Whoever Has Ears…Our Worth

Have you ever considered a vacation in Smyrna?  You might find out something about your worth.  You probably would not choose that destination, it does not sound like a great place. From a resident’s point of view it is a place of affliction and poverty. Some of the people there make false claims about themselves concerning their righteousness, but the Spirit says that they are a synagogue of Satan. Oh, that was not a compliment. The encouragement from the Spirit seems to be,

‘Oh, by the way, you will suffer and be put in prison (as a test), you will be persecuted (for a limited time) even to the point of death, but don’t worry about it. Just stay faithful and you will get some kind of authority/reward/crown and the second death will not hurt you at all.’

However, the Spirit calls the church in Smyrna “Rich.” Would you like to go to this rich place? The unfortunate truth is that most of us live there at least from time to time. Some of us in the church, the ones who have it “all figured out” but not really, live very close to the synagogue of Satan. Some might even be Deacons in that synagogue. I take no pleasure in saying that, but it might be true. Others of us live in the shadow of that synagogue and are under its persecution.

So what is the Spirit saying to the church in Smyrna and what is the Spirit saying to the church at large? I think the message is about worth. For example, don’t measure your worth by your circumstance. The Smyrna church was in horrible poverty and yet they were rich in the things of God. They were rich in mercy. They had not set themselves up as the authorities that rule everything. They did not have to make a judgement on everyone. They understood and practiced humility and meekness. This may be why the church gets the crown of life. The crown of life might signify authority, wealth and health.

Another thing that the Spirit might be saying to the church may be a warning against the façade. God desires to drive falseness from our soul. He calls this falseness a synagogue of Satan. It seems like there is a clear choice to be made. Join the synagogue of Satan with all of its accusations, and self-important righteousness, which is a mean spirited righteousness that is evil in every aspect, or practice humility and submit yourself to God to join His way. The former is easier and seems successful and the latter seems lowly, but maybe it is the other way around. Maybe the Spirit is saying that things are not always the way they seem in our limited perspectives. Maybe the Spirit is saying hang on…the rescuer is coming, hang on…

What do you think the Spirit is saying to the churches? See you next in Pergamum.

Mark on the Edge – Whoever Has Ears…the work – the love

Would you like to be victorious? You might ask, “In what?” or “What will it cost me?” They are good questions, but I’m talking about gaining victory in a humility driven sagacious life for the Lord. Oh, I didn’t know what sagacious meant either. A little Google help – “having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgement; shrewd, wise, clever, intelligent, knowledgeable, sensible, sage, canny, perceptive, astute, prudent, thoughtful, insightful…” This kind of life is referred to in some circles as a fully developed follower of Christ. So, would you like that kind of victory?

Well, the rewards are many: You get to eat from the tree of life in God’s paradise; you will not be hurt by the second death; you will be well fed and get a new name from God that speaks of your victorious character; you will rule over the nations with God’s authority; you will be dressed in purity and spoken highly of by Jesus to His Father and to the angels; you will be a support in God’s house and have God’s graffiti written all over you; you will be able to sit with Jesus on His throne. That is pretty good stuff. That is the stuff of the destination, but what about the journey? How do you get there from here?

Do you know what the Spirit is saying to the churches? Do you have spiritual ears? The journey is opened up for us in the second and third chapters of Revelation, the last book in the bible. You need to know that the journey is full of detours, U-turns, rough trails and dangerous places. There seems to be construction everywhere and it seems to be that the route is intentionally in that condition to strengthen our resolve and our focus. So what is the Spirit saying to the churches?

Our first discovery along the route is that Jesus knows how hard the journey is. He says that He knows our hard work, but that seems to be the first chance to get off the road. The hard work gives us opportunity to change our focus. We start on the journey as a response to God’s love that He shows us and we have a desire to share that love with others, but we sometimes get stuck in the roughness of the journey. It is possible in this place to get so bogged down that we begin a new journey of bitterness. It threatens to replace the journey of origin. The bitterness trail is off the intended journey; it is a path of its own. It can make us forget why we started on the trip in the first place. It is a downward plunge; a dangerous road. It is a road that pits us against one another in some kind of a comparative competition to the death. The Spirit is saying WRONG ROAD! Remember the love that you started with? Do you remember the source of that love? Change direction! Get back on the journey that you were on and remember the attractional love that you desired to be filled with and to share. The Spirit is saying not to get so burdened by the work that you lose the sweetness of the connections with God and with one another. That is what the Spirit was saying to the church in Ephesus. It also might be one of the things that the Spirit is saying to our churches. What is the Spirit telling you – if you have ears – listen to the Spirit speak. Rev. 2:1-7 What do you think…until next time in Smyrna,

Mark on the Edge – Perspective

Have you ever deeply contemplated the things that you do every day? Probably you have not – nor should you have to think deeply about everyday things. We have a lot more important things to focus on. I mean we don’t generally deeply contemplate how we brush our teeth – we just do it. But if you were to waste the time to give it some thought you would probably notice that you brush your teeth pretty much the same way each time. If you were to teach someone how to brush their teeth you would probably teach them to do it the same way that you brush yours – without any thought of a better way. I’m not just talking about the up and down or the circular or back and forth motions, but what side do you start out on? It turns out that most people start out on the opposite side from their dominate hand. If you are right handed you will start out on the left side of your mouth – it is easier and more natural that way. But if you differ it does not matter; just brush your teeth. The things that we do without thinking become our perspective.

A perspective is a view and a view can take us off course. For example, last night we almost ran into the ditch. I was driving home from Grand Rapids in the snow storm. The roads were slick, slush threw the car to and fro, visibility minimal – I was on M-6. I was following tracks from other cars because that was all I could see. That was my perspective, my view, my focus. I sure was surprised when the stoplight came into view. I was no longer on M-6. My perspective was fixed on trying to stay on the road, the tracks that I was focused on helped me to stay on the road, but my course was changed because of my perspective. My perspective, my focus kept me safe, but did not get me where I wanted to go.

The bigger mission of this church is not to merge two churches together. Our bigger mission is to make disciples of Jesus. The vision of this church is to effectively engage with people in the towns around us so that we add value to those people and those towns. That is called outreach. As we engage and add value we have the privilege of making relationships. These relationships come with conversations about the things that are important to the people or groups that we are serving. Our hope is that the Holy Spirit will break into these relationships to draw folks to Christ based on the value that we, His witnesses, have added to their lives. We don’t force it; we wait for it. That is our strategy.

We dare not lose the perspective of the mission and following the barely visible tracks of coming together as one church. If that is our focused perspective it will only lead to a light blinking in the darkness startling us. If our perspective is focused and our energy is spent trying to bring us together, we will never come together as one church – that vision is much too small, off course. Our mission and vision need to be the impetus to bring us together. Our energy, our synergy, will explode with saving unifying power if we keep the perspective of the mission and vision of the church. We need to expend our energy on that mission. We need to love, to learn and to live the way of Jesus in order to attract others and absorb truth and apply His grace in our target communities. May it become as natural as brushing our teeth.

Peace in the process – strength in the mission – stand firm…talk to you next week.

Mark on the Edge – Focus

When I was 40 years old I went to an ophthalmologist because my perfect vision was slipping a little. He told me that I could probably benefit from glasses – “bifocals are what you need,” he said with a smile. I purchased progressive eye glasses because they were supposed to be the best. Now if you love your progressives I’m not trying to say anything bad about them – not trying to pick a fight, but I could not get use to them. After a month of trying I took them back and said, “Give me some glasses that will help me to see, the way that I have always seen.” I could not get use to turning my head every time I wanted to see clearly – I liked just moving my eyes. They told me that it was possible, but I would have to put up with a line; I chose the line.

Focus is important for all of us, but each of us needs to determine how we can see well. Most of us see best through our gifts and passions. God gives us spiritual passions to move us forward and spiritual gifts to move the church forward because forward, in his direction and by his leading, is the way that he wants us to move. While it is acceptable or even advisable to glance back to get our bearings it is never a good idea to gaze behind when we are moving ahead. The consequences can be devastating. Scripture admonishes us to put our hand to the plow without looking back if we want to be fit for the Kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62) This negative ‘looking back’ is best seen as a longing look – a gaze not just a glance.

The church is called to a mission to move the love spawned by the gospel into a world experiencing devastating consequences. Folks, we have the answer for them, but we need to engage the world in order to present the answer. The answer is Jesus. We must so engage with him in the way that we live that the world sees a difference – the difference is very attractive when we are so engaged.

So how, in our present circumstance, can we show the attractiveness of Christ? Well, one way is to not worry about the coming together process – enjoy it – laugh at it. It is simple to define why God is bringing two churches together, but it is more difficult to define the mechanics of the process. Can I just say, “don’t worry about the mechanics – center on the mission.” You see we are each trying to get focused. We have different ways of seeing well. Some of us move our heads while others move their eyes – that’s okay – have patience in the process – it will help us grow with character. The world needs to see godly character. We will likely trip over some things – a new name or a different way of governing the church or how many pastors will get paid – These things will not kill us, but we will have the discussions. It is vital that these discussions are forward focused. What if a new name was a key welcoming ingredient to many in the church – would you block it because of your focus? Someone might have just said, “That is ridiculous!” No it is not – its deep! When someone hears our name do you want the conversation to be,” I wonder how they play that out.” Or do you want them to say, “Where is that?” Okay, I will stop meddling for a moment.

Can I also say very clearly that the churches are coming together and will continue to do so – really! Is there confusion in the process? Yes. Is there frustration in the process? Oh Yes. Is God in the process? Certainly he is; he desires to do something great and is doing something great among us. The confusion will stretch us, but the process will not break us. Can we lovingly embrace one another in this process so that we can together engage the world and show them the ‘Christ difference’ that a community sold out to him can make?

If we have to put up with a line to see clearly we will put up with the line. Make it work for you so that you can focus beyond yourself. Can we learn together that ‘outreach’ is the adding of value to individuals and communities without expecting something in return?  The communities around us will see the face of God and be glad. That is a good reason to learn to focus on the mission while we are in the process. You will get a chance to input your vision perspective into the process, but work on being able to see clearly in your own individual way so that your vision perspective can add value to the process. Relax a little, embrace someone new into your circle and engage in the work of godly love. Don’t sweat the small stuff –keep it small – Engage with focus …until next week, Blessings.

Mark on the Edge…Engage

The process continues… Last week we acknowledged that God is up to something great among us. We have not been able to define exactly what it is, but it is great because God is always great. We have attempted to define it… to understand it… to press it into something that we could get our heads around and we have failed at those attempts. We have called it a grafting, a wedding, a marriage, indeed I think I was the first one to say the word merge. Then, understanding the differences in our groups, I tried “two cultures, one mission” which also failed to communicate what I was seeing and sensing the Spirit doing among us. We are simply a people of one heart and one mission, but that does not tell the whole story either.

Language is very important, but we get a little lazy in its use. Most of the language and methods that we have adopted since the Bridge has been with us I embraced over 20 years ago. So when I hear people say that we have changed too many things to fast I have a tendency to smile a little. More than twenty some years ago, when I did my first church plant, we had offering boxes and we taught people not to say things like “we are going to church.” Offering boxes help to shift the responsibility of the tithe (a minimum gesture in giving) from a church ritual to individuals before God. The word “church” so casually used to describe a building or a destination makes the building or the destination more important than the people. It accepts Webster as the authority of our defined faith and excludes the word of God. Kind of an important difference, don’t you think? We talk about our buildings as if God lived in them – GOD LIVES IN US. Sorry about shouting. Yet we are confined to use language because there is nothing else. We just have to remember that words mean things and that the world will write the definitions based on how we use our words – we cannot be lazy here…so I was eager to change some things – blame that on me. You may remember that we have discussed this before.

Now to what God may be up to… I think we are trying too hard to figure it out. We are walking on eggshells so that we don’t mess it up and we are wondering too hard if it will work. RELAX! There I go shouting again. God is up to something great – cool – let me be a part of what He is doing. Do we really need to define it? We need to love one another (not my command – Jesus said that). We love by being gracious, warm, understanding (even when we don’t understand). We love by being involved with what God is doing and with what others are doing. We need to learn to engage. Engage in what God is doing (participate). Engage in each other’s lives as we help each other (support). Engage with those in our surrounding communities so that their good plans succeed (share). Can we be a people who engage? God is doing something great among us. Can you feel it? Can you define it? Maybe the real question here is, “Will you engage in it? We have opportunities. At our gatherings we have need for children’s workers. Will you engage in that? What about the Block party? Engage in it. Community dinners? Engage in them. Main Street Music in Ionia would love to have a performing arts theater downtown. Could the church engage with them to make that happen? What need does Clarksville have and how can the church engage that community? What need does Lake Odessa have and how can the church engage those needs? To engage in the communities around us is to add value to the good things that people are already trying to do. Could we be known as a church who knows how to engage the community? Will we engage in what God is calling us to or will we just try to define it? We are only better together if we engage our mission together… Engage in conversation about these things. Have a great Holy Week. I’ll talk to you next week…

Mark on the Edge…again

God is doing something great among us. Can you sense it? Can you define it? I have listened to the church try to figure out what God is up to and have been both fascinated and perplexed by what I have heard. Now, I should not be surprised – because in a vacuum of information some folks feel compelled to fill it. What God is doing is not yet clear even to the leadership of the church.

We have tried to stay away from language that would mislead or head us into directions that we are not yet ready for and have not yet even discussed as a church body together. Words like merger we have tried to soften by saying, “well, it is more like a marriage.” But we are not yet ready for a marriage either. We are simply two different cultures within the family of God who happen to have the same mission. Let me try to define for you where we are from my perspective as your pastor.

In October of 2015, I received an email from Pastor Joel, the pastor of our church plant in Saranac, stating that they were losing their place of worship and that the heat was not yet turned on and that they needed to be out by the first of December. He was looking for a place to rent, at a very low cost, and was wondering if we could help them. Well, you now my heart when it comes to church planting – I will do anything that I can to help and I ask you to do everything that you can do to help. I am passionate about church planting. I checked with the LBA about leasing space to the Bridge church to meet and was given approval to meet with them and to let them know that we would charge them a nominal fee to cover our extra expenses.

A meeting was set up with some of the Bridge church leaders and a representative from West Berlin’s LBA and me. In that meeting a question was asked, “what would it look like if our churches shared the space at the same time since we obviously have the same mission?” “Well,” I said, Why don’t we have you in for a joint service to see if we even like on another.” The LBA agreed and Bridge was invited to share a service and a meal with us. The idea of leasing space to the Bridge never came up again. We all enjoy the combined service and discussed whether or not we might be better together. Bridge church met the following week and decided to give West Berlin a try to see if indeed we could be better together. I raced home from vacation to inform the congregation of West Berlin that we would be having a lot of guests the very next Sunday – it was quick.

On the last Sunday in November we began having gatherings together. It was suggested that we try this for six months to see if it might work. We are presently at a little over the three month mark and it seems like we are better together – the challenge being that we never defined what “together” would look like.

You should know that West Berlin has been on its own trajectory of change long before Bridge came to us. We had changed the second service and hired a part time music leader to put together a band and lead us in a different direction musically. Clarksville church closed, and we mourned with them and helped them in any way possible. I asked Pastor Andy to join us here at West Berlin – to be my assistant pastor. He agreed to do this without any pay. The LBA agreed to bring him on staff and he has worked for us without pay since he came. That is right; we do not pay Pastor Andy. While this is selfish of us and while I hope that we can get him some pay to at least cover his gas at some point, right now he works for us without pay. These changes were having a positive effect on our own growth. The next change that we were looking at was to introduce small groups to the church, but we did not know how.

Bridge church is presently teaching us about small groups; think about joining one. I know that the pace of change has been dizzying as we have welcomed the people of Bridge among us. Indeed I, along with others, have been scurrying to get a place ready for the children to meet. Space became a challenge to us and The Bridge agreed to pay for renovations that we are making upstairs at the Ebenezer Center for the extra influx of children. It has been fun to watch people taken off guard, react and then recognize that we are in the midst of something that God doing. God is doing something great among us. Can you sense it? Can you define it?

I will be giving you weekly updates to bring you up to speed so that you will not have to guess what is going on. Please pray, because God is up to something among us…and it is great…because He is great.

Let’s talk more next week
Pastor Mark