Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 26

“Loaves and Fish”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16

 

Midway through the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is going to test the disciples understanding of God’s Kingdom. In chapter 14, Jesus withdraws, by boat, to a private place after hearing about John the Baptist’s beheading at the hand of King Herod. Crowds of people follow him on foot. When he lands on shore, the people are waiting for him. He has compassion for them and heals their sick. As evening approaches, the disciples approach Jesus with a concern. They say to him, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” (Matthew 14:15)

Jesus responds, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples answer him, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” (Matthew 14:16)

At this halfway point, as there are 28 chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, you could almost call this, the story’s, “Halftime.” Jesus is looking for rest. Up to this point, he has been preaching, teaching and healing the sick. He has called his 12 disciples and has been carrying on his mission non-stop. In this moment, Jesus wants a break. But the crowds don’t back down. Instead, they track him down. Then when evening comes, and the disciples come with their concern, Jesus moves in to see about their understanding of the Kingdom. Keep in mind, that at this point, Jesus has already sent his disciples out on an internship. In chapter 10, Matthew records Jesus giving the disciples authority over evil spirits and their ability to heal every disease and sickness. He sent them out without any money or supplies. Jesus said, “As you go, preach this message: ‘the kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, rive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” The disciples have already experienced God’s supply in the midst of scarcity. Then, in chapter 13, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of God. He speaks to them in parables and compares the kingdom to a Sower and seed. He goes on and uses the examples of weeds, mustard seed, yeast, and a net, to further teach kingdom principles.

Now with a throng of thousands surrounding them and with virtually no food whatsoever, Jesus challenges the interns to provide food for the crowd. They still have much to learn. Instead of turning to Jesus, trusting him to provide, they despair over their tiny supply of bread and fish. This test exposes that the Kingdom has not yet penetrated the hearts of his students. They will need the second half of the mission to grow more fully into the knowledge of God’s power. But truthfully, the full experience of God’s power will not be fully realized until the event of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It is then that the disciples will walk in boldness and confidence, knowing God’s Kingdom power and provision.

Last night I watched a video clip on YouTube entitled, “The Story Behind, ‘The Chosen’.” Dallas Jenkins is the director and producer for this Gospel series.  As the story goes, Dallas Jenkins was an up and coming Hollywood producer. He had been noticed by a number of powerful people in the film industry who wanted to support him. He thought this was his great moment. They produced a film entitled, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.” This film was going to launch his career to new heights. The film did not do well at the box office. In fact, Jenkins recalled that the film crashed and burned so mightily that he believed his future in Hollywood was over. He returned home to lick his wounds. While he and his wife prayed and sought God for greater understanding in this disaster, they both were drawn to Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. They didn’t really understand the deeper significance of the story, but they knew God was wanting to reveal something to them.

Jenkins recalled that the very same night, while he was at his desk at 3:00 am (I might add, the fourth watch of the night), he received a text message. It was from a person he called, “an acquaintance.” He had not spoken to this person in quite some time and would not really even call him a friend. Jenkins said that this text arrived completely out of the blue and read,

“Remember, it’s not YOUR job to feed the 5,000. Your job is to bring your bread and fish.”

 Jenkins was dumbfounded and replied,

“What led you to say that?”

The return text said,

“Wasn’t me – I felt led to tell you that right now.”

Jenkins testified that in this most dark moment of his life, God met him at 3 am. He said that this moment would mark his life and he would never be the same. He says that he approaches everyday with great peace, knowing that it is not his job to feed the 5,000. His job is simply to provide what loaves and fish he has. If he does that, he trusts God to do the rest.

From this new enlightened kingdom principle, Jenkins entered into “The Chosen” series with complete trust. He and his crew would bring what they have, and God would do the miracle. Since that time, they have witnessed God’s miraculous provision over and over again. They have faced many untold challenges, yet God has continued to provide, often at the eleventh hour. They are currently preparing for season 2, with the hope of filming 8 seasons. Over 33 million people around the world have visited the site and more are viewing it every day. They are the number one publicly funded series in film history.

We are sure to face many tests and challenges on our own journey of faith, especially in the midst of this pandemic. But may we hold on to this kingdom principle of Christ. May we also be encouraged from this living testimony from Dallas Jenkins. Let us offer whatever loaves and fish we have, and let us trust Jesus to provide the rest.

Let the third quarter begin!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 25

“A New Birth of Freedom”

“For freedom Christ has set us free” Galatians 5:1

 

Today, Frank Devita turned 95 years old. He is a veteran of World War II. There are not too many Frank Devita’s left. Of the 16 million men and women who wore a uniform during the war, there are only a few hundred thousand left alive.

Six years ago, Frank Devita returned to the beaches of Normandy. He was an eighteen-year old kid from Brooklyn, New York, as he aided the assault upon Omaha Beach on D Day, June 6, 1944. He served in the Coast Guard and was part of a landing craft crew. They returned to their ship 12 times in order to retrieve soldiers and continue the assault upon the Atlantic Wall. With fortified German defenses, and machine gun bullets constantly blazing by both ears, Devita described being dumbfounded how he ever survived that day. NBC News Anchor, Tom Brokaw, was with Devita on Omaha beach that day six years ago. Brokaw asked Devita what lesson should be taken away from that historic moment of D Day? Devita humbly replied, “Love your freedom!” He continued, “We all fought for your freedom!”

After hearing Devita speak of freedom, on this Memorial Day, I was moved, once again, to read Abraham Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address. How is it that one can immediately be moved by a simple description of the passage of time? But something is triggered and stirred whenever I hear or read the words, “Four score and seven years ago.” It is not that these numbers, in and of themselves are sacred. But it is the depth of content that is moving. And it is this depth and content that moved a country in a desperate time to a higher ideal. This content continues to move people today. These 272 words of Lincoln have resonated in the hearts of individuals and raised the attention of every generation since, as if it is holy text. This faith-filled president humbly and succinctly called the current generation and future generations to consider what is hallowed. Four months after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln stood on the ground upon which 10,000 soldiers gave their lives along with 30,000 more casualties. He quickly confirmed that the ground they were standing upon, had already been consecrated by the blood shed and lives lost in battle.

Then President Lincoln, with precision, called the crowd and the nation to conceive of something beyond the soldier’s sacred sacrifice. He called them to consider a calling beyond themselves. He challenged them to not let these lives be lost in vain. He set forth a vision, called out from an ancient truth. He declared, “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

Lincoln’s call to a new birth of freedom, harkened back to a higher, richer, deeper call cried out ninety-three score and 15 years ago. Jesus called out for a new birth of freedom to be advanced in the heart of each individual soul. And these new souls birthed in this new found freedom would build a kingdom unlike any known before. Unlocked and unleashed in these new hearts would be a force of love that would be undeniable. A nation of believers would be lifted up to live a life greater than themselves. This new birth of freedom would be defined by self-sacrifice and obedience to the call. Jesus, living this charge, would model this new birth of freedom by example. And in only a few words, he would crystalize the content of this new birth. Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

St. Paul echoed these words of freedom and this new birth in his book to the Galatians. He stated simply, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1). But these seven words have left a score of interpretations that have left the call incomplete. Often, these few words of Paul calling for freedom, have left people returning to the old, familiar ways of self-service. Self-sacrifice and surrender to a higher ideal becomes lost in the hot pursuit of simple self-satisfaction and the right to do so. Paul tried to point his people to live a life beyond self, into a new birth of faith lived out in love–a life and love found and established in the person and service of Jesus Christ.

Let freedom ring. Today, we hear many voices speak of freedom. On this Memorial Day, may the words of Frank Devita, President Abraham Lincoln and our Savior Jesus Christ continue to speak. May we love the freedom that has been given to us. May we give thanks for all the men and women who have fought valiantly and sacrificially for this freedom. May we pray for a new birth of freedom in our country. May hearts and minds be lifted to a higher ideal and greater cause in unity. And may we extol praise to the One who laid down his life and sacrificed himself for the cause of our eternal salvation.

Let freedom ring. Let freedom reign. Let our freedom ring in a new birth.

God Bless You and God Bless America!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 24

“70”

The land enjoyed it’s sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” 2 Chronicles 36:21

 

The southern tribes of Israel lived in exile for 70 years. Due to Israel’s idolatry, God allowed the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, and his army to destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The remaining Jews were deported to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah tried to warn the Jews of their impending doom, but they would not listen. Even though God’s people were unfaithful, God still remained faithful! Even though the Jewish captivity began in 597 B.C., God promised that they would return to the City of Zion in 70 years. God is faithful to his promises. When Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered the Babylonians, in 538 B.C., he declared an edict allowing the Jews to begin their migration back to their homeland. Ezra 1:1 described this moment, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom.” King Cyrus would also oversee the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezra records, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2)

The final verse of 2 Chronicles 36 mirrors the declaration found in the book of Ezra. King Cyrus says, “The LORD… has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.” (2 Chron. 36:23)

This Sabbath day is the 70th day of these devotions. It’s been 10 weeks since Governor Inslee declared the edict to “Stay at Home”. Inslee’s order, was in essence, sending us into exile to our homes. Today, all 50 states are being allowed to return from this captivity on a variety of mitigated levels, to resume a touch of normalcy.

In returning to this account of King Cyrus, 2 Chronicles 36:21 caught my attention. This verse begins, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests…” For 70 years, the land remained quiet and at peace. Jerusalem remained in rubble for 70 years, but we are told that the land was at rest and found joy.

From all respective reports, it seems that today, this land, our land, has also enjoyed it’s sabbath rests. Not seventy years but in 70 days, global reports regarding air quality, seem to be sending us the message that mother earth has also been enjoying this 10-week respite. In fact, even animals in the wild, have been enjoying greater grazing and are flourishing while the national parks have remained at rest. 

But as human beings, how have we landed after 70 days? It’s definitely a mixed bag. If we have lost a loved one due to this pandemic, this rest has been devastating. If we have lost jobs, our small business, or our financial security, this rest can feel like a nightmare. But if our basic life needs have remained intact, I wonder if there is room to receive more. If not from the land, perhaps we can learn from our LORD. Both of them seem to understand the importance and meaning of rest. Sabbath rest is to be a time of renewal.  Most of the time, it seems that we don’t have time for that. This issue of time and renewal, some would say, is the most significant issue of our time. The pace of life continues to speed up and the temptation to not turn from pushing the pedal to the metal, is too strong.

We are returning from exile. Whether the President or the governor gives the declaration, my question is; what have we learned – as a nation, a community, a church or personally in these 70 days? I’m still trying to reason my way through this mosaic. I’m still trying to remain open to the Spirit of God to teach and remind and reveal to me what I need to know. Moving forward, I don’t like to be cooped up. Yet, looking back, I have found great joy and peace in the last week’s quiet pace. And it very well could be that we will have to move back in order to deal with something that got in front of us. I pray that will not be the case. But I also pray that I take new knowledge and understanding forward in this maze of reorientation. Can you synthesize your emotions, movements and marker moments in these past 70 days? For me, it’s still a work in progress.

If I take a rest and take a look at our LORD, I think I find the nugget I’m looking for. Whether Jesus was running or resting, the piece parts of his life always point back to relationships. Jesus would find himself removed from heaven and having to deal with the rubble in his own hometown. He would face disturbances in the synagogue, at the Temple and in front of the Roman governor on the stone Pavement. Amidst that rubble of rejection and rebuke, Jesus returned to a landing he recognized. He steadied himself and found rest in life renewing relationships. Relationships that centered first and foremost with his Father. But those relationships also extended to others with open hearts and open minds seeking for truth.

Looking ahead, we will continue to wrestle with the stops and starts of returning to life without restrictions. More edicts are sure to come. Let us not be quick to run back to our normal life as it was before. May we return a bit more cautious, ready to remove and uncover more from the rubble. We have much to learn from our Father’s fundamental edict: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. May we rest and wait and find joy in this one most important declaration.

I’m glad to be piecing this together with all of you!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 23

“Hotspots”

“Now, the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians,

for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day

to see if what Paul said was true.

Acts 17:10-11

 

The term “hotspots” has taken on new meaning over the last few weeks. If you hear the term on the news these days, it will relate to a new outbreak of Covid19 in some part of our country. As of five hours ago, Florida and Texas are states that have been identified as having new “hotspots”. Globally, Brazil and Russia are “hotspots” as new cases and more deaths continue to grow in number.

If you talked about “hotspots” in February, everyone would assume you were talking about Wi-Fi connections. This kind of hotspot relates to a physical location serving as an access point to connect various devices to each another using Wi-Fi.

If you talked about “hotspots” last summer, people would assume you are talking about wildfire containment. 

What if I throw out another meaning for the term, “hotspot”? Hotspots were popping up all over the ancient world after the event of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples at Pentecost. They were filled with new tongues, new power, and a new boldness to testify about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After that, the spread of believers was growing on a daily basis. Jerusalem was the first “hotspot”, but spots continued to emerge in more and more cities. Even as the religious leaders tried to quarantine Peter and John, and contain the spread of the message, they couldn’t stop it. People were being cut to the heart. Miracles were mighty. Boldness was being prayed for and embraced. The Sanhedrin had a contagion on their hands and they had no idea what to do. They whipped and beat these new believers and continued to throw them into isolation but nothing seemed to stop the spread. Acts 8:1 describes what happened when they tried to exert increasing pressure to shut it down: “On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Acts 8:4 states, “Those who had been scattered, preached the word wherever they went.” The apostle Philip went down to Samaria and spread the faith among all the people. Even Simon, the Sorcerer, caught the Spirit and was baptized. Great signs and miracles surfaced wherever the message was shared. (Acts 8:13) An Ethiopian eunuch that was headed home was not only exposed, but became a believer and was baptized. The place was so hot that even the greatest Law enforcement officer, Saul, the Pharisee, was hammered by the Savior. Saul was headed to Damascus, to isolate and contain the new believers and place them in mandatory quarantine. While on the way he was struck by the One leading the Way. He was hit so hard that he was blinded and needed help to get into town. The experience was so profound that his name was changed to Paul, and it reoriented the rest of his life.  

Hotspots continued to pop up in Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea. It spread to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch.

Acts chapter 17 does describe a people in Thessalonica that displayed an immunity to the message. Brother Paul and Silas had to leave at night and travel to Berea. But the Bereans caught the full brunt of the Word. Acts 17:11 states, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans put Paul through the full measure of testing to make sure he was truly containing the truth. And he tested positive! The conditions were right. Acts 17:12 confirms, “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”

Since then, hotspots have continued to pop up in unknown places among unknown people for the last 2,000 years. And the Word has continued to spread. No one has been able to quarantine the Word. Hotspots continue to emerge.

Will hotspots pop up in Stanwood and Camano Island? Will it surface in the “Rain Shadow”? Will a hotspot emerge at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church? With all our hearts. Let us pray, “Please, Yes, Lord Jesus. Let the spread of your Word move in us and through us. Let the truth infect our hearts and the rest of the globe.”

Can you feel it? It’s starting to warm up!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 22

“Testimony”

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to

give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

 

In the Spring of 2014, Jeriah and I were sorting out potential colleges to which she might apply. She had her wish list of schools. She also had her realistic list of schools. But no where on the list was Whitworth University. Whitworth was a small Christian school, in Spokane. We knew a number of people who attended that school but Jeriah had high aspirations to study science. We made the assumption that larger schools had stronger science programs. We were praying hard through this process, because we wanted a school that would challenge her academically, yet not trivialize her faith.

One fateful morning, Michael McCune showed up at church. Michael was attending Whitworth at the time. After church, we were all in the right place at the right time. Michael asked Jeriah about her future plans. She talked about her ambitions in science and brought up various schools. Michael suddenly became pretty excited. He began to enthusiastically describe Whitworth’s science program. He wasn’t in that area of study but was quite familiar with it. He acknowledged that it was a small school but they had a great science program. He said that the program kind of flies under the radar. He encouraged Jeriah to put Whitworth on her list. He also said that he could set up an appointment with one of the leading professors in the program. Whitworth was not even on our radar, but suddenly because of Michael’s testimony, it was now on the list.

That summer, Jeriah and I drove to Spokane to visit the Whitworth campus and meet Dr. “K”. As we arrived on campus, the winds picked up and it began to rain. The wind blew so hard that it was picking up chairs and tables and throwing them across the quad. As we were running for cover, suddenly a large fir tree in the center of campus snapped like it was a match stick. Lighting was cracking and thunder was exploding. I had never been in such a fierce storm that came on so suddenly. In the midst of this wild storm, we were able to find the science building. We walked to the basement and located the office of Dr. “K”. It was Friday afternoon. He greeted us warmly with a smile. He asked Jeriah about her goals and he seemed genuinely interested. I will always remember that first picture of walking into Dr. K’s office. He had science books and papers smeared across his desk. But alongside those books was a Bible and a Bible Commentary. In our discussion, he explained that he was preparing for a Bible study he was teaching at his church on Sunday morning.

My heart immediately paused, “Lord, is this the place you want Jeriah?” I thought, “Is this the space where science and faith are being held together?” As fate would have it, Jeriah would not be accepted to her dream schools – Princeton and Stanford were not interested in the girl from Stanwood. Rather she was accepted and would attend Whitworth University. Ironically, she would later find out that her two most influential professors had both graduated from Princeton and Stanford. Rather than being taught by teacher assistants in these larger schools, Jeriah was blessed to be one on one with professors from these world class institutions. Jeriah would also learn later that they left these larger institutions so that they could invest more directly into student’s life and be free to share their faith more openly.

The disappointment over “dream schools” quickly disappeared and in the coming years, we witnessed God’s guiding hand in many and various ways. Opportunities opened up for her to study in Florida, return to Stanford, and travel to Chile, among other things. As she just finished her first year of graduate studies in New York, these years have not always been easy. But God knew that Whitworth was the perfect place for Jeriah to study, grow and develop both academically and in faith. And Whitworth was the perfect place to set the table for Jeriah’s larger dreams. Over these past six years, we can give testimony and witness to the fact that God’s hand has continued to lead, guide, and provide for her in incredible ways.  

Below is a link to Dr. K’s faith testimony that is in the current issue of Christianity Today. I hope you will take the time to read his testimony and be strengthened in your own faith. The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to call and transform people’s lives.  

Perhaps take a moment today and consider your own testimony. We all have one. What has been your journey of faith to know Jesus Christ? Identify a few marker moments that are easy to remember, jot them down – so that when someone asks you the reason for the hope that you have, you will be prepared to give an answer.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/may-web-only/kamesh-sankaran-humbling-proud-hindu.html?fbclid=IwAR3lXPhpeMTgOgsDQTexvhn69p5WfgtnLVWdYY9D001iwTPYO938HlYVqMA

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 21

“Grace”

“It is by grace that you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:8

 

A simple definition of Grace is “unmerited favor”. We are saved by God’s grace. We have done nothing to earn this salvation, but have received God’s unmerited favor as a gift. Jesus Christ died that we might live! Because so much of our lives center around “getting what we deserve” – grace can be a difficult concept to fully grasp. Yet, during this pandemic, there have been many stories of grace that have been shared. From employers, to the unemployed, students, sick patients, food service and strangers; many have experienced unmerited favor during this crisis. Unfortunately, many have not experienced a touch of grace. Let us look for stories of grace, share stories of grace, be stories of grace – and by the grace of God – live to tell his story of grace.

Recently, I came across this story. I thought I would share it with you today.

UNEXPECTED GRACE

I left work early so I could have some uninterrupted study time right before the final in my Youth Issues class. When I got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The teacher came in and said he would review with us for just a little bit before the test. We went through the review, most of it right on the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that I had never heard of. When questioned about it, he said that they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. We couldn’t really argue with that.

Finally, it was time to take the test.

“Leave them face down on the desk until everyone has one and I’ll tell you to start,” our prof instructed.

When we turned them over, every answer on the test was filled in! The bottom of the last page said the following:

“This is the end of the Final Exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an ’A’ on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A. You have just experienced…grAce.”

He then went around the room and asked each student individually, “What is your grade? Do you deserve the grade you are receiving? How much did all your studying for this exam help you achieve your final grade?”

Now I am not a crier by any stretch of the imagination, but I had to fight back tears when answering those questions and thinking about how the Creator has passed the test for me.

Discussion afterward went like this: “I have tried to teach you all semester that you are a recipient of grace. I’ve tried to communicate to you that you need to demonstrate this gift as you work with young people. Don’t hammer them; they are not the enemy. Help them, for they will carry on your ministry if it is full of GRACE!”

Talking about how some of us had probably studied hours and some just a few minutes but had all received the same grade, he pointed to a story Jesus told in Matthew 20. The owner of a vineyard hired people to work in his field and agreed to pay them a certain amount. Several different times during the day, he hired more workers. When it was time to pay them, they all received the same amount. When the ones who had been hired first thing in the morning began complaining, the boss said, “Should you be angry because I am kind?” (Matthew 20:15).

The teacher said he had never done this kind of final before and probably would never do it again, but because of the content of many of our class discussions, he felt like we needed to experience grace.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Today, thank your Savior for the grace you have experienced. He loves you so very much!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 20

“Rebuilding”

“So, the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days.” Nehemiah 6:15

 

Our state governors are beginning to open up economic activity in order to rebuild our economy. I thought it might be interesting to explore the actions of a governor who lived in a very different era. Nehemiah was a cupbearer who served King Artaxerxes in Persia around 445 B.C. He became governor of Judah and oversaw the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the Jews returned from exile. Nehemiah’s name means, “Yahweh Comforts”. Not only did God bring comfort through Nehemiah, He also brought leadership, vision, resolve, strength, unity and perseverance to God’s people. Nehemiah was a great leader! Nehemiah led the Jews to do a miraculous work, rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in 52 days. This great effort would be met with great opposition.

As we seek to rebuild our economy, our community, our congregation and personal lives; much can be gleaned from this ancient leader. He followed the Ancient of Days, and restored the name of this ancient people.

The story begins as Nehemiah questioned his Jewish brothers about those who had survived the exile. He also inquired about the conditions of Jerusalem. When he heard the news that the people were in great trouble and the wall of Jerusalem was broken down, Nehemiah broke down and wept. Nehemiah exhibited great compassion and concern for his people. We are told that he mourned, fasted and prayed for days over the circumstances that faced his people. His compassion moved him to pray. All throughout the course of rebuilding, Nehemiah constantly turned to God in prayer. His prayer began with a declaration, supplication and confession. He prayed, “Let your ear be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.” He continued, “I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you.” (Nehemiah 1:6)

Even before Nehemiah was called to action, this one who was going to rebuild Jerusalem, exhibited a heart of compassion, godliness and humility. These are key qualities for any leader wanting to rebuild.  Nehemiah closed his prayer by asking God to bless him and grant him success before the king. It is at this point in the story, that Nehemiah is described as a simple cupbearer to the king.

When Nehemiah was called to serve the king, he was sad and the king inquired of his sadness. Nehemiah described the living conditions of his people in Jerusalem. The king asked him what he wanted. Nehemiah replied, “Then I prayed to the God of heaven and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city of Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.’” (Nehemiah 2:5)

Nehemiah was very much afraid to voice his desire as it could be interpreted as disloyalty. But he did not let fear control his actions. He turned to God first, then openly confessed his will. The king was pleased with his request and gave him permission to go to Jerusalem. Before he left the king, Nehemiah also exhibited worldly wisdom. He asked the king to write a letter that would provide for his safe travel. He also asked for a letter granting him the authority to procure timber for the rebuilding of the wall. The king obliged. Nehemiah arrived safely and secured the resources to undertake the project.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he waited three days before evaluating the full extent of the rebuild. Nehemiah demonstrated maturity and insight as he did not rush into action. He educated himself regarding the conditions and went at night to avoid any questions. After gaining a clear and complete picture of the challenges, he called the people together and cast the vision. He declared, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” (Nehemiah 2:17) Not only did Nehemiah cast the vision for the rebuild, but he also invited them to join in the effort. Then, he also expressed confirmation for the vision. He stated, “I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.”

Because the vision was cast and the authority and confirmation had been given, the people were excited to jump on board. They said “Let us start rebuilding!” So, they began the good work.

Immediately, the people would face opposition. As Nehemiah led the charge to rebuild, he would face no less than 11 different conflicts that could potentially derail him. Through it all, Nehemiah continued to stand, turn to God in prayer, and communicate clearly to the people.

Sanballat, the Horonite, Tobiah, the Ammonite, and Geshem, the Arab continually tried to destroy the project. As their efforts failed, their threats escalated. They first began by mocking and ridiculing the Jews. (2:19) They grew angry and greatly incensed (4:1) as they continued to ridicule them. Sanballat said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble – burned as they are?” Tobiah chimed in, “What they are building – if even a fox climbed upon it, he would break down their wall of stones.” (4:3)

Nehemiah continued to turn to God and prayed, “Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity.” (4:4)

The people continued to build the wall so that all of it reached half its height. The people were fully committed and engaged in the project. But so too was the opposition. Their enemies plotted to come together and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.

Again, Nehemiah prayed. But this time he also posted a guard to protect the project both night and day.

Then the Jews began to complain that they were getting tired and there was too much rubble. They also feared the growing threats from their enemies. They said, “Our enemies said that before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” (4:11) They also heard from fellow Jews, over ten times, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.”

Nehemiah, then stood up in Winston Churchill like fashion and said, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (4:14)

From that day on, half of the men did the work, while the other half stood guard equipped with spears, shields, bows, and armor. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other. The builders all wore swords at their sides while they worked.

Then there was an outcry from their Jewish brothers. Some were being starved. Some were being enslaved. And some were being left powerless. Nehemiah brought the people together.

So, Nehemiah called a large meeting to deal with this situation. He said, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? Let the exacting of usury stop! Give back to them immediately their fields, vineyards, olive groves and houses, and also the usury you are charging them.” (5:9-10)

The brothers responded, “We will give it back. And we will not demand anything more from them. We will do as you say.” (5:12)

Then Nehemiah called forth the nobles and officials so that they would take an oath. Nehemiah made the men accountable for their words and that they would follow through with action.

Nehemiah then addressed the whole general assembly. He explained that throughout this project, not once did he ever take the food allotted to him, as the governor. He never lorded his authority over the people – but rather, devoted himself to the work on the wall. Nehemiah took on a servant’s heart and sacrificed his own comforts for the sake of all the others and for the sake of the project.

Further opposition continued. They sent messages asking for Nehemiah to come meet with them. He said, “They were scheming to harm me; so, I sent messengers to them with this reply: ‘I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down.” (6:2) Four times they sent the same message and each time he gave them the same reply.

Then his enemies bribed one of Nehemiah’s countrymen to have him hide in the temple in an attempt to ruin his reputation and discredit him. Nehemiah turned to prayer again, “Remember Tobiah and Sanballat, O my God, because of what they have done; remember also the prophetess Noadiah and the rest of the prophets who have been trying to intimidate me.” (6:14)

After all the trials and tribulations, we hear the conclusion of Nehemiah’s efforts along with the Jewish people: “So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth of Elul, in fifty-two days. When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.” (6:15-16)

 

As we begin the rebuilding projects of our own. Let us learn from the leadership qualities of Nehemiah.

Let our name, as Christian, be known to bring Yahweh’s Comfort.

Let our hearts be filled with compassion, godliness and humility.

Let us be a people of prayer – confessing our sin and calling upon God who is attentive and faithful.

Let us not be afraid to ask and then to take action on behalf of others.

Let us not be surprised that we will face opposition in our efforts.

Let us be prepared, resolved, focused and inspired in a project greater than ourselves.

Let us clearly articulate the vision and exhort others to join in.

Let us call people together and care for one another equally.

Let us hold one another accountable.

Let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Let us not be intimidated.

Let us believe that with God all things are possible–even building an entire wall around the City of Jerusalem in 52 days.  

And in the end, whatever project we are involved in, let a testimony ring loud and clear, that all the work was done with the help of our God.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 19

“Scalable”

“You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.” Acts 20:20

 

Have you heard of the term, “Scalability”? A number of weeks ago, Robert F. Smith was interviewed on the news program, “Meet the Press”. Robert Smith is a billionaire who famously paid off the entire education debt for the 2019 senior class at Morehead College in Atlanta, GA. His $34 million dollar gift was first inspired by a small act of philanthropy made by his mother.

During his interview with Chuck Todd, they discussed processes that are going to be needed for our economy to recover from this pandemic. Mr. Smith mentioned the word, “scalability”. He continued to mention this word many times as he talked about the specifics for the turnaround. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that word, so I looked it up.  

By definition, “scalability” is an attribute that describes the ability of a process, network, software or organization to grow and manage increased demand. It is a functional quality of a system that can accommodate expansion without hampering the existing workflow and ensure an increase in the output or efficiency of the process.   

Whether the conversation is about the economy, medical treatments and testing or the educational system, the solutions, as Mr. Smith made the case, must be scalable. Grants and loans must be made available to all the small business owners as well as large corporations. Testing and eventually a vaccine must be able to be distributed to the masses. And students must gain access to a quality education system that can be replicated across the country.

This conversation triggered my thoughts about the scalability of the Christian church. Is our church’s system for spreading God’s Word, scalable? I’m pretty sure it is. The Holy Spirit has been given to live within the hearts of every believer. But If the Christian church is to enter into a recovery effort and process, practical scalability is going to be key. If the church is to become a relevant and vital witness in our society moving forward, our message, process and network must be more scalable.

Did you know that scalability is found in both the Old and New Testaments?

Exodus 18 describes a new scalable process to meet the needs of the people after the nation of Israel leaves Egypt. This new process helped to promote peace throughout that nation. After Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, visited him. Jethro witnessed Moses serving as judge for the entire nation. People stood around him from morning until evening waiting to be heard. Jethro asked Moses, “Why do you alone, sit as judge, while all these people stand around you from morning till evening?” Moses answered him, “Because the people come to me to seek God’s will.” Jethro responded, “What you are doing is not good.” He continues, “You and these people who come to you will only wear themselves out.” He says, “Listen now to me and I will give you some advice.”

Jethro’s advice and solution centers upon scalability. He tells Moses, “Select capable men from all the people – men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain – and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Have them serve as judges for the people at all times, but have them bring the very difficult cases to you.”

Moses, being the humble leader that he was, listened to Jethro. He did everything as Jethro had instructed. A process for scalable justice was put in motion, and the nation experienced greater peace.

Scalability can also be seen in the New Testament. It is found in the early church. Jesus gave the Great Commission telling the disciples to, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” (Matthew 28:19)

At the end of Luke’s Gospel, after Jesus’ ascended to heaven, it states that the disciples stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:53) After the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost, the Bible tells us that the early church made a scalable move. Not only did the church continue to worship in the temple courts, but they also began meeting in their individual homes. Acts 2:46 states, “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” The final verse of Acts chapter 2 tells of the effectiveness of their scalable approach. It states, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

This scalable approach is also mentioned by Paul in Acts 20:20. Paul states, “You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.”  Paul points to ministry not only taking place in the public square but also in the privacy of people’s homes.

Some churches have used this verse, Acts 20:20, as a theme for their evangelism efforts. “20/20 Vision” was a catchy phrase to help give clarity and focus to their church’s efforts. I also thought this could be a verse used at Our Saviour’s, since we are literally living in the year 2020. Unfortunately, this pandemic has not allowed us to worship publicly in our sanctuary. Nor has it allowed us to use our newly remodeled fellowship hall or small groups to meet in people’s homes.

Yet, I think this pandemic gives us opportunity to think more deeply about scalable measures in our ministry.

Yes, it was exciting to enter into a new public phase during this pandemic and worship “Drive In” style. We had 115 people attend worship last Sunday. It was awesome!! Eventually, we will be able to return to worship in God’s house. When that happens, we will probably see a return of roughly 250 people to worship. But these moves still do not really respond to the question of “scalability”.

Our LCMC (Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ) Association just informed us last week that the position for new mission starts is not being renewed. This means that if new congregations are going to be started, efforts will need to arise from individual churches or have more regional coordination. I’m afraid many congregations today are simply looking at self-sustaining measures, let alone scaling up a process to spread the Gospel.

Would the conditions ever be right at Our Saviour’s to consider planting a mission church? Could we join with other congregations and plant a mission congregation.  But yet again, I think we are confronted with the question of scalability.

Now that we have entered more fully into the electronic, digital age of online communication, is this where scalability exists? I think so! New technology has always ushered in new ways of communicating and distributing information. Parchment, the printing press, newspaper, radio, telephone, television, cellphone, and the internet have all opened up new scalable ways to communicate.

At times, we have encouraged our members to bring a friend to church. That effort requires a new person to respond to a specific time and place and join some unfamiliar activity surrounded by strangers. Nothing can substitute for the warmth of human, face to face communication. But perhaps there are other ways to scale up. The early church recognized the use of individual homes in carrying forth God’s message. They also began writing down the stories and events of Jesus that could be passed along and read when convenient and appropriate. This written testimony definitely scaled things up.

 What have we learned about being the church during this time of isolation? It seems to me that online worship, devotions and letters provide a scalability that the church has only dabbled in. Instead of trying to wrestle a neighbor to attend a Sunday morning service, perhaps it might be more effective to point them to an online service to begin with. Better yet, directly send them the link in an email that would include worship service, devotion, or whatever else one has discovered meaningful – maybe even watch together on the screen.

This morning, a member of our congregation forwarded a link to me, to a beautiful video message of hope. I was able to access that message at a time convenient for me, in the comforts of my own home, undistracted by other outside factors.

I’m not dismissing the power of public worship. I can’t wait until we meet again in God’s house to sing pray, hear God’s Word, worship and hopefully share hugs. But in terms of considering all the methods available to make God’s message scalable for a world in desperate need, might we consider new possibilities? Like new wine skins, as Jesus talked about, we might discover new ways to obey the Great Commission and help restore broken hearts to God.

Perhaps it begins with simply being a little more intentional. If you are blessed by a message, online worship, devotion or video – perhaps the Holy Spirit will move you to forward it on to a friend, neighbor or even someone more random.  

Looking forward to scale up with all of you!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 


Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 18

“Perspective”

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:26

 

Last week, I received the email that is reprinted below. The article peeked my curiosity because it asked me to imagine that I was born in 1900. My mom’s dad, Oskar Johnson was born in 1900. Today is his wife’s, my grandmother’s birthday. Josephine Johnson was born on May 18, 1902. My grandparents, on my dad’s side, were born in the years, 1881 and 1889 respectively. Sometimes, it seems incredible that one of my grandparents was born only 16 years after the Civil War. All my grandparents were born and raised in South Dakota. Oskar Johnson and Frank Bankson both died of cancer years before I was born. Oskar was a farmer, who died of lung cancer in 1939. My mom was 8 years old. The family moved into the tiny town of Worthing, south of Sioux Falls. They lost the farm and opened a small oil and gas business. My uncle Bob joined the Navy and went off to fight in WWII. He returned to help his mom work the gas and oil business for the rest of his life. Eventually, my mom left home and attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, where she met my dad.

Grandma “J”, as we would call her, visited our family many times in California. We also returned to visit her in South Dakota, in the summer, every other year. Grandma J died in her early 80’s. At the time, I thought she had lived a good, long life. Now, it doesn’t seem quite as long as it once did. Sometimes we heard stories about her growing up as a young girl. She grew up with no running water and no indoor plumbing. She attended a one room school house. At times, it was a long bitter cold walk to school. She grew up with no telephone and few automobiles. Flying across the country and flying to the moon were absolutely unimaginable.

The following article continues to paint an even clearer picture of what that generation experienced and had to endure. Gaining a broader perspective is always a good thing. I’m thankful for my grandparents who endured many hardships yet still kept a strong faith. I pray that we all will do the same!

 

Keeping Things in Perspective

 

Maybe we don’t have it that bad?

It’s a mess out there now. Hard to discern between what’s a real threat and what is just simple panic and hysteria. For a small amount of perspective at this moment,

Imagine you were born in 1900. 

On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million. 

On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. 

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet. And don’t try to catch your breath. On your 41st birthday, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war. 

Smallpox was epidemic until you were in your 40’s, as it killed 300 million people during your lifetime.  

At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. From your birth, until you are 55 you dealt with the fear of Polio epidemics each summer. You experience friends and family contracting polio and being paralyzed and/or die.  

At 55 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. During the Cold War, you lived each day with the fear of nuclear annihilation. On your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, almost ended. When you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How did they endure all of that? When you were a kid in 1985 and didn’t think your 85 year old grandparent understood how hard school was. And how mean that kid in your class was. Yet they survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Refined and enlightening as time goes on. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Your parents and/or grandparents were called to endure all of the above – you have been called to stay at home and stay six feel apart.

The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Thank you, Lord, for another beautiful day.

God Bless You All,

 

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 17

“A Sign of Life”

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” Isaiah 35:1-2

Where were you exactly 40 years ago? Today, at 8:32 a.m., 40 years ago, Mt. St. Helens exploded sending ash 80,000 feet into the air. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake was accompanied by a rapid series of events. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the volcano’s northern bulge and summit became the largest debris avalanche on earth in recorded history. Ash spewed into the air at over 300 mph. Within a few moments, 1300 feet of the summit had disappeared.

I was a junior in high school when this event occurred. I remember attending church at Kent Lutheran that morning. I did not know that the mountain exploded until I went to work later in the day. I worked at the Woodland Estate Apartment complex. My job involved maintenance and yard work. People kept coming out of their apartments, talking about the explosion. They all said how lucky we were that the ash blew to the east. I’m sure that the people to the east did not feel that way. The ash settled inches thick over most of eastern part of the state. Eventually, no matter where a person lived, that massive blast of ash would touch everyone on the planet.

This ash would touch my dad in an interesting way. During this time, my dad had left parish ministry and worked for an insurance company. He traveled every week throughout the states in the Northwest. A few weeks after the blast, he drove across eastern Washington on I-90. He said the terrain looked like a desert wasteland. Grey ash covered everything. The landscape looked like the moon. After hours of driving through this greyish deathly wasteland, he grew desperate to locate something that resembled life. Mile after mile, all he could see was what looked like the land of the dead. He finally became so desperate that he pulled off the highway and began to march through the ash looking for a sign. He hiked for about 20 minutes before his eye finally snatched a glimpse of something. As he drew closer, there at his feet, a tiny flower had broken through the crust of ground. He witnessed a crack in the grey soil. It was weak and fragile, but there it was. A sign of life. The land surrounding that flower was devoid of life. But the sign was there. A tiniest splash of color against the backdrop of grey. My dad said that he marched back to his car, dusted himself off, and with a renewed sense of joy, drove on to his next appointment. For more life and more color would be coming soon.  

We might be tempted to look around today and see nothing but grey. The landscape around us can look rather bleak. The nightly news reports continue to tell us of growing death totals. Covid19 cases continue to increase around the country. And the unemployment rates are moving into the unimaginable realms. But in the midst of this heavy, ashen reality, there are splashes of color. Life is breaking through, as fragile as it might seem. Love is being spread. Kindness is being paid forward. Compassion is breaking through on crusty hearts. The grey landscape will not last.

There was a bleak landscape surrounding that first Easter morning. But something broke through. New Life. This life was not fragile but rather filled with power. This life was not dull but a splash of light and color that would cover every corner of the globe. May this splash of color break through to your heart today. May there be a renewed sense of joy to carry you to your next appointment.

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” Isaiah 51:3

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark