March 8, 2013
My daughter Kelly looked at my eye, which was swollen from an infection recently, and asked, “You’re not going to preach this week are you?”
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
“But Dad, people have to look at you when you preach!”
I know people don’t see a pretty face when I preach, especially when it is distorted by infection. However, if I waited until my life was in perfect order until I did ministry, then I would not have preached any sermons, or written a single newsletter for the past twenty years. At one time or another, my heart has been broken, my body has been broken, or our family has been broken.
I preach the gospel because it’s good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead. It’s good news that God loves us, comforts us, forgives us and heals us. We all have needs and prayers that are not yet answered. Nevertheless, God can still use us as long as we don’t withdraw in frustration.
A question came to me from the Lord recently. “Do you want an excuse or do you want grace?” When pain or disappointments come to us, we can use them as excuses to be angry with God, or we can draw near to Him and experience grace. We can either withdraw from ministry and people, or we can press in closer. Everyone gets offended. Some people use offenses for an excuse.
Kristina and I were sitting in our living room talking one evening. As we talked, I could see that my wife was troubled.
“Why are you upset?” I asked her.
“Oh it’s nothing.”
“Come on. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
“It’s nothing I want to talk about. I don’t want you getting upset.”
“My dear, tell me what’s the matter. I’m not going to get upset.”
After more cajoling, Kristina told me something that really upset me. It took me a while to realize that I had contributed to the mess she described. Over the years, we have both had many excuses to be upset with each other. Yet we would rather have grace in our marriage than an excuse to be angry. We would rather forgive each other than hold hurt in our hearts.
I often say to people I haven’t seen at church for a while, “Hey, I have missed you.” I hear many excuses for people not showing up. On the other hand, we have people who walk, bus, or bike to church in the summer heat, and others who come on crutches, or wearing wigs because they are going through chemo treatments. Jesus’ ministry priority is to the poor, the broken hearted and the afflicted. They have many reasons to be upset, but He offers them, and each of us, a choice. “Do you want an excuse, or do you want grace?”
November 19, 2012
Kristina and I spent the first seven years of our marriage running a discipleship house. Some of the young men and women we helped became pastors and leaders. Others left us and ended up going to jail. We helped people transform their lives through the grace of God, but we also learned our limitations. When we did for people what they should have been doing for themselves we didn’t help them at all.
A dysfunctional concept of love permeates our society. This was evident when Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana and other states voted to legalize gay marriage. Giving people what they want rather than what is good for them is a flawed concept of love. The last thing we should be doing in a time of financial crisis is to make drugs that diminish mental capacity more widely available. Do we want our doctors, car repairmen, computer technicians and airline pilots to get stoned? We should also know that marriage was established by God for a man and a woman. Healthy marriages are the foundation of healthy families and a strong society.
While our government provides many vital services for those in need, it is also like a dysfunctional parent who provides benefits even to those who don’t want to work. If we do for others what they should do for themselves, we are hindering their development, not enhancing it.
America has over 16 trillion dollars in federal debt, and trillions more in unfunded entitlements (Google the national debt clock). It’s going to be a painful mess when interest rates start to rise, inflation increases and another economic down turn begins.
Our twelve year war in Afghanistan exemplifies dysfunction. Our soldiers are being shot by the very people we are trying to help. We cannot be a savior to the Afghans. We should have defeated the Taliban and left their country ten years ago. America needs to cut military spending, cut domestic spending and change our attitude about the responsibility of the government. It is not righteous to keep borrowing from the next generation to fund our current budget.
I had a heavy heart one day as I contemplated these realities. I laid down on a rug in our living room to pray. Within a few minutes the Holy Spirit began to refresh and encourage me. The storm clouds of spiritual warfare parted, and the light of God’s grace gave me a fresh perspective. The Holy Spirit comes to us because Jesus has risen from the dead. Every trial shrinks in the light of the glory that God reveals when we experience the reality that Jesus is alive.
Kristina and I prepared our children to face the trials of life, but each of them has to fight their own spiritual giants as they go through life. Likewise, every generation faces unique challenges which help people see their need to turn to God. The dysfunction in society gives us an opportunity to share God’s word and bring the gospel of Christ to those who are open. Some people look for scapegoats when their lives fall apart. Others look for solutions. The Word of God has wisdom for the problems people face.
I have been meeting with pastors from some of the largest churches in Arizona. We are working together in unity to glorify God. We want to mobilize the Church to help vulnerable children. Networks of pastors have formed all over the country to work in unity to serve our communities in Jesus name.
The Church of Jesus Christ is filled with people who love God and care for each other. We help each other triumph over the trials of life. We bring healing to the brokenhearted and hope to the discouraged. There is nothing better in life than the forgiveness of sins and the grace of God that Jesus gives to everyone who calls on his name. Living Streams has helped plant five churches in the last several years and all are thriving. Churches where the grace and power of God are present bear fruit regardless of political circumstances, because Jesus is the head of all authority, and Lord over all creation.
May 20, 2012
Kristina and I flew to California for a missions conference recently and spent a night with my mother. Roberta Buckley still lives in the suburban house on Holly Drive in Terra Linda we moved into in 1954. She had a big pot of minestrone soup and fresh French bread ready when we arrived. Mom was eager to hear how we were doing, how Living Streams was going, and to get an update on her granddaughters in Arizona.
My parents never had much money, but my dad had friends at a supermarket who gave him deals on meat and vegetables that were near their due dates, so we had lots of food. Mom fed her eight children three meals a day along with our friends, cousins, and various hitchhikers. She did the cleaning, washing, doctors appointments and attended our games. She has twenty-one grandchildren, and six great grandchildren who drop by hungry. She also hosts twenty to forty people at a time for family birthday parties, holidays, her bridge club, and community groups. I’m sure she has cooked more meals in the last fifty-eight years than anyone else in Marin County. I bet she is also Costco’s best eighty-seven year old regular customer.
Roberta Mathews graduated from UC Berkeley in February 1947 and married John Buckley that June. She moved from the Episcopal to the Catholic church when she saw how seriously my dad took his faith. She embraced Catholic teachings about everything including birth control. So one child led to another until our house was full.
One day I watched my mom’s face light up with joy as she talked with a friend of mine about his life. She made him feel special because she really cared about him. Mom shows her love for people not only by feeding them, but by asking them about their lives. She is interested in people because she loves people.
Mom has lived through divorce, cancer, surgeries, the deaths of her parents, sisters, two grandchildren, and many friends. She doesn’t move too fast anymore, yet she still loves life.
Life moves fast for all of us, yet some things remain the same. It is always a blessing to have someone care about you. Long before I understood that God chooses us to be in his family, I understood that I was special because my mother really cared about me.
You don’t have to preach to the multitudes or work miracles to have a powerful impact. All you have to do is commit yourself to loving the people around you. I have never met a perfect person, but my life has been shaped by a woman who started loving me at birth, forgave my many sins, and has never given up on me. I thank God for my Mom.
August 22, 2011
Mel Shultz is a Jewish believer who started following Jesus in 1969. An evangelist at Arizona State University shared the gospel with him, then a young pastor took him under his wing. Mel became a businessman and a Bible teacher. He has served the Lord ever since.
As Mel’s businesses thrived, he became part owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks. When he first came to Living Streams, Mel was recovering from several surgeries. We got together and enjoyed talking about the Lord, the Word, business, and sports.
Mel had played a lot of golf before his accident, but the first time we played nine holes, he had not been on a course for months. He shot two under par, ten strokes better than me.
Over the next several years, we played golf many times, and Mel would beat me easily. Last spring, we were playing nine holes and our match was close. I was playing well, while he was distracted by phone calls. On several occasions, as my ball headed toward the hole, Mel was cheering, “Go in! Go in!” I sank a few long putts and edged him by one stroke.
When I saw Mel with his sons Tom and Ben at a restaurant the next week, he smiled and said, “Mark beat me last week!” In case you don’t know me well, I should admit two things. First, if you ever saw me in competition, the chances are good that the words you heard were not me rooting for the other guy. Second, if the other guy beat me, the chances are good that I didn’t tell people about it.
I have also played golf with Tom and Ben. They have the same spirit as their dad. They root for their opponents to make good shots. They cheer when their competitor’s putt drops into the hole. They too share the news if their friends win. They compete to win, but they have a higher priority. They want their friends to thrive. The joy of their friends is as important to them as the satisfaction of a victory.
So what’s the big deal since most of the world could care less about golf? Mel and his sons have given me a glimpse into the heart of our Father and the love of true brothers. Jesus intercedes for us at the right hand of God. He intercedes for our success. He is cheering for us and he wants us to root for each another.
When I competed with my children, I tried to win, but I also was happy when they became good enough to beat me. That’s pretty common for parents, because we love our children and want them to surpass us. It is a lot harder to root for the church down the street, or the success of your friends when they are competing with you.
When we love one another enough to rejoice in each other’s success, we fulfill Jesus’ words, “My command is this; Love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) When we pray for each other, we are sending spiritual cheers to heaven that rebound into the souls of those we pray for. Our prayers lift people up with grace and strength so they can triumph in life. I receive a lot of grace when faithful friends pray for me. That’s why I’m sending this with a prayer for you.
February 5, 2011
Shortly after moving to Arizona in 1984, I attended a pastors’ retreat in Cornville where I met Bud Miller, a pastor from Dewey. Bud’s wide grin and warm heart drew me to him. He welcomed me and helped me feel at home. I needed encouragement from leaders who were trying to be faithful and fruitful in a culture I did not understand. Cornville seemed like Hicksville to me.
A few months later, Bud invited Kristina and me to Dewey to speak to Christ Unlimited, the church he and his wife Betty had started. Their church building was on Highway 69, a two lane road to Prescott, the original capital of the Arizona Territory, 100 miles northwest of Phoenix. Dewey is a high desert town on the eastern end of Prescott Valley. Many citizens in this Wild West outpost were well-armed, dodged taxes, and preferred isolation to community living. You would not want to ignore their barking dogs, walk past their junked cars, and go through their doors without knocking.
The day after the service, I went with Bud and Betty for a drive to Cherry, Arizona. They wanted to show me the base they were establishing for their ministry. We drove for miles down a dirt road which dead ended in Cherry, a tiny town with a dozen old houses. We walked in to a partially remodeled two-story house which they said was the future headquarters of their ministry.
Bud and Betty told me how the Lord had spoken to them about a ministry based in Cherry. Betty was creating teaching materials they said would be distributed around the world. Bud and Betty really loved the Lord and believed God had spoken to them. But I kept wondering how they could possibly have a worldwide ministry from a tiny place where a dirt road dead ends in scraggly mountains. I didn’t think it was practical or probable that their vision would be fulfilled.
In 1994, I sat down at my computer with our new dial-up modem. I was attempting to get on the internet for the first time. I couldn’t think of anything special, so I typed in http://www.bible and hit Enter. It took awhile for an image to slowly appear on the screen. It said, Christ Unlimited, Cherry Arizona. “I don’t get it. This is ridiculous,” I said to Kristina. “This internet is supposed to be worldwide and I can’t get any further than Bud and Betty’s ministry in Cherry.”
I really didn’t get it then, but the next time I saw the Millers, their web site, Bible.com, was fully operational. They told me the Lord had led them to secure the Bible.com domain name when the internet was first established. Their web site was soon getting 1,000,000 visitors a month. People from all over the world were ordering the teaching materials they produced from their house in Cherry.
Over the years, Bud and Betty have overcome many spiritual battles and financial challenges. Today, Bible.com has 2,000,000 visitors a month who download the Bible and their teachings. Many of them live in countries closed to evangelism. I’m glad there are people who listen, obey, and prepare when God speaks to them. Those who do can experience the reality that Christ is indeed unlimited.
April 29, 2009
In the past eighteen months, 40 percent of the value of stocks on the New York Stock Exchange as well as a significant portion of the value of the homes and real estate in our nation has been lost. This has distressed me, both because I love our country and also because our personal situation has followed the fortunes of our country. We were also trying to raise money to purchase our new church facility in the worst economic environment of our lifetime. I felt like I was being squeezed until all the anxiety in me was drained out. I had to let go of my concerns and learn to trust the Lord on a deeper level. Though we have had financial losses, God’s kingdom has not lost a bit of value. In light of our situation, the wisdom of Jesus is more clear to me than ever. Jesus told us to put our treasure in God’s kingdom where moth and rust cannot corrode it and thieves cannot steal it (Mat.6:20). For many generations if people had wealth, they had to bury or hide it because it could be stolen if it wasn’t continually guarded. The banking system that allowed safe keeping of wealth enabled people a new level of freedom and prosperity. Jesus asked a profound question, “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11) Worldly wealth is money and possessions. The way we handle money determines whether or not the Lord will give us gifts more valuable than money. Wisdom is more valuable than gold (Prov.3:13-14). A good name is better than great riches (Prov. 22:1). A good marriage, freedom from fear, love and peace in your heart all have value greater than money. Kristina and I lived in rental houses for the first six years of our marriage. One day Kristina went to the nursery and bought flowers. I was upset when I saw what she had done. “Why did you spend money on flowers for the yard of a home we don’t even own?” I asked her. “I believe in treating a home we rent just like it was our own. Maybe if we take good care of this house, someday we will own a home that somebody has taken good care of,” she replied. A few years later, a group of friends from the Open Door Church helped us buy our first home. The house had beautiful trees and plants in the yard which I knew were God’s gift to Kristina. Every time we tithe and give offerings to the Lord, we are investing in God’s kingdom. Those investments never drop in value. They connect our hearts to a treasure of peace and joy. When we pay our bills on time and keep our financial commitments we are being trustworthy with worldly wealth. When we share our possessions with friends and help those who are poor, we are demonstrating faithfulness to the Lord who provides us with everything we need. He has our destiny in His hands. The apostle Paul said, “Godliness with contentment has great value.” (I Timothy 6:6) Contentment is the capacity to enjoy each day and every experience. While spending responsibly and giving generously does not guarantee that we will have more money in the bank, it does enable us to have more satisfaction in our lives and peace in our hearts. A man recently said to me, “The Lord wants you to model faith in the face of uncertainty.” I believed him. Following Jesus is not just knowing scriptures. It is also trusting God and staying faithful in trials. Unstable times give us an opportunity to show that we believe our Father in Heaven is loving and faithful. He wants us to be free from fear about our future. Ultimately, it is not what we own that makes us secure, it is the One who owns us.
March 6, 2009
Our daughter, Kelly, was working late one winter evening, so Kristina and I were babysitting our four-year-old granddaughter, Ava. At bedtime, Kristina read Ava a story and then I joined them for a prayer time on Ava’s bed. After kisses and some chocolate milk for Ava, Kristina went into the garage to sew, and I sat down in front of the fireplace to read a book near the warm fire. A few minutes later, Ava walked out and wanted to go to the bathroom. I told her to go ahead and then get back into bed. A little while later, she called out from her bedroom and wanted something else. I was at a good point in my book and out of patience. “Get to sleep, Ava, right now.”
The next time I looked up, Ava had come out of her room and was standing by the hallway. She had her special blanket and the hat she loves in one hand and was sucking the fingers of her other hand.
“Get to bed, Ava, right now!” I repeated with authority.
“I can’t,” she replied, “there’s a bug.”
“There’s no bug, Ava, now get in bed.”
“Yes, there is.”
At this point, one of my own kids might have gotten a spanking, but I have extra grace for my grandchildren. I walked over and gently pinched her pajama tops and led her around the corner toward her bedroom.
“Now get into bed,” I said, pointing toward the bedroom door.
“There’s a bug,” she said.
“Over there,” she said, pointing to the floor.
I looked at the floor and saw nothing but tile. “There’s no bug. Bugs don’t come out this time of year. Get to bed!”
“Yes there is,” she said, staring at the floor by her bedroom door.
I glanced at the floor one more time and saw a big scorpion curled up by her bedroom door. I stomped on it and then gave Ava a big hug.
The next morning, Ava told her mom the story. “Papa killed the scorpion and I only cried a little bit.”
Ava thought I was a hero for protecting her. I felt like an insensitive fool because I almost forced her into a very dangerous situation. The bite of a desert scorpion is horrible for a child.
I try to remember when I get it wrong. I thought the Cardinals would win the Super Bowl. I thought Phoenix real estate would remain a good investment. The difference between being right or wrong about something is often timing. Real estate will come back and, hopefully the Cardinals will too. Sometimes I think a marriage is premature, but it ends up lasting. I may think someone is a flake, but that person ends up being a blessing. I may anticipate a problem, but the grace of God comes and everything turns out well.
I have opinions about politics, marriage, scriptures and life. I share my perspectives through sermons, writing, and counseling. We have sessions with our pastors where we discuss topics like divorce and remarriage, demonic possession and mental illness. We look at what the Bible says and talk about how these truths apply to our congregation. We base our teaching on the eternal truths of the scriptures, yet I remember I am fallible.
I will keep calling things like I see them. But I know we all see through a glass darkly. When that which is perfect comes, then the imperfect will disappear and we will see the Lord face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (I Corinthians 13). The Bible teaches that Jesus is the one we can always trust. His Word is always true.