Mark D. Roberts

Part 6 of series: Sharing Laity Lodge
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A few weeks ago Mark Toone spoke at Laity Lodge for a men’s retreat from Covenant Presbyterian Church in Austin, Texas. Mark is the Senior Pastor of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church in Gig Harbor, Washington. His creative and challenges message at Laity Lodge filled out the theme “Character Sketches,” and focused on several biblical figures, including Jacob and Joseph.
Mark’s message on Jacob considered the incident in Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestled with the Lord. Here’s the text:

24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.  25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacobâ??s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.  26 Then he said, â??Let me go, for the day is breaking.â? But Jacob said, â??I will not let you go, unless you bless me.â?Â  27 So he said to him, â??What is your name?â? And he said, â??Jacob.â?Â  28 Then the man said, â??You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.â?Â  29 Then Jacob asked him, â??Please tell me your name.â? But he said, â??Why is it that you ask my name?â? And there he blessed him.  30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, â??For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.â?

Mark stated that we all have times of wrestling with God, times when we fight against God’s will for us or when we hang onto God for dear life. “God wants to use these wrestling times,” Mark explained, “to stretch us and shape us.” In this process we become the people God wants us to be.
As an illustration of the centrality of wrestling with God in the Christian life, Mark citied the mission statement of his church. It begins:

Our mission as a church is to present everyone mature in Chirst.
To accomplish our mission, we have identified five areas in which to provide opportunities for our church family to mature in their walk with Christ and to which we pledge our commitment as a body. We call these the five Gs:

â?¢ Gather
â?¢ Glorify
â?¢ Grapple
â?¢ Give
â?¢ Go

Now I’ve seen plenty of church mission statements in my life. Four of these five Gs are fairly predictable (which is not a criticism, by the way. One would hope that glorifying God is central to the mission of every church). But I have never seen a church give so much centrality to “Grapple.” The expansion of “Grapple” on the Chapel Hill website reads:

A sincere and prayerful commitment to the Lordship of Christ over my entire life. “I promise courageously to learn to follow Jesus as Lord of every area of my life.” Luke 6:46; Luke 9:23-25.

The main point of “Grapple” is commitment to Christ as Lord. But I’m impressed by the realism of the grappling image. We who seek to live under the Lordship of Christ often find that, like Jacob, we have to wrestle with Him before we are prepared to submit to Him. The amazing part of this engagement is that God allows us to grapple with Him without wiping us out. He not only brings us into conformity with His will through this gracious process, but He also shapes us to be more like Him.
It should come as no surprise that I would be favorably impressed by the prominence of grappling in the mission statement of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church. My book on prayer is called No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. The Psalms, it seems to me, illustrate wonderfully the freedom we have to wrestle with God. Grappling isn’t just for Mark Toone and the members of Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church. It’s for all of us who seek to follow Jesus and who have given our lives to Him.

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