He planned on becoming a packaging engineer. Until Jesus tapped him on the shoulder.
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Matthew 4:19 (ESV)
So he decided to go into ministry instead. When he interviewed for Director of Student Ministries at our church, pastoring was new to him, but no one would call him inexperienced with life. He and his young bride survived her two cancer scares. They had buried his father-in-law, who passed away tragically at a young age.
At one point, Mark met with one of our deacons, who posed a question:
"We are a bunch of hunting, fishing, gun-toting rednecks, can you handle that?"
I’m not sure how Mark answered, but he got the job.
Right away, Mark embraced our youth. He’s invested in their lives by attending a number of school events. Their summer “retreat” includes doing manual labor for those in our church family who need help around the house. Fishers of men.
Alongside members of our church family, he’s hunted coyote, deer and turkey. He's caught his first steelhead.
You’ve heard the phrase, “A smile that could light up a room.” The guy credited with that one knew Mark’s wife. To know this couple is to love them. To know this couple is also to have your heart broken.
They had been told pregnancy would be difficult for them, but they wanted a big family. They completed fostering paperwork when they found out they were pregnant with their first child. Baby G arrived in November 2013. A miracle baby who, due to birthing complications, continues to have ongoing medical treatment.
A few weeks before G was born, they received a call about a little boy in the foster care system who needed immediate placement. After praying about this opportunity, God gave them a thumbs up. That’s how we came to see a very pregnant Brittany chasing a toddler around church.
We have the privilege of hearing Mark preach from time to time. He has a great deal of Bible knowledge interspersed with all this life knowledge. He preached a sermon once in our church series, “I Give Up.” His family had been at U of M hospital the day before so he’d had little time to formally prepare the words he wanted to speak.
Mark was so raw that day. Transparent. With his permission, I’m sharing a part of his sermon here:
M: "I stand before you guys today just trying to collect myself... I’m feeling weaker than I ever have. Feeling more unqualified to talk to you guys about something than I ever have because it’s so much a part of my life and my story."
He taught on Matthew 6:25-32 (ESV). Portions read:
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on... Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them... And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin...
M: "I don’t get that. I think we’ve heard it over and over and over again. Like, oh yeah, I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. I know the gospel, yeah. I’m not supposed to worry. Yeah, some of that’s true.
But like I don’t get this. This doesn’t resonate with me when I read this text. Like, God, you’re telling me not to worry. Do you know me? Do you know what I’m going through, God?
I have a son, 15 months old. He’s had surgery eight times. Do you know what it’s like sitting in that pre-op eight times keeping a hungry, grumpy kid calm and then you’re trying to answer a million questions by doctors...
And you wait and you wait and you wait...
The anesthesiologist comes back and says: 'It’s time to say goodbye.'
I know the script. I’ve done it eight times for my son. You’re telling me not to worry?
When I literally have to hold my child and hand him off to someone I don’t know. I take his life from my protection and my control and hand it over. You’re telling me not to worry, God? You’re talking about birds. I don’t deal with birds! I’m dealing with real life stuff.
You want me to talk about like, not worrying about money. Do you know how much eight surgeries cost? Do you know how much spending a month at Mayo costs? When I’m over there all I can think about is trying to get back here because I miss you guys and like, I feel like I’m not doing my job when I’m over there.
I have [another] child who’s lived with me for 16 months and I do not get to call him my son. I desperately want to adopt this boy, but I haven't gotten to do that yet."
Not a dry eye in the sanctuary. Sometimes the best sermons aren’t formally prepared. In this Christian life, we often learn more from a person's actions than his words.