June 2014 – Misunderstandings
    My sermon June 1 was titled, “What’s the Big Deal about Sex?” About fifteen minutes into my message, two rows of high school students sitting in the front right side of our sanctuary stood up and walked out. I didn’t know what I had said that disturbed them so much. I continued my message, but I was upset. I felt like I must lack the wisdom and grace to connect with them.

    In 1985 I was teaching in Honolulu at the YWAM base. While I was there, the base leader at the University of the Nations in Kona asked if I could come to the Big Island and speak at their Friday night assembly. Loren and Darleen Cunningham, YWAM’s founders were leading the first Leadership Training School at the University. YWAM’s main leaders from around the world were attending the school and were present along with six hundred others the night I spoke.     

    The meeting was held in a partially covered outdoor amphitheater on their campus. I was honored to be the speaker and nervous about my message. In the middle of my message, the following story popped into my mind and I shared it: One night in 1971, I went to the home of the parish priests at St. Isabella’s Catholic Church in Terra Linda, California for a Bible study. I had grown up in this parish, and had gone to a mass and heard about the study. I had been filled with the Spirit and studying the Bible for a year. There were eight people in a circle in the living room when I arrived. The priest welcomed me. He then began the meeting by saying that the gospels cannot be taken literally, since they differ from one another.

    My heart started pounding rapidly. I spoke up, saying the gospels can definitely be taken literally. He said that I didn’t know what I was talking about. I told him that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still operating in the Church today. He said that I couldn’t prove the gifts of the Spirit were still valid. In order to prove my point, I spoke out loudly in tongues. The others in the group were shocked. The priest stood up, grabbed my arm and escorted me to the door. “Don’t ever come back here and do something like that again!” he said, as he pushed me out the door.

    As I told this story to the YWAM assembly I spoke out loudly in tongues, just like I had done that night. As soon as I did that, hundreds of people from around the meeting stood up and started leaving. I was stunned. I felt like I had grieved the Holy Spirit and didn’t know how to recover. I quickly finished my message. Afterwards, Darleen Cunningham came up to me.     “Mark, I was enjoying your story at the end, but I don’t think you finished it.”

    “When people started leaving after I spoke in tongues, I felt like I grieved the Holy Spirit.”

    “They didn’t leave because you spoke in tongues. They moved because it started raining and they weren’t under the cover. They didn’t want to get wet.”

    As I left church June 1, I ran into Corey, one of our high school leaders. “I guess I said something the kids couldn’t relate to very well?”

    “No. We all had to leave early because we were setting up for the fund raising barbeque. I probably should have told you in advance.”

    Misunderstandings test our hearts. My tests reveal a need for more trust and confidence in God. Fortunately God’s Kingdom doesn’t falter when we fall short. Jesus is interceding for us. His wisdom and grace enable us to fulfill His will, and reign in life, in spite of our weaknesses.

Hope for the Future – December 2013

Kristina and I were listening to the news and having one of those, “Can you believe how bad things are getting,” talks recently. Actually, evil has been in our society for a long time. We would be outraged if we lived in a society where people had slaves. Yet Americans, including many Christians, lived with slaves and justified their actions for two hundred years.

I get upset because many Christians do not read the Bible consistently. Because of biblical ignorance, they lack wisdom. They get manipulated by the media, and intimidated by prevailing cultural attitudes. In Germany in the 1930’s, the nominally Christian population was so swayed by anti-Semitism that they allowed the Nazis to persecute the Jews. If they had read and believed their Bibles, they would have realized that God chose the Jews, and he loves the Jews. Though the Jews were rejected and reviled in Europe, they were not forsaken by God. Out of the Holocaust, Israel was reborn. The Jews now have a homeland that will never again be taken away from them. The purpose of God can, and will, be fulfilled in spite of wickedness in men.

Many people are pessimist when it comes to our country. They’re alarmed by our national debt, the costs of our unfunded entitlement programs, and our new healthcare obligations. They believe our ship of state is heading for the rocks. Yet there are other realities besides the pessimistic ones which drive our news cycles. In the midst of recent recession, I have several friends who made bold investments. Some of them bought real estate when prices were way down. Others bought stocks when the stock market had sunk to the bottom. When others took their losses and pulled out, they doubled down and made investments in our comeback. Those who believed that our economy would recover have been rewarded.

I do not know the economic future of America, and I’m not much of a financial investor. However, I do have talents to invest, and I know God’s kingdom is the best investment we can make. God has given talents to each of us. We are commanded to invest those talents to bring a return for God’s kingdom. In the same way that an economic downturn can provide opportunities for wise investors to make quality purchases at bargain prices, a spiritually dark environment can enable our gifts and talents to shine brightly and multiply significantly.

In 60 AD, the Apostle Paul wrote to believers living in the darkness of the Roman culture. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 16:13)
God gives us joy and peace as we trust Him in all circumstances. I pray you will trust God this New Year. As you trust God, He will fill you with hope, so that you can shine like a light with your family, at work and among your friends. We can have hope because we know the word of God is true. We know that Jesus Christ is Lord, and God’s kingdom will always advance.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. He also has the last word. He has spoken about what is right and wrong, what is true and false. People cannot make up their own rules about who enters God’s kingdom and who does not. If you believe in Jesus, you have been chosen to make your light shine in this world. It is our privilege to serve the Lord and to love Him with all our hearts.

Though most of his family died under the demonic persecution of the Nazis, Elie Wiesel survived the Holocaust. Elie went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to turn the world from a place of hatred into a realm of righteousness. Viktor Frankl, a Viennese psychiatrist before World War II, survived Auschwitz. Years later he wrote the book, Man’s Search for Meaning. In the concentration camp he discovered that the prisoners who often survived were not the ones who were strongest physically, but the ones who had hope. Hope is one of the most essential, but least valued attributes of a healthy person.

Jesus said in the last days wickedness would increase and the love of most people would grow cold. (Matt. 24:12) In our time bombers, murderers and deceivers have spread waves of despair throughout society. In the face of wickedness many people stop loving their neighbor. This creates a great opportunity for those who have been filled with the Spirit of Christ. Our love comes from God and does not diminish when people are suffering. His love gives us compassion and enables us to overcome evil with good.

Our hearts break when tragedies happen, or when someone we love dies, but our sadness does not last forever. We do not despair in the face of evil, because we have the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead living inside of us. Jesus defeated death itself. The Spirit of God does not leave us when bad things happen. He gives us hope that we can overcome evil, because “Greater is he who is within us than he who is in the world” (I John 4:4).

I was talking recently with Ray Johnson, the pastor of Bayside Church in Granite Bay, CA. Ray was a youth pastor in Marin County when I was leading the Novato Open Door Church. This Easter, Bayside had 31,000 people attending services in their campuses around Sacramento. As we talked, I could sense Ray’s great leadership gift. I asked him how he stays healthy with all the pressures he faces. Ray said that the key thing he wants to give people is hope. If people have hope they can overcome any challenge. The ability to inspire hope is a gift from God.

Napoleon said “Leaders are dealers in hope.” Those who inspire hope in others can lead them into war, like Napoleon and the Nazis, or into God’s Kingdom, like Jesus and the apostles. I do not have hope that I’m going to wake up one morning looking more handsome or being stronger. Our hope is not dependent on what some dictator, terrorist, or politician does. The Bible teaches that God’s Kingdom will continue to advance. We pray and believe His will is going to be done on earth as it is in heaven. This hope does not make us passive in the face of evil, but active in advancing God’s Kingdom every way we possibly can.

We all face heartache and pain in life. However, if we trust God and do his will, we will inherit the eternal glory He has prepared for us. One day we will move permanently into the Kingdom of heaven. God will then make everything we have suffered insignificant compared to the glory we will experience. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13).