I had just finished the 4th month of the most brutal, painful, devastating time in my entire life. It was the end of April now and I had just watched my life and life’s work destroyed by the wicked, despicable, slanderous lies of other people. It is not an overstatement to say I felt the life and hope drain right out of me. I felt destroyed inside and out.
I had been forced to watch helplessly as others did nothing to stop the cruel, savage wrecking ball that had been unleashed against my life, month after month. I was at a point that it genuinely felt like I had no future, and I was watching as my life was being burned to the ground. I had been publicly shamed, humiliated, maliciously slandered, lied about, treacherously betrayed, and it had horrible, life-long consequences. It was all extremely traumatic and I was feeling hopeless.
One particular night, after an extremely difficult day, my wife suggested we watch a Bible series together that had just come out on Netflix. I was not very excited about it as Bible story series never seem to be done very well, they often seem a bit tacky, and I was just feeling rotten and completely beaten down that day.
The Bible story that happened to be on that night was the faith story of Abraham and Sarah. I was trying my best to relax next to Kathy as we watched but my mind was very distracted by my pain and anguish. The mental battle was excruciating. As I tried to focus and watch, I was surprised how realistic the story was told and dramatized. The time finally arrives for Sarah to give birth to Isaac. Abraham is thrilled at the birth of the son God had promised to him. As he held this baby boy in his arms, I was taken back to the birth of each of my children and the joy I felt holding them in my arms. Time passes and we see the bond between Abraham and Isaac grow and the deep, special love that Abraham has for this little boy.
The movie, of course, has to tell the story in a short amount of time. Isaac is now about 12. Abraham is out one day on the mountain when God says to him, “Abraham tomorrow I want you to take your son Isaac up to the mountain and sacrifice him to me.” Abraham is shocked and confused and he acts as I would have imagined a human father would act. You can see the deep emotional conflict in his expressions because of the turmoil going on in his heart and mind. The next morning very early before Sarah wakes, Abraham takes Isaac up to the mountain. They begin to build an altar together, when suddenly Abraham grabs the boy and begins to tie him up. Isaac is scared and perplexed, Abraham continues. He then lays the horrified, squirming boy upon the altar. Abraham lifts the knife above Isaac’s head, and just as he begins to plunge the knife downward toward his son, God tells him to stop!
At this very moment, I fell off the bed in anguish, heartbroken and wept. I could not stop. I was overcome with emotion. Finally, my tears began to subside as my wife, who had been trying to console me said, “Mark, what happened, are you ok?” I said, “Kathy, God is not stopping the knife for me, God is killing my Isaac. God is allowing my life’s work and my reputation to be destroyed!” Kathy knew then exactly what I meant, she saw it too, and there was no way to console me.
After quite some time of anguished, emotional pain and sorrow, I got up off the floor, gathered what little strength I had left and walked out to my office, which is in my garage. I sat at my desk and got out my Bible. I turned to Romans 4:17-18 and read these words “This happened because Abraham believed in the God who brings the dead back to life and who brings into existence what didn’t exist before. For Abraham kept hoping in faith when hope was gone!”
As soon as I read this, I began to write an email to my family, my eyes still full of tears. They were all acutely aware of all that had been going on in the last 4 months. I wrote, “Family, I realized tonight that unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, God is not stopping the knife. God has allowed my ministry life to be killed and my reputation to be destroyed. The only hope I have now is that God will raise a new ministry life from the dead, and call into being a ministry that does not presently exist.” Which at that very moment felt utterly impossible and implausible, given what had happened. You see, they all held out hope that I, and we, could come back to the life and ministry I once had. That was now utterly impossible. Others had murdered and destroyed my life.
I realized that my only hope now was to dare to hope, even though hope was gone! I realized then that my only hope was in the supernatural power and working of Almighty God to bring me back from the dead and call into existence something that did not exist.
Many more anguished, tormenting months went by as I watched more and more outrageous and terrible things being said and done. Even more treacherous betrayals were unleashed. It was for me, a very agonizing death of almost 32 years of ministry work. I lost everything I had worked and sacrificed so much to build.
I desperately clung to the thread of hope that God had spoken to me in Romans and in the book of Isaiah 41:9 NLT “For I have chosen you and will not throw you away.” I knew my very survival depends completely on God doing exactly what he promised he can do in Romans 4:17-18. I knew God answers prayer and responds to the desperate cries of his children. I knew God would not stop being God. I knew God keeps his word. However, there is no doubt this was the most difficult, catastrophic, traumatic time in my entire life. I often felt utter despair. I felt dead. It was the most excruciating, difficult test my faith had ever endured.
It is astounding to me now to look back, when on August 22, 2018, with the smallest seed of faith I could muster, I launched this new full-time ministry work, Strong Disciple. God has answered prayers in astounding ways. Within just 68 days of launching this ministry, God miraculously provided just enough monthly support to sustain me in this vital ministry work. Over time, little by little, God faithfully brought more to meet the pressing needs. A very dear brother in Christ, who had the specialized skills, volunteered to fill out all the needed paperwork and documentation for the 501c3 application. This work normally costs several thousands of dollars, and involves a tremendous amount of skillful document work, and writing up detailed by-laws. When we applied for this tax-exempt status, shortly after, there was a month-long gov’t. shutdown. I called the gov’t application office to see if they had any idea when they might look at my application. They said it might be at least 8 more months, as they also had a huge computer software malfunction. Every day I had been praying for this status since August 2018. Just 3 weeks after I made the call to them and the agent told me it would take 8 more months, I received the official nonprofit status in the mail. That was all completely God’s divine intervention.
My dear friends, God really does bring the dead back to life! God really does call into existence that which does not exist. You may be going through your own hopeless, desperate situation right now. You may feel like there is just no reason left to hope! Don’t give up! Don’t quit! Oh how I pray you may find great comfort in this amazing truth from the prophet Jeremiah, who after watching the horrific, savage slaughter and destruction of his people, and the loss of everything dear to him, wrote in Lamentations 3:18-25 NLT
“I cry out, ‘My splendor is gone! Everything I had hoped for from the Lord is lost!’ The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The unfailing love of the Lord never ends! By his mercies, we have been kept from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day. I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”
“The Lord is wonderfully good to those who wait for him and seek him.”
I am only writing to you today because of God’s great mercies and His great faithfulness to me. I owe him everything! I want to personally thank every one of you who has so generously, and sacrificially supported this vital ministry work, who has prayed for me, stood by me, and given so selflessly of your resources. I AM ETERNALLY GRATEFUL TO YOU. My heart overflows every day with tremendous gratitude to God for your great kindness to me. Thank you for the privilege of ministering to you all in some way. THANK YOU FROM THE DEPTHS OF MY HEART.