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Earl Marshall

Harvest Training Center – Week One #40intheFall

We are off to a great start. Our #40intheFall families have arrived. Last week we started by laying the right foundations.

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Humbled and excited about the next four months.

Thinking on Prayer – Entry Two: Luke 18:8

Luke 18:1-14 is full of practical do’s and don’ts on prayer. The examples of the widow, judge, Pharisee and tax collector are teeming with analogies to our lives. It is, however, the words in 18:8 which have always posed the greatest challenge to my life. “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

When I first read these words that end the parable of the widow and the judge and precede the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, I found their placement odd. It felt like an unnecessary “add on.” But the link between faith in God and prayer to God is unbreakable.

In this season of my life my pastoral responsibilities could be described as studying, preaching, teaching, mentoring, training, caring, leading. All of these bring rich joy to my life. Most of these, however, focus on my ability to discover, get things done, and can at times require small expressions of faith on my part.

The sign of real faith is prayer.

  • Prayer that is persistent, “crying to him day and night.”
  • Prayer that is desperate and dependent, she “kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’
  • Prayer that is humble, “standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  One of the signs of faith is persistent, desperate, dependent, humble prayer. A lack of this kind of prayer in my life is an indication of a lack of faith in my God.

We are called to watch and be ready for the return of the Lord (Matthew 25:13), to set our hope on the return of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13), to long for the return of Christ (Romans 8:18-19).

If he were to return right now would Jesus see in your life, persistent, desperate, dependent, humble prayer?

Would he find faith in your life?

 

Thinking on Prayer: Entry One – Hebrews 4:16

For those who lived during the era of kingship, I imagine receiving an invitation for a hearing with the king would have conjured up all kinds of emotion. To be asked to stand before the one who could with one word bring blessing to or curse on your life could be troubling.

When I read Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” my mind thinks of that peasant who is coming to the palace for the first time. They have heard stories of the grandeur but now for the first time they are experiencing it for themselves. What must have been running through their minds as the entrance doors to the throne room are pushed open for them. “If only my mother could see me now!” might be their thought. I am especially drawn to consider what kind of emotion would be running through them as they make their way down the marble aisle towards the throne of the king. With each step taken is their an increase in excitement or hesitancy? Does fear enter their mind or only anticipation?

I suppose that it all depends on the reputation of the king who sits on the throne. I am reminded in Hebrews 4:16 that my King is no King Henry VIII.

Yet how often do I or you come down the prayer aisle to the throne of grace in confidence? Confidence because we know that our God is all about grace and mercy to those whom He loves. Are my steps towards the throne room of heaven filled with anticipation or with hesitancy and perhaps even fear?

How To Respond When Things Aren’t Going As Planned? The Gospel Power of Submission

I have been studying 1 Peter the past few months while observing sweeping political and cultural changes in North America. Evangelicals are continually finding themselves on the outside looking in through these changes. Our noses are pressed against the window watching a theater of activity that feels all to unfamiliar to us, This should not surprise us. For years the position of the evangelical church has been from the borderland of the public square and not the town center the church once occupied. But the speed of change the past couple of years has been mind-blowing. For example, I certainly did not foresee a transgender restroom law for public space on the political agenda. Nor did anyone seemingly anticipate the cultural conditions that have cultivated an uncertain leadership future for one of the world’s greatest countries.

The church continues to struggle with how to respond to these sweeping changes. We are citizens of heaven but also citizens of earth and citizenship requires a reasonable response. So in a culture that continues to change and create an unfriendly context for the gospel what should the response of the church be?

I have been challenged with Peter’s response in 1 Peter. In the midst of an unfavorable context for the gospel he promotes submission. His words were not written to Christian citizens in a democracy but to Christians under emperor rule, some whom were enslaved. How does a Christian respond when cultural conditions are not favorable, when they don’t have a strong voice in the public square, and when they are ridiculed and maligned for following Jesus Christ?

In the face of suffering the Christian chooses submission.

This truth conjures so many emotions. I certainly do not believe that the church should give up trying to influence the development of public policy through public debate. We should continue to struggle for God’s righteousness. His ways are always the best ways. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the spirit of anti-Christ is growing stronger and stronger and short of a massive revival in the church and a Christ centered spiritual awakening in the hearts of the lost it will become increasingly more difficult to follow Jesus in the public square of North America.

Our learned response must be the same as Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 4:1 says, “Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking.” When Christ suffered in the face of darkness it was his submission that was brightest.  1 Peter 3:15-17 says, “but in your hearts honor Christ that Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

I love a fighting heart but in the face of suffering for the gospel a submissive spirit is more powerful.  The light shines brighter in the darkness. These are great days for the power of the gospel. Submission is our gospel response.

Happy Mothers Day

I am so thankful to God for my wife and the mother of our children. I feel compelled to express how much I appreciate Brenda. She is an amazing godly example to many but it is her ministry to me and our family that continues to move my heart to love her more every day and year that we are blessed to be together.

IMG_2508Many women know this truth, being a mom is both a joy and a crucible of sanctification. In most cases being a mother also means being a wife and many days that requires an entirely deeper level of endurance. Such has been the case for us these past couple of years. We finished serving in a church, thought we were going to plant a church, ended up moving to Chicago, and have dealt with the ongoing challenges of relocation. It has been a marathon full of joy and the constant hurdling of obstacles.

This beautiful woman that is my friend and cherished love has been dragged through so much the past couple of years that words hardly do justice the amount of gratitude I have for her. She has shown grace through all of it and a strong call of God on her life as she has walked with me through all of this.

So this is for you Brenda. You are an amazing woman of God. I love you so much. God has forged in you a deep contentment and joy for serving others for His glory. Your life is a constant overflow of the close relationship you have with Christ. Thank you!

 

Lessons Learned from Taco Bell

It has been a long time since I ate at a Taco Bell. There was a day when it was my late night stop of choice but not anymore. But clearly it is still the choice of many and mostly because of its recent willingness to try new things. I don’t have a high need for change. I work with others that do have a high need for change. Even though that can create moments of tension we do share in a clear commitment and understanding that change is necessary as we pursue the mission that God has called us on to plant churches around the world.

Taco Bell has a similar perspective. Niccol the head of marketing at Taco Bell says, “If you have the belief that there’s still work to be done, then you’ll figure out how to break a little glass.” What I see at Taco Bell is a company that is trying new things and seeing if it works. Whether it is the creation of Beefy Frito Burritos or Dorito Locos Tacos, Taco Bell is looking for ways to break a little glass. Pastors need to learn how to break a little glass but not like a bull in a china shop.

As is the case at Taco Bell so should be the case in our churches. Innovation doesn’t rest with one person. The architecture of a culture of innovation may be a primary leader’s responsibility but innovation is a team thing. “From an innovation perspective, I’d love it if we had one person who just comes up with great ideas. But it doesn’t work that way,” says Matthews of Taco Bell. “The strategy is getting different people together, having food around, and having conversations.”

Sounds like a great idea!

Lessons Learned From BuzzFeed

I love to learn and some of my best learning over the years has come from what I would call my non-traditional resource base. My traditional resource base is church people writing about church things. As one of my prof’s used to say, “sometimes you just have to go to the symphony to solve a problem.” So when I was in the San Antonio airport this past weekend and saw that Fast Company just released it’s list of “The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies,” I just had to have it. Learning 101, look for ideas everywhere that you can.

Church planting is about connecting with people and in our world that means having a strategy where you can be found. Social media is a big part of that. BuzzFeed changed their social media strategy in 2014. “Instead of trying to lure eyeballs to its own website, the way most publishers do, BuzzFeed would publish original text, images, and video directly to where its audience already spent its time, some 30 different global platforms . . . Rather than write one definitive article and publish it on every platform (the de facto standard in the media business), BuzzFeed would tailor content specifically for the network and audience where it’s being viewed.”

Organizations that need to be found should take notice. Pastors take notice. Don’t create a strategy that is always trying to get your prospective audience to come to you but go to your prospective audience with a tailored message.

Planting Churches that Plant Churches

@harvestbiblefellowship we are devoted to establishing, growing and multiplying churches that plant churches. Multiplication is what we are about. In my conversations with church leaders I am finding that there is a strong desire among many to experience multiplication. For all multiplication is a worthy goal and yet one that seems so far beyond the reach of the day to day reality that many leaders of new and established churches are experiencing.

This weekend I was in Texas assisting @harvestsa train and install their elders. This was such a great weekend but the story of Harvest Bible Chapel San Antonio is really the story of Harvest Bible Chapel Austin.

IMG_2231When you consider what it means to multiply as a church think of the definition of a church planting church as, “one that either sends out a group of people to start a new church in a community or sends out a man to be the Senior Pastor of a new church in a community.” This has to be built into your DNA from the beginning of your church or in the case of a transitioning church, become a value that is promoted and celebrated time and time again.

Bryan Payne even while his church was small numerically and young in age released Joshua de Koning from Harvest Austin to plant Harvest San Antonio. There is no rational reason for this to have happened the way that it did but when planting churches is in your DNA you look for the God given opportunity. We celebrate along with Harvest Austin and Harvest San Antonio the multiplication of churches for the glory of God in Texas and around the world.

On Racial Divide

For the past few months I have been a Canadian living in the USA (Chicagoland). This hardly makes me an expert on anything American but it certainly does give me an unique perspective on the reaction to the events that have happened in Ferguson. Racial divide is not just an American issue. Growing up in the Toronto area has given me enough exposure to know that racial conflict is a sin problem shared by many around the globe. What seems to be unique in the USA is the reaction to racial issues. No doubt this is because of the history of this wonderful country. Knowing that so many fought and died over this very issue gives it a “just below the surface” feeling within the culture of this country. So once again the events of Ferguson have sparked national attention on a significant problem.

Yesterday I listened to Pastor Bill Hybels address the issue at Willow Creek Community Church. He spoke from a heart full of personal passion and angst. He did not preach on the topic but he obviously believed it important to speak to the issue pastorally before his congregation. He spoke of the importance of understanding each other’s stories. He rightly noted that in conflict there are always at least two narratives. He wisely noted that the problem is when the two narratives don’t intersect with one another. My narrative as a white Canadian does not include being perceived with suspicion because of the color of my skin. For many, unfortunately, this is exactly the case.

We need to listen to and understand one another’s narratives. This is important but there is a greater narrative that if we are willing to submit to, believe in, and celebrate can lead to the solution of the sin problem of racial divide. This is not a uniquely Canadian perspective but it is a uniquely biblical perspective. The grand narrative of the Bible tells me that what Christ has done in the past informs the present. Ephesians 2:19-22 speaks of peace, bringing together, and being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. The church is the picture of reconciliation. Because Jesus has died and through faith in who Jesus is and what he has done on the cross, this results in a family relationship that surpasses racial divide. The Apostle Paul makes this so clear in Galatians 3:28-29. We are all one in Christ Jesus and heirs according to the promise. The truth of what Jesus has done informs how I view those around me. The church leads the way in this kind of reconciliation because we have been reconciled to one another and to God through Jesus Christ. The grand narrative of the Bible tells me that what Christ has done in our future informs the present. Revelation 5:9-10 is a picture of heaven, of eternity, of a reality that is so much more than what is presently realized on this earth, and an understanding that there is more than now, not all is as it seems to be. As we catch a glimpse of the eternal we are reminded that from every tribe, language, people and nation there are ransomed people for God, a kingdom of priests to our God. Worshipers of every race surrounding the throne of God declaring their love and praise for Jesus Christ, the one who died for them and who is alone worthy to hold God’s plan for history in his hand. One biblical narrative that informs the present.

We need to listen to one another’s stories but do this within the context of a greater narrative, a biblical story. The gospel changes things!

Moving On

Something strange, surprising and totally unexpected happened to me last week.  I am in Chicago at the Harvest Training Centre preparing for what is the next step for us in ministry.  So when I learned last week that our previous church, Compass Community Church, had announced my replacement I was not prepared for the wave of emotion that I felt. My head has been so focused on what is next that I have had little time to continue to think about what we have left behind. There have been these moments that have jolted me back into that reality. When our house finally sold I felt elation of what God had done and at the same time the loss of the disconnect from a community of people that we love dearly. I felt all of that again when I read that Andrew Gordon will be considered for the role of Senior Pastor at Compass. I am very happy that God has provided for Compass and for Andrew and his family. I feel the delight but I also feel the sadness of the finality. I am certain someone out there is saying “suck it up buttercup” or “what did you expect would happen?” Yes, I get it. We are all moving forward as we should. I have been wondering since the beginning of September, what is taking you so long and then last week, “it only took you that long?” There have been a lot of mixed emotions.

I am so thankful for a dear friend who took the time to send me an email on the Sunday of the announcement expressing appreciation and care for me. It is hard to explain the relationship between pastor and those he is watching over, as one who gives an account (Hebrews 13:17). Pastors care and even when we have supposedly moved on we continue to care deeply.

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