In one of the earlier posts called "Distracted Disciples," Freddy Taul opens our eyes to just how distracted we are due to all of the recent advances in technology. Technology, like our phones, are like a loud, rude, intrusive person, who barges into our conversations and quiet moments. Freddy bravely quit social media, and, reflecting on his experience, observed;
"A relief I felt was immediate and palpable. I was free to be present with my family, present at work, and most importantly to be present with the Lord. "
Like Freddy, I am not asking you all to give up social media, but to consider its impact and how you should respond. This challenge to "be present" has been, for some time now, bouncing around in my mind, a melody reverberating in the echo chamber of my soul. Just like a loud, clear musical note played into the strings of a piano, the correlating strings begin to vibrate showing the note played is in tune. The melody ringing in my soul has transformed into this thought of "being present" so that when another note is played nearby in tune with that, it resonates within me.
One such note faintly began ring while studying John 1:1-2 (ESV).
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”
Twice, John makes powerful and pivotal points saying that the Word was "with" God. There are many great and foundational truths that our faith in Jesus is built on in these first two verses of John. What began to resonate with me was the vision of a perfect intimate community within the triune nature of God. Commenting on these verses, Kyle Beshears has brought up that "the Word," Jesus, is in loving, relational proximity to the Father, and that we, who are in Christ (Eph 1), share in that same eternal blessing.
Out of the burning bush, God revealed to Moses his name, "I AM,” declaring that God was “present" there with him and everywhere. That ringing melody of God's presence within Himself and with us bolsters my soul. When I pray through Psalm 23, and read, “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I don't have to fear evil.” Why do I not fear evil? The Psalmist uses that very personal pronoun saying you, are "with" me. Throughout the metanarrative of scripture plays this glorious song of God being with us. He was with us in the garden, later providing for Abraham a sacrifice, then dwelling with his people in the wilderness, The Word putting on flesh and dwelling among in the gospel of John, obedient to death (Phil 2), and sending His Spirit, the Helper, to help us understand all that he has said to us (John 14:26). If what comes from the mouth does indeed proceed from the heart (Matthew 15:18) and “the Word” is the God-breathed word from (2 Timothy 3:16), then we have been shown the heart of God in his Word that we may know Jesus and believe, that He may be “with” us and us “with” him.
Consequently, we must then be “with” one another in response to His presence with us. We have to do . . . I must do a better job at being present with those around me. To follow the great missionary Jim Elliot’s words, “where ever you are, be there.” Elliot, like Jesus, embodies this to perfection all the way to death and, Jesus comes and lives in our heart. As we begin this new year, starting the study of the Gospel of John, we all have an opportunity to take part in this grand song. To not only be present during church gatherings, or with our families, but also to seek out a community group to join here at Mars Hill Church. A community group to be truly present with, to share life with, with which to walk through the Word of the Lord, growing together in Holiness.
May the Lord Tune our Hearts to sing of His Grace, of His streams of mercies never ending and call us to songs of loudest praise.
Have you ever felt really young inside? Like, in one moment, your internal experience is closer to that of a much younger self. This could be in response to a regrettable incident with your spouse, an instance of immaturity and course joking, or a scenario where you have felt immense shame or overwhelming anger. Many of us, especially men, wrestle with these feelings and are driven to put on a mask and avoid authenticity and transparency in an effort to uphold cultural expectations of what men are supposed to be. However, this does not give us the opportunity to become curious, explore these uninitiated parts of ourselves and to begin a process of masculine initiation.
When we look at our culture both in and outside of the church, there is a lot of confusion and gross misperception of what it means to be truly masculine. Some of these misperceptions are fair due to decades of maltreatment and abuses of power. Even watching primetime TV gives a glimpse of how our culture views masculinity in a negative light. So many men long to be fathered, but very few receive intentional masculine initiation. The reality is, masculine initiation does not happen accidently or in isolation. True masculine initiation must occur in relationship with an older/wiser man or group of men that are intentional in the work of seeing a boy become a man.
There are many places in scripture that point to God’s relationship with His people as being that of a father. 2 Corinthians 6:18 says, “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” Also, you see in Galatians 4:6-7 this picture of being “sons” and God giving us the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying “Abba! Father!”. The sonship of a believer has many different applications, but one I want to explore with men is the fact that God is inviting us to be fathered by Him. As exciting as that sounds, this process is rarely engaged in the life of a believer. We have an opportunity to be intentionally fathered by God through a process of masculine initiation. This masculine initiation must occur in relationship with God as our guide and allows difficulties and struggles in life to surface unfathered places in our heart. We can then explore these unfathered parts of ourselves and bring them into relationship with our Father God to receive initiation towards true manhood.
Starting January 8th, the men’s group Fraternal Life will be going deeper using a curriculum by John Eldredge entitled “Fathered By God” to further explore and unearth parts of our heart that long to be initiated by our Father God. We will examine 6 different stages of masculine initiation and consider how each stage can be seen both in the life of David and Jesus. The group meets at Mars Hill Church on Tuesdays at 6:30am and there is no cost to attend. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org more information. I look forward to being a part of this process of intentional masculine initiation.
Let’s start with the question, “What is worship?” I like the definition John Piper gives: “True worship is a valuing or a treasuring of God above all things.” Deuteronomy 6:5 states “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
Think about some ways we let others know we love them:
We get to know them.
We tell them we love them.
We honor them by living as they live.
We tell others about them.
We speak well of them.
We praise them for who they are and what they have done.
We are obedient to them.
In that same Deuteronomy 6 passage, verse 6 states “And these words that I command you today shall be on your HEART.” Why is it important that God points out the heart here? It is because He knows that what we value, what we deem as important, is what is in our heart. No greater value can be found than God himself. His desire is for us to treasure Him above all else. Verses 7 thru 9 then give parents a very clear outline of how to teach their children what God desires of their heart.
Here is a story of how God helped Dana and I share what was of true value and treasure with our children.
It was the week before Christmas in 2004 when Dana and I sat in the gastroenterologist’s office waiting for the outcome of a biopsy I had done a few days earlier. As the door opened and the doctor entered the room, his first words to us were, “You need to get your finances and legal matters in order.”
The diagnosis was Stage 3 esophageal cancer! The doctor said that if I was a 74-year-old man they would do all they could to keep me comfortable. He then explained that because I was “young and healthy” the oncologist wanted to try chemotherapy, radiation, and possibly surgery.
Dana and I were stunned. Our oldest son, Chad, was a freshman in college, our middle son, Corey, was a sophomore in high school, and our daughter, Chelsea, was in the 8th grade. We were now faced with how to carefully tell them that I had cancer and that the doctors were not very hopeful.
How do we worship and glorify God in the midst of this kind of news?
That evening, we gathered in our home with Dana’s dad and mom, and our three children to share what the doctors found and to pray. I did not pull any punches! I spoke to them plainly about the diagnosis. I didn’t try to gloss it over and make it sound better than it was. The diagnosis was dire and Dana and I wanted them to know the truth.
The tears were plentiful. But as I battled my emotions at that moment, I realized I was not afraid to die. I knew beyond any doubt that Jesus had saved me and death was not the end.
I began to share that one of my favorite passages of Scripture is in Daniel where the three young men of God were faced with certain death in the furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. Their faith was strong in the One, True, Living, God! They said to Nebuchadnezzar, “…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. BUT IF NOT, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18, ESV) I told my family that this was how we were going to face this diagnosis; God is able to deliver me, and I believe He will, BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we are not going to bow.
I told my family that this was how we were going to face this diagnosis; God is able to deliver me, and I believe He will, BUT EVEN IF HE DOESN’T, we are not going to bow.
We had one of the most powerful times of prayer I can ever remember that evening. My children laid hands on me and bombarded the throne of heaven with the desire of their hearts to see God heal me. We talked about who God is, His character, and laid bare our pain, our lack of understanding, and our desire to walk in faith, no matter what the circumstances.
There is much, much more to the story. Ask me about it. I would love to share it with you.
But for now, I pray that you will take every opportunity God gives you to worship Emmanuel, God with Us, as a family. Talk about who He is, what He’s done, and what He’s doing in your everyday lives. Sing songs of exultation and read the story of Jesus’ birth. Glorify God with your lives as you lay them before Him in obedience and thankfulness for His mercy and saving grace.
As we come to this season of Advent, let us ask God to search us and know our hearts, to try us and know our thoughts, to see if there is any sin in our lives that needs eradication, and to lead us in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)
May His peace be yours!
Mars Hill Church
I am, by no means, an expert in the theological field of theodicy (how we reconcile a good God and His sovereignty in view of the existence of evil). I do know, however, that God is sovereign and is completely in control of everything. If not, then He wouldn’t be God. It’s hard for our finite minds to wrap around how the rapid growth of mutated cells which ravage a young child’s body is within the sovereign control of God, but it is. Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not advocating that God is the creator or originator of evil. The Bible is clear that God is not the author of evil (Genesis 1:31, James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, 1 Corinthians 14:33). God is referred to in the New Testament as the “Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:18, Revelation 1:8). The "Almighty" entails God having "an undeniable grip on all things." It is somehow in God’s providence to allow evil, pain, and suffering to exist in our world because somehow it serves to fulfill His purpose.
On the one hand, what Scripture tells us about God’s sovereignty is comforting. As a believer I rest in passages like Romans 8:28 that promise that all of life’s circumstances providentially work together for my good because all things that occur, occur because they were within God’s Will. But on the other hand, in my flesh, I’m troubled by that same thought. How can the loss of my job which places my family’s financial security in jeopardy, stripping away our primary source of health care, and putting an extreme amount of stress on us for a season serve God’s Will? How does it assist God’s Will for us to suffer humiliation at the hand of those who would slander our good name based solely on lies and conjecture? How does it serve God’s Will for some to endure the shame, guilt, physical pain, and life-altering terror of a sexual assault? How does any of this "serve" God’s Will? How do the tests and trials of life serve Christians? Better yet, how can Paul proclaim that they will be worked out for our good?
Even after a decade of intense theological education, I cannot satisfactorily answer these questions. I have a tough time making sense of my tests and trials and how they relate to my good. But here’s what I know: Scripture has much to say about our reaction to trials, how we persevere through suffering, and what all of this is supposed to produce in us.
First, as God’s children, our reaction to suffering, trials, and tests should be joy. I know what you’re thinking…this is precisely opposite the way I feel when trials come. But James, writing to his persecuted congregation as their pastor, calls them (and us) to rejoice when we experience all kinds of trials (1:2). Why are we to rejoice? Because the suffering that comes from those trials builds endurance, which in turn sculpts a mature and an ever sanctified follower of Christ (1:3-4). James isn’t calling us to rejoice because of the test or the trial we’ve providentially been allowed to encounter but what that trial, through the power of The Spirit, can and will produce in us, a believer that reflects Christ more clearly.
Second, tests and trials are not for us to endure alone. One cannot last through the tests and trials of life; we cannot suffer well, outside of Christ-centered, gospel-saturated community. Our small groups at Mars Hill serve vital roles in our life as a church. One of those roles is caring well for those of us walking through the “fire.” Here recently, my family has walked and is still walking through a pretty big time of testing. Despite the hurt and pain, God has shown Himself faithful in many ways during the last couple of months. One of the most significant ways He accomplished this was through the outpouring of love, compassion, empathy, and support from so many at Mars; some who we had never even met showed us support in sacrificial ways. God has used the gospel community at Mars Hill to help my family wade through this difficult time.
Finally, God uses the tests and trials in our life to maneuver us patiently and methodically right where He wants us. When I walk through seasons of testing and trial, I’m often driven to Psalm 51:17 where David prays for restoration. In this verse, he affirms that what God wants from His people isn’t ritual sacrifice but a broken heart. It’s our broken spirit and humbled heart that God desires of us. Tests and trials remind us of how small we are, revealing how big God is. It’s in these moments that God has us right where He wants us. And although the journey to a broken and humble heart isn’t fun, the result is peace and rest with our Father.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: “For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” As Paul often does, he calls believers to live with an eternal perspective, especially in light of the tests and trials of life. We can all view seasons of trials as “light momentary afflictions” when we live a life with eternity in our view. Let us all long for the day when our faith becomes sight, and these light momentary afflictions will be over forever.
The task of spiritual formation in today’s world is arguably more difficult than ever. Thanks to the advent of the smartphone, disciples have never been more distracted. These devices provide us with instant access to more information than our brains could ever dream of processing. Social media, in particular, is in constant competition for our attention. The never-ending feed of status updates, tweets, and pictures can draw us in for hours of wasted time we can never recapture. The implications for our growth as disciples are massive and virtually impossible to overlook.
Like many, I’ve had multiple social media accounts, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Over time I became involved to the point that my wife told me I was addicted (she was right). This addiction, as all do, began to control my life. It consumed my time and my thoughts. It determined where I went and what I bought. Further more, my mind could hardly process anything apart from its relationship to social media. I began thinking in tweets or status updates.
All of this changed in May as I finally quit social media. As the Prodigal Son “came to his senses,” realizing the wasteful life he was living, I came to my senses realizing how destructive and harmful social media was for me. Though not sinful in itself, my addiction was sinful, and it was time for radical action. It was not a time for moderation, but mortification. Jesus calls it “cutting off,” while Paul calls it “putting to death.” The distraction had to go completely. The relief I felt was immediate and palpable. I was free to be present with my family, present at work, and most importantly to be present with the Lord.
Before I go any further, let me say that I am not here to tell you to delete all your social media accounts. Maybe you will, but that’s not what I’m here to do. However, I do want my story to serve as a warning to you about the potential danger and an encouragement to consider how it may be affecting your spiritual growth.
I have two primary concerns regarding the use of social media as followers of Christ: the life of the mind and the use of time.
The distraction of social media is a battle for the mind. As I stated above my mind was so consumed by social media that I could hardly think about anything apart from it. Scripture is very clear on what should be the driving thought of our minds. The following texts provide a few examples:
“his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night.” Ps. 1:2
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Matt. 22:37
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Rom. 12:2
“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Col. 3:2
These texts make it clear that our thoughts should be consumed with the things of God. When this happens, we are more equipped to filter out the noise of the world that bombards us from all angles. When we continuously fill our minds with tweets, statuses, and pictures from social media, it becomes increasingly difficult to fill it with what is most important. Instead, we should fill it with God’s Word. As the Psalmist writes, we should meditate on it day and night.
The second concern is the stewardship of time. This concern is inseparable from the first. Whatever it is we fill our minds with takes time to do so. How we choose to use that time is critical. Paul says in Ephesians 5:15–16, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time because the days are evil.” We can all agree that mindless scrolling through feeds for hours is hardly making wise use of our time. The days are also short according to James 4:14. Jesus expressed an awareness of the fleeting time: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (Jn 4:14). The time we have is all we get. We are not guaranteed more. We must use it wisely.
Whatever the distraction may be, there is one cure: a disciplined commitment to pursue Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. We will not haphazardly win the battle for the mind or wisely use our time. In Christ, we have been given the power and tools necessary to win these battles. So, let us make the best use of the time setting our minds on things above.
by Freddy Taul
Member of Mars Hill Church Mobile
Why I’m Grateful for Mars Hill Café
2018 has been quite the year, in a good way. So much has happened since I began officially as the general manager of Mars Hill Café back in January. As I type this evening, memories flood my head of all that has occurred so far—memories of which I am grateful.
The café has been a busy place so far this year—a very busy place—and as I take a few steps back and reflect on the business as a whole, I am reminded of how grateful I am to be in this position. It is refreshing medicine for my soul to be reminded of the many areas in which to thank the Lord, especially when work gets difficult, and we meet various trials in our food industry sector. The food industry can be a very challenging place to work. I have heard it said before that “All Christians should work in the food industry at some point in their lives.” After working for a decent amount of time in the industry, I can say that I agree. There are so many lessons to be learned about serving people and about working hard in this particular line of work.
While there are indeed new, sometimes unexpected challenges that we face, our daily tasks in this industry can become somewhat monotonous, and it is possible to become unaware or even calloused as to what God is doing in our particular workplace. It is oftentimes so easy to skip over thanking God for the opportunities He provides for us on the job, as we are usually wrapped up in the good endeavors of making food and coffee for customers. We can spend our days working tirelessly to create an excellent experience for our customers and mistakenly forget to reflect on how our Creator is using our work.
Upon some reflection this evening, I am reminded that God is not, in any way, disconnected or uninvolved in the daily affairs of our workplace, or any workplace for that matter. For this, I am very grateful! He is always working, laboring through everyday happenings to teach the staff and me many lessons that we will carry with us the rest of our lives. We have much to be grateful for at Mars Hill Café.
Growing up, I would not have ever imagined that I would be the general manager of a restaurant. Never was it on my radar, even though my business management degree might lead one to think otherwise. I could go into great detail about my selecting business management as my major in college, but I will save some ink and say that the reason was not that I was passionate about business at the time.
Mars Hill Café is a place I found myself working a year and four months ago. During a season of praying through what direction I should go after college, I was offered a job at the café. Ryan Parazine reached out and hired me with the intent of possibly training me up to slide into his general manager position at the end of 2017. It sounded like a neat opportunity (also a scary one), so I accepted the offer, and the journey began. During my time at the café so far, a lot has happened.
I have learned more about the degree that I pursued in college. I have gained experience as a leader. I have developed the skills of latte art, cooking, and customer interaction. I have been blessed with opportunities to grow in my relationship with the Lord through the ups and downs of daily business trials and interactions. I have had the great opportunity afforded to me, to meet so many customers and foster friendships with them. And last but far from least, I have had the incredible privilege of being trained initially by the lovely girl who became my wife a month ago. God has taught me many lessons here so far and given me many excellent experiences and blessings. There is great cause for me to be grateful.
I do believe that God is using Mars Hill Café and, for that reason, I am grateful to be a part of this ministry. I genuinely believe that people come into the café every single day with hungry stomachs and even more starved hearts, whether they know it or not. People are searching for answers. We want to be a gateway to people finding the answers that will lastingly satisfy their spiritual hunger. We make it our aim at the café to serve people quality food and service. We are thankful for our amazing staff for working so hard in this challenging endeavor! We believe that doing excellent work is indeed worship to God. The likely result of serving customers with excellence, giving them a good product is that they will return time and time again. This customer loyalty then means that we have the great privilege of learning their names and developing lasting, meaningful relationships with them. We aspire to be a beacon of light in the community that represents Mars Hill Church well and that points customers and employees to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We hope to exceed customer expectations by not only filling their stomachs but also by filling their hearts. That’s an endeavor worth pursuing, a journey only possible by the power of God.
Mars Hill Church, take heart. God is using the café in some unique ways, and there is much about this little restaurant to be grateful for. Thank you to everyone who loves and supports the café. I hope this encourages you.
Come grab some food and cup of coffee!
Brett Glover- Manager Mars Hill Cafe’
Hello to all! Before I go any further, I just wanted to take a moment to introduce myself and give a brief background to those of you who I may not know. My name is Machaela Cowart, and I am 24 years old. I graduated from the University of Mobile in May of 2017 with a degree in History and a minor in Intercultural Studies. During my junior year of high school, the Lord called me to church planting, but I had no idea what that was at the time. When I got to college, I knew that whatever I majored in I wanted to be able to use it as a gateway into the mission field, specifically overseas. During my fifth year of college, the Lord changed my plans from possibly moving overseas to staying in the States. Never in a million years did I think that place would be Salt Lake City, Utah. I had the opportunity to travel out to SLC twice in college with the college group at Mars Hill and participate in inner-faith dialogues and immediately was exposed to some of the brokenness here. A couple of months before graduating from UM, and not having any idea what the next step was going to be, I was told about an internship in SLC working alongside a church plant for the summer. During my second week of the internship, I strongly felt this was the direction God was calling me. After lots of prayers and seeking counsel, God opened the doors for me to move to Salt Lake and this is now the place I call home!
Since moving to SLC, I have had the incredible opportunity to teach middle school, at Endeavor, in what is known as the “rough” part of the city, West Valley. I had no idea what I was stepping into (almost think of Freedom Writers), but as the year went on these kids absolutely stole my heart. There is a good mixture of different beliefs in the workplace as well as among my students all ranging from Christians, Latter-day Saints (Mormons), atheists, and agnostics. I ask that you would join me in prayer for my kiddos as some are returning to Endeavor next year or moving on to high school. The majority of these kids deal with a lot of pressure ranging from not living with their biological parents, having to make up for one or both parents not being present, peer pressure to join a gang (there are huge issue in the schools here), abuse at home, depression, and drug use—both of these are state of emergency here, where Utah leads the country. Pray for teachers to be able to love on their students and for school to be a safe place for them. Pray for the minority of Christian students and teachers to be a light. The downside to working in a public school is that I can’t talk about my faith, but I have had so many kids this year ask me my beliefs and had a few get excited to hear Christian and even had a few ask to know more.
Pray for church planters here in the valley and for the church body. One very unique thing about ministry in SLC is that no matter what denomination you come from, as Christians, we stand together to see the Gospel brought to the valley and lives be transformed. I will never forget my first week during my internship last summer meeting a lady who talked about growing up in Utah as a Christian and how for years and years she has prayed for God to send harvesters out here to work the fields and how incredible it has been to see God do that. Pray that the Lord continues to send people to Utah and for the courage and boldness to speak the Gospel in a place that believes they already have it. Pray that the Lord will continue to break down barriers and remove the blinders over people's eyes so that they can hear and see the real and true Gospel.
Hope to meet some of you as I travel between Alabama and Utah for visits! If you have any questions about Utah- life here as a Christian, what ministry looks like, or even if you are just planning a trip, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Finding Authentic Community at Mars Hill
Have you ever walked out of a Sunday gathering longing for something more? What you are longing for though is difficult to explain.
Maybe you, like many others I have talked to, have devoured the biblical teaching at Mars Hill for a while, but still don't feel connected. Maybe you long to meet new people and get involved with the ministries of the church. Perhaps you don't know where to start.
At Mars Hill, the best way to find authentic community with other believers is to join a “community group.” These groups are small, typically 10-20 people who are seeking to honestly and biblically live life together for the glory of Jesus Christ. They meet all throughout the week, some in homes and some at the church. The purpose of these groups is not simply to provide more teaching like Sunday morning. Instead, they serve a different role. The bible is still the focus, but community groups offer a place to foster meaningful relationships, serve one another, and put God’s word into practice as we make disciples of Jesus.
Meaningful Relationships Change Everything
Our friends Michael and Allie moved to Mobile from a few states away with no real relationships in this area. During their first year or so here, the stresses of life compounded to the point that they began to dislike and even hate Mobile. They counted down the days until they could leave. They visited several churches and eventually began attending Mars Hill. They loved the Sunday services but still longed to be connected. So, they visited a community group. Their world has been turned upside down ever since. Not only did they find the friendship and biblical accountability they were longing for, but they also had triplets!
Everyone Wins When We Serve One Another
Hebrews 10:24-25 commands us, as Christians, to "consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near." Why would this biblical writer command us to fellowship together? Because we are made for community!
Nothing about Allie and Michael’s community group is magical. But for them, it was an answer to prayer. They were able to be honest about their needs and struggles, and their community group has walked with them through this crazy season of life. Their family and friends have sacrificed time, resources, and lots of diapers to help them transition from a family of 2 to a family of 5. They are, imperfectly, of course, living out what Jesus modeled when he willingly sacrificed his life on the cross for his children. Different seasons of life can put you on the side of serving or as the one being served. Both are a part of God’s perfect plan to show his glory through the church.
The Simple Way To Make Disciples
Paul was a teacher of God’s word, but he also used his life as an example to make disciples. In 1st Corinthians 11:1 he told fellow believers "be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." His discipleship "program" was simple, he lived a life devoted to following Jesus and invited others to follow his lead. First and foremost, we must know God’s word. Then, we apply it practically to love and serve one another.
So, what does that mean for us? It implies that authentic community is crucial because it is where we learn what it looks like to live out the truth of the Bible in our daily lives. How do we learn to pray? Study the bible? Spend money wisely? Deal with marital struggles? Handle disobedient children? God gives us others in the church to practically illustrate how to live for his glory. But, we can only truly see lives transformed if we are willing to invite people into our messy lives.
Have You Found Your Place In Community?
We each have a role to play in bringing God’s kingdom to our neighborhood, city, and world. One of the most effective ways that Mars Hill builds authentic Christian relationships is through community groups. It should be easy for every church member to find meaningful community with other believers. Please join me in seeking how we can better serve our church family. Maybe you need to find a community group where you can put your gifts to use. Maybe God is calling you to be a part of launching a new group. Perhaps you need to invest in the people around you now. I pray that each of us will seek God’s perfect will and be willing to follow wherever he leads us.
Bosnia and Herzegovina sounds like a fair destination for tourism. It is in fact a location marked with great historical significance including, the Ottoman empire, the assignation of Franz Ferdinand that sparked World War I, and an interesting Civil War that happened there in the 90’s. There are sights to see, trails to walk, information boards to read, but, no, it doesn’t carry the same ring as destinations of other short-term mission trips. It isn’t South America or Africa. It’s Europe, Eastern Europe to be exact. Wasn’t Europe the epicenter of Christianity for hundreds of years? So, why would an American church send missionaries there?
It is worth noting that the Evangelical presence in Bosnia is so minuscule that it places it in the Unreached category. Therefore, any short-term trips to this country should uphold two objectives: 1) Evangelism and 2) Encouragement of the local church. Therefore, all aspects of Mars Hill’s trip centered somehow around one or both of these.
A specific instance of the latter protrudes beyond the rest in my mind. In a town that will remain unnamed, there is a house church with fewer than ten believers. This small body of believers is the only evangelical witness for the approximate 35,000 residents of the town. In addition to this, the family that composes this house church belongs to a class of people that the locals marginalize. Needless to say, many times this group of believers feels isolated.
So, what might a small team of American Christians do for Bosnian brothers and sisters who feel alone? The answer is much more straightforward than you might think. We partook in a series of simple, yet profoundly essential activities with them.
1) We broke bread together. To simply share a meal with fellow believers heightened their spirits as well as our own. One begins to understand Paul’s sentiment of mutual encouragement with the Roman believers (Romans 1:12).
2) We studied the Scriptures together. It never ceases to amaze me that people from various sectors of the globe can gather to study the divinely-inspired Word of God unto the conviction, challenging, encouragement, and edification of those studying it.
3) We genuinely shared in one another’s lives. Paul’s commendation to the Thessalonians is that he not only desired to share the gospel with them but his entire self (1 Thessalonians 2:8). This shared experience took the form of team members kicking a football around and unrushed conversation. For these believers, as well as us, a light broke through the darkness present in this spiritually desolate land as we gloried in Christ Jesus together.
Instances like these are of such great importance because Americans aren’t the heroes of world missions. God’s glory is the ultimate aim in all missions, so the edification of His Church abroad without tangible results is an endeavor worthy of prayer, financial sacrifice, and expedition for the purpose of seeing God’s glory manifest among the nations.
So once again, why go to Bosnia? For the sake of God’s glory. Americans won’t be the heroes. There will probably be little to show regarding conversions. There won’t be a report for shelters or wells built, though those are worthy endeavors in their own place. God’s glory in the proclamation of the gospel and the edification of His Church is the motivation for short-term or long-term mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
As you may already know, Nicaragua is experiencing civil unrest. Political uncertainty has thrown the economy into a downward spiral, which will inevitably hit the small business development and the "empowerment model" of our mission the hardest. As a result, our Nicaraguan friends and the One Collective (Iteams) crew have shifted their focus, at least for the time being, from development to relief.
This past weekend we had 27 students attend the Mars Hill Winter Retreat at Camp Baldwin.
You and I are a part of a story. In fact, we're a part of a lot of stories that are ultimately telling one story. At Mars Hill, we realize that every opportunity we have to be generous and express Christ's love plays a part in telling one of those stories.
Because of your support we have seen stories of pain turn to joy, stories of death turn to life, and stories of despair turn to hope. God has shown us his goodness and we are grateful to work along side you as we take part in building the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
As a thank you for being a Story Teller, we want to share four of those moments with you from 2017.
A FAMILY HAS A HOME
Our deacons worked hard to meet the need of a family in our church facing devastating hardships. Their Mobile Home had constant roof leaks, dangerous structural issues and many other difficulties. We were able to provide a new Mobile Home to replace the old one and give this family a safe and warm place to live for years.
WE BOUGHT A FARM
We had the opportunity to work along side missionaries and local pastors in Masatepe, Nicaragua to meet a giant need in the city.
One of the biggest issues facing the people of Masatepe is drug and alcohol abuse, mainly due to the high unemployment rate. We were able to provide the local pastors with all of the needed funds to purchase a self sustaining farm in Masatepe that will be used as a Christ-centered drug and alcohol rehabilitation program housing up to 60 men at a time.
The local pastors and churches of Masatepe will use the program to meet the needs of the community while providing rehabilitation to men that will ultimately show them their deep need for the gospel.
UPDATE: This past week the Pastors and local officials from Masatepe held an inaugural event to celebrate the launching of the addiction recovery center. They named the center "Luke's Inn" after the hidden hero in the parable of the Good Samaritan, The Innkeeper. The local pastors were not the only ones involved in this celebration. The new mayor and deputy mayor both attended the event to show their support for the center as well.
PEOPLE WENT ON MISSION
Because of your generosity, we were to send over 60 people on mission locally and around the world. In fact, we gave over $300,000 to support missionaries and send our own out in the past year. Some of these include:
- A team of 8 to Nicaragua including some of our High School Seniors and College Students in the Spring.
- A team of 12 high school students to work in St. Louis, MO over the summer.
- A team of 11 in the Fall to Nicaragua that built a home for a family on our farm opening the doors for our first group of recovering addicts to begin to heal and experience the power of the gospel.
- A team of Four traveled to Sarajevo, Bosnia to pray, search for potential people of peace that could lead the local church, and encouraging the full-time missionaries who are there.
- One of our Pastors went to Egypt with Open Doors Ministries to bring much needed financial support and encouragement to the persecuted church there in Cairo.
- We sent one of our college students to work with church planters in Salt Lake City, Utah as an intern. After serving there for several months, she felt God calling her to move there in a full time capacity to reach that largely Mormon community for Christ.
- We also supported 15 of our church members who served in various short term missions capacities both domestically and internationally outside of Mars Hill.
WE'RE TRAINING FUTURE CHURCH LEADERS
We had the special opportunity to partner with the University of Mobile and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary to house and train four pastoral interns who will receive credit for their Bachelors' and Masters' degrees after working with us for a year.
Our staff has had the honor and responsibility to work with these young men and train them for future ministry in the local church. Mars Hill leased an apartment across the street from our Mobile Campus so these guys could grow and learn together as they prepare for the journey of church leadership.
We hope to continue these partnerships and expand our influence to train and develop leaders.
YOU ARE A STORYTELLER
We are so grateful that we have the opportunity to be generous to the people around us and be a part of stories like these. You make this possible. Because of your generosity, and God grace, we are able to impact lives in our church, in our community, and around the world. Our goal is to increase the amount resources we send out every year, as the Lord grows our influence, expands our reach, and builds his Kingdom here on earth. If you would like to continue to be a part of these stories and more like them, click the link below.
Do you ever visit downtown Mobile on Friday nights? If you have any time in the last six years, several Mars Hill church members were down there too. But, probably not where you might think. About six years ago some college students at the University of Mobile wanted to serve their city. Ryan Parazine (now a staff pastor and manager of Mars Hill Café) and I were two of those students. Our initial plan was to find one homeless person in a park downtown, get him some dinner, listen to his story, and share the love of Christ with him any way we could. And that is what we did. At the end of the night we asked if we could return the next week and our new friend said yes. None of us had ever done anything like that before. We had stepped way out of our comfort zones in an attempt to do good works for God.
Fast forward six years, the people of Mars Hill Church have adopted this ministry and it still continues today. Every Friday a few church members, usually including Ryan and Rusty Roberts (Mars Hill college pastor) meet in a church parking lot downtown to serve the homeless men and women of Mobile. The model is simple. Show up, talk to people, build relationships, intentionally spread the hope found in Jesus Christ, give them a burger, provide for physical needs when possible, and pray. The weekly crowd varies from 1 to 50. Many mistakes have been made, lessons have been learned, and some strong relationships have been forged.
Serving the homeless can be both disheartening and encouraging. Many of the people on the street need help that far exceeds the scope of what can be done by a few people. Their issues are complex and far-reaching. Sometimes it is simply not possible to help beyond a simple cheeseburger. But, at times, we have been able to do more. Several individuals have been helped off the street and others have found stability through other organizations. I wish that I could report that many people have come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord through these Friday night meetings. I can't do that. But, I can share some of the stories of how God is working through these relationships.
Douglas is a kind, soft spoken black man with matted dread locks. He turns 65 years old on Christmas Eve and is a veteran of the Navy. Whenever he is downtown and someone asks him how he is doing, without fail he gives the same response, "staying out of trouble." Douglas rarely misses a Friday night and is always extremely grateful for anything provided. According to others, Douglas likely suffers from schizophrenia or something of that nature. Apparently, his demeanor can swing quickly and he is prone to vulgar yelling. But, amazingly, no one has ever seen that side of him on Friday nights. He has never even spoken above a kind, soft voice to any of us. His change in persona has made an impact on some of the other homeless people. Our presence around Douglas seems to help him and they have taken notice.
If you have visited Mars Hill on a Sunday morning over the last several months you may have met Steve. He also goes by the nickname Hogan because of his white horseshoe mustache resembling the wrestler Hulk Hogan. Steve has struggled with addictions for much of his life. He was one of the first guys that we met and the relationship has grown ever since. Steve is one of the most honest men you will ever meet. He willingly admits his shortcomings and knows that his friends at Mars Hill truly have his best interest at heart. Ryan, especially, has had many meaningful conversations with Steve about God's love for him and the gospel. It brings me, and many others, great joy to see Steve at our Sunday gatherings each week. A few young men in the church pick him up and go out of their way to make him feel welcomed. Thanks to their faithfulness Steve hears the gospel and experiences the love of the body of Christ. He has not yet surrendered to Christ, but God is using the positive influences in his life to slowly prepare his heart. Let's pray for Steve to experience the freedom found in Christ. And until that day comes, let’s continue to show him the unconditional love of God through our actions as the church.
Kenny was someone who I didn't know, but Ryan and others knew him well. He came around for a time before moving off to Las Vegas a few years ago. Ryan had shared burgers and the gospel with him, but never saw much fruit from their conversations. Even after he moved away, Ryan kept up with him periodically through Facebook. One random afternoon Kenny messaged Ryan to inform him that, according to Facebook, Rusty appeared to be working with the Mormon church in Utah. He was concerned that Rusty had left his Christian faith. This is funny because Rusty was actually there to dialogue with Mormons in hopes of leading them to faith in Jesus Christ. After the confusion was cleared up Kenny sent the following words.
"I will always love you guys for putting me on the right path and will always say what I feel is right. God bless you and praise Jesus forever. If you don't think you impact people's lives by just a cheeseburger use me as an example. See you in heaven my friend."
If we are honest, those who go downtown to serve every Friday night probably receive a greater blessing than the homeless. The main reason for this is people like Justin Patterson. For anyone who met him though, he was "Pat!" The friendship we developed with Pat cannot be overstated. He was a large black man with a love for life and a knack for making people laugh. I couldn't begin to tell you how many hours we sat on a park bench, after everyone else had left, just laughing at Pat telling stories about anything and everything. We trusted Pat and considered him a dear friend. So much so that when Emily and I got married, Pat was one of our groomsmen. He stayed with me for the last few days leading up to our wedding. He liked to joke later about how I treated him like a king for a few days then kicked him out for a pretty girl.
Unfortunately, Pat passed away a few years ago. But, his memory will not soon fade from the minds and hearts of everyone that knew him. He taught us what it meant to be filled with joy even when life was difficult. Pat's joy was the true joy that comes only through faith in Jesus Christ. Pat loved the Lord. During our time knowing Pat we saw his affections for the Lord grow and overflow to everyone around him. When we passed out food, he was always the last one to take anything. He would even give away his food if someone showed up late and there was nothing left. He taught us all what Jesus truly meant when he said "it is better to give than to receive."
Created for Good Works
So what is the point of these stories? It is certainly not to point out the righteousness of those who serve in this area. We each are flawed and this ministry is far from perfect. In Ephesians chapter 2 the bible teaches us that our salvation comes only by our faith in Jesus Christ's saving work on the cross. He covers our sins by grace and grace alone. We can do nothing to earn any part of our salvation, it is simply the gift of God to us who believe. Because we are so loved, and yet so unworthy, our natural response will be to do good works.
My aim is simply to share some of the ways that people in our church are doing good works around our city. My hope is that you will be encouraged to seek ways to serve Jesus Christ right where you are. Maybe you will join this ministry or start something similar. At the very least, I hope that you will brainstorm ways that you can serve those around you. Please do not read these words and feel overwhelmed, like you need to add something to your busy life. Rather, consider how you can show God's love right in your daily life. God can use even the smallest acts of faithfulness to change lives, even the simple offer of a cheeseburger. We all have different gifts, passions, and influence. How are you using yours to help build the kingdom of God?
James 2:14-17 says,
"What good is it, my brothers, if someone has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."
How are you working to serve Christ in your city? How has God uniquely gifted you to influence the people around you who need to experience the love of Christ? Let's challenge each other to do good works that garner eternal rewards. Let's serve others selflessly, love unconditionally, and pray unceasingly to see God bring dead men and women to life. He alone is worthy because of the indescribable grace he has shown each one of us.
P.S. I want to share more stories about how the people of our church are serving our neighbors to the Glory of God. Maybe you or your community group serves college students, refugees, retirees, or your kid's soccer team. Please contact me with stories of how God is using our church to transform lives and I would love to learn about and share them.