Getting Ready for Sunday

March 21, 2009

Dear Friends,

My message this Sunday is called “Lessons from the Little Things” from II Timothy 4:8-22. The concluding verses of II Timothy seem to hold little significance at first glance, yet they contain truths that are profound. God will often show us how much we are loved and how He knows the deepest desires of our hearts by providing little blessings and speaking to us though the simple things in life. If we know that the Lord loves us and cares about the deepest needs in our lives, it can help us to trust Him with the bigger issues. This truth is an anchor for our faith when we have to wait for answers that we really want and wonder why they don’t come sooner.

We have many opportunities each week at Living Streams that you may find very helpful. Gary Kinnaman is teaching a leadership class in the sanctuary from 7:00-8:30 PM each Wednesday night that is going great and you are welcome to attend. This Sunday, immediately following second service, we will have our Annual Congregatinal Meeting in the Chapel. I encourage you to attend, as we will review the 2008 financials, discuss our current financial state regarding The Wave, our 20th Street property, and our main campus. Light snacks will be available. David Stockton leads the Saturday night service each week at 5:30 PM. This e-mail concludes with a message from David about the new series he will be teaching:

Hey everyone, If you are feeling like you were meant to live for so much more than what you are presently, then come Saturday night and find out how to live in the so much more. We will be studying the book of Esther which gives us the account of a man of very humble, meager beginnings who ends up having a whole chapter dedicated to his greatness. God has a glorious, abundant plan for you and has given you dreams and hopes to steer you into that plan. So often we get side-tracked or bogged down and we settle for comfortable monotony, but in this study we will find out how to rise above the smog-filled life and breathe in the abundant skies of living in God’s wonderful will. So please come if you want to be awakened to the will of God and find out what your life can be. -David

Love in Christ,
Mark

Dear Friends,

What would you say to those you love if you knew that this would be your last message to them? What kind of instructions would you want to give them to ensure that they would have the benefit of all of your wisdom and experience? My message this Sunday is entitled “Finishing Strong: Practical advice that leads to a great reward” from II Timothy 4:1-8.The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy from prison. In this concluding chapter, he reveals that he knows his life is about to end and he will soon meet the Lord. His final words to Timothy are direct and clear instructions that will help Timothy to be effective and prepare him so that one day he too will have a great reward from the Lord.

Being a fruitful disciple of Christ is a life long process. It requires discipline and sacrifice and it also brings great rewards. A disciple takes time to seek the Lord, both for wisdom from the word of God as well as refreshing in prayer. A disciple serves the Lord by loving and serving other believers as well as sharing the word and resources as God gives opportunities with others. One of the greatest rewards for every one of us who follows Christ is the echo of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that says, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” I hope you sense the Lord’s favor and experience joy in your life. We get to taste His goodness now and there is a lot more being stored up for us in heaven.

            I shouldn’t have fear, but sometimes I do. I should be secure, but sometimes I’m not. I believe in a loving God who watches over me. I believe in the resurrection of the dead. What do I have to worry about? I have normal concerns about money, health and aging. But there has been something else that has made me uncomfortable and I think I now know why. 

            Frank Seekins had suggested marriage counseling with Kristina and me on a couple of occasions. I had put him off. Though I have counseled people in all kinds of circumstances, counseling for our marriage makes me uncomfortable. It is one thing to give advice to others, but another thing to receive it.

            I’m not a typical guy when it comes to asking for help. I have no problem asking for directions. I have been lost in the city, lost in the forest, and lost in foreign countries. When I’m lost, I ask for help. I did discover in France, however, that I needed to ask at least three different people when I wanted directions. The French like sending Americans on wild goose chases.

            I had a little construction company when I was twenty, but I didn’t know much about building things. So, when I got a job laying bricks, I went to the masonry company and asked the man behind the counter how to mix mortar and set bricks. When the complexity of building stairs stumped me, I went to the lumber yard and found a man who could explain to me how to build them.

            I was the senior pastor of our church in Novato at the age of twenty-six. I had never led a church before. We prayed and fasted, seeking God’s guidance. I went to conferences looking for wisdom. I asked older pastors to tell me anything they could that would help me be more effective.

            I don’t mind the pastors on our staff pointing out my faults. I get frustrated with myself and it is understandable that they get frustrated with me. I was raised in a family where everyone spoke their mind. I would rather someone tell me to my face what they think than hear it from another source.

            However, when it comes to asking for help for our marriage, I have been insecure. In 1981, Carol Wise came to me and said, “I am fasting and praying that you and Kristina will join our marriage growth group.”

            “Carol, please don’t do that,” I replied. “We have a good marriage and I’m really busy.”

            She was using one of my own tactics against me. Praying, with fasting no less, to get me to do something I absolutely didn’t want to do. I was concerned that she would talk to Kristina and the pressure to join the group would start mounting. They might think it was good to talk to a group about your problems, but I didn’t want to do that. Besides, we didn’t have many problems since I had become more sensitive.

            Kristina shocked me one day when we had been married about seven years. We had three beautiful children. We had just bought our first house. Our church was challenging, but going well. We had little fights from time to time, but I was stunned when she said, “I’m just not happy with our marriage.”

            One other time a year or so before that, she had said something similar about being disappointed in our relationship. I got angry and told her how hard I was working. I reminded her that she managed all our money and I didn’t spend it on myself. I was faithful to her and came home every night. I loved her and I was doing my best to be a good provider and husband. What more did she want? She cried and I was upset, but I thought we had worked through it.

            This time I didn’t remind her how much I was doing, I listened to her disappointment. She scared me. I knew she loved the Lord. I believed she loved me. But I realized she was at a breaking point. She told me that sometimes she felt like she was losing her mind. Our three children were under six years old, and Matthew woke up every night unable to breathe with asthma. Getting up in the middle of the night with Matt, having three meetings a week in our house, living on a tight budget, and me working seven days a week, were all taking a toll on our marriage.

             So I became more sensitive. I started washing more dishes and helping around the house. I was careful not to complain if dinner wasn’t cooked just right. I encouraged Kristina to relax and take more breaks. I thought everything was fine.

            Though she never mentioned her disappointment again, Kristina was still hoping for more in our marriage. When Carol told her about the marriage group, she told me how much she wanted us to go. I reminded her how much I had changed, but she was resolute. She really wanted to join the group, so my resolve crumbled.

            We met with several other couples in a marriage “growth group” led by Ken and Diane Searle, who were also pastors at the Open Door Church. Ken and Diane would start our sessions by discussing a conflict they were dealing with in their marriage. I can’t remember what their issues were, I only remember my reaction. Their honesty and openness was refreshing and disarming. One of my fears before joining the group was that our weaknesses would disqualify me in the eyes of other leaders. Pastors are supposed to be able to lead their own families or they are not qualified to lead the church. My reaction to the Searles was the opposite of what I expected. They were dealing with the same struggles we were, mostly petty arguments caused by a lack of sensitivity. Yet I trusted them more than ever because of their honesty and openness.

            Two important things happened as a result of our thirteen weeks in that group. Kristina felt more loved and secure in our marriage because she could talk about our struggles openly. And I learned that sharing honestly helps others trust you more, not less.

            I admit that there were a few weeks that I asked Kristina on the way to the meeting, “Is there anything upsetting you that you would like to tell me about right now?” I was hoping I could ask her forgiveness quickly so we could simply say everything was great when it was our turn to share in the group. She would smile and wait until we arrived.

            The lessons we learned served us well for many years. We have attended several marriage groups and seminars since then. Some have been more helpful than others, but each of them had value. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but by the grace of God we weathered many storms and have enjoyed life together. So I was surprised when Frank asked us if we would like some counseling sessions with him. He told me that he likes to help good marriages become great. I suggested we get a small group together. He agreed to that, but the other couples I tried to recruit wouldn’t make the commitment.

            My defenses weakened as I examined my excuses for putting Frank off. Tiger Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, has a swing coach. What am I afraid of? I learned more in six golf lessons than I had in six years of practicing on my own. Having a great marriage should be more important than golf, or my pride. So we invited Frank over to our house.

            He began our first session by asking Kristina, “Do you think Mark really loves you?”

            “Yes, absolutely he does.”

            “Do you always feel like he loves you?”

            The moments of awkward silence became painful. I was caught off guard. It never occurred to me that there was a difference between knowing someone loves you and feeling loved by that person. No wonder my friends didn’t want to be a part of this group.

            The gap between Kristina knowing she is loved and feeling loved is part of what Frank is teaching us. I’m learning the way she processes her feelings while making a decision. We are learning to communicate in ways that give us a better connection. Explaining the way men and women think and feel is Frank’s specialty. He has insights that I never knew existed. It is his gift and he shares it without judgment or condemnation. The pain of our first session quickly faded. The subsequent sessions have opened up a window into a new world. It seems amazing that after thirty-four years we can still grow and learn more about each other.

            The discipline of the Lord is painful, but it helps us grow. It is not meant to belittle us; it is designed to bring us into righteousness and peace. The bible says a husband should lay down his life for his wife. One of the hardest things for us to lay down is our pride. Pride builds walls that divide us. If we want all the Lord has for our marriage and our lives, we will humble ourselves and seek wisdom.

            My experience in recommending counselors and seeking wisdom is that most counselors do great with certain people, fair with others, and strike out with a few. The same is true whether you are going to a swing coach, an investment advisor, or a pastor. We each have gifts and needs. We all have strengths as well as blind spots. God has given different gifts and insights to members of the body of Christ, so that we help each other grow in wisdom and maturity.

            I wish I had taken golf lessons years ago. I did not let others teach me because I thought I could figure it out on my own. I’ve since learned that good intentions with poor techniques produce bad results, in golf and in life. I also wish I had sought out wisdom for our marriage more diligently. Now that I know it is available, I’m going to keep seeking it.

       God’s wisdom can be discovered if we look in the right places. It can be found in the scriptures as well as in people who have grace. The Lord delights in revealing the truth that sets people free. Love and humility are keys that open up the treasures of God’s kingdom. They free us from the fears that can keep us bound up. If we really seek God and love one another, we will find Jesus Christ. He is the treasure of God. 

Around Christmas, we hear a lot about Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. On that eighty-mile walk, Joseph had plenty of time to think. He probably felt like he had been dragged into a wild adventure. I have spent time praying and studying in order to prepare myself for ministry. I have also networked with leaders in hopes that doors of ministry would open for me. However, I have learned that God sometimes drags us into ministry situations. Things that I initially resist often end up being surprising blessings.


I never wanted to move to Phoenix. I first came here with my Pop Warner football team. We used a sneak play to eke out a 19-14 win. I never had the desire to visit Phoenix again. The Lord used our son Matthew’s asthma to bring us here. We resisted that move because it tore us away from our family, our church and our friends. Yet God used it to heal our son and increase our fruitfulness.


In 1986, I was approached by the manager of KXEG radio, who asked me to do a talk show. I told him I did not have the time. I was focused on Living Streams. He continued to pursue me with the idea. I eventually told him that the only way I could do the program was if it could be broadcast from my office. Within a month, he installed a dedicated line in our office, brought in the equipment and we were broadcasting a live one-hour talk show five days a week.


For the next fifteen years that radio program gave me the opportunity to interview senators, governors, professional athletes, authors, musicians, and ministry leaders. For a pastor without status who likes to talk with people and ask personal questions about how they handle the challenges of life, it was a blessing.


We just completed The Wave at Living Streams. This was a program designed to raise money and unite our congregation in the ministry and mission of our church. I had resisted this type of campaign for a long time. Fund-raising goes against my nature. Yet, we were given the opportunity to purchase a wonderful facility for a price less than the value of the land itself. The facility was forty years old and it needed a lot of restoration. The gap between what we believed God wanted us to do and what we had the money to do made fundraising something I could no longer escape. By the time we were ready to start, our economy was entering turmoil. The convergence of our needs with those economic realities heightened my anxiety.


The Lord dragged me once again into a situation that became a blessing. Many faithful people made sacrifices that lifted my heart. We have not seen all the money come in, but the Lord has delivered me from fear and given me peace. The pressures of life are a spiritual furnace that burns away our fears and insecurities. When we trust God we experience His favor. Jesus has come to bring peace on earth to men upon whom God’s favor rests. Trust God and hold on to the dreams the Spirit puts in your heart. Jesus has given you favor with God. He may drag you into situations that bring those dreams to pass.

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.

“Where?”

“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.

Twenty-four years ago, a few months after we started Living Streams, I met Gary Kinnaman at a pastor’s meeting. His warmth and passion for the Lord impressed me. We became friends in the days following and have worked together ever since to strengthen and encourage local pastors and leaders. Gary led Word of Grace in Mesa from a couple of hundred people to a congregation of thousands. He earned a doctorate in ministry, has written several books and travels widely, teaching and preaching.

This weekend Gary will be speaking at our Saturday night and Sunday morning services on “Why the Happiest Place on Earth Makes You Cry.” His message is from the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. Gary will explain the difference between happiness and the blessing of God.

Beginning next Wednesday night, March 11, at 7:00 PM and continuing for the next eight Wednesday evenings, Gary will teach a leadership training class in our chapel entitled, “Essentials: What Every Serious Christian Needs to Know”. It is a real privilege for me to welcome Gary to Living Streams once again. His wisdom and friendship have been an encouragement to me for years. His insights into the Bible and the ministry will be a blessing to our church.

I hope many of you will come, not only this Sunday, but on Wednesday evenings, to learn from one of the great Bible teachers and leaders in our state.