Sunday, August 03, 2008

The gospel of change?

My grace roots teeth were cut in large part through the help of my former pastor, "Pastor Mark," in the last half of the 1990's. Pastor Mark had formerly been a Word of Faith pastor at a church called Life Christian Center here in Waterloo, Iowa, but went through his own grace revolution and began to preach what I believe is "the" gospel. It's known in the Bible as "the gospel of grace," "the gospel of Jesus Christ" and "the gospel of peace," among other terms. But no matter the term, it's one gospel. Romans 1:16-17 reveals that the gospel is a revelation of God's righteousness (not our own righteousness), and of course it's given to us as a gift (Romans 5:17), not by us performing in any way to earn it.

Mark preached for about an hour every week, digging deep into the glorious gospel, expounding upon the scriptures like I've never seen anyone do, before or since. My knowledge and understanding of who God is and who I am in Him really grew during the period of my life that I was able to hear him preach. In short, it all started sometime in 1995 when my friend Mike (who was the P.D. at the radio station I worked at back then, and with whom I record Growing in Grace) began sharing sermon tapes with me. I was blown away, and I began to experience freedom in the Lord like never before. Then in 1996, about 5 or 6 months after my wife and I were married, we left our church and began attending Life Christian Center, until the end of 1999 when we stopped meeting as a church (for various reasons), and the Lord sent us out to share the wonderful gospel of freedom in other places.

Well, I was listening to one of the old sermon tapes this morning, and I just had to share it! It's from 1995 and it's entitled "The Gospel to the Poor," based upon Jesus' reading of Isaiah's prophecy of Him, in Luke 4. Before getting into that, Mark spends a great deal of time talking about what the gospel isn't. Apparently in the Word of Faith church, various phrases had been coined, such as "the gospel of healing" and "the gospel of prosperity." Now, it's not that God doesn't heal, and it's not that a person can't be prosperous financially, but Mark makes the point that those things aren't the gospel.

But what really struck me back then, in 1995, and what has stuck with me all these years and is highlighted in this sermon, is how the church today has created its own "gospel of change." To many people, the gospel essentially means "I've changed the way I live." Our testimonies are nothing more than, "I used to do bad things, now I do good things." "I used to smoke dope; now I'm clean as a whistle." Again, it's not that changed behavior is bad! Those testimonies come from the wonderful work of God in the lives of people, and are well worth sharing. But... that's not the gospel! Those things may be a fruit - or a result - of the transformation that happens in a person's life because of the gospel, but as Mark often said, "the gospel isn't a gospel of change; it's a gospel of exchange." The gospel at its core means an exchange of our sin for Christ's righteousness (see for example 2 Corinthians 5:21), and of our life for Christ's life (see Galatians 2:20). That's good news!

I think many of you will enjoy Mark's sarcasm, humor, zeal and insight as he talks about all this and more. (He also talks about how many in the church have become separatists, worrying that we'll be contaminated by "sinners." He talks about how it's very easy for him to understand why people don't like church, or the church system. And if you've ever heard me share the story about my pastor who visited another church in which the pastor of that church pointed out the bartender in his congregation, that's in this sermon. It's an awesome story!). You can download the teaching here. If you can't listen to it now, why not download it for a later time.

It's 47 minutes long, and unfortunately it ends abruptly because the final part of the hour-long sermon was cut off, but you get a heavy dose of gospel freedom in those 47 minutes! (For some reason it was recorded onto the first side of a 90-minute tape, and the other side of the tape has something completely different on it). It's a 16MB download. Let me know if you have any troubles downloading/listening to it.

If interested, I've previously linked to a short snippet of another message from Mark here.


  1. Wow...Just wow...

    Thank you so much for posting this today, Joel. I needed it so badly.

  2. That's great, Matthew. It lifted a lot of weight from my heart as I was listening to it.

  3. Me too. I love the way he further elaborated on the meaning behind the rich man and Lazarus. I think we all saw this as the typical scenario of a rich man feasting and is too greedy to give to the poor man, so because of his bad deeds, he goes to hell and because of the poor mans situation, God has pity on him and lets him in heaven.

    Instead it's a story of the scandal of God's grace. The sinner goes to heaven and the good man goes to hell. Why? Because the rich man didn't repent. Of what? Sin? The guy didn't live licentiously. He didn't repent of his self-righteousness.

    So apparently the Scripture wasn't lying when it says Jesus, when He was on the earth, was a friend of sinners.

    If you have anymore sermons, feel free to upload them and I'll feel free to listen. ;)

    Also...I was wondering how the Tozer book you bought was?

  4. This is great! Where is this pastor now? I want to hunt him down and listen all his sermons :)
    I am also amazed at the fact that how much Christianity misinterprets the parables and stories Jesus told. To me Pauline Epistles are there for a reason. All Paul does is interpreting Jesus's parables... so that we may understand the truth of it.

  5. I can't wait to listen to this tomorrow, but it sounds like I will love it. I have never successfully been able to change my behavior -- oh, for a while but when I get stressed out I dive right back into whatever it is, but when God transforms me, I stay transformed. Yeah, sweet freedom! I will definitely check this out tomorrow while I am making raviolis (which takes three days so I will welcome the message!).

  6. Matthew,

    I too love what he drew out of the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The grace behind it all... wow!


    I don't know where Pastor Mark is these days. I think he and his wife hung around here for a year or two, but they had said they thought they would move back to Oklahoma City, which is where they were from. I really do miss the weekly encouragement that I got in this church, as opposed to the weekly feelings of being down about myself that I've gotten elsewhere! All because of the issue of identity and grace.

    However, I do have about 60 sermons from a 3-4 year period, and I'll see about uploading them so they can be shared with whoever would like to hear them. They continue to encourage me to this day.


    I hope you enjoy what you hear. Pastor Mark really had a way of relating to the dark side of legalism and sharing the glorious gospel of grace in a very encouraging way.

  7. That would be wonderful!

  8. He gets it! He gets it! I love it when people get it!
    So why is it difficult for a rich man to enter heaven? See Luke 18:18-25. Because you can't DO anything to enter heaven, and money makes us self-reliant. You must enter by FAITH.
    Why was the law given in the first place? To show us that we couldn't keep it. We needed to repent(change our mind) and realize our need for a savior.
    And how should we relate to the the world? The Christ in us will love the hell out of them.
    Joel,you are a blessing!! :)

  9. RJW,

    Yep, it's about faith, and not self-reliance. The law was all about self-reliance, and was not of faith! Indeed there were many (and still are) who wouldn't repent of their self-reliance and simply trust in the grace of God.