Over the past ten months the word COVID, which many of us had never heard before, has become a word we use at least once a day. The average American has been exposed to more information and disinformation regarding a single strain of the COVID family of viruses (COVID19), than they can handle. One virus has created a global concern for our physical wellbeing.
What has intrigued me during this season is that it hasn’t generated an equal concern for our spiritual health. Most pastors and churches are working hard to find ways to survive until they can get back to normal. The goal seems to be to get back to where we were a year ago. But stop and ask yourself, where was the American church in January 2020? Was the average church a healthy church? The reality is that in every statistical area we use to evaluate a normal American church, the average church was not healthy a year ago. From my perspective, THE number one symptom that tells me we have a significant spiritual health crisis in our nation is our lack of mature leaders. Let me elaborate a bit on how I arrived at this conclusion.
Phyllis and I began the New Year by beginning the study of Experiencing God during our morning devotionals. Phyllis had never done the study, and I have found it to be very useful at times in my life when I needed clarity from God. In our chaotic world filled with COVID, racial tensions, political polarization, economic stress, and Christianity’s declining influence, I figured it might be a good time to seek clarity from God. The first principle you study in Experiencing God is that God is always at work around us. The question is, “Am I even expecting God to be at work?”
So I started to pay closer attention. I have been doing a major edit on material I have used for decades to help pastor search committees. In preparation for the edit, I read the book Next: Pastoral Succession that Works by Vanderbloemen and Bird. Although they specifically state, “We are not primarily writing on how to establish a pastor search committee;” it has been a helpful resource.
At the same time, I have been working with several pastor search committees. In the process of helping one, I ran across an “interesting” resume. The candidate had sent a self-composed, in depth cover letter that basically described himself as a superman kind of pastor. It emphasized all that he could do and all the knowledge that he had that would transform their church. It was very “me-centered.” His perspective comes from a faulty definition of spiritual maturity. Disciple-making is not simply the transfer of information but is about life transformation (Romans 12:1-2).
All of this, and a variety of similar things, began to create a swirling vortex in my mind. Ultimately, God used these experiences to create an “Aha moment!” If we, Christians and churches—the body of Christ—really addressed the core issue of our spiritual health problem, I wouldn’t need to help so many pastor search committees and Vanderbloemen and Bird’s book wouldn’t have been so popular. The average American church is not raising up leaders from their own harvest field. This is what Jesus commanded us to do in the Great Commission—to make disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. It is what He had told His disciples to do when He sent the twelve out two-by-two in Matthew 9:38. It is what Jesus told the seventy to do when He sent them out two by two in Luke 10:2. But since the average church in America is emphasizing doing and knowing rather than growing in obedience and Christlikeness, when they need a new pastor they have to find one that some other church has been preparing. And because so few churches are raising up leaders for the harvest, it has become more imperative that I have good resources to share with search committees and Vanderbloemen and Bird’s book will continue to sell well.
When it comes to our spiritual health we are usually treating symptoms and ignoring or glossing over the underlying cause of our spiritual health crisis—our failure to make disciples, who make disciples, who make disciples (II Timothy 2:2). My prayer is that your personal walk is significantly better than it was a year ago. But, to be all that God wants us to be, we all need to regularly ask God to put a spotlight of truth on areas where we need to grow (Psalm 139:23-24) and be willing to listen to genuine friends—those will to speak truth into our life (Proverbs 27:6). As we do that, we will be able to diagnose some underlying issues that are negatively impacting our spiritual health. Go and become all that God desires for you.
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
There is no one who is able to set themself outside of our current historical events and view them with absolute objectivity. As we are watching these unprecedented events unfold, we do so with personal perspectives shaped by our life experiences. Having said that, ALL OF US should be able to say that violence and attacks on persons and property are never a proper response. I would suggest that if we can’t denounce violence, anarchy, and murder without adding a single qualifier—anything that in anyway, shape, or form provides a rationalization for them--then we have already lost objectivity and will lose credibility.
As a nation, we are experiencing an increased polarization and calcification that has destroyed any remaining lines of communication that existed between factions. We have also experienced a series of events that have increasingly desensitized us. It has become so common that we dismiss it as normal. We lose our sense of outrage and righteous indignation. Some of us simply “tune out.” The net result is demoralized and defeated people watching as warring factions escalate their response to one another.
But humanity has been down this road before. Genesis 6:5-7 speaks to a time much like ours is rapidly becoming.
“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them."'
If you were to stop at verse seven and not know the rest of the story, you would become despondent. However, verse eight says, “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” God provided light and hope through the obedience of a single man.
After Joshua led the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, and he and his generation passed away, a four hundred year period of time passed that Biblical scholars call the Period of the Judges. For four centuries the “People of God” experienced a cyclical life that moved from obedience and blessing to disobedience and social decay. Judges 2:17-19 describes it this way:
“They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them. And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way.”
God provided light and hope through the faithful obedience of various men, and at least one woman named Deborah.
The prophet Isaiah lived in a time of national despair. Assyria had conquered and destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and almost did the same thing to the southern kingdom of Judah. The first seventeen verses of the book of Isaiah picture Judah as a nation that had turned its back on God. After sowing seeds of sinful rebellion they were now reaping the harvest of cultural decay and national decline. But God gave Isaiah a word of hope to share with the nation:
“‘Come now, and let us reason together,’” Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword’; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 1:18-20
God offered the nation hope in the midst of darkness by declaring, “If you are willing and obedient you will eat the good of the land.”
These are but a few of the many examples we have in scripture. In the darkest of times, God has always set before us the possibility of a future full of hope and blessings. However, it is always a conditional promise that requires repentance, faith, and obedience on our part.
It is interesting to note that in times of cultural distress we most often quote a promise from God that was not one given during a season of difficulty, but at the pinnacle of Israel’s global prominence—the dedication of the first temple during Solomon’s reign. It was God’s response to Solomon’s dedication prayer that is recorded in II Chronicles 6. In his prayer, over and over again he beseeched God to listen when people cried out to Him in times of trouble—troubles that will often be caused by their own sinful actions. You will note that Solomon did not pray “If trouble comes” but “When it comes.” God’s answer was:
“If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” II Chronicles 7:14
Because we have personal perspectives shaped by our life experiences, we will respond differently to current events. Those various responses will be packed with emotions and driven by our basic human instincts for survival. As I struggle and seek to rise above emotions and human instinct by listening to the indwelling Holy Spirit, let me encourage you to do the same. Let us come together with ears to hear one another’s pain AND to raise our prayers of confession and intercession to God. In the days ahead, Heartland Church Network will be scheduling specific times for pastors to come together, to share with one another, to pray for one another, and to lift our unified voices to God in prayer.
Pastor Tim Johnson of New Covenant Community Church sent me the following link to an article entitled "Help! I’m Pastoring in the Wilderness.” Let me throw out a couple of quotes from Pastor Cole Huffman’s blog that I pray will encourage you to read the whole thing. I was challenged and encouraged by it and pray that you will be as well.
“On a recent Saturday night, I told my wife I was going to resign in the morning. After 18 years in the church. Just like that. I’ve taken enough shots! She cut my bowstrings and walked me back from the ledge. I’m a pastor, which means I have to navigate this wilderness the church isn’t just “in” but “is.”
In last week’s article, I mentioned the book Life is all about Relationships by Leo Endel. In the opening chapter, entitled God is about Relationships, Leo points to one of the clearest passages in scripture regarding the triune nature of God—John 14:23-26.
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.”
As Christians, we believe in one God who has described Himself in relational terms as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Genesis tells us that humanity was created by Him in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). We too are relational beings, and as such, our spiritual and physical health depends upon having good relationships with one another and with God.
Another recent read of mine has been Finishing Strong by Steve Farrar. [You can find a discussion summary of it on the HCN website resource library] In it, Farrar reminds us of four different research projects that point to the importance that relationships play in our physical health.
At Ohio State University College of Medicine, scientists found that patients who scored above average in loneliness had significantly poorer functioning of their immune system.
As we enter the New Year, Be It Resolved that we will place a higher priority on relationships. One way we can do this is by not letting the “new normal” blind us in this critical area. A prime example of “relational blindness” comes from what we now accept as an appropriate response to COVID. I am absolutely convinced that as serious as this virus is; as many unknowns as there are related to its long-term health impact; and as many variables as there are regarding the vaccines being developed for it; that politicians and medical administrators, for the most part, have been blind to the relational needs of people as they are establishing COVID protocols.
Doctors and nurses, who are already under great stress, have to constantly adjust to ever-evolving protocols with little, if any, input into what makes sense. Patients are being isolated as hospitals don’t permit even a single family member to visit. This isolation is creating emotional stress for both the patient and the family. As such, they are ignoring the findings of long-established social science AND the basic relational nature of human beings.
Be It Resolved that those of us who have the responsibility to make decisions regarding how our church responds to the ever-evolving COVID restrictions, that we will not fall prey to “relational blindness.” Every church will have people who are spread across the full spectrum of the COVID Perspective Scale. As such, any decision you make will upset someone. Be patient with those who take these positions. My council has been for everyone to use common sense, common courtesy, and uncommon grace. But as is often the case, it preaches easier than it is lived out.
Be It Resolved that you will sustain key relationships in spite of the challenges. One of Satan’s tried and true ways to keep pastors and church leaders from long-term success is to get them isolated—to cut them out from the herd. Relational blindness applies to those of us who think we can do ministry alone. Farrar’s book on finishing strong points out that one of the key indicators for failing to finish strong is not being involved in a personal accountability group (page 40). If you are not currently involved in a small accountability group with other pastors or church leaders, then I exhort you; I plead with you; I beg you to give me a call, and we can work together to get you plugged into one.
May your 2021 be filled with healthy growing relationships!
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Were you able to see the Christmas Star this past Monday night? Every 20 years Saturn and Jupiter come close enough that if it occurs at night they create a brighter “star.” However, scientists tell us that this year’s conjunction, which happened in the early evening of the winter solstice, appeared closer than it has since just before dawn on March 4, 1226.
At the time of creation, God put the stars and planets in place and set them in motion (Genesis 1:14-18). Astronomers have been observing and charting them since that time. Stop and think about it, science is defined as “the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of phenomena.” The next time someone says to you science and religion don’t mix, remind them that science exists only because God created the universe and gave the scientists something to study. In fact, the very concept of a reproducible scientific experiment demands that God’s creation will be the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, just like He is.
The recent appearance of the Christmas Star reminded me that God is still in charge. He has not changed His ways, and He will fulfill every promise He has made.
Thousands of years after God created the universe, astronomers (wise men) from the east observed: “a star” that they associated with Jewish prophecy concerning the birth of a uniquely anointed king—The Messiah (Matthew 2:1-12). Scholars still debate what that star was, with some suggesting it was the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter. Whatever the star was, it brought scientists to the palace of King Herod in Jerusalem with the assumption that they would have the privilege of presenting gifts to a newborn that was destined to be king of the Jews.
Instead of seeing a newborn king they created confusion and observed a king who quickly became deeply disturbed and defensive. Herod asked clarifying questions about the appearance of the star, and then he sent them on their way with a request, “When you find him, report back to me so that I too can go and worship him.” We can be pretty sure of Herod’s motives based on how he responded when the scientists didn’t report back to him (Matt 2:16-18).
The scientists also encountered religious leaders who were quickly able to provide additional prophecy that clarified that this uniquely anointed king was to be born in Bethlehem not Jerusalem. However, the religious leaders were either uninterested in or unimpressed by the scientist’s observations. None of them took time to travel with them even though Bethlehem was only a few miles from Jerusalem.
The motives of the Jewish leaders are not as easily discerned. Were they offended that God was willing to use unwashed Gentiles? Were they exhibiting religious arrogance? Did their in-depth interpretation of the Holy Scriptures indicate that it wasn’t the right time? Were they revealing their intellectual blindness? Was their religion a purely legalistic, ritualistic faith? Were they spiritually indifferent?
My motives were challenged recently as I read the book Life is all about Relationships. It was written by a friend of mine, Dr. Leo Endel. For those who know me, you are aware that my personality moves naturally to the task side of the task—relationship pendulum. I was reminded as I read it, that as task-oriented as God is--what He said He would do He will always do—He always does it through relationships. It is interesting that the cover of the book shows people in relationships silhouetted against a starry night sky—which includes a particularly bright star.
What is God telling you through the Christmas Star?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Now before you get too excited and think I have lost it, let me say what Amos said to Amaziah the priest of Bethel. “I am not a prophet nor am I the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14 NAS). However, God has helped me to gain some wisdom and discernment in my threescore and ten years of life. On the eve of a new year, my wondering mind is pondering what it might hold. Now throw in the fact that I try to be an astute observer of human life and human interaction, and my imagination goes wild. Because 2020 has been a challenge beyond anything we had thought or imagined, any prediction for 2021 sounds plausible. Here are my thoughts.
Having been involved in attempting to mediate conflict in the church for years, I can see racial and political tensions in our nation continuing to escalate into the new year. I see people talking about each other rather than with each other. We are not having a substantive dialogue about real issues; instead, we are attacking and calling each other names. We have become so entrenched in our ideologies that we are not able to see flaws in them. We need to be willing to ask, “Am I more a part of the problem or a part of the solution?”
In my July 28th article, I talked about levels of conflict. Culturally we are at least at Level IV: Fight/Flight with some people already exhibiting Level V: Intractable attitudes and actions. Stop and ask yourself, “What must happen for this trajectory to change?” “Where will the leadership come from that can bring our nation together?”
Let me suggest that it will not come from the political arena or the white house in Washington! It can only come from spiritual leadership derived from humble prayer times in the church house! We have to step up, step out, and become part of the solution rather than being part of the problem. As hard as it will be, we must become the peacemakers.
To be true peacemakers, we will have to embrace and then live out the qualities Jesus described in the other Beatitudes:
3Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven—Humility will need to replace the hubris that exists in some of us. Pride comes before every fall. We need to reaffirm that every human being is an image-bearer of the God we claim to serve. And therefore, someone for whom Jesus died.
4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted—When is the last time that tears came to your eyes as you listened to the news or heard about another tragic death? Have we become numbed by the daily barrage of violence, and the never-ending consequences caused by the decimation of the nuclear family?
5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth— Hypocrite is the word used most often by those outside the church to describe us. Our holier than thou attitude does not sell well. We need to reclaim Paul’s spirit as he wrote Timothy, “And I thank Christ Jesus for our Lord who has enabled me because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (I Tim 1:12-15).
6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled—This is the very heart of the gospel we seek to proclaim. Paul stated, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:16-19).
7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy—Mercy, grace, and compassion would be three words that would describe how Jesus responded to the common man. He had harsh words for the religious elite because they were quick to criticize and cast out those who were struggling in life. The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 7:53-8:11 is more a story about the scribes and the Pharisees “being right the wrong way” than it is about a woman who knew that “wrong was wrong.” We need to be “right the right way!”
8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God—Our motives and intentions do matter. However, our hearts are easily self-deceived. Are we willing to listen to others when they criticize our approach to the lostness around us? Do we rail at the darkness more than we weep and mourn for the devastation caused by sin?
We are not yet at the point of needing the last two, but the time is rapidly approaching.
10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
I must confess that none of us know what the future holds, but we do know Who holds the future! And we know what we must do to change the future that I see coming our way. Are we willing to do it?
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, DoM
Many of you have heard about and some of you have even been involved in World Changers. For those who have never heard of it, World Changers was a pre-packaged youth mission adventure that combined learning and using construction skills, connecting with people (usually in a cross cultural context), evangelism, and high-energy worship. It originated with the Brotherhood Commission in 1990, was moved under the umbrella of the North American Mission Board in 1997 with a major SBC restructuring, and then was later picked up by LifeWay. Unfortunately that nationally coordinated ministry has been discontinued.
Members of Heartland Community Baptist Church were involved for many years beginning in 2001 when Sioux City hosted its first World Changers. They are excited about establishing a similar ministry called LifeChanger Missions; and Heartland Church Network is pleased to come alongside them to support this impactful ministry. It will be held June 13-19, 2021. Here is a quick overview:
VISION: Changing lives one house at a time.
MISSION: Training teenagers and college students for Christian missions by transforming the lives of families through home repair and evangelism.
2021 THEME: “Answer the Call” Isaiah 6:8-9
There are multiple ways you can get involved.
For more information check out the facebook page, Life ChangerMissions. Our Heartland Church Network’s webpage and FaceBook will have information on it shortly.
If you have ever traveled in a predominantly Muslim country, you have heard the “Call to Prayer.” Every mosque has some way of making a public pronouncement much like churches used to ring their bells to announce it’s time for Sunday worship. But instead of hearing the bells once a week, you will hear the call to prayer five times a day.
If you have ever had a serious conversation with a Muslim, you have been asked, “Why don’t Christians pray?” For Islam, the daily prayers are one of the five pillars or foundational acts. The Five Pillars of Islam are the five obligations that every Muslim must satisfy in order to live a good and responsible life. A practicing Christian could honestly respond, “I do pray, but it’s not a ritualistic obligation that I do primarily in public. Rather it is a joy to come into the presence of almighty God on a daily basis in the quietness of my home, and on Sundays and special occasions I gather with other believes and we pray together.”
With Christianity, we are not tied to the legalistic works salvation of Islam. Much of the New Testament speaks to the reality that we were also freed from the legalism of Judaism. Paul speaks to that freedom in Romans 6:5-13:
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My daily Bible reading this morning was in the book of Hosea. That means I have recently read Jeremiah and Lamentations. When you read these books and take an honest look at our culture today, you have to see that our nation is on the brink of judgment. As I read scripture and history, I see two primary ways that God purifies His people. One is through a sweeping spiritual awakening, and the other is by simply removing His hand of protection and letting us “sow the wind and reap the whirlwind” (Hosea 8:7).
The reality is that both individually (as a professing believer) and corporately (as the body of Christ) we get to choose our response: prayer and repentance that leads to spiritual renewal or staying our current course that leads to trials and tribulation. One of Henry Blackaby’s seven realities is that we must make major adjustments in our lives if we are going to join God in what He is doing.
I want to take this venue to humbly commit myself to a heightened time of prayer, fasting, and confession knowing “it’s me, it’s me O Lord, standing in the need of prayer1.”
God said to Solomon, “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)
Let me close by asking you if you have already committed yourself to a season of heightened prayer, fasting, and confession, let me know so we can encourage one another. If you haven’t made that commitment, I herein implore you to seek God’s face about making such a commitment. As we are in the midst of celebrating the arrival of the Christ child and approaching the new year, let me also extend a challenge to join me as I encourage Heartland Network churches to seek times of specific and focused prayer akin to what Joel called for in his day:
Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land into the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord. (Joel 1:14)
Lord, help us to prioritize prayer in a way that honors you and doesn’t move us into a legalistic, meaningless repetition of words or practices that simply become “sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal.” Help us, O Lord, to acknowledge our sins and turn from our wicked ways.
1Standing in the Need of Prayer. African Spiritual whose author is unknown.
This is the last of a series of articles on making changes in the church. I have emphasized that it must be the right change, done at the right time, and in the right way. I even threw in an example of Community Bible Church in Crofton where an established church recently voted unanimously (with one abstention) to make major changes. Church leaders laid a solid foundation and did it at the right time and in the right way.
When I talk about doing it the right way, I am emphasizing the fact that even if you have the authority to implement the right change and you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is the right time for that change, you can do it in an arbitrary way that alienates those who are needed to implement the change. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard, “It might have been the right thing to do, but it was done the wrong way.” Or, “I’m not upset about what he did, but how he did it.”
I have discovered that the right way can have a lot of moving parts that need to be identified and addressed. Here are a few of them:
A skilled leader will throw out ideas in informal settings, say over a cup of coffee. The Holy Spirit can filter the bad ones and reinforce the best ones. Then when a good idea is suggested, the leader who planted the seed of thought can say, “You know I think that idea has some promise.” Effective leaders create an environment where people are granted the freedom to suggest new ideas. That is an environment where multiple ideas are regularly discussed, evaluated, and prayed over. Then when changes are proposed, church members know that the idea has been thoroughly evaluated and prayerfully considered.
My prayer is that this series of articles will help you as you identify the right changes, implement them at the right time, and do it the right way.
My favorite memory from my seminary education days is the “rabbit trails” that Dr. T. W. Hunt would take us down in the midst of one of his lectures. God has since called him home, but you might remember him as the author of the study guide Prayer Life: Walking in Fellowship with God. It along with Dr. Henry Blackaby’s study Experiencing God have been two resources that I have regularly recommended and returned to when I need to be reminded of the basics of the Christian walk.
Dr. Hunt taught a music class that was a basic requirement for those of us who were pursuing a Master of Divinity. I remember a few things about music from the class, but more about developing an attitude of genuine thankfulness in my prayer life. One particular rabbit trail was imprinted upon my mind as Dr. Hunt began to give thanks for silverware, toothbrushes, and other common everyday tools we take for granted.
As a typical seminary student, we lived a very frugal life. However, as a non-traditional student who had walked away from an upper-middle-class vocation with three older children, we were living at a level significantly below what we had grown accustomed to living. God used the idea of being thankful for “small insignificant” things to get my attention. I must admit that it is easy to slide back into the entitlement mindset as a typical affluent American.
As a typical American, we rent a storage unit to hold “the stuff” that our house can’t hold. And yes, as a typical suburban American, we live in a nice sized home filled with lots of stuff. Normally, we would already be on the road connecting with family. But this Thanksgiving our plans are different. It is 2020! We will not be traveling for our traditional family gathering in Oklahoma. The recent COVID flare-up has taken that option off the table.
But we are deeply thankful for the fact that my wife Phyllis is home from the hospital and recovering from her bout with COVID. Having lost my first wife to a sudden infection, having Phyllis in the hospital brought back a flood of memories. So once again, God is reminding me to be thankful. This time it is for life itself. Thank you, Lord, for your compassion and care for Phyllis. Thank you, Jesus, for the salvation and eternal hope that You alone provide.
My prayer is that Thanksgiving 2020 will be a time when you and your family can give thanks to God for the multitude of “little insignificant things” that He has provided. I feel so unworthy of His love and provision. Thank You Lord! Forgive me Lord! Thank You Lord!
Mark is in his twenty-seventh year of serving as an Associational Missions Strategist. He served in western Iowa for almost eight years, and is in his nineteenth year with HCN. He has a passion to see pastors and church leaders grow in their abilities to lead their churches. He continues to have a heart and desire to see new churches planted and God continues to use his strategic thinking skills in this area. Mark also has a wealth of experience in helping churches clarify who God has created them to be, and what they can do best to reach their community. He has had ample opportunities to help churches in times of conflict, and has seen God do exciting things to restore a spirit of harmony, returning churches to a time of fruitfulness. He also helps churches in transition by working with search committees. Mark and Phyllis who were married in November of 2018 have four children and three grandchildren. They will enjoy their combined 87th anniversary in just a few days.