Mark's View

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All That Is Gold Does Not Glitter

I read a lot of Christmas writings at this time.  Here’s an a really good one by Gary Barnes.


"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip. 

(John 1:46, NIV)

Many years ago, I was particularly impacted by a Christmas sermon by Tim Keller that continues to have significance for me today. Twenty-seven years ago I began a PhD program in Counseling Psychology at Columbia University in New York City and also began attending Keller’s church. He challenged me with a key question from the Christmas story.

As we celebrate the miracle of the Incarnation, we read that the Son of God/Son of Man comes from Nazareth. A common theme of biblical accounts is that Jesus was born into insignificance. Nazareth was the backwoods of Galilee which was the backwoods of Israel which was the backwoods of the Roman Empire. In that backwoods of the backwoods of the backwoods was the King of the universe. In that weakness was the all-powerful God. In that obscurity was the greatest event in history.

True greatness is naturally invisible to worldly eyes. God loves to use things that turn the values and expectations of the world upside down. Human culture flows from the top down and from the center out. God’s spiritual renewals and awakenings tend to come from the margins to the center; from the outside in. We can see this looking at Jesus and His disciples and at spiritual revivals throughout history.

The Christmas story confronts us with this question: "Can we live in a place of brilliance without being blinded by it?" It is commonly said that "All that glitters is not gold." I was immersed in a glittery graduate program in a glittery city and it was easy to mistake it all as "gold" according to the world’s measuring stick. The Christmas story, however, tells us that "All that is gold does not glitter." Real greatness is naturally invisible to the worldly eye.

Can anything good come from Nazareth? The Son of God/Son of Man emptied Himself in the obscure backwoods of Nazareth that we may celebrate the greatest story ever told.

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 A Hundredfold Return

I’m reading daily the Bible In One Year with Nicky Gumbel. My dates are not in sync, but my reading today reminded me of New Life NoMa. We are so blessed to have people who are "good ground" that yields a hundredfold return.  Pleaseenjoy whatNicky writes about a friend below.

"He was brought up on one of the roughest estates in Manchester. His father was an alcoholic. He left school at fifteen. He ran away from home. He lived on the streets. He joined a gang. He got involved in crime and ended up in prison. When he came out he joined the army. He went through two divorces.

In 1994, he walked into Holy Trinity Brompton and did Alpha. He gave his life to Christ and was filled with the Holy Spirit. He started visiting prisoners. He joined the HTB staff to head up the work in prisons. He started an organization to care for ex-offenders. He set up a homeless project. He started a course to help those with addictions and courses to help those struggling with depression and debt.

Under his leadership, Alpha for Prisons has spread through the prisons in the UK and seventy-six countries around the world. Thousands have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Hundreds of men and women have been placed in churches through the ministry of Caring for Ex-Offenders. The ministries he now heads up have the potential to touch millions of lives around the world.

Paul Cowley is an example of someone who was the good soil on which the seed fell. He has a noble and good heart. He heard the word, retained it and by persevering has produced a crop hundreds of times more than was sown (Luke 8:8,15). He encountered Jesus as his Savior, Sower and Shepherd.

Luke 8:1-18


A great deal of Jesus’ ministry was about sowing seeds. Jesus went about ‘proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God’ (v.1) wherever he went. Our ministry today is often about simply sowing seeds.

Sometimes this involves traveling (v.1) to sow seed (for example, on a mission trip). At other times, Jesus gathered people together and then sowed seeds: ‘A large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town’ (v.4) traveling and gathering.

Jesus did not do all of this sowing on his own. He had a team, at the heart of which were twelve men and ‘also some women’ (v.2). Women played a very important role in Jesus’ ministry. Among other things, they helped ‘to support’ the team ‘out of their own means’ (v.3).

Jesus then describes what they are all doing in terms of the parable of the sower. They, like us, are all sowing the seed of the word of God (v.11). Don’t be disappointed if not everyone responds equally:

• Hard-hearted—Some won’t believe: ‘The seeds on the road are those who hear the Word, but no sooner do they hear it than the Devil snatches it from them so —they won’t believe and be saved’ (v.12, MSG).
• Faint-hearted—Others seem to respond very enthusiastically, but it does not last. They have ‘no root’. They ‘hear with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm doesn’t go very deep. It’s only another fad, and the moment there’s trouble it’s gone’ (v.13, MSG).
• Half-hearted—Still others seem to be very responsive but later they drop out due to ‘the thorns of life’: ‘anxieties’, ‘cares’, ‘riches’, and ‘pleasures’ (v.14, AMP). ‘These are the ones who hear, but then the seed is crowded out and nothing comes of it as they go about their lives worrying about tomorrow, making money, and having fun’ (v.14, MSG).
• Whole-hearted—The first three categories lead to great disappointment and sadness. However, Jesus says some will be responsive and ‘steadily bring forth fruit with patience’ (v.15, AMP). Or as The Message puts it: ‘These are the good-hearts who seize the Word and hold on no matter what, sticking with it until there’s a harvest (v.15, MSG). Earlier he had said that this crop might reap ‘a hundred times more than was sown’ (v.8).

I often say that running Alpha is the most disappointing thing I have ever been involved in. It is disappointing when people respond negatively or drop out. But as we read the words of Jesus we should not be surprised by this.
On the other hand, Alpha has also been the most exciting thing I have ever been involved in. 

Those who do respond whole-heartedly to the seed that has been sown, like Paul Cowley, have a huge impact – a hundred times what was sown. We see this time and again in the lives of those who come to know Jesus – they are filled with the Holy Spirit, go out and tell their friends, and make a great impact on society.

These words of Jesus are not just about other people. It is about all of us, every time we hear the word of God – for example when we are reading the Bible or listening to a talk. Be careful how you listen to the word of God. In one sense the whole of your life is a response to the word of God. The more responsive you are, the more you will be given (v.18).
Lord, thank you for the power of your word to change lives. Help me not to be discouraged by the disappointments but to keep on sowing the seed. Thank you for the great joy there is when we see seed take root in a person’s life and produce a crop a hundred times what was sown."
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 Giving 

Today is Giving Tuesday, a social media idea to donate to charity. It’s a great idea because giving is the antidote to materialism and releases blessings into our lives. 

After Kathy and I entered full time ministry and were planting our first church in Indiana, we were challenged to give generously. I felt the prompting of the Holy Spirt to give from our meager savings we were using to live on since the church was very small at this time. When I arrived home an unexpected check had arrived in the mail for many times over what I gave. God once again showed us His heart to bless.

The Bible says that God loves a cheerful giver. He blesses those who give. These blessings include being given back far more than what we give. It’s the concept of multiplication. The blessing is often financial but also includes increasing love, joy, and peace. Basically God prospers you in every way. 

Try giving today. It sometimes can be scary, but God really likes it when you believe Him. It’s called faith and our acts of faith cause us to become more like Him. After all, He gave us the best gift ever—the gift of His Son to die on the cross to save us from our sins. 

If you feel God’s leading, consider giving to New Life NoMa.  Here’s our website: www.newlifenoma.com. Click on the donate button link. 

John 3:16

"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

Luke 6:38

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."


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 Happy Thanksgiving

I am so thankful today!  I’m thankful for God’s amazing love for us.  I’m thankful for family and friends, especially my church friends and family at New Life NoMa.  Just think, Kathy and I came to DC in August and now have a church with amazing people who love God and who love people.  We are learning to love even more. 

A message we may hear from some Christians today is that if you strive to read your Bible and do other things in obedience to Christ, you’ll be approved by Him and will experience His love by doing these things.  However, this points to performance, which believes and acts on the premise that we’re loved because of what we do instead of who we are.  In truth, our love for God grows by understanding how much He loves us, and our hearts respond to that love in obedience. 

His love for us is revealed by the Holy Spirit.  Thank God for the gift of His Holy Spirit!  We read the Bible by faith, knowing the Holy Spirit is going to speak to us through the Scriptures, which draws us closer to Him.  We also hear from God through His creation, through dreams, visions, through other people, etc.

Love is always initiated by God. He simply wants us to love Him back.  He wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as we want to be loved.  And He enables us to do so through the power of His Holy Spirit.

I appreciate the Passion Translation’s rendering of John 14:15: "Loving me empowers you to obey my commands."  As our love grows, greater obedience to His ways will be realized.  In other words, "Since (same Greek word as "if") you love me, you will obey my commands." The deeper our love is for God, the more we are willing to obey and the more we will want to hear His voice.  We will live in grace and love without striving.  We will gratefully obey Him—in response to His amazing love for us.

#love #thanksgiving #thankful #church #noma #jesus #holyspirit #god #churchplant #churchplanting 

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 God’s Voice

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7a).

From time to time I enjoy watching the tv show called "The Voice."  Gifted singers compete against each other and eventually a winner is declared.

There is a Voice above all voices, a Voice that has won and lasts forever. That Voice belongs to God and He speaks to us today through the power of the Holy Spirit.

How does one hear this most wonderful, beautiful Voice? Many times God speaks and we don’t realize it’s Him. I remember when I first believed that the claims about Jesus in the Bible were true. It was God Who was speaking to my heart, telling me how much I was loved, that Jesus died for me and rose again, and that He wanted to forgive all of my sins and start a personal relationship with me. This was just the beginning of hearing God’s Voice.

Since then I’ve started and maintained the daily habit of reading the Bible and praying to Him. During this time, He speaks to my heart and I write down His words. Sometimes it’s things I should do for others, sometimes it’s areas in my life that need to change, or even a different direction he wants me to go. The conversation is new and exciting every day!

Sometimes He speaks to me through other people, through nature, through dreams and in other amazing ways. On occasion He even will show me a vision of what He wants. A vision is like a movie in our minds that shows something God wants you to do or He is going to do in the future. 

Listening to God’s Voice is the best part of living as a follower of Jesus here on earth. It’s part of living life to the full that Jesus talks about in John  10:10. God wants to talk to all His children.  Make it a daily habit to have a special time with Him. Ask Him to speak to you. Keep listening throughout the day. You’ll discover He is always speaking, always leading you to truth, always giving wise advice. It’s the best and sweetest Voice you’ll ever hear. 

PS. It was God’s Voice that instructed us to come to D.C. and start New Life NoMa. At first I didn’t want to come here. But God’s thoughts are so far above our thoughts. Kathy and I love living in D.C. and as New Life NoMa is birthed, God has put amazing and loving people in our path. We are blessed!  

Matthew 2:13-15

"When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son."

Acts 16:9-10

"During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."


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 True Christianity

Do you know how followers of Christ are to be recognized? It’s by their love for each other. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

The command to love is not easy. Read how love is described in the Bible: "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  8 Love never fails" (1 Cor. 13:4-8a). Who does this well?

Loving like this is not easy; we need help. Thankfully, God helps us love by the power of His Spirit.  So we ask, and God graciously gives us help because He always helps us with what He instructs us to do. He begins to change our hearts to be like His heart. We love Him and people more and more each day. We become more Christlike. 

I want to love more today than I did yesterday. It’s not what I say that matters, but what I do that reveals my heart. Will you join me in asking God to help us love Him and other people more today than yesterday? I believe that as we pray, God will answer and we will change this world for the better, one person at at time. Let it begin in my heart, Lord.

Matthew 23:3-5a

"So you must obey them (the teachers of the religious law and the Pharisees) and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4 They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5 "Everything they do is done for men to see...."


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 Don’t Quit

One of the most difficult parts of playing high school football is conditioning. At the end of practice in the hot summer sun, we would line up to run wind sprints. They are a series of short sprints that go from 20 to 30 yards and back again, over and over. As my teammates and I were running wind sprints, our coach would yell, "Who wants to quit? Just stop and grab some water."  Of course if we did, we would either have to run some more sprints, cause our teammates to run more sprints, or lose our place on the team by quitting.

Why was our coach so merciless?  He knew that at the end of games we would be tired and want to give less than our best. Then we’d probably lose. He was toughening us mentally and physically so we would not quit or lessen our efforts even when we were tired. We were building character and fortitude; we were learning perseverance. 

Even greater perseverance is needed in our walk with Jesus because we don’t fight against flesh and blood. Life will confront us with severe trials and temptations to violate the boundaries God has graciously built for us. His desire is for us to love and live abundantly. Conversely, the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. When we violate His ways, we are hurt, others are hurt, and we doubt, which greatly weakens our faith. 

I like what Joss Billings wrote, "Consider the postage stamp; its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing until it gets there."  

Let’s stick to spending time with God and each other. Let’s develop habits of church attendance, Bible reading and study, prayer, fellowship, and giving. If we do, when trials come and we want to quit, we won’t. We’ll persevere to an abundant life. 

Hebrews 10:33-35

Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.


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