Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor Mark’s 100th Devotion, Aug 6

“No Greater Love”

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13

 

It was a casual Sunday afternoon. Daniel was in deep conversation with his mom, while they worked in the basement of their home. Daniel turned to his mom, with a tear in his eye and said, “Mom, let’s keep talking. I love talking to you.” Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Daniel turned his head and asked, “Who is that?” Little did he know that Evil was standing at their front door. Within seconds, Daniel ran upstairs, the sound of bullets rang out, and a voice screamed, “NO!” In one demonic moment, Evil claimed another victim. Daniel lay on the floor dead, having taken a gun shot directly to his chest, while protecting his dad from the armed assailant.

Two weeks ago, we heard of this tragic encounter in New Jersey, aimed at U.S District Judge Esther Salas and her family. The parents losing their one and only son, Daniel, is virtually unfathomable. That they lost him while he was defending and protecting their very lives is nearly overwhelming. They are in shock, numb and emotionally inconsolable in their grief.   

Judge Salas and her husband went to church that Sunday morning. I wonder what the Gospel reading was for that day? Is it possible that it could have been from John 15? Perhaps John 15:13. Did they hear Jesus say, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” What about laying down one’s life for their family? If so, how sharp the sting. What could it all mean?

No Greater Love…that is why we are here! We hear stories and accounts of great sacrifice, great commitment, great surrender. People sacrifice themselves for the love of another. And when looking directly into the face of evil, a son sacrificed for the sake of his father, and his mother – is there any greater love?

The sacrifice of Salas’ son, painfully points us to the sacrifice of God’s One and Only Son. There is no greater love!  Jesus, looked into the eyes of evil upon the cross, protected and defended his family on earth, and took a shot from sin that cost him is life. The Evil one took his best shot. His mother’s heart ripped with emotions unresolved. His followers lost to its meaning, in despair. A centurion, in chaos, cried out the unexamined truth, “Surely, he was the Son of God!” But the truth would soon come clear and appear.

Can you imagine if on Tuesday morning, Daniel, the One, three days slain, busted through the door of their family home and with all the energy of new life, questioned, “What’s for Breakfast?” Then he breezed into the kitchen, embraced his mother and father, and taking in a deep breath, looked straight into their eyes and declared, “Oh, How I Love You!!”

Can you imagine the raw emotion, the unresolved thoughts, the euphoria that would explode in seeing their son, who was once dead, but who is now alive? The celebration! The exhilaration would be unimaginable. The transformation would be unbelievable. But this would never happen, because we know that people do not come back from the dead. Or do they?

We are together as the body of Christ, because of the audacious claim that the One who was killed on the cross, came back to life after three days dead. What you would imagine is all that is recorded. Celebration, euphoria, disbelief and questions all suddenly arose in chaotic fashion. Jesus was alive, it was too good to be true – could they dare believe something that was far and away beyond their feeble faith? One follower was honest enough to say that unless he physically saw this One and tangibly touched him, he would never believe. A week later, the One who had died, graciously reappeared and genuinely resuscitated faith as never before.  Life would never be the same. This moment of revelation would change them forever. The world would begin to be turned upside down.

Jesus Christ, he is why we are here! Jesus laid down his life and conquered sin. Jesus was raised to new life and conquered death!

Over the last 100 devotions we have traveled far. We have covered a variety of topics, shared a variety of stories and focused upon a variety of Scriptures. For this 100th devotion, dare I miss the point for all this writing? His name is Jesus. He is our resurrected Lord, Messiah and Christ. There is no greater love than in this One who gave his life as a ransom for many.

Now, may all that we say; may all that we do; may all that we are; let it all rest upon our One Redeemer. And because of Jesus, Daniel Salas’ parents, who will forever carry a scar here on earth, will one day be forever carried into eternity – and they will never be the same. Because Jesus lives, Daniel, his mother, Esther, and his father, Mark, will forever live and love. For there is a Savior that awaits them beyond the pain, beyond the grave. His name is Jesus. And in Him, there is No Greater Love!    

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

P.S. – I will be taking a break from writing devotions until after Labor Day. Thank you for all your support, encouragement and feedback over these last four+ months. To God Be the Glory!

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, Aug 4

“Search and Rescue”

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders off, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” Matthew 18:12

 

Today is devotion day 99. It seems appropriate and timely to discuss Jesus’ parable about the 99 sheep and the one that wanders away. Jesus’ parable about the Kingdom of God is not so much about the sheep as it is about the Shepherd. All of Jesus’ parables are pictures of how God’s Kingdom operates. The primary point is to understand the Operator, which is God himself. In this case, Jesus is pointing out that God is a Provider and Protector with the picture of the Shepherd. But he is also pointing to the fact that if one of his sheep, wanders off, He will pursue that lost one until it is found. Jesus concludes, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. God pursues those that are lost. This make-up of God’s Kingdom is repeated in Luke 19, as Jesus pursues Zacchaeus, the lost Jewish tax collector. At the conclusion of their encounter, Jesus confirms this focused pursuit as he states, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10). Let us never forget, God’s Kingdom is a “Search and Rescue” effort.

The world has celebrated the safe return of Gia Fuda. For 8 days, Search and Rescue teams, scoured the North Cascades near Stevens Pass, looking for the lost 18 year-old girl. Recently graduated from high school, with an independent spirit, when Gia ran out of gas on Hwy 2, she decided to hike into the hills in hopes of finding a trail to Skykomish. Needless to say, she got lost in the mountains and got turned around in every direction. But she kept her wits about her, followed a creek and ate wild berries to survive. When she was found, she had no broken bones, was a bit dehydrated, yet was in pretty good shape. Gia’s mom said that she is as stubborn as a mule and never gave up hope that she was still alive even after being lost for over a week.

Many people have called Gia’s rescue a miraculous story. Very few people are lost in the wilderness for over a week and come out alive. When I first heard the story, I was captured by Gia’s perseverance, strength, mental fortitude and resolve. I didn’t really think much about the “Search and Rescue” effort until a few days later. The reality is, if there had not been a commitment by a Search and Rescue Team to scour the mountains in a thorough grid like fashion – for 8 full days – Gia would still be lost in the woods. If it had not been for the Search and Rescue Team’s relentless pursuit to find the one lost, ultimately Gia would have died alone somewhere in the wilderness of the North Cascades.

All of us have been lost. Some are still lost. Some are still searching for the trail and scurrying about for wild berries. Many are surviving, but still are lost. All of us have been in survival mode at some point in our lives. Perhaps you feel that way right now during this pandemic. Yet the Good News of the Gospel is that we have a Good Shepherd who is in relentless pursuit to seek and save the lost. Since Adam and Eve wandered off the trail in the Garden of Eden, and sin entered into the world, yes, the truth is, all of humanity has been lost, abounding in survival mode. But the deeper truth is that when humanity lost its way, God set out on a Search and Rescue Mission to bring his people home. God has been on a relentless pursuit and is still seeking to save and bring home those still lost in the woods. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came that those who are lost would follow Him and find their WAY home.

We who have been lost, often can exhibit a strength of character, resolve, mental fortitude and stubbornness. But if not for God’s relentless pursuit, and rescue through Jesus Christ, the reality is that we would still be lost and eventually die a lonely death.

If you are one of the 99 today, celebrate that God has found you and brought you home to Him. If you feel lost today, are still turned around on the trail, take heart, God is still in hot pursuit of you – and He will not stop nor relent until he locates you and brings you back safely!

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:11,10b)

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 30

“The #1 Thing People Want from Their Church”

“For the word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword.” Hebrews 4:12

This morning I received an email from Pastor Randy Frazee, who writes for a ministry called “Pastor to Pastor”. In his letter, he said that he has been involved in the largest research project ever of its kind. The focus of the research was simply to find out what moved people forward in their life of faith. With over 650,000 responses and counting, two clear messages emerged. First, the #1 catalyst for spiritual growth is Bible engagement. Second, that people want their church to help them understand the Bible.

Pastor Frazee said that for years, he has tried to be clever and creative with sermon series and titles. But as it turns out, he said that most people just want practical teaching from the Bible that will help them live out the life God intended for them.

Frazee writes, “But let’s be clear – Bible engagement means more than just hearing Sunday sermons. Engagement requires more than passive listening from a pew or even a digital device. Engagement requires something from the learner. They must be involved in the process with a desire to be changed from the experience.”

Frazee continues, “I came across a study a few years ago on how we form or break habits. Let’s take a person who wants to quit smoking.

               -If a person tries to quit smoking on their own, their statistical chance of success is virtually zero.

               -If that same person adds an effective tool (say a nicotine patch) their chance of success inches up to a mere 5%.

               -If that person adds community to their efforts, their chance of success jumps to 49%.

The same is true with forming a good habit like engaging the Bible. It is most helpful to have another individual or individuals to engage the Bible with an effective tool in community. One size never fits all when trying to determine a helpful practice. But it does usually require effort that results in trial and error. Everyone needs to figure out what works best for themselves individually. But it can be helpful to know what typically seems to work for most individuals.

While some engagement takes place in a Sunday service while a sermon is preached, the most engagement typically happens in the pastor’s study as he prepares and prays through the message. While in the moment the message is meaningful, in a week the point is typically lost. But if one personally engages the Scriptures; wrestling, pondering, reflecting, and the Holy Spirit revealing God’s Word – that Word is much more transformative – because they’ve lived with that Word. So also, walking through and living with Scripture with another individual or small group, this is much more engaging because conversations, questions and insights are shared. A sermon, which in the center piece for most Christian learning, is a monologue, one directional, with virtually no opportunity for response. Certainly, the Holy Spirit can speak through a sermon and/or a preacher and bring a transformative word, but research shows that there are other significant and potentially more meaningful ways to engage the Bible.

The question to consider today is – “How do I engage the Bible today?” If your engagement is primarily through the Sunday sermon, are you open to consider other ways? How can you more personally engage the Word of God?

I’ve told this story many times, but I think it bears repeating. The Bible came alive to me in my junior year of high school. I remember hearing the message that whatever a person does in the last ten minutes before bed, stays with you through the night. It made me think about what I do before bed. I would always put on my pajamas, brush my teeth and go to the bathroom. Sometimes I would watch T.V. right up until bedtime. The thought crossed my mind, what if I read a chapter of the Bible right before I get under the covers. That thought started me on a journey of discovery through the Bible, each night, one chapter at a time. Over the years, that saturation in God’s Word allowed the Holy Spirit to reveal himself to me in all sorts of times and places. That 15 minutes discipline was the foundation of my spiritual growth. It remains to this day. Except that now I engage the Scriptures in the morning, rather than at night, and it’s more than 10 minutes. When I feel like I am getting lost in a fog, it’s usually because I have drifted away from that which has centered me. When I return, God is waiting in His Word to feed me, provide hope and reassurance. God’s Word is the life source for my soul.

You might want to try engaging God’s Word personally on a DAILY basis. Just don’t be too anxious for results. Like any other discipline, results show up after a long time of repetition. Rather, simply try to meet God in that moment. Open your heart and mind to the Lord and let Him lead you. This is a daily practice in surrender. The more we learn how to surrender the little things in life, it allows us to grow in surrendering the larger things in life.

Depending on your personality, you might find a greater need to engage God’s Word with other people. Ideally, you would do both. This is why we emphasize small group gatherings – where people can grow and learn about the Bible in a group setting. Some people learn and receive the most from shared insights, questions and conversation. You need to know what works best for you.

It has been more difficult to connect with others during this pandemic. Some groups have connected better than others. This Fall, whether at church or through zoom, we will be looking to add a few opportunities where people can study and grow together.

Pastor Frazee gave some sobering statistics from the Cultural Research Center:

               -While 7 out of 10 Americans claim to be Christian,

               -Only 6% of Christians hold to a biblical worldview.

               -This represents a 50% decline in the last quarter century.
               -Only 2% of people 18-29 years old hold a biblical worldview.

If someone asked us, what even is a Biblical worldview, we would probably have trouble answering the question. That’s because no one has every really taught nor trained us in this language. So, we, at Our Saviour’s Lutheran, are going to try to take some steps to grow in this area. The first step is to know what the Bible says. I would suggest getting to know who Jesus is through the 4 Gospels. Build your spiritual foundation on Jesus, then work out from there. Continue to read the letters in the New Testament. But keep in mind, everything in the New Testament originates in the Old Testament. To truly understand what’s happening in the New Testament, you HAVE TO KNOW its roots in the Old Testament.

If the #1 desire of God’s people is to have practical knowledge from the Bible to help them live out the life God intended for them – then I want to help. If this is not right, then tell me what you think it is.

Let’s engage God, faith and the Bible together. It will be a journey for a lifetime. For He has already put an engagement ring on our finger – for we are His Bride – the church. We can’t lose.

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Revelation 19:7

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 28

“A New Creation”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”                      2 Corinthians 5:17

Summer has arrived. Yesterday, the temperature ticked up into the 90’s. With the hot weather, I thought it would be a good time to refinish my deck. I brought out the power sprayer to wash off the dirt and grime from the boards. After stretching out the hoses, I realized a couple of bushes that had to be trimmed back away from the deck. Frustrated at the delay, I went to the garage to locate my trimmer and spent the next hour cutting back the bushes. Finally, I was able to return to the power sprayer and go after the weathered boards. When finished, I had to wait a few days for the deck to dry. Yesterday, being so hot, it was the perfect day to apply a fresh coat of stain. The deck was so dry, it soaked up the stain like a sponge. When the last board was stained, it was satisfying knowing that the job was done for another year.

While I watched the stain seep and soak deeply into the fibers of the boards, I remembered previous decks that I had refinished with paint. While the deck looked nice when finished, the pain didn’t seep into the wood. The paint remained on the surface and through the winter, eventually it peeled off. In some cases, the paint encapsulated the moisture in the boards and caused excessive rotting while it was invisible to the eye. Eventually, some boards rotted all the way through.

Somewhere in the process, I thought about Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) Jesus says that if one is to gain access to God’s Kingdom, they are going to have to be washed off and sealed. It seems that Jesus needs to break out his power sprayer and wash off our boards – spiritually speaking. In the waters of baptism, the dirt and grim of sin is washed off and we are declared children of God. But, more than that, Jesus says that we also need to be born of the Spirit. The Spirit is what seals us, guaranteeing God’s salvation which will surely come. The Spirit of God is to seep into the fibers of our heart and mind, like stain upon a dry and thirsty deck. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” It is of critical importance that we surrender ourselves to “The Refinisher”, and open ourselves to the soaking and saturation process of the Spirit. And the reality is that we will need the washing and soaking many times over in a continual fashion. Some folks are resistant to the concept of a full surrender and simply want a surface coat. It seems to be a bit easier and less intrusive in the beginning but in the end it will be much more costly. The problem with only wanting a paint job, it simply will not hold. Without the soaking in of the Spirit, when bad weather arrives, the surface coat will be stripped away. So also, parts of the human soul will be left encapsulated, left to soften and decay, unseen by the naked eye, and will break down over time.

The only issue with this metaphor of re-staining is that it doesn’t go far enough. For Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Yes, we are to be washed clean in baptism and sealed by the Spirit, but Paul clearly points to becoming something completely new. We are to experience a metamorphosis. We are to go through a transformation. Paul would say that it is not enough to wash off a caterpillar and brush on some fresh stain. The point of following Christ is to emerge as a beautiful butterfly, transformed, with an ability to see life from a completely new perspective – God’s perspective.

So, I’m not ready to give up the deck metaphor. Below my cedar deck rests a concrete slab. Another deck, if you will. It too, needs to be power sprayed and sealed. But the make-up of the materials is completely different. The exposed aggregate will not give way to the eventual decay of the wood nor does it need the same annual care. The rock will remain steadfast and only a fool would want to paint over the top of it. But one could argue that the concrete while more stable, is more susceptible to cracking, and in the end, it is still a deck and not something “new”.

This train of thought is absolutely true. Therefore, we must leave my backyard in search for deeper truth. Perhaps we must consider a different deck altogether. A deck that needs to be power sprayed and sealed yet brings perspective from a completely new vantage point. Then may I suggest we move to the deck of a Boeing 737 airplane, or an Amtrak Cascade locomotive or a Navy Aircraft Carrier. Let us dismiss the Boeing 737Max for obvious internal reasons. Here we have the same needs of these vehicles to be washed and sealed yet brings a metamorphosis to the meaning of a backyard deck. Perhaps now we are getting close to imagining the Call in becoming a new creation in Christ.

This morning, I finished reading C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity. Coincidentally, the final chapter is entitled, “New Men” (I would add – and New Women). The only problem is that I don’t believe in coincidence. I will conclude with his powerful, penetrating thoughts concerning one becoming a new creation in Christ. I hope you are blessed by his words as I was.  

C.S. Lewis writes,

“Already the new men/women are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people” which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

But you must not imagine that the new man/woman are, in the ordinary sense, all alike. A good deal of what I have been saying in this last book might make you suppose that that was bound to be so. To become new men/women means losing what we now call ‘ourselves’. Out of our ‘selves’, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be “in” us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact, it is not so.

It is difficult here to get a good illustration; because of course, no other two things related to each other just as the Creator is related to one of His creatures. But I will try two very imperfect illustrations which may give a hint of truth. Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way, they would all look like? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are. Or again, suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of an egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt. (Of course, as I warned you, this is not really a very good illustration, because you can, after all, kill the other tastes by putting in too much salt, whereas you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ. I am doing the best I can.”

It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all different men/women that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to be ‘myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact, what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop…

It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God (the Trinity). I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your ‘self’ to Him you will not have a real self…Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

(C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity – pages 223-227)

“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.”  (Matthew 5:13, 14)

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 23

“Hope”

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:19

 

There is a nautical term used in the sailing world today that is called “kedging.” A kedge anchor is used when a ship is grounded or found in turbulent seas. Sailors will row the kedge anchor as far as they can from the ship in the general direction they wish to move to. They drop the kedge anchor into the sea. Once the anchor finds purchase on the bottom, the sailors on board begin to operate the winch and pull their way towards the anchor. This is known as kedging.

We don’t normally think of moving towards an anchor. The anchor often represents the past. It holds us back. Sometimes, however, the anchor is our future. We move towards it. In especially turbulent times, we need to pull ourselves into the future with the anchor of past revelation. The past then becomes the only means into the future.

The author of Hebrews declares in Hebrews 6:18-19, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” And what is this hope that is kedging our way into the future? It is Jesus, who has entered into the inner sanctuary, behind the curtain, on our behalf, to become our high priest and provide the sacrifice that gives life to our souls.

Many people, Christian or not, attempt to anchor themselves to what seems like stable ground. People will link themselves to career, finances, friendships, health or home. But when turbulent times come, the hold breaks free and they are thrown by the tossing waves. It is easy to see so many being tossed in the midst of these turbulent times. Perhaps you might be getting thrown around and feeling a bit hopeless. If so, take a close look at your anchor line. To what have you anchored yourself? Storms can be life threatening, but they can also be opportunities to recognize what needs to be abandoned and what needs to be held.

 Anchor yourself to Jesus. He is our hope, firm and secure, for today and into our future.

YOU CAN STOP HERE AND GO ABOUT YOUR DAY.  BUT IF YOU ARE HUNGRY FOR MORE, READ ON…

This week, I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. Chapter 10 is entitled, “Hope.”  If, today, you feel in danger of losing your way and fear drifting out into open water, perhaps C. S. Lewis can anchor you to the hope we have in Jesus Christ and pull you in toward safer shores and your certain future.

C.S. Lewis writes;

“Hope is one of the Theological virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’; aim at earth and you will get neither. It seems a strange rule, but something like it can be seen at work in other matters. Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more – food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilization as long as civilization is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.

Most of us find it very difficult to want ‘Heaven’ at all – except in so far as ‘Heaven’ means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognize it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife/husband may be a good spouse, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us. Now there are two wrong ways of dealing with this fact, and one right one.

  1. The Fool’s Way – He/she puts the blame on the things themselves. He/she goes on all their life thinking that if only they tried another woman/man, or went for a more expensive holiday, or whatever it is, then, this time, he/she really would catch the mysterious something we are all after. Most of the bored, disconnected, rich people in the world are of this type. They spend their whole lives trotting from woman to woman, man to man, from continent to continent, from hobby to hobby, always thinking that the latest is ‘the Real Thing’ at last, and always disappointed.

 

  1. The Way of the Disillusioned ‘Sensible Man’He soon decides that the whole thing is moonshine. “Of course”, he says, “one feels like that when one’s young. But by the time you get to my age you’ve given up chasing the rainbow’s end.” And so he settles down and learns not to expect too much and represses the part of himself which used, as he would say, “To cry for the moon”. This is, of course, a much better way than the first, and makes a man much happier, and less of a nuisance to society. It tends to make him a prig (he is apt to be rather superior towards what he calls ‘adolescents’), but, on the whole, he runs along fairly comfortably. It would be the best line we could take if man did not live forever. But supposing infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us? Supposing one really can reach the rainbow’s end? In that case it would be a pity to find out too late (a moment after death) that by our supposed ‘common sense’ we had stifled in ourselves the faculty of enjoying it.

 

  1. The Christian Way – The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men/women feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I can find myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a merely symbolic attempt to express the inexpressible. Musical instruments are mentioned because for many people (not all) music is the thing known in the present life which most strongly suggest ecstasy and infinity. Crowns are mentioned to suggest the fact that those who are united with God in eternity share His splendor and power and joy. Gold is mentioned to suggest the timelessness of Heaven (gold does not rust) and the preciousness of it. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.

Jesus promised, “I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:2-3) Jesus is our hope and our anchor for us both now and forever. Let someone else lay the eggs!

God Bless You All!    Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 21

“We’ve Been Here Before!”

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

As a country, we’ve been here before! One hundred years ago, America wrestled with a pandemic that infected millions of people and is estimated to have killed almost 700,000. There was no cure for the virus and people were told to wear masks to control the spread. That demand was met with a variety of responses. Honestly, this is nothing new.

But I would like to bounce back another 30 years, to a time period that has been labeled, “The Gilded Age.” The Gilded Age was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870’s to around 1900.

During this time, the United States grew in industrialization and urbanization. The railroad was the driving force in connecting all parts of the country as never before. The railroad drove economic growth. Certain entrepreneurs became extremely successful. One might categorize them as the “Big Five.” Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in steel. Cornelius Vanderbilt built his empire in shipping and the railroad, John D. Rockefeller in oil, William Randolph Hearst in publishing and newspapers, and JP Morgan in finance and banking. During this time, an elite aristocracy was growing (the rich one percent), so also the working poor. Farming and agriculture were struggling and growing deeper in debt. Money was to be made if one was a skilled laborer. But a wave of over 3 million immigrants flowed into the country in less than five years, looking for a brighter future. Two economic depressions hit during that era that created up to 20% unemployment across the country. Unrest was growing with the common laborers as they felt forgotten and left behind by those experiencing prosperity. Groups began to organize, raising the issue of inequality. The country was wrestling with progress and poverty. The country was also wrestling with democracy and capitalism. Does any of this sound familiar?

As I listened and learned about this time capsule in American history, it was like I was slapped across the face. We are still wrestling with many of these same issues. We have been here before!

Rather than the railroad driving the connections around our country, now it is the internet as our digital railroad. Rather than entrepreneurs building their empires around steel, railroads, oil, newspapers, and banking, today, the “Big Five” have been driving their empires electronically with such names as, Bezos, Zuckerburg, Buffet, Jobs and Gates (you can throw in Walton if you’d like). Skilled laborers can make a healthy living, but common laborers are still living paycheck to paycheck. Immigrants are wanting to enter our country due to the historical reasons of religious persecution and poverty. Groups are growing to address the issues of inequality. The country continues to wrestle with progress and poverty. And the country has still not really come to terms with a democracy that calls for equality – each one, votes one, and a capitalist system that tends to give rise to inequality whereby the rich become more wealthy and more powerful.

Much truth can be found in the quoted words of John Adams that democracy without morality is dead.

So, what does this have to do with faith? I was reminded of King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”

King Solomon wrote these words over 3,000 years ago. I find both hope and challenge in his words. I find hope, for if we have faced similar situations before and have found a way to survive, surely we can do so again. But they are also challenging words because it means that we continue to repeat the same patterns and pitfalls that cause the same pain and problems as in the past.

When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, he cautioned the people not to forget from whence they had come. God had provided and protected them for forty years in the wilderness. They were to trust, follow and obey God’s direction and commands. If they did so, God would bless them mightily. And if they passed this teaching on to their children and the following generations, they would experience peace and prosperity at the hand of God.

But the Israelites were unable to obey. They continued to follow a cycle that would repeat itself over and over again for hundreds of years during the period of the Judges.

Judges 3:7-11 summarizes the path that Israel followed:

Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. They forgot about the Lord their God, and they served the images of Baal and the Asherah poles. Then the Lord burned with anger against Israel, and he turned them over to King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim.[a] And the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim for eight years.

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raised up a rescuer to save them. His name was Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he became Israel’s judge. He went to war against King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram, and the Lord gave Othniel victory over him. 11 So there was peace in the land for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died.

The following is the pattern of the cycle that the Israelites would wrestle with over and over again:

  1. Israel Disobeys
  2. Israel is Oppressed
  3. Israel Cries out to God
  4. God raises up a Deliverer (a Judge)
  5. Israel is Delivered
  6. Israel is at Peace.

Unfortunately, when the deliverer died, the nation of Israel would fall back into a time of disobedience, and the cycle and pattern would be repeated.

Reading and learning about Israel’s repetitive cycle is painful yet within the pain, there is a promise. It is painful because Israel is unable to consistently walk in obedience to God. Yet there is a promise that brings hope because when they finally cry out to God in their pain, God comes to their rescue.

This repetitive cycle during the era of the Judges lasted for roughly 400 years. They definitely took, “Been there, done that” to the extreme. When the era of Judges moved on to the period of the Kings, a familiar cycle of disobedience followed. But it is interesting that God spoke a word of promise to King Solomon after he finished constructing God’s Temple in Jerusalem. God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

God gave King Solomon a message for all of God’s people. When times are hard and pain is close at hand, when people come to realize that they have been down a troublesome highway once again, there is a pattern worth repeating: Humility, Prayer, Seek God and Turn from evil. When people take this action, the crooked road will straighten, the rocky road with become smooth, and the narrow road will widen. God will hear! God will forgive! And God will bring healing!

Today, the Christian church, in many ways, is traveling a similar road to that of the church during the Gilded Era. The church was facing many new changes and challenges. People were leaving the church. There were challenges to its doctrines. People were looking for something new. They wanted to believe in the improvement of human nature. Does this sound familiar? The church was challenged with trying to address and respond to changing needs in the midst of a changing culture. The Christian church today is traveling down this same road. But honestly, it has been down this road before.     

King Solomon made the statement that there is nothing new under the sun. And it is true. Yes, we will face problems that we have faced time and time again. But let us remain steadfast knowing that whatever is ahead, we face it with the repeating promises and provisions of God. He will deliver us! He will defend us! And He will delight in us! Because we will humble ourselves, pray and seek Him and turn from any of our evil ways.

“God, who calls you is faithful, and He will do this!” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 16

“Finding Your Voice”

“Listen as Wisdom calls out! Hear as understanding raises her voice!” Proverbs 8:1

Have you found your voice? What does that even really mean? I’ve heard that language used 3 different times, in three different contexts over the past week. Certainly, we talk and we have listened to our own voice for our entire life. Each week, contestants appear on the TV program, The Voice, because they have heard their voice and can belt out beautiful musical notes. But there is a deeper question. A spiritual question. Have you found your voice?

This past week, while watching a news report about Simone Biles, the greatest gymnast on planet earth, it was reported that through all her trials and successes, among other things, she has “found her voice,”  Tuesday evening, I drove to Renton to purchase a one-person backpacking tent.  As the seller and I talked about adventures and new stages in life, he commented that some people never take time to get to know themselves or “find their voice.” This all began when I received a comment from someone outside our congregation who said they liked “my voice” regarding one of my devotions. Interesting!  I must admit that over these past four months, the challenge of these devotions has allowed me the time to wrestle with how to express my heart, thoughts, feelings, faith, and perspectives. At times, I have struggled with my literary style. But I have come to the conclusion that this has been an important part in helping me to find “my voice” in the midst of all the minefields we are facing today.

This topic has triggered memories which date back to 1992. You might find this ridiculous, but it takes me back to the movie, Sister Act. Whoopi Goldberg, a lounge singer in the witness protection program takes on the character of a nun, teaching at a Catholic high school. At a pivotal moment in the movie, Goldberg states to one of her students who thinks a singing career is an impossible dream, “If you wake up each morning and you have a song on your heart – then you are a singer, girl!” That statement from this classic comedy, struck a chord. This Catholic Nun was helping a rebellious student “find her voice.” Whether she would become a professional singer or not – her inner voice was waiting to be explored.

Another memory triggered, relating to the country singer, Garth Brooks. I remember hearing about a pivotal story from his early singing days—a conversation that changed the trajectory of his career. Brooks  was writing songs and looking for his breakthrough opportunity. He told a producer that his goal was to be like his idol, George Strait. The producer looked straight at him and said that he needed to let go of George Strait. He told Brooks that he simply needed to discover the true Garth Brooks. He was encouraging Brooks to find his own voice. Garth Brooks took that advice, set himself free to be himself and has arguably become one of the greatest country singers of all time. And, at the peak of his career, I don’t think that it was a coincidence that he walked away from it all to spend time with his family and raise his children. He knew his voice. Now that his kids are grown, he has stepped back into the music industry and is once again re-discovering his voice – and the crowds are loving it.

Has anyone helped you to find your voice? Perhaps a parent, grandparent, teacher or coach lifted your sights to look deeper within to discover more of who you are. Tragically, many people have suffered abuse, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually, that has shut down any soul searching and true discovery. So also, some voices have gone untamed and uncontrolled such that they become hard and loud and destructive. Perhaps the sweet spot in finding one’s voice lies in the place in which one’s heart is stirred, people are blessed and honor is brought to God. Each voice is unique. Each voice is special. Each voice is a gift. Your voice has been given from God and to be spoken like none other.

Consider the voice of the Apostles. As disciples, while following Jesus on earth, their voices ware yet undiscovered. But when Jesus left his friends, ascended to his Father, and the Holy Spirit appeared, it was then that they found their voice.

Listen to each unique voice as they begin their letters to fellow believers:

Peter states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

John writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (1 John 1:1-2)

James declares, “Considerate pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

Paul says, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:3-6)

There is no evidence that Jesus ever personally took time to put his thoughts down on parchment, but he certainly had a voice. Interestingly enough, he used his voice most commonly in teaching the crowds about God’s Kingdom through parables. Matthew 13:34 explains, “Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.” Jesus used his voice referencing common, ordinary examples in explaining God’s Kingdom. And as he pointed to these tangible objects, he declared that some would be privy to understanding while others would remain in the dark. Whether people understood or not, agreed or not, they all recognized One who knew his voice.

So, what is the sound of your voice? What stirs your soul? What speaks to you? What depth of meaning have you come to understand through your life’s journey? What quickens your heart that might bring a blessing to others? And what ultimately might bring honor to God? Only you can know this voice. Only you can speak this voice. Only you can live this voice.

Knowing your voice does not mean that you will be a professional writer of prose, novels or non-fiction. Knowing your voice leads to contentment, peace, confidence, energy, life, hope, dreams, satisfaction, joy, faith, and love. Knowing your voice is experiencing when spoken, it connects you to God!

If, by grace, you wake up in the morning and have that something that still stirs your soul, that you realize will bless others and ultimately bring honor to God – Lift your voice in praise to God – For He has shared his voice with you! If unsure, lift up your voice in prayer to God, ask Him, listen, and let Him lead you. Pay attention because as with Elijah, it could arrive as a “still, small voice.” But then again, listen to the voice of David from Psalm 29.

Psalm 29:3-11

The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
    The God of glory thunders.
    The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
    the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
    he makes Mount Hermon[b] leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
    with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
    the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks[c]
    and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”

10 The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
    The Lord reigns as king forever.
11 The Lord gives his people strength.
    The Lord blesses them with peace.

 

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 13

“Fake News or Good News?”

Test everything. Hold on to the good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21

 

Last night, after returning home from our Council meeting, I watched a program on PBS entitled, “Fake: Searching for truth in the Age of Misinformation.” The program explored the variety of ways news is being communicated and delivered. They discussed the difficulty of knowing what news is authentic and the challenges behind hidden agendas. The program highlighted the difference between “misinformation” and “disinformation.” Misinformation can be an honest mistake made with honest intentions, while disinformation is inaccurate information with the expressed intent to deceive the reader. In the program, they highlighted a local newspaper, The Gazette, from Schenectady, New York. My interest was piqued as Jeriah is living a stone’s throw away from that city in the town of Troy. As a small newspaper, The Gazette is trying to survive and is still operating, in many way, with an old school mentality toward news. It’s not all bad–they are just getting swallowed up by the digital age. Actually, their approach is quite refreshing. They still send out reporters in search of in-depth, important stories relevant to their local audience. They are a dying breed. As news is being delivered 24 hours a day, through every digital medium imaginable, people are being trained out of reading and waiting for local, in-depth news. Unfortunately, I too have been trained out. I stopped my subscription to the Everett Herald a couple years ago because by the time I opened the paper, the headlines were already old news. The value of my subscription dwindled down to the value I received using the newspaper as fire starter.

Where do you receive your news? Local television stations like King5 or KIRO? Do you mainly watch FoxNews or CNN? Maybe you have tried a news station outside the country like CBC from Canada or the BBC from England. I survey them all.  Most young people today do not even watch a news program on t.v. at all. While they pull news feeds from online sites like Youtube, studies have shown that they receive most of their news from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and the like. They find out the news from a friend who passes along what they had heard, read or seen.

How does one know what news is true and accurately reported? Today, more than ever, we are being called to use critical thinking, examine the facts, and do our own personal research. With today’s constant media stream, we must question and critique what is being delivered, yet not become overly brazen, frustrated or exhausted – a tough challenge.

Today, we hear the term ”Fake News” on a daily basis. It was interesting to learn from where this term first originated. According to the PBS program, “Fake News” was first used in 1999, in reference to Jon Stewart’s satirical news program, The Daily Show. On this show, he made fun of actual news reports–that was part of his comedy routine. It would be similar to the comedy news sketch on Saturday Night Live, entitled, Weekend Update. Today, that term has been expanded and exploited to call out actual news stories, reporting and stations on a regular basis. This expanded usage has growing implications and is seriously, no joke.  

News stations are so threatened that they are publicly responding to the implications and fear that the public will not trust their reporting. That’s not to say that news stations should not be held accountable for the news that they report. Accountability is key. But it is interesting that they feel so threatened that they have made commercials focusing upon their station and reporters trying to rebuff the idea of “fake news.” Locally, I tend to watch King5 News. At the end of their commercial, they state, “We Stand for Truth!” But truthfully, even though they are subtly addressing the issue of “fake news,” the question must still be asked, “So, what TRUTH do you actually stand for?”

That question must be asked, because the truth is, everyone has a particular agenda. Whether as individuals or as news stations – unless we truly are talking about the weather – everyone approaches truth with an agenda. The first step in discovering fair reporting is knowing, being honest and aware of one’s agenda and bias. When we know that agenda – then we can begin to look for truth in, with, and around the subject being reported.

Are you aware that even God – most importantly – God, has an agenda? Have you ever really thought about that? God has a clear agenda in his attitude and actions! And He has made it crystal clear through the incarnation of his Son, Jesus Christ. What is God’s agenda? Jesus states God’s clear objective to Nicodemus, the religious leader, in the cover of night in John 3:17. God’s agenda is this, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.” This is not fake news! In this one statement of Jesus, he lays out the Truth, and God’s desire, that will stand for all eternity. And once a person knows that God’s clear pursuit is to save the world through His Son, from here, one begins to search, examine, and explore the deeper truths about this reality of salvation.

As Christians today, it is critically important that we can discern between the truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the fake news being reported about the Gospel. There are many mixed up messages being sent out on the digital airwaves. It is crucial that we know the message with both our head and heart – wisdom and revelation – intellect and relationship – in order that we can Stand for the Truth in Scripture and point people to the truth found in the person of Jesus Christ.

St. Paul found himself battling for the Truth to be heard and understood. Whether in the synagogues or in the open-air market, he fought for the true message of Jesus Christ to be received. To the believers in Galatia he exhorted them to not fall back into a yoke of slavery as they still looked to live according to the Law. To the believers in Corinth, Paul warned the people against false teachers and the “super-apostles” who would lead them astray. To the believers in Thessalonica, Paul told them to, “Test everything. Hold on to what is good. And avoid every kind of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22)

Perhaps today, we might consider following in the footsteps of the fellow believers in Berea. Paul and Silas were sent to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Bereans. When they arrived, they went to the local synagogue. Acts17:11 tells us how the Bereans responded to the Good News. “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 were on the lookout for fake news. They studied the Scriptures EVERY DAY to ferret out the truth of God. They were determined to discover the truth for themselves.

There are many people today and there will be many more in the future that will point to Christianity and simply declare, “Fake News!” If people hear this message enough, they are prone to believe it. May we be like the Bereans who examined God’s Word and grew to stand for and discern the truth of Jesus Christ. May we be believers that can respond to these accusations of fake news with deep seated honesty, knowledge, love, humility and respect because we know the Truth and that Truth has set us free!

We also have the opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us. Below, I have a list of atheists who have become deep seated believers. In the beginning, they cried out that Christianity was nothing but fake news. But upon their personal examination, study and discovery, they have become ardent believers and arch defenders of the Christian faith.

If you want to take advantage of this time in isolation and further your own personal discovery for truth, I highly recommend reading one or all of these four books from the following authors. 

C.S. Lewis – “Mere Christianity”

Lee Strobel – “The Case for Christ”

  1. Warner Wallace – “God’s Crime Scene”

Ravi Zacharias – “The Logic of God”

I am very excited about Ravi Zacharias’ new book, The Logic of God. It was published in 2019 before his death in 2020. It is his first and only devotional and offers 52 readings that explain how and why Christianity, the Bible and God are still relevant.

I am going to be ordering Ravi’s book for myself next Monday, 7/20. If you are interested in this book  – I can order one for you – please respond to this email, text my phone, or speak to me on Sunday (or you can just order it for yourself on Amazon).  I think this could be a fun, enlightening, and encouraging read together.

Cost – “The Logic of God” – hardcover –  $15.00 – make check payable to OSLC – memo: Ravi Book

God Bless You All

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 9

“The Parable of the Petunias”

“Those who have ears, let them hear.” Matthew 13:10

Two months ago, while taping the Mother’s Day service at the Haskin’s house, Linda sent me home with a number of petunia plants. They were starters from seeds that began to break ground in her green house. At home, I watered and watched as those tiny seedlings continued to grow in the sun. After a short time, it was evident that they were outgrowing their small containers. I had one bag of fresh, rich soil. I emptied the bag into one of my large flower pots and there, transplanted a few of the petunias. The rest of the petunias I planted in a flowerbed by the road. These particular petunias were simply placed in the natural sandy soil. As I continued to water and watch the petunias grow – the flowers in the pot with fresh, rich soil soared with new buds and colorful flowers and green leaves. The flowers in the natural soil, seemed to sour as flowers faded, leaves turned yellow and new buds disappeared. The more that I watered, the more one set of flowers reached for the heavens. The other set continued to struggle as if simply trying to hold on to life.

Those who have ears, let them hear!

Have you ever dreamed of being part of the crowd, that sat on the sloping hillside, and listened to Jesus’ teaching?

You are surrounded by a large crowd. Everyone is bubbling with excitement. Jesus steps into a boat at the water’s edge, so that people can hear his words. Jesus has a warm smile. He calls for the crowd to move in close. There is something about him that makes you want to run right to him. You would actually like to climb right into the boat and sit right beside him, but that is not very reasonable. One thing is clear, you cannot get close enough. He has such an inviting, engaging, attracting presence that everyone wants to nestle in close.

Jesus looks beyond the crowd to the East. On the other hillside, he points to a farmer working in his field. Jesus directs his hearers to the worker as he casts his seed.

Jesus says, “A farmer went out to sow seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop -a hundred, sixty, or thirty times what was sown.”

Jesus then concludes this story with the words, “The one who has ears, let them hear.”   

You turn to your neighbor sitting beside you. You ask him, “What did he say about the farmer? What does he mean?” Your new friend asks you, “What did you hear about the seed? What is he talking about?” Someone else pipes up, “Do you think he wants us to go help the farmer?”  A murmur passes through the crowd. Everyone knows that Jesus has said something important, they just don’t know what it is.

You overhear Jesus’ closest friends ask him, “Why do you speak to the people with such parables?” You hear Jesus respond, “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you but not to them.”

You wonder why Jesus would not explain the stories to everyone in the crowd. His response does not discourage you. In fact, his reply causes you to want to press in even closer and try to figure out what Jesus really means. As the sun begins to set and the crowd begins to disperse, you wonder, “Should I stay, or should I go?”

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 7

“Hiking a New Trail”

“Stay on the path that the Lord your God has commanded you to follow. Then you will live long and prosperous lives in the land you are about to enter and occupy.” Dt. 5:33

Sunday, I was excited to hike a new trail. I brought a change of clothes to church so that I could hit the road right after the worship service. I had a great day. By the end of the hike, the app on my phone said I had recorded 16,500 steps, climbed 38 floors and traveled just over 8 miles. I hiked through terrain in the Glacier Peak Wilderness that I had never seen before. Upon reflection, this hike made me think of the new trail that the early church blazed in the book of Acts. We have been following their movement for the past weeks in worship since Pentecost. They took many steps in their travels, but there were also many steps in their preparation for their missionary hike. I found it interesting to consider the relationship between the two.

My hike didn’t really begin Sunday afternoon nor even Sunday morning. It really began as I started walking with regularity on the road around my house weeks before. As my body began to get in shape, I felt more ready and excited to explore new ground. So, Saturday night, I put my change of clothes in the truck along with my pack, water and a few snacks. After church, I changed clothes and went to Subway for a sandwich. Then I went to Costco to gas up and had to stop at Walmart to pick up my new Discover pass and fishing license. (Interestingly enough, I ran into Bev Klatt, from church as I waited in line.) I finally got on the road and headed toward the town of Darrington. A few miles passed Arlington, I ran into a construction zone which caused a delay. I drove passed the Oso Memorial on Hwy 530, through Darrington and on to Hwy 23. The trailhead was 23 miles further down that road. The road was paved and I was sailing along on a beautiful sunny afternoon. I thought to myself, “If this is the way the road is all the way back to the trailhead, I’ll be there in no time.” Unfortunately, a few minutes after those thoughts, the pavement came to an abrupt end at mile marker 10. The final 13 miles were marked with potholes and deep divots such that the impact would throw my coffee cup out of the cup holder. It took me over an hour and a half to cover the last 13 miles. After feeling like I had been riding a bucking bronco for over 90 minutes, I finally arrived at the Suiattle Pass Trailhead. As I backed into my spot, a passerby cautioned me that the signs indicated that backing in was illegal. By this time, it was 4:00 p.m. I put on my pack, said hello to a few hikers who were finishing for the day, and set out on the trail. The trail was well worn and well-marked. The path meandered under a canopy of trees and alongside a river with a strong, steady current. Sunlight broke through the trees and cast shadows upon the trail. It was quiet and peaceful. Almost too quiet. My mind drifted to news reports that I had heard of animal attacks and hikers disappearing. I could feel a slight wave of fear began to creep up my neck and wash over me. I wondered if an animal on the prowl would be able to detect this creeping fear. I reached for my canister of bear spray just in case. I realized that if I had a hiking companion, these thoughts and feelings wouldn’t even enter into my mind. Yet with a companion, I also would not experience this solitude. After a couple of miles, I found myself humming some worship songs to myself. Then I realized that I was in the wilderness, completely alone, so I began to sing out loud. The more I sang, the more peace that seemed to follow. I finally came upon another hiker. He looked like he had been on the trail a long time. He was carrying a full load and fatigue registered clearly across his face. We greeting one another and quickly departed going in opposite directions. I set a timer at 75 minutes to mark my turn around. Soon, the timer went off. I walked a bit further, hoping to find a substantial marker or clearing but the trail just continued to wander off into the distance. I took a few pics and enjoyed a peaceful walk back to my truck at the trailhead. I took a bathroom break, rehydrated and bounced and banged my way back along Hwy 23. A new trail. A new adventure. A satisfying day! As I drove home, I hungered for more. Perhaps the next trail will be down Cascade Hwy. I couldn’t wait to get home and search the map.

The early church, as recorded in the book of Acts, was hiking a new trail. They had been clothed in Christ, and fed and fueled by the Holy Spirit, but their travels began long before Easter and Pentecost. The trail began 3 years earlier, when many of them accepted the Call to follow Jesus and become fishers of men. These new followers of Jesus devoted themselves to learning, trusting and training in something new. They were beginning a spiritual strengthening that would result in their wanting more. The road was anything but easy. They were confused. There were delays. There was fear. They argued among themselves and were corrected on many occasions. All seemed to be lost after their master’s death on the cross. But that Easter morning sparked a new beginning. They received some simple directions to the trailhead. They were going to meet in Galilee and then return to Jerusalem. They bounced around, wondering where all this was going to lead them. They were told to wait in Jerusalem for the gift of power that would fuel them on their journey. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit arrived on the day of Pentecost and they were gassed up. Mighty winds, tongues like flames and intelligible languages were being spoken, declaring the greatness of God. Suddenly, they were filled and empowered and ready to hit the trail. As they began their hike, they greeted passersby with the glory of God, and declared that Jesus was truly their long-awaited Messiah. These new believers carried with them a fear of God that resulted in a washing over in awe and reverence for the living God. There was no need for a canister of bear spray, nor their finger to be held on the trigger, for the Word of God was their sword and strength. And in times of trial, when chained and imprisoned, these men let out a song of praise to their God who they knew would provide and protect them. When these men were released, and they had finished marching that particular trail, they gathered together in eager expectation for their next adventure and waited to see which trailhead the Spirit would lead to next.

As God prepares us to lead each of us, and our church on to a new spiritual trailhead, consider the intentional training that has already occurred. Make sure that you have changed your clothes and have dressed yourself in the grace of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Then stop and be filled up and fueled up with the Holy Spirit so that you can travel the long trail. Pick up your discover card. You have rights and privileges as children of God and while the card is costly – in Jesus’ death on the cross – it is available to you free of charge and gives you access to the high country. Don’t worry about the driving delays, potholes and divots in the road. Rest easy, take your time, you will arrive before the day is over. The Son will shine, the river will run, the LORD will be your shade at your right hand – and He will watch over your life. Embrace the moment. Walk the well-worn trail. You will not be alone. You will sing praises to the Lord and see the bountiful goodness of your God. And as you bounce your way home, I pray that you will be eager to search your map and scout out the next possible trail that God will open to you.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark