Founder of Harvest Bible Chapel in greater Chicago, James MacDonald, believes his “heart is ready” for what is expected to be an unusual return to the pulpit Sunday at Calvary Chapel South Bay in Gardena, California, just over a year after he was booted from ministry at his former church.
MacDonald, who announced his March 22 return will kick-off an eight-part series at Calvary Chapel South Bay, has been chronicling a 40-day preparation process on Instagram which he says has given him confidence in his readiness.
Alluding to the ongoing upheaval of daily life caused by the new coronavirus pandemic, MacDonald revealed in an Instagram update Wednesday that he did not expect to be preaching in an empty room but he is looking forward to engaging with believers online.
“Hey, I’m thinking about you today here in California. The church building is closed, there is very few people here. The bookstore is closed. The public services are closed. The 40 days of preparation that was gonna culminate with the beginning of my series this Sunday night in Romans 8 at Calvary Chapel South Bay, it’s gonna be streamed but there’s not gonna be anybody in the room,” he said.
“The service will be live. I still have to get the message ready. Things are just so much different than what we could have ever imagined when we started on these 40 days of preparation seeking to get ready. ... I feel that my heart is ready now and I’ve been doing that work. I hope you’ve been doing it too,” he continued.
MacDonald further revealed that he expects to be teaching from Romans 8 starting with verse 1 which says: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
“We’re gonna be putting out some material to let people know about this fresh teaching coming from Romans 8. Really one of the most glorious chapters in all of the Bible. And I am locked and loaded as they say, very, very excited as I share starting in Romans 8:1 a verse that is so desperately needed and so frequently misunderstood or abused,” he said. “Man I can’t wait to get into that. I can’t wait to share that. I can’t wait to preach that, and I pray that it’s gonna find fruitful soil in your heart.”
He was recorded talking about planting child pornography on Christianity Today CEO Harold Smith's computer, and made crude remarks about independent journalist Julie Roys — including joking that she had an affair with now former CT editor-in-chief Mark Galli — and a vulgar reference to Ed Stetzer, executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
He was also investigated for financial abuse. Harvest Bible Chapel has since published a summary of a legal and financial review of MacDonald’s reign, suggesting he extensively misused the church’s financial resources for improper financial benefit.
From January 2016 through mid-February 2019, MacDonald's spending included $170,851 on hunting and fishing trips; $139,502 on meals and entertainment; and over $94,000 for clothing and eyewear. The church maintained two private checking accounts that gave MacDonald $3.1 million during those three years.
In his broadcast Wednesday, he noted that while many people have been forced to isolate themselves as a result of the coronavirus, he thinks it’s a perfect opportunity for God to speak to people.
“I’m mindful of our Isaiah 40 passage. It’s interesting to me, so often we encounter God most profoundly, most personally, when we’re alone. Isaiah was alone in Isaiah 6, Jacob was alone, Abraham was alone, Paul was alone on the road to Damascus. Surely the Lord was in this place and I did not know it,” he said.
“John was alone when he said, ‘I saw the Lord and followed His feet as though dead.’ So often the Lord comes to us personally and now so many are isolated and turning to the internet certainly for words of comfort. But how powerfully God can meet with us when we’re alone. Don’t allow yourself to think even for a moment that God isn’t moving, that God isn’t working, that God isn’t calling people to Himself,” he said.