 2020 Giving Challenge is presented by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by The Patterson Foundation.

Questions?

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at timothy@timothymark.com or call me at 941-445-3288.

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.