Tuesday, January 25, 2011

New Gospel Tract for Key West Gospel Chapel

We have been working with a few friends from all over the country to get a Gospel tract (one that we have used for a while) redesigned for use in Key West. Justin Humes did the original design and writing, and Jesharelah Pena added a little Key West flair to it. Both are faithful servants of the Lord and ambassadors for Christ. We are privileged to have such dear friends who are so helpful in the work of the Lord, and we thank God for giving the talents and abilities for all those that have helped design Gospel materials for us.

Soon we will have these tri-fold Gospel tracts to go along with our other recently developed materials. With the Hood family, and a group coming from Boulevard Bible Chapel in a few weeks, we hope that these new tracts arrive in time for that outreach. We are pleased to see the Lord at work, to see the Christians here helping and supporting the Gospel effort. We continue to pray that we will see unity in the body of Christ in Key West, including other area churches. We also continue to pray that the Lord will be glorified in all we do and say, for He is worthy of our praise and adoration!

Download the new tract

Proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who will hear,
Mark Cowperthwaite for Key West Gospel Chapel

"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works
 and glorify your Father in heaven."~Matthew 5:16

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Laws regarding religious literature in Key West

Here at the Gospel Chapel, we want to tell the world about salvation from eternal death in Hell. We want to proclaim the name of Jesus Christ our Lord to any who will listen. We take seriously the command of Jesus Christ to preach the Gospel, baptize converts, teach them of God's Word, and make true disciples of Jesus Christ. We strive to make sure that Jesus Christ is recognized as the functioning Head of His church here in Key West. We have been blessed to meet and labor with brothers and sisters in Christ from many area churches, working together as one family in Christ to share the love of Christ and eternal life with all who will accept this gift of God by grace through faith in Jesus.

With this in mind, you can see our passion for the Lord. Mark and Caleb Caeton were out this morning near Mallory Square with our postcards (See link here for more information) to give out to any who would receive them. We were told by a friend a while back that you could pass out religious literature anywhere on public property under the protection of the Constitution. Not being a legally minded man, I thanked my friend for the information, but didn't think much about it.... until last week.

Last Tuesday, I went down to the boat docks to pass out our literature. I was there for an hour, talking to folks and handing out our postcards. Everyone was happy to have the beautiful sunset picture, and some were gracious about the message. Others didn't care for it, but any way it was received I was sure to welcome our tourist friends to Key West and bid them "Good Day" with a smile. After that first hour, I was approached by a man who said he works for the Westin resort. Evidently, the resort owns the major boat docks in town and I was on private property. If you know Key West, you would understand my mistake. Either way, I apologized for my wrong and walked away, but not before asking where the line was between Westin property and public property. I was directed to stay off Front, Duval, Greene, Kirkpatrick, and a few other streets. Now, if you know Key West at all, you will know that is pretty much where everyone is, thus limiting our literature distribution greatly. This seemed a bit extreme, but rather than continue and get in trouble, I went home and wrote to the Code Enforcement Officer, Jim Young.

My lengthy letter to Mr. Young included copies of all literature we would hand out, a story of my trouble at the Westin dock, and questions regarding free speech and literature. I just wanted to know what I could and could not do. I want to obey the law and be a good testimony for the Lord in so doing. I never got an email back, and left a phone message also for Mr. Young. That was a week ago today. I thought that a week without a response would be sufficient to say that I was trying my best, so this morning Caleb and I went together to pass out Gospel literature again. Again, many folks took the postcards while we were carefully staying on the public sidewalk and away from private property, including doorways to stores. We don't want angry shopkeepers, but people who see a lifestyle of obedience and love for our fellow man.

Caleb came and found me a short while later after being warned not to get caught. He asked what he was doing wrong and was informed that one could incur heavy fines for crossing the line between public and private property. We talked for a bit and soon we saw a truck going by that seemed to be a city truck and said, "CODE" on the side. I flagged down the driver, who told me the same story as the man at the dock. She said we were limited under the "OPC" rule, which stands for Off Premises Canvassing. This law is targeting those selling a product or other such thing, not giving away religious literature. Still, we decided we ought to go home and get it straight before we tried again.

When we arrived at the chapel, I called Jim Young's office again and left a message. 3 hours later, I tried again and Mr. Young picked up the call.  I asked very respectfully what the laws were and what I could do to obey the law. His first response was "I will not give you legal advice, you need to talk to a lawyer." I was confused as to why the code enforcement officer would refuse to tell me what streets or places were covered under  the law. I am sure that if he saw me breaking the law he would have quickly told me what the limits were and handed me a ticket. I was just trying to be preventive and submit to the laws.

I hung up the phone and wrote an email to a local pastor to ask if he knew more, or had experience with such issues. Then I prayed. I asked God to show me what was best to do. Should I continue to seek Mr. Young's advice, call a lawyer? Should I fight City Hall? Should I demand my rights to free speech and literature (I studied the case law on this last week) or would it be best to pray and wait? Maybe some would say I should continue to do what I was doing until I got a ticket, or arrested. I considered if God might be closing a door for this type of ministry. I prayed about the Great Commission, and thought about whether preaching the Gospel to every creature was better accomplished one-on-one by word of mouth. This is the best way to share the Gospel for sure, but most of these tourists will not stop to talk, but may take our postcard and read it later. I prayed, and prayed.

Then the phone rang. It was Mr. Young, and this time he sounded different. He seemed friendly and humble. He said his investigation into the laws proved that he was wrong before, and so were his officers and the man on the dock. Religious literature is covered in the law, in fact it is written in recent law as a protected form of free speech that stands as the only exception to the "Pamphleteering" or "OPC" law. Mr. Young informed me that we do not need a permit, and that he would issue a memo to all his officers to let them know that people handing out or speaking of God's Word and the Gospel in public have every right to do so.

I just wanted to share with you all how God is working in Key West, in our lives, to show Himself strong. While I prayed, I felt that God would intervene, that He would give peace even though in the flesh I was angry. I want to share God's love to others, but I wont' break the law to do so. We praise God for the answer to prayer. We still seek God's will in how to share the Gospel. We use many venues and methods to get the message out, and we thank the Lord for every chance we get to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thank you for taking the time to read, we hope you join us in our joy for the Lord. May God be praised and glorified in all we do and say.

Mark Cowperthwaite for the saints in Key West

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gospel Chapel is on the map... in a whole new way!

Recently some new friends, a young couple from Miami, introduced the Cowperthwaite family to "geocaching". This up and coming sport involved a treasure hunt of sorts, with clues and GPS coordinates on a website that lead hunters to "caches" of different sorts. In some situations, one will find a small container and sign a log in sheet. In other geocaches, there are collectible and traded coins, or other souvenirs to take home with you after finding a cache.

After walking and searching around Key West a few days, we found a few caches and thought that it would be good to hide one on the chapel property. We found a container that would withstand wind, rain, and such and filled it with a few items to share, some glass beads, a small shell, and a crocheted snowflake. We then put in a log book and a pencil, and created an entry at www.geocaching.com . On with the hunt!

So today, the cache was found by 4 people over the day, and the related clues indicate that folks are welcome to come in to the chapel, pray, sit and rest, or come say "Hello" if they like. One couple has already stopped to visit and ask about the chapel's unique history. We intend in the near future to write a document with the history of the chapel building and also a Gospel message to share. We have Gospel literature here for folks to take, and are usually around to talk to anyone who wants to stop by.

The rules of geocaching do not allow proselytizing those looking for geocaches, but the history of the chapel naturally leads in to the discussion of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Gospel, so we plan to take that opportunity to share. We just wanted to share how we are trying to be creative in sharing the Gospel and letting the community know that we are here as a lighthouse for the Lord. Thanks for reading, we welcome input and suggestions on new ways to reach our community for Christ.

Mark for the saints at the Gospel Chapel of Key West.
Link to instructions for this cache>> "Are you ready?"

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Lessons in reaching people in love and truth

We are seeing the Gospel go forth in Key West on the streets, in homes, at the library, parks, and many more locations. I think that what  is important is that we "go" and tell, not stay inside the building and hope people show up. We have found that one of our greatest assets is just being out on the steps to greet passersby. We say "Hello" and many will stop to talk. We all wave to the trolleys and tour trains as they pass. We ask where folks are from, and many stop to ask about the church that gathers here. This is a good chance to share why we moved here, and the desire of this church to see souls saved and receive eternal life in Jesus Christ. 

I met a man last week at the library who just arrived from Michigan, a philosophical type who was quite friendly and has spent much time trying to find the truth about God, our reason for living, and is serious about living what he believes. This man was not like many proud folks seeking to have God bend to their demands, but really seeking to know what God wanted and honestly seeking. Some folks we meet seem to love to argue and point out how often man perverts God's Word for his own gain, but we are happy to be able to show them that not all calling themselves by the name of Jesus Christ are like that. It is sad that we even have to defend the Christian name, and we recognize that there are far too many attempting to use "godliness as means of gain" and leading many to doubt God's Word. We just want simply to be Jesus to them, to show His love and mercy, to proclaim Jesus as the only way, the truth, and the life. We must humble ourselves daily before the Lord and realize that we are His ambassadors. 

One of the local brothers and myself talked to this man outside the library for nearly an hour, finding out what influenced his  thoughts  about spiritual things, and were able to point him to the authority of God's Word, the eternally holy Father God that will judge sin, but desires repentance and salvation for all. He had a hard time comprehending a God that would send people to Hell, but believes in a God that takes people to eternal life in Heaven. This is pretty common to human nature, and I find that many religious folks do the same, wanting to see what God will do for us, but neglecting our responsibility to Him. This is basic human nature, but this man seemed quite honest about his attempts to find truth and understand it. 

He agreed to listen to the Bible's take on these things, as he brought the Bible into the discussion. So now, he is trying to figure out where to go from here. He believes the good parts of the Bible, but not the parts that condemn sinners. He feels that Hell may be real, but could only be temporary, a refining fire that burns off the bad and leaves only the good. We talked about this and other points from Scripture, and he listened. I enjoyed finding out more about my new friend, where he came from and what shaped his opinions on spiritual things. 

I think we often spend too much time talking and not enough time listening. We need to ask more questions and be willing to listen to the answers, as my dear brother Justin has been trying to tell me for years. I am often so excited to tell the good news to someone that I don't have a clue where they are coming from. I am learning, day by day, by God's grace to submit my will to the Lord and really learn more about those I meet in order to reach them, and God is blessing that desire even though I often fail. 

If we have the truth (and we do) and we lean on the Holy Spirit to guide our speech, we need not have some cleverly crafted speech that gets in the way of what God wants to do, we have to submit to the Lord's leading in every conversation. We must know God's Word and use it properly, in context, to reach out to precious souls that God created and Jesus died for. This can never be just an exercise in intellectual debate, and I have found that the more I really try to see where someone is coming from, that I need to have an intimate knowledge of Scripture to answer honest questions about God's character and His revealed plan for mankind. This keeps me in God's  Word often, ravenously seeking to know more of the mind of God in how we can present the message in truth, not letting human wisdom and debate trump God's. 

I believe this man we met is hungry for the truth, and I have been keeping up these last few days via text message. The last message I got yesterday said that he "won't promise to attend religiously, but I want to come tomorrow". We invited him to stay for lunch and he said he would most likely stay. We also have "Open Casa Monday" where we invite any contacts in the community out for supper. Others from this week have said they would come to that, though in reality most never show up. This man seems to be different, and I hope to get to know him better and truly love him like Jesus does. 

Olatunde ,a local brother here, was with me when I met this man, and will be speaking this morning during our teaching time. We look forward to getting to know this man better, and sharing more of God's Word with him. Please pray for conviction of sin toward God and his eternal salvation. I see his hunger and desire to find  truth, I pray that he opens his heart to the beckoning of the Holy Spirit and submits to the Lord in humility and repentance. 

This is just one of dozens of such conversations we have each week. Some have hardened their hearts to the Gospel, some have been hurt by "religion" and those calling themselves by the name of Jesus Christ. Still others are brothers and sisters in Christ that we can encourage and fellowship with, and we hope to be a source of unity in the body of Christ, true unity in the Spirit that is far too uncommon in this day. Pray with us that the hard hearts and the broken hearts will see God's love and justice in truth and come to Christ today for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. Pray for us all as we go through our daily lives, each with unique struggles, but every one reminding us of our desperate need for the Holy Spirit's guidance as we seek to do His will and make Jesus known in all the earth, which for us starts in Key West. 

" Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 
Lead me in your truth and teach me, 
for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. 
Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love 
remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; 
therefore he instructs sinners in the way. 
He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way." 
Psalm 25:4-9 ESV

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Family Bible School- Day 2

We had a great time today looking into Matthew chapter 2, with the Magi coming with gifts for the newborn King of the Jews, Jesus, the Messiah. We talked and sang about the gift of eternal life that came to mankind, the fulfilled prophecies, and how each one of us should offer our best for Christ.

We memorized Romans 6:23, and discussed the message of the Gospel more today. We discussed what sin is, why the payment we deserve (wages of sin) is death, and how merciful God is to offer His Son to die in our place. God has given His most favorite thing to us, His Son Jesus. We reinforced the truth that a gift doesn't do you any good unless you receive it for yourself. Gifts by their very nature are free, another blessed truth of salvation by grace through faith. We cannot earn this gift, but only humbly accept God's offer to us.

The Howards shared in the teaching and also had a great idea for reinforcing the lesson. The children each got a picture to fill in and color, each one instructed to think of what they could give to the Lord. Some said they would give their time, others their favorite toys, and some said they would give their hearts and lives to God. I pray that in the years to come, these children do choose to give all of themselves to the Lord for His service.

As we labor together to train our children in God's Word, I am reminded that this knowledge is just part of the bigger picture. We must also live according to the truths that God has given us, to model a life given completely to Christ, and to be an example that these young ones can follow. It is a great reponsibility, and a blessed privilege.

Mark Cowperthwaite for the saints of Key West Gospel Chapel

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Family Bible School- Day 1

This New Years Day we made a resolution to help families teach their kids about the Lord. We had a time of singing, memorized a passage of God's Word, learned more about the culture and conditions in Bible times, and what all that means to us today.

We had 18 in attendance, including 13 children, 3 mothers, 1 grandmother, and 1 father. We need to get more fathers involved here, but it is a good start, right? Right! We hope to use this meeting time to encourage families and share the Gospel with those who do not yet know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

After the Family Bible School time, almost everyone stayed and we visited for 1/2 hour or so, then all headed to Bayview park. The playground there and bike paths made it a bit easier on the kids (and parents) as they had a bit of energy that needed to be relieved. So, we spent another hour or more talking, kids playing, edifying and encouraging one another. This is how church should be! Praise the Lord for the good turnout and the chance to work together in training our children about God's Word.

Mark Cowperthwaite
for the saints at
Key West Gospel Chapel