Growth

This Sunday marked the third week of the relaunched Camp Johnson Chapel services. I was named the regular speaker at the Chapel last month. The Chaplain and I decided to change the time of service from 9:00 to 10:00 am. I had 7 plastic signs made with directions and time of service printed up that we put out every Sunday morning. Paint, a curtain to cover the bar area (the temporary Chapel is in the old officers bar on base) a pulpit and new seating pattern, Panera Bread pastries donated every Sunday morning by Centerview Baptist Church, Bibles from a local Gideon, and we were ready.

            We get up at 5:30 on Sunday mornings, drive to the Chapel and put out the signs. Then Patty and I take our morning 3 mile walk through downtown Jacksonville. Then its back home to shower and get to Centerview for the 8:30 service, pick up the pastries, and leave just before Pastor gives the invitation so we can make it to the Chapel 20 minutes before the service starts. Patty sets up the coffee table and puts out the pastries. I arrange my pulpit and create an order of service. And then we wait for Marines and Naval Corpsmen to arrive. Patty and I have said to each other often that this feels like we are planting a church again, exactly 20 years after we entered full time ministry as church planters.

            Sunday May 2 was the first service at the new time. in the month before, only Easter Sunday had attendees. Every other Sunday was an 0-fer. That first Sunday we were thrilled to have three in service. Last week we were excited to see five. This Sunday we had been praying for God to double our attendance at Chapel. With more signs, the Chaplain handing out flyers through the week for us, and many praying we had faith God could grow this new ministry.

            FOURTEEN ATTENDED CHAPEL THIS WEEK.

            Fourteen.  Two had been at both previous services. Two more had been there last week. Some of those had brought friends. Others said they saw the signs and that brought them in. We know God brought them all. I preached on Philippians 1:12-14 about how though sometimes circumstances seem limiting (Paul wrote this epistle from prison) God is able to move His program for His people forward. There were a lot of smiles. A few concerned looks as the preacher stepped on toes Biblically, and even a few “amen’s” as I preached.

            The stories from the Marines and Corpsmen touched our hearts. A young lady told us that a surprise formation was called that morning, and it lasted long enough that Chow hall was closed once they were dismissed. She was very thankful for the croissant and coffee. Another Marine showed up out of breath as he was initially told he could not go to Chapel this morning. But a compassionate Gunnery Sargent nixed that and said he could attend. He had to run a fair distance to get to us in time for the service.  A young Marine came to my pulpit afterwards and asked for some counsel on getting back on track with God. I gave him a short lesson on Spiritual Disciplines and gave him an “assignment” for the week and instructions to come back next Sunday with a good report.  Others spent time talking with Patty, glad to have a mother figure to talk to after so long away from home.

            I gave all the Marines a challenge for this week- to start today, on the 17th, at Proverbs 17 and read one chapter a day Proverbs until next Sunday.  Proverbs 17:22 says: “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.” We’ve sure had some dry bones lately. It’s good to get some Balm from Gilead after such a tough year and know that God is not only on His Throne, He is still in the business of changing lives, using His servants, and bringing many sons unto glory.

ONE

Last week I was contacted by the Chaplain leading the Protestant services at Camp Johnson. He had a surgery and needed me to fill in and run services there for the next three weeks. I prepared a sermon for today, and this morning Patty and I headed over. We got to the Chapel 15 minutes early. 45 minutes later there was no one there. This isn’t too unusual because Camp Johnson is a training camp with a rotating population. Building a regular, steady attendance has always s been difficult, more so since the Chapel building was destroyed by Hurricane Florence- we meet in the old Officer’s Bar. We began locking up and I texted the Chaplain to let him know our situation. I hit ‘send’ and Patty said “Dave, someone’s at the door.” I opened it and Jesse was walking away, thinking Chapel was cancelled.

We had met Jesse many times over the last 5 months. He graduated from his schoolhouse back in November, but was in a holding pattern waiting for his assignment to the Fleet. I called him in. He told me he was late because he had some medical duties to finish before he could deploy. Patty and I were glad we didn’t head out just a few minutes earlier. Jesse is heading to Okinawa this week and we wouldn’t have seen him again. We sat and talked for about 15 minutes about his new assignment and I answered a few questions he had from his Bible reading this week. Then I preached to him and Patty for 15 minutes.

After I finished preaching we sat around the Chapel for another half hour. He told us about his faith journey. I gave him some suggestions for study materials and promised to help him get involved with a Bible study and church once he got to Okinawa.  We never made it to a “proper” service at our local church or any another in the area this morning. There was no time. However, Patty and I wouldn’t have today go any other way. We had church. Just the three of us.

As Missionaries, we send out regular “prayer letters.” My only struggle with these is numbers. As a Pastor who knows many other pastors, I know that numbers tend to matter. Missionaries want their letters to be filled with “biggest service ever” and “This many saved this month.” But as a Missionary I know this…

One is enough. Jesus said a good shepherd will leave the 99 to save the One.  We’ll take a small crowd any day, even just one. The small, especially the One, give us the opportunity to spend real time with those we are teaching. Discipleship IS the Great Commission. We are not to only reach the lost, but we are to teach, disciple, and help young Christians grow.

Patty and I will always treasure the hour we had with Jesse this morning. We thought the morning was a bust because no one showed for the first half-hour of Chapel. But God had a plan. Oh, and I texted the Chaplain back after the service.

GAIN/LOSS

I’m quite numb right now.  My Pastor left this earth yesterday after a weeks long battle with COVID. He was 63 when Jesus called him Home. Heavens gain is my loss.

I met Johnnie Brewer in the spring of 1997 when I was searching for a church home after re-dedicating my life to the Lord a couple years earlier. A cousin had invited me and my wife to his church for Friend Day.  Evangelist Rick Via was preaching that day. Patty received Christ that day. A few days later Pastor Brewer called me to follow up and to let me know he was praying for my son Ben, who was about to undergo surgery, at the age of 5 months, for a tumor in his eye socket.

         I started attending New Life the next week. Pastor and I met in his office soon after. I joined the church that day, in his office (Pastoral leadership lesson 1) and told him about my understanding that God was calling me into the ministry. He assigned me to teach a class in VBS on that day, and scheduled me to preach at a Nursing home the next week. No wasting time.

         That fall I started preaching at the Baltimore Rescue Mission. In January of 1998 I preached from the pulpit of New Life for the first time. On Super Bowl Sunday night. Leadership lesson 2- Never cancel Church for the worlds delights. Pastor had encouraged me to go back to college and add Theology to my Broadcasting and Communications degree. In the Spring of 1999 I graduated with my Bachelors in Theology. Pastor was there.

         He was also there when we lost our last two babies to miscarriages. He was there when any of us had surgeries, at birthday parties, at church picnics and more. He and Sherrie travelled with Patty and I to Lynchburg, VA for Jerry Fallwell’s funeral. The drive back from Lynchburg remained one of our favorite memories that the four of us talked of regularly, including at our last meal together at Cracker Barrel a few months ago.

From the fall of 1997 to January 2016 I saw pastor every month at the Baptist Bible Fellowship Pastors meetings. I travelled with him to those in the first years, and after I began full time ministry in 2001 I met him there. Every month. He taught me the importance of fellowshipping with men of God. We also walked the streets of White Marsh, Middle River, Rosedale, and Joppa MD knocking on doors every Tuesday night and Saturday morning for years. He taught me how to win souls to Christ. How to apply apologetics to ordinary conversations. How to love on people and have pity on those in sin instead of indignantly judging them. He taught me how to be a pastor. How to be a preacher. How to be a Godly man.

I can’t count how many 11:30 lunches we spent together. Pastor always started lunch at 11:30- He was up before 5:00 every morning and in the office soon after. At those lunches I was discipled. Pastor talked, taught, and showed me that discipleship is not going through a workbook, its living your life before men, and showing them how practical theology can be. He was and is the singular figure who influenced the direction of my life from the age of 30 to 54 and will continue to influence my life until Jesus takes me too.

         In my ministry life God has put several men in my path to guide me. Johnnie Brewer towered over them all because he was not just my friend. He was my pastor. All but one of those men are in Heaven now. And 24 years after we first met, I am now the old man teaching younger men the lessons Pastor Brewer taught me. I remember many times sitting in the visitor chair in his office, pastor behind his desk, as he rattled off Scriptures from memory, teaching me. I wondered how he did that. 24 years later I find myself on the other side of the desk, rattling off Scriptures from memory to young Marines and Sailors and I look back, thanking God for such a wonderful teacher and example.

      We were more than Pastor and member, teacher and student, more than friends. We were brothers in Christ, to the fullest measure of that saying.

         I miss you already Pastor. But I’ll see you soon.

Depression, Suicide & The Will of God

There is a Facebook challenge going on right now regarding Veteran suicide. Its premise is to do 25 pushups each day for 25 days and post a video of it. I was nominated by my sister-in-law recently. I’m unable to do the pushups right now because of a recent foot injury (and my character won’t let me do knee-pushups).

To show my support I thought I’d write this short Bible study on Depression, Suicide and the Will of God.

In Psalm 18 David is recounting a time when he was severely depressed. Before he talks about his depression, he encourages and strengthens himself in the character of God.

Psalm 18:1…I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.

 2 The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower.

 3 I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.

            He calls God our strength, rock, fortress and deliverer. Our buckler, the horn of our salvation and our high tower. What does that all mean? God is there. No matter how down we feel, no matter how alone, no matter how depressed, anxious, frustrated or fearful, God is there. He is right beside us. And even more so, since we live in the age of Grace, if we are saved, God is in us.

1 Corinthians 3:16…Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?

Romans 8:11…But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.

So when depression comes upon us, what do we do?

We call upon the Lord who is worthy to be praised. He and only He can deliver us from our enemies. And frankly, our enemies tend to be inside, rather than outside of ourselves.

Psalm 18:4…The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid.

 5 The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me.

Now David recounts his misery. In verses 4 & 5 David is recounting all the battles in his life, this is the worship version of the song David sang in II Samuel 22, as an old man who just buried the stolen bones of his predecessor and his best friend, who has just been banned from battle by his men because he is too old and nearly died in a fight with Goliath’s son. He is looking back on the sorrows of his life and being very honest about the depression and anxiety he experienced over the years.

Depression and Suicide are topics the Bible discusses at great length.

Let’s clear up some misconceptions:

Depression is not necessarily a defect, disorder or dysfunction in a Christians’ spiritual or emotional life. A form of depression comes upon  ALL of us at some time or another. In Christian circles we often fall into the trap of thinking that the saved are not ever supposed to be depressed. We take verses like “rejoice in the Lord always” and “be careful for nothing” and state that the Christian is always to be abounding in the Joy of the Lord, and by extension, is in sin when they are not.

But depression is not a sin… It is the effect of sin in the life of a believer. We are all sinners, and we each have differing issues and struggles. Some may seem greater or lesser, but all sin is the same according to James, and we ought to see all our struggles as the same, even though some struggles lead to depression or even suicide.

We cannot stigmatize those who suffer from depression and anxiety. To ask someone to try to not be depressed is like asking a shooting victim to try not to bleed. Many times depression is the result of a form of mental illness. But we cannot stigmatize mental illness, because we are ALL mentally ill in some form. Every one of us suffers the effects of our sinful natures upon our mind. We all make poor decisions, we all say things we don’t mean, do things we wish we didn’t, and hurt people we love. This doesn’t excuse this behavior, but we must be honest about ourselves. As Paul recounted in Romans 7 there is an Enemy inside us.

Romans 7:21-25…I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.

The Enemy is our own sinful nature. A Shadow Self. Another personality who only wishes to block all our progress, harm our relationships, make us eat too much, drink to drunkenness, act in ways we know are not in our best interest. When this Shadow Self gets its way, our lives spiral out of control. Before this passage in Verse 20 Paul declares that now, in Christ, it is no longer his true self that sins, that self was redeemed by Christ.

Romans 7:20…Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me.

It is this shadow Self that lies to us, tells us life is not worth living, and even a Christian can fall susceptible to this deception.

Now let me say this: suicide is not the “Unforgivable Sin” There is only one unforgiveable sin, and that is unbelief. If Grace does not cover severe depression, what does it cover? The thought that suicide is unforgiveable betrays a works salvation ethic, where the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross is insufficient to cleanse us from all sin, past, present and future.

Does a Christian who commits suicide still go to Heaven? YES, but they suffer loss. Lost opportunity to serve, lost ability to gain new crowns for Jesus.

1 John 1:7…But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.

There are records of great men in the Bible committing suicide, wanting to commit suicide, and even asking God to kill them, which is asking for assisted suicide.

  • Saul the King on the Battlefield in I Samuel 31:1-6 & II Samuel 1:1-10 threw himself upon a sword. A young Amalakite saw this and ran to inflict a wound then claim his victory over Saul- his report to David did not go as he planned.
  • Samson the Judge in Judges 16:28 asked God to help him die as he took out a crowd of Philistines.
  • Elijah the Prophet in I Kings 19:4 was so depressed after hearing of Jezebel’s desire to kill him he actually sought death from the Lord.
  • In Jonah 1:12 the prophet asks to be thrown overboard.

And some not so great men…

  • Ahithophel in II Samuel 17:13 hangs himself because Absalom did not take his advice.
  • Zimri, the man who made himself king by killing the current king, sets his house on fire when he realizes the people will remove him from the throne by force after only seven days of his rule.
  • Judas Iscariot hung himself on the day of the Crucifixion. He hung there until Sunday because the Sabbath prevented anyone from cutting him down.
  • The Philippian Jailer in Acts 16:25-28, was ready to run himself through with his sword when he saw the jail opened. He was stopped by Paul.
  • Even Demons attempt suicide. In Luke 8:26-34 they ask Jesus to cast them into pigs and they jump off the cliff rather than be exorcised by Jesus and sent to the dry barren place demons are condemned to.

Is it ok to commit suicide then? No.

Ecclesiastes 7:14-17… In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him. All things have I seen in the days of my vanity: there is a just man that perisheth in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man that prolongeth his life in his wickedness. Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?

As Solomon states, there is an ebb and flow to life. There are joyful times, but there are also times of great sorrow and despair. His advice when you are in despair? Don’t be foolish. Don’t die before your time. Change will come. It may seem like it is taking forever, it may seem like God will never come through, but you must hold on. Remember, the bad times make the good times better.

Romans 8:28-39…And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Here is my problem in this: I suffer from bouts of depression, just like David, just like Elijah, just like Charles Spurgeon, the great preacher at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in England at the end of the 19th Century. But Depression does not fit my Theology. I want to believe that trusting God is an insurance policy against depression, but it is not, because I still live in this world, and I still live in this body. I will live with the effects of sin until I die. This is why there are so many promises in the Bible, to encourage us and to remind us that as bad as it gets, God is greater.

Proverbs  17:22…A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Psalm34:17-19…The righteous cry, and the LORD heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles. The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the LORD delivereth him out of them all.

So how do we deal with Depression and Suicidal thoughts? First, remember that there is an ebb and flow of life. Life is a series of ups and downs No matter how down you get, if you just hold on, you WILL see the tide roll back in. Lean on the LORD. He is your only hope, run to Him.

But also learn to lean on your friends and family. After any suicide (and I have had family members and friends commit suicide) the ones left behind suffer great feelings of shame. “I could have done something…”

And maybe we could have, but maybe not. At least we can try. I call on us as individuals to lean on our friends and families, they want to be there for us. But I also call on all of us as a community to determine to be there for each other. Especially for our Veterans. In a day and age when those that protect our society are suffering from a culture shift that diminishes their value, it’s never been more important to support our Troops by being available whenever they may need us.

If you suffer from depression, “Never doubt in the dark what God has revealed in the light” You are Not alone. So don’t let yourself be alone.

2 Corinthians 7:4-6…Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my glorying of you: I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation. For, when we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears. Nevertheless God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus;

In the nearly five years I have been ministering to Marines and Sailors I have seen the reality of suicide. About twice a month I hear of a Marine who has committed suicide at Camp Lejeune. One was the roommate of one of our regulars at the Center. I have had Marines who attend our Center speak openly about suicidal thoughts. The return I use at the side of my office desk was the dinner table of a Marine who committed suicide. His mother donated the table and several chairs to our center.

The answer to Depression and Suicide is right beside you today. The answer is your parents, spouse, siblings, friends. It’s your Pastor, Deacon or mentor. There is healing in the group. If you are depressed don’t let yourself believe the Lie that you are alone. Someone here on earth loves you dearly. Reach out. And if you know someone who is depressed, reach out as well. Let’s not fail each other.

DAVE MASON

Trusting God in the Pandemic

I Timothy 1:7…For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

May I share my view on the corona virus situation?

My walk with God has always been defined by trust. I have trusted Him through some incredibly hard times. The loss of three of our children through miscarriage, a doctor telling us our youngest son had a tumor on his eye that was probably cancerous when he was less than six months old.  Another doctor pulling me away from my children to tell me there was a great risk that my wife would not live through an emergency surgery.  And there were the financial hardships, medical issues of my own, and the loss of great friends through death or desertion. 

Through all of this I have trusted Him. 

I am concerned for the church at this time. I know as a pastor that it only takes three missed services for a church member to never return. I know that when folks miss church they keep God’s tithe for that week for themselves. And so I know that the current restrictions on gathering in large groups, (and now as small as 10) will do great harm to many churches, missionaries and ministries. 

I’ve been getting messages from friends in ministry. One is a church planter who only has 60% of his support raised, and depends on a part time job for the rest of his income. He needs prayer that he will be able to pay his bills, because the current restrictions mean he cannot work his other job. But he’s going to have more problems when this situation is over. So will I. And so will many of my friends in full time ministry.

When this is over (and this too shall pass) we may be facing a dire situation for Gospel ministries. Many church members will not give while they cannot attend church. Many (most?) churches have little to no reserve. Pastors  will loose salaries, missionaries and ministries will have to cut back severely. All because Christians don’t trust God.

If you are the redeemed of the Lord you have no reason to panic, hoard, or isolate yourself from your church. The government may tell you you cannot assemble (though I question the Constitutionality of an order like that) but your government cannot tell you to loose faith.

God is still in control of ALL events. He is not surprised by this “pandemic.” And He absolutely still has your well being as a priority.

Matthew 6:24-33…No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

And

Psalm 37:23-26…

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD:

and he delighteth in his way.

Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down:

for the LORD upholdeth him with his hand.

I have been young, and now am old;

yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken,

nor his seed begging bread.

He is ever merciful, and lendeth;

and his seed is blessed.

I just finished preaching at a 5 day faith promise missions conference. This Sunday Morning we had 44 in the service. Wednesday through Saturday we barely broke 20 in attendance. Yet this church trusted God and gave nearly $4,000 to be split among the three missionaries present. They also promised over $1,000 per month for the next year to go to missions. This is money they don’t have. Faith Promise is asking God to give you the money so you can give the money to missions. They did it last year for the first time and ended the year with thousands over an above what they believed God for. Can God set us a table in the wilderness? Yes He can.

You can trust God through this crisis. You can actually thrive through this.

Determine today that this “crisis” will not stop you from loving people, serving your Lord, and giving to propagate the Gospel. Love when people are unloveable. Serve when fear wants to overwhelm you. Give when you aren’t sure you can make it if you do. Do all of this prayerfully and watch God work in mighty ways. “But what if it doesn’t work?” it won’t if you keep asking that. God has determined that the level of our blessings is directly tied to our use of the faith He has given us. As an old preacher once said to a young preacher, “You don’t need more faith, you need to learn how to use the faith God has already given you!”

Don’t be afraid. Don’t worry. 

Just Trust Him.

DAVE MASON

Patience, Part 2

In June of last year, I posted the last original post on this blog. I say original because it was not just a copy and paste of our monthly prayer letter. I’ve gotten out of the habit of posting those too, and I need to get back to that habit. Pray with me I do.

The post from last year I am referencing can be found here: https://fieldnotesjax.com/2019/06/

It was about patience, and a little incident I experienced that, frankly, I forgot all about until I re-read the post this morning.  I re-read it because I want to write yet another piece on patience. It’s a topic very close to my heart. Especially when I recount the history of our building project.

In September of 2017 I announced the building project at our 65th ministry anniversary banquet. Over the course of 2018 we saw God bring in the money, in drips and drabs, and occasionally in floods of generosity. By September of 2018 we were very close to our funding goal and ready to start. Then Hurricane Florence hit and every contractor in the area was swamped with work, we could not find one able to take on the project. By January of last year we were ready again. We hit our funding goal and went through City Council and Zoning board meetings, got our approvals and by February had found a contractor. I jubilantly began proclaiming ‘We will be under roof by Easter!’ and then, ‘By Independence Day!’ and again, “We will be completed before Thanksgiving!’ None of that happened.

At every turn, there were delays. There was a large increase in the funds needed. After all, our estimate was done in 2017. City regulations again threatened to stop us. Sidewalks to nowhere, a single parking space that will cost $5k, and still the possible need for a handicapped lift (That will cost in excess of $10,000- possibly much more) hangs over the project.

Along the way the Lord has sent us great helps. The Jacksonville City Manager has been especially helpful, sponsoring legislation to change the city’s sidewalk rules that would ultimately exempt us from moving a retaining wall and pouring a sidewalk that would cost an additional $12K to build. I have several groups volunteering to come help with finishing the inside of the new addition. I am acting as the contractor for sheetrock, insulation, painting, flooring and trim work (for those of you who don’t know, I grew up the son of a painter and carpenter, I have a lot of experience in these trades). The Marines and Sailors we minister to are incredible encouragements. They are so excited to see this happen.

But it hadn’t happened yet.

Until today.

Last night at 9:05 I received a text from our contractor telling me that the concrete guys would be at the center this morning to start the foundation work. I arrived at the Center 12 hours later to this:

After 2 ½ years of praying and anticipating, setbacks and shortfalls, God is fulfilling a promise he made to me back in 2017. I just finished reading Genesis in my daily Bible reading. The story of Abraham rang true as I compared his journey to mine. Though my promise from God was not as expansive or history making, it was important to me. Abrahams journey helped me in these last few days before the promise became real.

In Genesis 16 Sarah is tired of waiting and gives Abraham her maid to have a child by. Ishmael, the father of all Arabic races was the result and to this day we are dealing with the family feud between the children of Ishmael and the children of Isaac. I am reminded not to presume the will of God, but to wait when He sees fit to delay in our estimation.

James 1:4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. 

Remember that Jesus waited about 36 years to accomplish 3 ½ years of ministry.

Paul had to go to the desert for 3 years to be trained by God for the Gospel ministry even though he was already a learned teacher of the Law.

Hebrews 6:10-15… For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.  And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end:  That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.  And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 

One of my favorite sayings, which I use at The Center during Bible studies, and in public when waiting in line at stores is “Patience is Power.” Read my previous post for my explanation of that.

Waiting is hard, but it is worth it. Right in the middle of Peter’s admonitions of how to grow and what to do is patience…

II Peter 1:5-8…And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;  And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;  And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.  For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Patience, my friend, patience.

Blessings & Opportunities

Introducing Abraham!

It is our joy to announce the birth of our first Grandson, Abraham Maverick Mason! Abraham officially entered this world on June 20 at 8:59 pm. He weighed 8lbs, 3oz and is already 20.5” tall. Luke and Callie are proud parents of course and adjusting well to their new family dynamic. Luke continues to work part time at the Center helping me with web traffic, planning and filling in when Patty and I must be on the road. Luke will have another big announcement soon. Be on the lookout for it!

Return of a Servant

Jonathan Gagel, a Navy Corpsmen that I met while he was in FMTB School at Camp Johnson over 2 years ago returned to Jacksonville this month after his first assignment in Chicago ended. He is now assigned with a battalion on Camp Lejeune.  Jon, his wife and child are settling in, have started back attending the Center and wasted no time in showing their servants hearts. As I write this letter he is pulling weeds from the back of our property. He texts me a couple times a week and asks for tasks he can volunteer for to help Military Evangelism in any way he can. When Jon was last here we were averaging about 6 in attendance at our Friday night meetings. He is overwhelmed by the growth the Lord has given us and he and his wife have quickly made new friends among our fellowship.

Patiently Waiting

The Building Project is… progressing… slowly! We have a contractor, and he has sent out sub-contractors for HVAC and Electrical to write up estimates. We are waiting for the final price and start date. Praise God we are not fretting about the cost (yet!) since our supporters (like you) graciously gave $84,000 over the last two years. That money is just itching to be spent so we can have our expanded center ready. Pray we can complete the project in time for our Thanksgiving Dinner this Fall.

Another Salvation!

One of our regulars told me recently he was talking with another Marine after Chapel on Camp Geiger and had the opportunity to lead him to saving faith in Christ! He said he shared the Romans Road (which I taught on in our studies just a few months ago) and shared some pertinent facts about Biblical trustworthiness and the Marine was convinced the Bible could be trusted, and then trusted Christ! This makes two salvations in as many months as our Marines take what they are learning at The Center and share their faith with others!

Call for Help

Recently I received an email from a Chaplain in Norway. It seems one of our regulars left one of our invite cards in the barracks and the Chaplain found the card. He contacted me looking for help, and I want to share his request with you.

The PX in Norway is not well stocked and few of the Marines in his battalion (1/8) are getting care packages from home. He is asking for help to provide these young men and women with some necessities and some luxuries as they are so far away from home.  Here is his list of items they need:

Beef sticks
Chips (little bags)
Various packages of nuts
Trail mix (little bags)
Cookies (little packages)
Cheese crackers
Peanut butter crackers
Toothbrushes
Toothpaste
Little bottles of hand sanitizer

If you can help and want to send along a care package just send it to our P.O. Box. Or you can make a donation and mark it “Deployment Boxes” and we will fill the boxes. We will also be adding a New Testament and Gospel literature to each package.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTINUED FINANCIAL AND PRAYER SUPPORT OF MILITARY EVANGELISM.

Patience

This morning I got to do the one thing we all love to do. Visit the tax office to settle a dispute. Not a dispute really, just to let them know we are a non-profit and as such are not liable for the property tax bill the ministry just received for a vehicle recently purchased. 

As I entered the building I made a serious tactical error if I wanted to get out of there quickly. I held the door for a little old lady, followed her onto the elevator and let her exit first. I was supposed to meet Patty at 11:45 for lunch and had this timed just right. 

One clerk available. And a little old lady with a much more complicated situation than mine. The available clerk, and several who were tied up all apologized several times for my wait. The little old lady apologized. I just made my standard statement when in such situations. “Patience is a virtue, and virtue, in Greek, meant power. So patience is power!”

Mark 5:30…And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes?

Luke 6:19…And the whole multitude sought to touch him: for there went virtue out of him, and healed them all.

The word virtue in both verses (and in Luke 8:46) is the Greek “Dunamis” and is translated 77 times in the Bible as “Power.” Its a word that we get english words like “Dynamo” and “Dynamite” from.

So if the old proverb is to be believed, Patience is Power. The phrase “Patience is a virtue” is not from the Bible. It probably dates back to the Canterbury Tales, or further back to a poem called “Piers Plowman”, but it has gained traction as a saying. And as the meaning of words changes in English, (“Let” used to mean stop something, now it means the opposite) so the meaning of this proverb can be thought of as fluid.

I’ve appropriated the proverb and gave it my spin from the Greek New Testament, because it rings true to me. Patience is power. I could have gotten upset, fumed a bit, let my anger well up at the AUDACITY of this little old lady stealing precious minutes from me I could be spending with my wife. Or I could practice patience.

James 1:2-4…My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience.But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

2 Peter 1:5-8…And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Patience matures us (perfect work). Power is the first thing we are told to add to our faith. From power comes knowledge and temperance (self control). These lead us to patience which bears the fruit of godliness, kindness and love.

I’ve learned through 22 years of ministry to be patient. The last 3 as a Missionary especially. It took 15 months to raise the funds for our building fund, 80% coming in the last two months of the fund drive. My goal was to be under roof to feed Thanksgiving last November. Then to be breaking ground in March and done by June 1. It’s June 4. The HVAC Mechanic just visited to day to measure and work up an estimate. We may break ground by September. We may not. And along the way there will be many more setbacks, delays and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. 

But patience is power. The power to trust God. The power to bring even more to Him in prayer. The power to act like a grown up and wait my turn. 

By the way, I left the Tax office at 11:46, one minute after I was to meet Patty. I left my phone at home and she was going to return it at lunch, so I couldn’t call her to tell her I’d be about 20 minutes late. She got to practice patience and experience its power too.

Practice patience today.

THE 300

Thank you for your support, financially but especially prayerfully. Through your faithful partnership we have cleared all but one hurdle to making our building expansion a reality. Approval from the City has happened, blueprints are finished and submitted, and we have paid our plan fee and submitted blueprints to the city. Praise God that a building contractor has our blueprints and is working on his estimate at this time. PRAY that his estimate is within our budget and that we can begin building very soon. My great desire is to have the construction done and in use before Thanksgiving. Having that extra space will make it feel like a home away from home for those we feed at the holidays.

Setting the Table for the Seder

On Good Friday, this year I again presented my “Christ in The Passover” Seder dinner. We set out a full Seder plate and taught how Jesus used the third loaf of bread on the table, which is pierced, striped, broken, wrapped in a linen cloth, buried, ransomed and redeemed at the Passover table. And then He had the Disciples drink from the Third Cup, which is the Cup of Redemption. Everyone, even those who were here for last years, said they learned a lot and came away with a greater appreciation for the importance of The Lord’s Table.

Two of our regulars, Kevin and Kimberly, came back this month after Kevin’s extended cold weather training out west. We are thrilled to have their fellowship again. April also saw an influx of new Marines, as Ethan, Michael, Dylan and Kazeto visited and have become regulars at The Center.

We would ask that you Pray for our Deployed Marines: Bryan, Ryan, Michael, Oscar, Jayson, Greg, and Nic are overseas serving our nation for the next half-year. We can’t wait for them to return, but in the meantime, keep them in prayer that God would keep them close to Him and that they would remain safe and faithful.

It was great having Janice visit Faith Bible with us!

At the end of the month we returned to Faith Bible Church in Elkridge, MD. Faith was one of the first churches we visited when we took on this ministry 3 years ago. One of our Marines at The Center, Janice, was on special assignment at Walter Reed Hospital that weekend and she was able to join us. She gave a great testimony of God’s work in her life through The Center. It was great to see old friends and to meet their new Pastor, Dr. Sung Cho. We had a great time of fellowship and thank God for their Partnership.

If you follow us on Facebook, then you already know about “The 300.” It is our fundraising campaign to eliminate our monthly budget deficit. If you already support us we ask for nothing more, just your prayers that God would raise up an additional 300 supporters at $10 or $20 per month. At $10 we can operate in the black month to month. At $20 we could hire a full time Assistant Director (We already have a great part time A.D. in Luke, and he is more than willing to come onboard full time) With a full-time Assistant, we could add more Meal and Bible Study times throughout the week, reaching more Marines and Sailors. Basically, we could run TWO Centers in the same building, effectively doubling our outreach. But first, let’s get our budget fully funded, then, as God permits, we will expand and help even more of our Troops Find and Follow Jesus Christ.

If you know anyone who you think would like to partner with us and become one of The 300, please direct them to our Facebook or webpage.

Milestones, Deployments and Zoning Hearings

March came in like a lion and looks to go out like a bigger lion @MFCJAX! We had many personal landmarks in March, including our 26th Wedding Anniversary, Luke’s 24th Birthday and Luke and Callie’s first Wedding Anniversary. We are also preparing for the Birth of Abraham, our first grandson in June of this year.

At the Center we also experienced several landmarks. Brian, Ryan, Michael, Jayson and Oscar left on deployments to Japan, Norway, Spain, and the Middle East. Ezekiel finished his time with the Corps and went home to Colorado (He plans to enroll in Bible College this fall). Wesley got married and brought his bride Ashton home to Jacksonville to begin their life together. Micah and Paul left for Arizona for few months of training. Throughout it all though, God keeps sending us new Marines. Hardly a week passes that we don’t have a new visitor to the Center.

Giving Ezekiel his Challenge Coin from The Center

On March 3 we were blessed to visit and preach at our home church, New Life Baptist in White Marsh MD. The next week a missions group from Word of Life Chapel in Bainbridge, PA came to the Center and installed new doors, edged our lawns, and fixed and cleaned up one of our storage sheds. They were a great blessing. Thank you Word of Life! After that we traveled to Calvary Baptist in Denton, MD where Pastor Don Reynolds was hosting a pastors conference and he allowed us to present our ministry.

The work crew from Word of Life

There were two important meetings with the City of Jacksonville this month regarding our building project. First the city planning and zoning board met and voted unanimously to forward our application for rezoning to the city council. The next week the city council voted unanimously to allow the rezoning and building permits so we can move forward with the project. We have one contractor seriously looking at the project and hope to have a firm yes from him in the next few weeks. Please pray that next month I can write and give you a start date for the building expansion.

On the last day of the month we had the awesome privilege of baptizing one of our own. Jayson came to Christ just a few weeks ago after coming to the Center for over 6 months. He is deploying soon and wanted to be baptized before he deployed. We baptized at the church he is attending, Brookwood Baptist in Jacksonville. Thank you to Pastor Ryan Hearn and the congregation for allowing me to be the one to baptize Jayson.

Baptizing Jayson at Brookwood Baptist

Here is a sneak peek at our next project. We are currently operating on only 70% of the support we need on a monthly basis. We are putting out the call for new supporters. 300 new supporters. Back in the 70’s our deputation director Dr. Donald Dibble started “The 100 Club” – looking for 100 people to give $10 per month. Recently we were contacted by one of the original “100” and told of what a blessing it was to be part of the ministry. So we are relaunching this program for a new century. Just as 300 Spartans held off the Persian Army ( a battle every Marine studies) and like the 300 brave souls God left Gideon, we are looking for 300 soldiers for Christ to commit to supporting Military Evangelism at $10 or $20 per month. Thats $120 or $240 per year. Will you be one of the 300?