Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor’s Devotion #109

“Three Simple Words”

“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Be not afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.” Luke 2:30

Recently, Google has encouraged the use of three simple words to help employees avoid burnout. What might those words be? “No Meetings Week”. With those working from home, suffering through endless zoom and virtual meetings, the message, “No Meetings Week” is a welcomed moment to celebrate.

With the news of a pandemic’s third wave, a pulling back from any forward steps toward normalcy, and a preparation for what could seem like a hollow holiday season, perhaps we are need of three other simple words from Scripture.

I stumbled upon these words, once again, as I pulled papers out of my Bible, trying to preserve them from Sunday morning’s sprinkle. A weathered piece of paper fell out, waiting to be re-discovered. The three words were the title of a devotion that I wrote exactly 23 years ago, for the December newsletter. It was a devotion that I wrote after my daughter’s birth. This year, 2020, my daughter celebrated her “Golden” birthday. I didn’t know what a golden birthday was until Jeriah explained it. It’s the birthday  when your age crosses with your birth date. Jeriah was born on October 23rd, and this year she turned 23 – a la – a Golden Birthday! (My golden birthday occurred when I was six, the year I got shingles, not a year worth remembering in my opinion.)

23 years have passed since I penned the following perspective. Since then, there have been highs and lows, tears and laughter, adventures and sorrows. These three words still stand, ready to lift up, re-assure, and restore our focus. Messengers were sent by God, with the intent to restore and reorient thoughts to God with these words. We are to know that He is present through thick and thin, challenge and defeat, surprise and triumph. You’ve heard the words before. Perhaps working to survive endless adjustments and uncertainties, you need to be reminded again: “Be Not Afraid!” Pause here – Take a moment and reflect upon the places where fear has crept into your heart and mind. It is critical that we recognize those things that create fear within us – so that we can direct them to the Lord. God is greater than all that we fear. More than that – God is with us! GOD IS WITH YOU! He will always be with you! One word, “Emmanuel”, which we speak often at Christmas, holds the meaning in, with and under the word: “God With Us” – Yes, in these trying times – God is with us. Three words in One, like the Trinity – eternally true. No matter your experience this holiday season. No matter your experience next year and beyond, Almighty God wants us reassured, “Be Not Afraid”.

Written November, 1997

 “Be Not Afraid”

I felt a wave of fear wash over me as I watched the fetal monitor do a dance hour after hour. The contractions wouldn’t stop. Our tiny baby seemed determined to rush into the world eight weeks early. We were told survival was fairly certain, but then again, who really knows. What about complications and unforeseen circumstances? Fear hovered close by.

A few days later, with contractions under control, we made our way home. Now, new worries surfaced. When labor begins, would we have time enough to get to the hospital? Would the delivery be as sudden and as painful as Isaiah’s birth? October 22nd arrived. I received a page at 9:35 p.m. “Honey”, my wife said, “You better get home.” I raced home. We arrived at the hospital safely at 11:00 p.m. Yet again, more anxiety. Was the baby transverse? Dawn’s water broke at 1:30 a.m. The midwife declared the good news, “The head is down!”. The epidural was administered. The rest is history. A perfect delivery. A perfect baby girl. Jeriah Aryn Bankson was brought into this world on October 23rd at 9:36 a.m.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder, “What was I so worried about?” Then again, it’s interesting what happens as I look forward. Not that I am consumed with fear but what does the future hold? Could it be SIDS, sexual abuse, learning disabilities? Who will she date? When should she date? Will she be safe away at college? Who will she marry? Will her kids be born healthy? Does it ever end? If one is not careful, the answer is, no, it never stops. There will ALWAYS potentially be seemingly something worthy of worry.

But during this Christmas Season, there is a simple statement we need to hear and hold on to. This saying is not just for December but for each of our undetermined days. It is the message of angels! “Be Not Afraid!” This familiar phrase forever connects us to shepherds and angels on Christmas night. Shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. Suddenly they are enthroned by a heavenly host declaring the glorious news that a Savior is born. We hear the message but we need to tune our ear to the preface. Three words which are easily overlooked but set the stage for the celebration. How can the celebration commence if fear fills the air? It is impossible. Fear has no place in God’s plan of action. As one scours the Scriptures, it is interesting to note that these three little words are littered throughout the herald’s message. The first words spoken to Zachariah and Mary by a holy messenger brings the assuring word, “Be Not Afraid.” In fact, from Genesis to Revelation, these three words are used with regularity. God speaks directly to Abraham, Isaac, Moses and others using the same words. And men of faith also speak these words of encouragement; Joseph to his brothers, Joshua to the people of Israel, Elijah to a widow, David to his son, Solomon, and many more. Finally, in Revelation, when John comes face to face with Almighty God, the first words spoken to him are, “Be Not Afraid – I am the First and the Last.”

What does this all mean? The message is clear! God’s desire is to remove ALL fear (anxiety) from every aspect of our life. God wants us to be filled with the gifts of his Spirit – joy, peace, patience, love, self- control. Fear has NO existence in the presence of God (except the “fear” which calls us to revere him and stand in awe)   

As Christmas approaches and we await the coming of the Messiah, let us take hold of and claim these three little words spoken by the Holy Ones. Regardless of our circumstances, past, present, and future,   we need not fear, God has made a way for us – we will overcome!

Let us celebrate the joy that is for all people – In the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord!

Love in Christ, Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions #108

“Faith of a Soldier”

Jesus said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel” Luke 7:9

Tomorrow, November 11th, we celebrate, Veteran’s Day. It is a day to honor and recognize those men and women who have put on a uniform and have been willing to fight for the freedom of our country and even be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. It has been stated many times, “There are no atheists in a foxhole.” Faith is found and surfaces in many and various conditions and circumstances.

This devotion begins with a simple history of the origins of Veterans Day. Then I’d like to point to the Scriptures, to faith found in a solider, that surfaced in a surprising way, even to Jesus himself, from a Roman Centurion no less, that left our Savior virtually speechless.

THE ORIGINS OF VETERANS DAY

In 1921, an unknown World War I American soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. This site, on a hillside overlooking the Potomac River and the city of Washington, became the focal point of reverence for America’s veterans.

Similar ceremonies occurred earlier in England and France, where an unknown soldier was buried in each nation’s highest place of honor… These memorial gestures all took place on November 11, giving universal recognition to the celebrated ending of World War I fighting at 11 a.m., November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month). The day became known as “Armistice Day”….

Realizing that peace was equally preserved by veterans of WW II and Korea, Congress was requested to make this day an occasion to honor those who have served America in all wars. In 1954 President Eisenhower signed a bill proclaiming November 11 as Veterans Day….

A law passed in 1968 changed the national commemoration of Veterans Day to the fourth Monday in October. It soon became apparent, however, that November 11 was a date of historic significance to many Americans. Therefore, in 1978 Congress returned the observance to its traditional date….

So, let it be at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, that we take time to give God thanks and pray for our veterans and our present military soldiers who are being put in harm’s way – that we might live in safety and enjoy the freedoms we all share.

I would also like to highlight one specific soldier. He is found in Luke chapter 7. Here, Luke describes Jesus having a surprise encounter with a Roman soldier. He is a Centurion, which means he is one who holds great responsibility and authority. Jesus arrives in the town of Capernaum, to be confronted by some Jewish elders. They approach him regarding a highly valued slave. He is the slave of the Centurion, and he is deathly ill. The elders plead for Jesus to come with them because this Roman soldier has a deep love for the Jewish nation – surprise, surprise. He even built their synagogue. An even greater surprise. So, Jesus goes with them. When Jesus is nearing the house, the centurion sends some friends to tell him not to trouble himself any further. They tell Jesus that he does not need to come to his house. He even told his friends to say, “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. And that is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you.” His friends continued with these stunning words from the soldier, “I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go’, and he goes; and that one, ‘Come’, and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this, and he does it. Say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

Jesus was shocked! The Scripture says that when Jesus heard this, he was amazed! Then he turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel.”

His friends return home and find the servant completely healed.

Jesus was “amazed” at the centurion’s faith and understanding of God’s authority. Other ways to describe Jesus’ response is – he was astonished, marveled, surprised, in wonderment. It was such a surprise to experience this man with such humility, faith and understanding because not only was he a trained killing machine for the Roman emperor; this man was also in charge of one hundred killing machine soldiers. Yet, here we have the model of a man, while wielding great authority, humbling himself before a back-woods, itinerate unrecognized teacher with a motley crew of disciples. And he even goes so far as to declare himself unworthy to be in his presence.

Compare this to the amazement Jesus expresses in Mark chapter six in his own hometown. In Nazareth, on the Sabbath, Jesus enters the synagogue and begins to teach. Many were amazed at Jesus’ teaching. Yet others questioned his wisdom and his family heritage. They say, “Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us also? And they took offense at him.” The Scriptures state that Jesus could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. Mark 6:6 states, “And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” Here again, we find Jesus “amazed”. He is astonished, marveled, surprised and in wonderment but not at amazing faith – but rather amazed at his friends and relatives lack of faith. Therefore, Jesus states, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.”

It is ironic, that while Jesus is traveling throughout Israel – while he is among his disciples, friends, relatives, hometown, religious and ill-religious and various nondescript crowds – that it would be a Roman warrior who would display the depth of spiritual acumen and understanding of Kingdom authority.

Tomorrow, may we also honor this ancient war veteran, who models being a warrior after God’s own heart! What a wonderful, amazing surprise and gift of faith!

May God bless ALL our Veterans!

God Bless You All!                                             Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Devotion #107

“Election”

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10

 

Finally, Tuesday, November 3rd, Election Day has arrived. When the election results are finally tallied and announced, half of our country will be elated, while the other half will be throttled with concern.  What to do? Some people will be worried that our country will go backward, others will believe we will go sideways, still others will be concerned that we will be snapping at our tail, as we run in circles.

Even before the election reports begin to roll in, I want to challenge you to lay down your worry and concern. Rather than despair and/or disappointment, I want you to dream. No matter who becomes our elected President or our elected state officials or which petitions are passed.  We have a good work to do! The Apostle Paul, declares in Ephesians 2:8-9, with trumpet blast, that we are saved by God’s grace through simple, child-like abandoned faith in Jesus Christ. We are safe and secure for eternity through the sacrificial death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Additionally, Paul continues on, in verse 10, to declare that through of this gift of grace, we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do. Tonight, I want you to focus upon your Savior, Jesus Christ. I want you to focus upon your church and the community in which we live. God has placed us in this place, at this time, to do a good work for His glory. God’s Spirit has been moving in, with, and through the hearts and lives of our people. It is the same kind of energy and life I experienced when God resurrected our tiny, fledging mission church in the foothills of the Sierra mountains. No one gave us a chance to survive. We had little to offer except for a faith in a mighty God. God turned that tiny church on fire and flames of His glory were felt throughout the community.

Have you felt the spiritual flames burning in your heart and have you recognized them smoldering under your nose? It is happening in your church, right now, in spite of a global pandemic and divisive presidential election. The question is; what good works has God been preparing for us, in such a time as this. And more personally, what part does God want you to play? Where will you participate? Who can you join and encourage? Your presence and participation are crucial in the spreading of God’s Spirit.

What is interesting about mission church dynamics is that – everyone is keenly aware that EVERYONE is invaluable to the effort at the beginning. EVERYONE is needed for the church to grow – spiritually, physically, numerically, emotionally and into the community. But once the church experiences a certain level of growth – people begin to back off and act as if their presence isn’t really that necessary. Which cannot be further from the truth. You are irreplaceable in the work of God!

The Sprit of God moves in, with and through His people. St. Paul declares that our very bodies are the very temple of God. God’s presence explodes when God’s people gather together – there is an exponential component to his movement.

Rather than worry about where our nation is going – dream about where God is going. Where is He moving our congregation? More personally, where, how, and when is God moving YOU. Each one of us is indispensable to the good work that God wants to do among us. I know that many people are worried about our conducting worship inside our new fellowship hall. If the governor tells us to back down, we will follow orders. We are committed to safety and not taking undue risks. We are taking it one week at a time and ready to make adjustments as needed. On the other hand, to feel the energy in the room, and also in the parking lot with cars honking for Matthew Mendez confirming his faith in Jesus Christ. It was a special moment – experienced by all who were engaged. Where you there? If not, you missed out on a Spirit filled day. Don’t worry – THERE IS MORE TO COME! Maybe you do not feel safe coming to church – I completely respect and understand that. But if it’s simply the inconvenience that you do not like sitting in your car – you are missing out and we are missing out on the spirit of God that you bring. Consider the difference between having 5 cars in the parking lot verses 15 cars, 50 cars, 100 cars, or 200 for that matter. The presence of God’s people coming together against the odds (not to mention rain or snow) and the excitement it brings becomes palpable. Consider the difference between 5 people inside for church verses 15, 50, 100 or 200. I guarantee you, your presence matters! The joy of the Lord was present as we held our first worship service in our newly remodeled fellowship hall last Sunday. It was a mission church mindset in a 145-year old church. Only God does work like that!

If we want to do a good work which God has prepared in advance for us to do – and if we want to bring God’s power to a divided community and nation – we must be together, united and understanding how vital each individual role is. If you are unable to participate in any church activities – that’s ok – but can God lead you to reach out with phone calls, letters, email or texts to family, friends, neighbors, or church members to demonstrate Christian love in such difficult times as these? Perhaps a meal or a listening ear, or offering a prayer? We might not be clear on the particulars, but without a doubt, God wants to take our church and faith more personal and more public!

This Sunday, for those who come, you are going to hear a very personal faith testimony – that will  bless your public ears and continue fanning the flame of the Spirit among us.

Can you hear and feel my rallying cry in this devotion? I hope so. I am pumped up and fired up because I can feel and see a missional spirit in our congregation being lit and becoming more fully alive in Him. This is the fun stuff. The excitement, commitment, enthusiasm, energy, and generosity are popping up in many and various ways. This is what makes faith compelling to those who do not know Him yet. Yes, we have challenges ahead of us – and we MUST be concerned with exposures and undue risks. But let us cradle and protect and thrive and release the Holy Spirit to move among us with greater freedom, power and transformation. The reality is that God’s Spirit seems to spring forward most often in desperate, trying times – and we all know we are living in trying times. But when God’s people are crying out for more of his saving grace, historically, the church of Jesus Christ has done its greatest work during society’s most difficult days.

Know this, the most important election has already taken place! God has elected you into his family! St. Paul states, “Therefore, I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.” 2 Timothy 2:10

God Bless You All!  We have a wonderful, Spirit led, work ahead of us!

Pastor Mark

  



Pastor Mark’s Devotion #106

 

“Oh, The Wonder of it All!”

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13

 

I don’t know about you but sometimes, I find myself needing to step back and gain some perspective. It doesn’t necessarily solve all my problems, but many times it broadens my horizons. I found that happening last Saturday morning. Earlier in the week, I had read an article declaring that scientists have determined the size of our universe. Students of the cosmos have determined our universe to be 93 billion light years in diameter. So, that Saturday morning, I decided to sit and ponder and try to comprehend that number. The number, 93, can perhaps be easily remembered because the distance from the sun to earth is roughly 93 million miles. But 93 billion light years is a completely different animal. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second. Therefore, light travels from the sun to earth in 500 seconds, or 8.33 minutes. Pluto rotates around the sun at roughly 3.7 trillion miles.. Researchers say that light from the sun takes about 4-6 hours to reach Pluto. One light year is calculated to be approximately 6 trillion miles. If my calculations are correct, light traveling the equivalent of one light year would equal light traveling from the sun to earth over 65,000 times. Our mind has trouble comprehending the enormity of 1 light year. Now consider that our universe is over 93 BILLION LIGHT YEARS across. 93 billion multiplied by 6 trillion will get you close to the measurement in miles. Trust me, your calculator does not have enough digits. And our minds do not have enough cognitive ability to comprehend such a number. And yet here we are. And the universe is still expanding! What do these incomprehensible numbers even mean? It means that we are even smaller than one pale blue dot caught in a ribbon of light thinner than the thickness of a piece of hair.

And yet Scripture says that God knows every hair on our head. Consider the wonder of this – Almighty God who fills every space in the universe – He knows every hair on your head.

Let’s look another direction. Do you know how many cells make up a human body? Google gave me the number – 37.2 TRILLION. Yes, we have five fingers and five toes. We have two ears, two eyes, and two feet. Oh, and, by the way, our body just happens to be made up of over 37 trillion cells. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! Don’t try to count them, you’ll never get there. Some have used the example of stacking dollar bills to grasp the enormity of such numbers. The height of 1 million stacked $1 dollar bills measures about 358 feet. The height of 1 billion stacked $1 dollar bills measures roughly 68 miles. The height of 1 TRILLION stacked $1 dollar bills measures roughly 68,000 miles. That’s over a quarter of the way to the moon in dollar bills. As a side note, our national debt is over $27 TRILLION dollars, growing by $1 million dollars every 20 seconds (over 7.5 trips to the moon in dollar bills) and none of our politicians seem to be too worried about it. 27 trillion is a really, really big number – really, it’s too big for us to imagine. And now imagine that you have 37 trillion cells interconnected making up your one single human body. Let’s go one step further. The DNA with each of your cells, if uncoiled would measure approximately 5 feet. Therefore, if all your DNA was uncoiled and placed end to end, the resulting strand would measure roughly 67 BILLION MILES long. That’s about 150,000 round trips to the moon and back. How can it be that there is so much unseen, under our dual nostrils and singular noses?

And yet David declares, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.” Psalm 139:15

Most of the time, I get caught up and worried about the things I see right under my nose. But sometimes we need to consider that which we cannot see, imagine, nor wrap our heads around – that it is so incredible, amazing and incomprehensible – the only answer to all the numbers is God. And there is only One!

He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is present in the 93 billion light years of the cosmos, and He is present in the 37 trillion cells that make up our human bodies, and He is present with you right here, right now, with whatever is right under your nose. Oh, the wonder of it all!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Order of Worship October 18



OSLC Comprehensive



Pastor Mark’s Devotion #105

“Jesus – A Window and A Mirror”

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” I Corinthians 13:12

For the past several weeks, I have been working on replacing the windows at my home. Ed Snowden has been guiding me through the replacement procedure. It was time for the 46-year old glass with their broken seals and oxidized aluminum frames to go. With the new glass in place, as I got ready for bed, my eyes did a double take. I could not believe how clean, crisp and clear everything looked outside. It was almost startling! It reminded me of the moment when I first tried on my new pair of glasses. I had no idea how much my vision had deteriorated. The world and its colors had turned so dull, and it was so subtle that I hadn’t even noticed it – until I looked through those new lenses.

My bathroom also received a new window. But this window was with frosted glass. Now, no one can peek in as I brush my teeth but it also means that my vision is impaired. Inside the bathroom is a medicine cabinet faced with a mirror. One day, after a shower, I dropped my towel on the floor. As I lifted my head, the door of the cabinet was open and the corner of the mirror gouged a deep gash in the top of my head. It bled like crazy.

Windows and mirrors. Recently, I read a short pastoral piece encouraging me to consider looking at Jesus as a window and a mirror. As I had just been working on my windows, I was “drawn” in. The Scripture writers “frame” Jesus in many different ways. He is the Lamb of God, the Lion of Judah, and the Prince of Peace. Jesus, himself, wants us to “picture” him as The Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, and the Bread of Life. He calls himself the Vine, the Gate, the Way, the Truth and the Resurrection.

When we look “through” Jesus as a window, we are empowered to see the outside world with greater clarity, crispness and precision. When we look “into” Jesus as a mirror, we are capable of seeing ourselves with greater honesty, openness and truth.

The Apostle Paul stated, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.” Whenever I read this passage, I think of the rest stop areas along I-5. Due to vandalism, the state puts up a piece of galvanized sheet metal as a substitute for a mirror above each of the sinks. Needless to say, it’s a pretty poor reflection. Paul says that what we have right now is a pretty dim and dull view of reality. But there will come a time when all things will become clear – it will be startling! We shall see our Savior face to face – and at that time, life will never have looked so clean, crisp nor clear. With Christ as our window, we will see the Kingdom of God and the joy of the Lord, as clear as crystal. With Christ as our mirror, we will see ourselves clothed in Him. Our identity will be covered in Christ. Shame, guilt, and sin will be no more. Holiness, godliness, and Christlikeness will be our reflection.

The Apostle, John, was given an open window to see into The Kingdom – and he was startled! This is what he saw; “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…The wall (of the city) was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass.” (Rev. 21:1-2,18)

When you look outside, does the view look dim and dull?  Look to Jesus, he is your window of hope and your mirror to healing.                                             God Bless You All!                               Pastor Mark 



Pastor’s Devotions, #104

“You Will Never Die!”

Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26

 

For the last nine months, on a daily basis, we have watched the media tally up the growing number of people dying due to Covid19. There are questions about the counting and whether the number should be larger or smaller – but in the end, the conversation centers upon death.

As human beings, we all share a similar fate. At some future date, we will breath our last and our life on this earth will be finished. As your pastor, I deal with death on a regular basis. And I would say that it’s pretty safe to say, I THINK about death AND life, every single day. Recently, Bill Williams and Doris Hatlen passed away.  Bill and Doris were wonderful, faithful, loving people that I had the privilege of knowing. Annabelle Birkestol passed away a few weeks ago and I will miss seeing her frail yet strong, faithful presence in the front row of the sanctuary every Sunday as we worshipped together.

Don’t get stuck thinking about death, keep reading!

Growing up in the church, with my dad, as a pastor, incidents of the sick and dying were a regular part of our life. Then, when my mom passed away in 1987, at the age 56, due to breast/liver cancer – death became much more personal. When my dad died in 2016, realizing that he was no longer there to lean on, there came a moment when the pall of death hung like a shroud over my shoulders. I can remember a moment when the magnitude of living this one momentary life hit me squarely between my eyes. The reality is that life on earth is but a breath. There is no going back, no do over’s, no second tries or repeats. When our life is over, it is over, really over – FOREVER. That seeming reality hit me like a sledge hammer and came on like a wave that swept me under, pulling me to a place of emptiness.

Don’t get stuck thinking about death, keep reading!

I wandered and wondered and wrestled in my mind over this experience for quite a while. Upon reflection, perhaps it was a type of Jacob wrestling or Jesus’ workout in the wilderness.

But by the grace of God, I did not get stuck thinking about death. I was given a gift! Keep reading!

I was given the opportunity, in my soul, to experience, what I would describe as “humanity without hope”. Looking at life through purely human eyes, there is a definite start and finish, and a clearly placed period at the end of our days. No more words – no more sentences – no more adjectives or adverbs – only blank white space.

Keep reading!

But Jesus came and sent the Holy Spirit to us, that we would see life and death and our future not through human eyes but with spiritual eyes! Life on this earth has a certain timetable, but life with God is eternal. This eternal life can only be seen and experienced spiritually. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) Paul expresses it this way, “The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Can you see it? Do you believe it? This is the question Jesus posed to Martha upon his arrival at the mourning of her brother, Lazarus who had died.

Jesus said to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Did you hear Jesus’ claim? He made quit an audacious and humanly speaking, unbelievable statement! He said that whoever lives and believes in him, WILL NEVER DIE! Recently, there has been so much talk about death, I think it is easy to lose the reality of life! Looking with human eyes, yes, the reality is that we all die. Yet, looking with spiritual eyes, the reality is, WE WILL NEVER DIE! When we close our eyes and breathe our last on this earth, in the next moment, our next reality will be opening our eyes to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven that he has prepared for us, standing before us.

According to Jesus, Bill, Doris and Annabelle, as followers who lived and believed in him, never died – they continued to LIVE! Certainly, I watched each of my parents take their final breath here on earth, but it was the beginning of a new life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus guaranteed this inheritance through the presence of his Holy Spirit. Each one left their physical bodies behind and put on their spiritual bodies. In the blink of an eye, they went home, their true home, and all of earth’s experiences faded with importance. They stood before the throne of grace. All their pressing questions needed not to be asked because they were in the presence of eternal Truth. It’s not that their questions would not have value nor their identity on earth any significance, but their true identity has now been defined, clothed and created in Jesus Christ in a new way. Many things, we come to find out, even in this life, do not carry the weight or concern that they once did. (And we hear this confident, convincing confession of this truth from every single individual who has experienced a glimpse of Heaven and returned to tell their regal account.)

Since that time of personally experiencing, what I would call, the fear of human hopelessness, the Spirit of God has filled that void. God has poured more of his Spirit within me. New life and its certainty has emerged more fully. One marker of this outpouring has been the ability to write a continual stream of devotions for weeks on end during this pandemic. Yes, there will be plenty of dry days ahead, and I am sure more times that the Spirit will lead me down another path into the wilderness, but Life has revealed itself. Death has lost its sting!

Are you still reading? One final thought.

We are promised that we will NEVER die. So also, life in the Spirit and eternity exists TODAY! It emerges more and more as we meditate upon the life we have to live in Him here, than the death our flesh will face out there. Life here and life there – this is Jesus’ promise to us.

The promise is genuine, but the words, at times, can seem a bit hollow. Recently, I read a devotion written by Ravi Zacharias that might be helpful. He wrote about a visit to the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with his wife and son. He commented how his wife would take her time to study and reflect upon each painting. Ravi, took more of a flyby approaching, glancing at each painting and quickly moving on to the next. Some years later, he reported reading about theologian and author, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was so captured by a simple poster of Rembrandt’s painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, that he traveled to the same museum in Saint Petersburg just so that he could be in front of the actual painting himself. He sat in front of Rembrandt’s painting for four hours – and it changed his life. After Nouwen’s encounter, he knew that he wanted to work with mentally handicapped children and joined a community in Toronto, dedicated to this ministry. Ravi commented on the difference between his glancing encounter with the work of art compared to Nouwen’s immersion of the piece. Then Zacharias followed with a quote from one of his favorite author’s A. W. Tozier. Tozier writes, “I have often wished that there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly by short easy lessons; but such wishes are vain. No shortcuts exist…May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the kingdom like little children through the marketplace, chattering about everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?”

Ravi admitted to skipping through the museum, chattering much about nothing and missing the moment. It is easy to skip about and chatter, learning the true value of nothing. But let’s not miss the picture Jesus painted clearly before us.

He prayed and promised, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Consider the picture and the time you reflect upon life and death. Ask the Holy Spirit for spiritual sight. Let His Life be your light! I encourage you to imprint this scripture upon your heart and mind – John 11:26 – Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will NEVER die!”

Yes, it’s true. You will never die.

Now, no more readingIt’s Time to LIVE!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions #103

“Flyby”

“When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” Luke 21:28

This past Thursday, Asteroid 2020 SW flew by planet earth at a distance of approximately 17, 556 miles. According to the Virtual Telescope Project, when an asteroid does a flyby from a distance less than 20,000 miles, it is considered an “extreme close encounter”. This asteroid was first discovered on September 18th by the Mt. Lemmon Observatory in Arizona, but it has been doing regular planet earth flybys since 1975. The size of this asteroid is estimated to be about 14 to 32 feet in diameter. According to NASA, potentially hazardous “NEO’s” (Near Earth Objects) are defined as space objects that come within 0.05 astronomical units (4.6 million miles) and are more than 460 feet in diameter. It is estimated that there are more than 18,000 NEO’s doing systematic flybys. Considering a wake-up call is given for any object 4 million miles away – and we just had a flyby 0.00381652 of that distance – it gives me pause to ponder and reflect. What do you think? It is better to be oblivious of the event or to be made aware?

As I continued reading about this NEO, I found out that there happened to be another asteroid that flew by our planet in August. It was the size of a pick-up truck and it flew by 0.00043478 of that red flagged distance from earth. For you earthlings, that translates to 2,000 miles. Yes, we had a Dodge Ram 4×4 asteroid that flew by our planet, separated by roughly the distance between Seattle to Detroit, Michigan. In space terms, it missed us by less than the hair on my chinny, chin, chin. The most interesting thing about this news, is that the F-150 Crew Cab 4×4 long bed rock was not picked up until it actually passed by us. Huh? Yes, NASA happened to look in their rearview mirror and saw a rock moving faster than a speeding bullet away from us. I guess they missed that one! It makes me wonder a bit about how many other rocks we might be missing. Granted, they are searching a pretty massive starry sky. And honestly, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it, but it makes for a good wire on which to hang a devotion.

Consider this; what if an 18-wheel Kenworth triple trailer truck with additional sleeping quarters came in on a collision course with earth? That could be a bit troubling. Give or take a few mega tons of explosive power, a Tyrannosaurus Rex could probably tell us something about that – but with his pea sized brain, he probably could not have appreciated the magnitude of the moment or the breadth of its consequences. Now, let’s just keep this conversation under our breath and down to a whisper, as we are still grinding out the miles of this malevolent year, 2020. 

But a month ago, each of us rose from our beds, made coffee, checked our emails, stopped at the gas station – keeping distance – and made our way down some familiar road – with masks on – all the while, unbeknownst to us, a missile from outer space, missed us by an astronomical unit barely the thickness of a string of hair, and everyone – literally everyone, on earth was absolutely clueless!

2,000 YEARS ago (a unit of TIME that is barely measurable in astronomical terms- perhaps comparable to the blink of an eye) Jesus was intent on making his followers aware of another collision. He was basically the only one on the planet in the know. He said that something was on its way that would strike our planet, and cause such a cataclysmic event, it will re-order everything as we know it. The timing is uncertain, but its inevitability is without question. He wanted everyone clued in. The news probably sounded like Greek to all who heard the message, but interestingly enough, its meaning can be found rooted in Greek language. The Greek word is, “palingenesis”. No, this does not refer to Sarah Palin reading the first book of the Bible. But the word, “genesis” does point the way. The word points to a new “beginning”. The word means “regeneration”, “renewal”, “restoration” and “renovation”. This categorical reorienting of space and time will explode upon the scene for all to see, and no one will miss. This event will not be a benign flyby, nor a near miss, marked by deep breaths and ringing of hands. All people will be made aware, all nations will be pulled together, and all hearts will be called forward. Jesus will return in power and glory. Not all will be ready but all will see him clearly.

Listen to Jesus as he describes this cataclysmic moment recorded in Luke chapter 21:

               “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time, they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke21:25-28)

Rather than worry, Jesus has revealed this coming event in order that all people would be ready! How does one get ready for a cataclysmic event that will change space and time? As a jailer cried out to Paul and Silas, in a Philippian prison during a seismic event that left ground shaking and hearts quaking  – he cried out, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul responded, “Believe in the Lord, Jesus Christ, and you will be saved – you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

Paul pointed to the Rock that would save the world, not destroy it. He pointed to the One, outside our universe who entered our broken world, in order that our reality would experience a “re – genesis”. He pointed to the One who will make all things new – heart and soul – time and space – You and Me!

This is too Good of News to let flyby. Lift up your heads. Your redemption is drawing near!

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotion 102 -Sept. 22

“Compassion”

“Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately, they received their sight and followed him.” Matthew 20:34

As Jesus made his way from Jericho to Jerusalem and was about to make his triumphal entry amidst cheering crowds and waving palm branches, he was met by two blind men. They shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us.” The crowd rebuked them but Jesus called them to him. He asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord”, they answered, “We want to receive our sight.” The Bible says that Jesus had “compassion” on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

Jesus showed compassion on all kinds of people. Considering all that is going on in our world, compassion might be a subject worth considering today. Would others consider us to be compassionate? Would our Stanwood community consider our congregation a compassionate church? What does it even truly mean to be “compassionate”?

The Biblical authors certainly saw Jesus as one who was compassionate. Four times in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is specifically referenced having shown compassion. Matthew states that as Jesus moved through all the towns and villages, he taught, preached and healed the sick. In summary, Matthew 9:36 says, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In Matthew 14:14, prior to Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish, it is recorded, “When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.”  Again, in Matthew 15:32, prior to his feeding another crowd of 4,000, Jesus said, “I have compassion for these people, they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat.” Finally, in Matthew 20:34, when Jesus is confronted by the two blind men on the road outside of Jericho, Jesus had compassion on them, and gave them back their eyesight.

The Apostle Paul used the term, “compassion” in describing the character of God in the opening verses of 2 Corinthians. Paul states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

In Romans chapter 9, St. Paul reminds his readers of God’s nature, that He first spoke to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)

Then in the book of Colossians, Paul encourages believers, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion – as well as kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Last week, I read a secular article regarding “Emotional Intelligence”. In the article, it stated one way of determining the strength of one’s emotional intelligence was the ability to differentiate between the terms; empathy, sympathy, and pity. The article stated that these terms are thrown around so liberally, that it might seem like an exercise in semantics. But understanding their different nuances can make a world of difference when dealing with the people around us.

 

I thought it might be interesting to consider this idea from a biblical perspective.

When the Bible states that Jesus had “compassion” with those around him, another word that could be used would be “empathy”. Empathy, by definition, is the “ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” The key to empathy is that it requires an “active engagement” with another person. It involves an action that places attention and focus upon another individual. Empathy seeks to “walk in the shoes of another”, but doesn’t assume that it already does so. Empathy includes opening one’s ears and heart, and truly listening to the conditions of another. Jesus actively engaged, listened, and put on the shoes of those he came in contact with. This is why he connected so deeply with so many.

Sympathy is defined more as an automatic or involuntary response. The focus is not so much upon the other individual but the association one has with the other’s conditions. You may sympathize with those who lost homes in the Creek Fire because you yourself have suffered a similar fate. But your sympathy is generated more from your own experience and less from an active engagement with those who have suffered the loss.

Pity is defined as the feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. Pity tends to look at another person as a victim. Pity is not an emotion that has one walking alongside another or wearing another’s shoes. Pity places a person above the other and does not connect persons through a shared experience.

As it is helpful to differentiate between the terms, empathy, sympathy and pity, it is also helpful to understand the similarity between the biblical terms, mercy and compassion.

God declares himself to be both merciful and compassionate. He will have mercy upon whom he has mercy, and compassion upon whom he has compassion. The common link between these two terms is “active engagement”. The word, Mercy, “hesed” in the Old Testament and “eleos” in the New Testament means literally, “To Relieve” or “To Bring Relief”. Mercy is to bring tangible, physical relief from physical, mental, emotional or spiritual pain or suffering. So, in Jesus’ parable of the “Unmerciful Servant” – when the King calls out the hard heartedness of his servant and states, “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” (Matthew 18:33) He is referring to the fact that he could have “relieved” his fellow servant of a physical, monetary debt.

Therefore, Mercy involves an “active engagement” in relieving the suffering of another person through a type of “act of kindness”. So also, compassion involves an “active engagement” in identifying and experiencing the suffering of another person in a tangible, emotional way.

The Greek root word for “compassion” points to a person’s bowels or intestines. One’s stomach gets twisted in knots because they identify with another’s pain. We can see this in Jesus when he arrives in Bethany after Lazarus, his dear friend has died. He meets Mary and feels her loss. John 11:33 records this moment. “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was ‘deeply moved’ in spirit and ‘troubled.’ In the vernacular, we might say, “His guts were twisted inside out”. So much so, that Jesus wept and shed tears with them.

Consider today that we have a God who declares himself to be merciful and compassionate. In these trying times, we have a God who is “actively engaged” in our lives. His desire is to “bring relief” from all that troubles us. He walks alongside us. He not only knows our shoe size, he is on his knees, lacing them up for us, looking into our eyes, with a broad smile on his face. He is ready to listen with an open heart, and wants to connect in a tangible way.

Today, may this Father of compassion comfort you. And when the opportunity arises, may we comfort those with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark