Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor Mark’s Devotions #122

“Prophecies Fulfilled”

“He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”
Isaiah 53:12

 
If one does the research, it is unfathomable to consider the enormity of Old Testament prophecy which Jesus fulfilled. As we honor and celebrate, this week, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross for our salvation, let us pause and reflect upon God’s faithfulness and fulfillment of His Word. As Paul states in Romans 5:6, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” Have you ever considered the mathematical possibility that Jesus’ fulfillment of only Isaiah’s prophecies are a simple matter of chance? If truly considered by a reasonable person, the leap of faith, trusting that Jesus is truly who he said he was, the Messiah of God becomes barely the tiniest step. Yet God still calls us forward to embrace the tiniest mustard seed of trust. Rejoice believers, for Jesus IS the fulfillment of ALL Old Testament prophecy, and behold him afresh as your Savior who died for your sins and the sins of the world. Salvation and eternity has been placed in our hands, through the outstretched hands of an obedient Son on a cross. And its truth has been staked in the ground by the evidence of the empty tomb! May your faith be strengthened as you read BOTH the prophecy AND fulfillment of Jesus Christ below.

God Bless You All This Most Holy Week!

Pastor Mark
 

 
ISAIAH’S PROPHECIES OF THE MESSIAH
FULFILLED IN JESUS OF NAZARETH

 

THE PROPHECY THE FULFILLMENT
The Messiah: Jesus of Nazareth:
Will be born of a Davidic virgin
(Is 7:14)
Born of a Davidic virgin named Mary (Lk 1:26-31)
Will have a Galilean ministry
(Is 9:1-2)
Ministry began in Galilee of the Gentiles (Mt 4:13-16)
Will be an heir to the throne of David and the Davidic Covenant
(Is 9:6/7; 11:110)
Received the throne of His father David (Lk 1:32-33Rom 15:12;
 Rev 22:16)
Will have His way prepared
(Is 40:3-5)
John the Baptist is the prophetic voice who announced His coming (Mt 3:3Mk 1:2-3Lk 1:76
Jn 1:19-28)
Will be spat on and struck (Is 50:6) Spat on and beaten (Mt 26:67)
Will be exalted (Is 52:13) Highly exalted by God and the people (Jn 12:32Phil 2:9-11)
Will be disfigured by suffering
(Is 52:1453:2)
Scourged by Roman soldiers; received a crown of thorns
(Mt 27:29-30Mk 15:15-19
Lk 22:63Jn 19:1-3)
Will be widely rejected (Is 53:13) Not accepted by many
(Jn 12:3738)
Will bear our sins and sorrows
(Is 53:45)
Died for our sins (Rom 4:25
2 Cor 5:211 Pt 2:24-25)
God’s Spirit will rest on Him (Is 11:2) The Spirit of God descended on Him (Mt 3:16Mk 1:10Lk 3:224:1)
Gentiles will seek Him (Is 11:10) Gentiles came to find Jesus
(Lk 2:30-32Jn 12:20-21
Rom 15:12)
Will make a blood atonement
(Is 53:5)
Shed His blood to atone for our sins (Jn 19:34Acts 13:38Rom 8:3;
 1 Pt 1:2)
Will voluntarily accept our guilt and punishment for sin without opening His mouth like a lamb led to slaughter (Is 53:7) Jesus silently took on our sins
(Mt 27:14Lk 23:9Jn 1:29Acts 8:32Rom 6:102 Cor 5:21
1 Pt 2:23)
Will be our substitute (Is 53:68) Died in our place (Rom 5:68
2 Cor 5:21)
Will bear the sins of many for the sake of their salvation (Is 53:12) Took away our sins to bring salvation for all who believe (Jn 3:16
Acts 16:31Rom 4:25Heb 9:28)
Will die with transgressors (Is 53:12) Numbered with the transgressors (Mt 27:38Mk 15:27-28
Lk 22:3723:33)
Will heal the blind, lame, deaf, diseased, brokenhearted, and raise the dead (Is 26:19Is 29:18-19;
 Is 61:1-2)
Healed the blind, lame, deaf, diseased, brokenhearted, and raised the dead (Mt 11:4-5;
 Lk 4:18-197:21-23)
Will be buried in a rich man’s tomb (Is 53:9) Buried in the tomb of a rich man from Arimathea (Mt 27:57-60
Jn 19:38-42)
He will judge the earth with righteousness (Is 11:45) Received authority to judge
(Jn 5:27Lk 19:222 Thess 2:5-8
2 Tim 4:18Rev 19:1115)


Pastor’s Devotions #121

“Few Words Filled with Love”

“I have called you by name; you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

Yes, it’s true – and accurate – I have a reputation for long sermons and even longer devotions. This morning, I prayed that the Lord would allow me to write something significant with as few words as possible. I wondered where that prayer might take me. After three cups of coffee, nothing seemed to emerge from the ashes.

I moved on to some simple tasks that I needed to get done. One of those tasks was to send my daughter, Jeriah, her New York state tax forms that we worked on this weekend. I slide the papers inside the large gold envelope. Just sending the forms seemed pretty sterile, so I thought I would write a short note. I quickly scratched out a note on plain, lined paper. Then I realized it would be fun if she received a little gift too. Yesterday, I stopped at the store and picked up my favorite herbal tea – Paul Newman’s Peppermint Tea. I threw in three packets and included the note.

Then I realized, what could be more “significant” than a simple note from a Father sent to his daughter in love. Then I felt the added awareness and blessing – “It’s not the amount of words, nor the amount of money in a gift that counts, but rather the amount that is in the heart. My few words:



March 22, 2021

Hi Jeriah –

It’s Monday morning – I want to get your tax forms in the mail.
I’m sending my love and encouragement to you – and a few peppermint tea bags – Paul Newman’s Organic – the best – My love for you is like this warm peppermint tea steeped on a cold, chilly day, warming your heart – refreshing to your lips – and a bright smile when you realize just how delicious it tastes!

Have a great week! Love Always, Dad

 

Today, know that this is how your Heavenly Father feels about you – “ad infinitum” – “Without End!”

“And now, this is what the LORD says – he who created you – he who formed you – “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43:1-3

May you taste the Father’s Love Today!

Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Devotions #120

“Salt”

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6
 

In the morning, after brushing my teeth, feeding Tigger and starting the coffee, I then go to my pantry. I reach for the container of “mixed nuts” from Costco, grab a handful, and munch them down to kickstart my digestion. I always buy the “unsalted” nuts because it’s been drummed into me that too much salt is not good for you. Not too long ago, I was given a similar container of nuts from a friend who knows my love of nuts – I know, I’m kind of a nutty guy! The morning that I grabbed a handful from the new container, I couldn’t believe how delicious they tasted. My mouth exploded with flavor. As I looked at the container, then I discovered the difference. These mixed nuts were the “salted” variety.

In St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, he calls his fellow believers to, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Salt, in the right dose, brings out wonderful flavors in our food. It is interesting that Paul would use this word picture related to our words and conversations.

Words have great power. Words have power to hurt. And words have power to heal. James 3:9 states, “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse humankind, who have been made in God’s likeness.” Regularly, we hear, read and listen to words that have been spoken as a soothing balm yet also spoken as a toxic poison.

Paul says that the things he wants to do, he’s not able to do, and the things he doesn’t want to do, that’s what he ends up doing. As human beings, we all are sitting in the same boat. We all want to speak gracious, loving words but many times something happens between desire and delivery.

What if we started each morning with God’s gracious Word to us? What if we grabbed a handful of God’s promises, seasoned with the right amount of salt, to kickstart our direction. God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet, a light for our path, and a much-needed explosion of flavor for our soul.

Consider this gracious Word of God to you: “IN LOVE, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons and daughters through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. IN HIM we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And HE MADE KNOWN TO YOU the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ Jesus, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:5-10)

May God’s seasoned Word, flavor your conversations with others.

God Bless You All!
Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Devotion #119

“MarJean Ruth Bankson”

“Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles.”

Isaiah 40:31

 

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would be 90 years old, today. MarJean Ruth Bankson was born on February 23, 1931, on a farm, outside of the tiny town of Worthing, South Dakota, south of Sioux Falls.

She passed away in 1987, 34 years ago, at the age of 56: Breast cancer that metastasized to her liver.

My mom grew up on a farm, the first years of her life, until her father, Oscar, died in 1940. He died at the young age of 39 due to lung cancer. My grandma swore that Oscar never smoked in his life. As kids, we heard the rumor that he enjoyed a cigar from time to time, behind the barn, but it was thought that crop fertilizers perhaps had been the cause of his cancer. Unable to maintain the farm, Josephine, Grandma J, as we knew her, moved the family into town, and purchased a small gas and oil business. My mom had one brother. Everyone loved uncle Bob. He was kind hearted and generous, while also being a man’s man. He loved to hunt and fish and he had gnarled hands from working the hoses in frigid weather. But it was always his heart that shined through. After returning from serving in the Navy during WWII, he would run the family business, raise a family, and serve his mom, for the rest of his life.

After graduating from high school, my mom was given the opportunity to attend Augustana College in Sioux Falls. She was a gifted pianist and pursued a degree in musical performance. She excelled in her musical gifts and more than likely was going to pursue graduate studies in Chicago. Then she met my dad. They both sang in the Augustana Concert Choir. Friendship turned romantic and suddenly she was thrust into a decision that would change the entire trajectory of her life. Would she continue to pursue her dream and discover the depth of her musical talent? Or would she marry a History major intent on attending the Lutheran seminary in pursuit of a pastorate?

She made the choice to marry. Dreams of concert halls and stages shifted to children’s choirs and giving piano lessons. Being a pastor’s wife is the ultimate unsung hero’s role. It is a difficult role. It is a challenging role. The pastor receives the accolades and affirmation, while the pastor’s wife is typically the one who holds it all together behind the scenes. I had a front row seat watching my mother love, serve, help, encourage and join in partnership with my dad to build the church. My dad started two mission churches, so that required wearing even more multiple hats. She played the organ, led the choirs, taught Sunday, participated in the women’s groups, helping with fellowship and food and the list goes on.

I can clearly remember, as a young boy, listening to my mom practice the organ on Saturday afternoons, lying on the carpet, on the heater grate, in the sun, in our new Southern California church.

I can also clearly remember, as a young boy, walking into my parent’s upstairs bedroom, and seeing my mom lying on their bed, suffering from physical and emotional exhaustion. It would be a turning point in her life.

In the early years of ministry, my mom was wound up extremely tight. She attempted to please everyone and live up to unrealistic expectations she had in her own mind, and in a few others. A lot of stress and anxiety was felt in the household while both mom and dad tried to meet everyone’s needs. When she reached the breaking point and couldn’t carry the stress any longer, she was forced to surrender it all. She had to lay it all out to Jesus. And it was the beginning of her transformation. God comforted her. God strengthened her. God would restore her. She would tell me that she experienced the grace of God in a way she had never felt before. He lifted her up. He was in the process of restoring her heart and strengthening her faith. She was being healed. As the years went by, as her son, I felt that change. I could see it in her eyes. I could hear it in her voice. I could feel it in her touch.

Looking back, in many ways, I believe my mom lived out her middle name “Ruth”. My mom’s parents could not decide on her first name at birth. Oscar wanted to name her Mary. Josie wanted to name her Jean. So, they compromised and combined the names and named her MarJean. Only once in high school have I come across another girl/woman named MarJean.

But in her adult life, after her healing, her middle name means as much to me as her first. The book of Ruth, in the Old Testament records a woman, Ruth, willing to leave her home and follow her sister-in-law, Naomi. After both of their husbands died, Ruth wanted to return with Naomi to her Jewish relatives. As Naomi tried to convince Ruth to remain behind and marry again with her own people, Ruth states, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay…”(Ruth 1:16)

In the beginning, my mom chose to follow my dad. Wherever he went, she went. The turning point in her life came when she was no longer following my dad but following the Lord. Where ever the Lord would lead her, where ever the Lord would lead them, she would follow. With her eyes fixed upon the Lord, she became a new woman. Love, patience, comfort, care poured from her heart in new ways. It all came bubbling up from a new spiritual reservoir. In the following years, her four children were nurtured and raised in the freedom of faith in the midst of daily life. Our lives and faith were not choked out by religious expectations. As pastor’s kids normally do, we were not required to rebel and break free from religious weights. Her love which flowed from God glued us all together. Our hearts remained open to God. That’s what made her passing so difficult. We all knew it. We all could feel her absence. A bitter sweet experience this side of heaven.

But she laid down a legacy of faith. She gave us a witness of love, self-sacrifice and service. I am convinced that she could have gone on and performed at Carnegie hall and the Kennedy Center. But she chose to follow another dream. She chose to marry, have children and raise a family. There are four children and many others who are forever grateful for this selfless act.

The Jewish Talmud states that in saving one life, one saves the world entire. I clearly remember a man sitting in my office years ago asking me the question, “Is it enough that you led one person to Jesus Christ?” In all honesty, I was thinking, “No, not really”. I’ve pondered that question over and over – over the years. I’m not sure it’s one question to answer but rather to feel the weight from the one asking. The man in my office asked the question because he had discovered the freedom of salvation in Jesus Christ.

What I do know is that my mom was instrumental in setting this one life on the solid ground of Jesus Christ. She was my daily, living witness to Jesus and pointed me to him. My mom was not a woman who walked in perfection, but she was a woman who walked in deep faith.  I know that I’m not the only one. But on this day, the 90th year since her birth, 34 years after her death, her life and legacy still lives on. And this one life, her youngest son, is personally grateful to be able to publicly thank her, and privately whisper, “AMEN”. And perhaps, a few years from now, my children’s children will read this tribute and have a deeper appreciation for the legacy that has gone on before them. And may it point them to Jesus!

My mom struggled with asthma, allergies and a host of other physical challenges throughout her life. Perhaps this is why she was drawn to Isaiah 40. Many times, she said, Isaiah 40:28-31, was one of her favorite scriptures. One of her favorite pieces of music, which we sang at her funeral was, “On Eagles Wings”.

May this promise of God bless you! This Bible verse blessed my mom during the many and various moments of her life, and it continues to carry on deep meaning for me:

“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:28-31 

God Bless You All!  

Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Devotions #118

“One Wind Swept January Day”

“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be.”
Psalm 39:4

 

It was all gone. Houses turned to match sticks. Memories and belongings turned to rubble. A surprise January tornado struck an unsuspecting town in Alabama. One life was lost. 30 people injured. A destructive pathway was cut through the heart of the town and left an unbelievable wake of wreckage behind. Lives were shattered, tattered and torn to shreds.

Here I stand, on that same January day, mudding and taping and sanding dry wall in my guest house. I have been working and refining for hours – a nick here, and bubble there, a scar sanded away. Such a different experience. I’m watching the eagles fly, while others watched their homes fly. It seems surreal. But who is to say what tomorrow might bring? In one brief moment, surprising winds could whip up on Camano Island and take down a tree and tear through my home. So many things in this world can be ripped right out from under us, just as it did for the people of the crimson tide.   

Tomorrow, we begin the Season of Lent. Lent is to be a time of deep reflection and clearer perspective regarding one’s faith. Tomorrow night, at our Ash Wednesday Worship service – we will be reading probing Scriptures to help us reflect upon the condition and pace of our walk of faith.

We will read about David, looking deeply into his own life as he wrote Psalm 39. He writes, “Lordremind me how brief my time on earth will be. Remind me that my days are numbered, and that my life is fleeting away.” He continues, “We are merely moving shadows, and all our busy rushing ends to nothing.” He concludes the psalm with these words, “Hear my prayer, O LORD! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am your guest – a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me. Spare me so I can smile again before I am gone and exist no more.”

Yes, we are travelers passing through. So many things can be taken from us in this uncertain world. But one thing can never be torn away. One thing remains certain. The love of God, shown through his Son, Jesus Christ. Lent concludes with Holy Week. And Holy Week concludes with Easter Sunday. All of our reflections and journeys are to lead us to the clear and certain perspective that life is finally, truly found in Him. And the truth is, nothing can separate us from that love in Christ Jesus. We remain safe and secure when we receive Jesus’ final words from Matthew’s Gospel: “Surely, I am with you ALWAYS, to the end of the age.”

No matter what winds are whipped up, may the wind of the Holy Spirit sweep through this Lenten Season and bring you greater strength and greater ability to stand.

Hope to see you tomorrow – Ash Wednesday Worship – 7 p.m.

God Bless You All,
Pastor Mark 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions #117

“Looking Back”

One thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 3:13-14

 

John was dead for 20 minutes! Last week, I stumbled upon a YouTube video, and watched a man give his testimony about heaven. John was involved in a skiing accident, in Utah. His thumb was injured and after a day of skiing, found his right- thumb dangling from his hand. He needed surgery. It was to be a fairly routine procedure. Something in surgery went terribly wrong. It became a life-threatening situation. Before long, John found himself hovering above the surgical team. Outside of his physical body and in his spiritual body, he watched as the doctors sowed and stitched on his thumb. He realized that he was not alone. He didn’t directly look at the presence beside him, but he knew that a messenger was with him. The time came when they left the surgery room and began to ascend together. He heard the words, “Don’t look back”. He suddenly reached a place where a hand reached out to receive him. He was told that it was not his time, and that he had more to accomplish on earth. John did not want to return to earth, but suddenly he found himself back in his earthly body. He was back in the hospital. He came to find out that he had been dead for 20 minutes. He kept his spiritual experience to himself for a long time.

Why do you think John was told to “not look back”?

It made me think of Lot’s wife, in the book of Genesis. Lot, Abraham’s nephew, was visited by two messengers who were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. They were sent because the outcry to the LORD was so great. The angels urged Lot and his family to flee as quickly as possible. They said, “Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!”

Lot’s wife looked back. She turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19)

The Apostle Paul, makes reference to “looking back” in Philippians, chapter 3. He describes himself as a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, and as far as legalistic righteousness is concerned, faultless. He had placed complete confidence in his ability to follow the Law. Yet he states that he was no longer looking back. He says, “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” He continues, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:7-8) He goes on, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”

Finally, listen to Paul’s laser focus; “Brothers (and sisters), I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. BUT ONE THING I DO: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Paul had much to look back upon. He could have focused upon his misguided zeal toward the Law. He could have felt shame regarding his rigid focus upon physical disciplines. He could have carried paralyzing guilt regarding his actions, arrests and persecutions of the first Christians, especially Stephen. Yet Paul acknowledges that he is “not looking back”. He is moving on from is past. He is not ignoring his past. He is not minimizing his past. But he’s also not being controlled by his past. Paul is giving his full attention to Christ Jesus and his pursuit to KNOW him in all depth, power, AND in his suffering.

Paul experienced a transformation on the road to Damascus. He encountered the resurrected Jesus Christ, and it changed the entire trajectory of his life. He was a man, no longer living in chains due to the prison of legalism. Paul was a man set free by the grace of God, saved by the work of Jesus Christ, discovering more about salvation in Christ and his past was simply no longer relevant.

After listening to John’s, Near Death Experience, caterpillars and butterflies came to mind. If butterflies could think, would they have any reason to look back upon their life as a caterpillar? Why would they? The caterpillar has been completely transformed into a new being and is a completely new creation. Butterflies and caterpillars have been used to explain the transformation from our earthly bodies to our spiritual bodies. Butterflies represent resurrection. In thinking about our human bodies, yes, while there may be a resemblance to our past life, in heaven, we will become completely new creations. We will be set free to experience a whole new world, a whole new existence within the glory of God.

While on earth, we might concern ourselves with getting to heaven and getting God’s attention to ask Him those unanswerable earthly questions. We might wonder whether we can look back on earth, or whether our loved ones are looking down on us. These questions and considerations are worthy of our pondering. But when we get to heaven, transformed into our new spiritual bodies, as new spiritual “butterflies”, do you think we will be interested in looking back at our “caterpillar” life? Anyone who has experienced a glimpse of heaven has said, unequivocally, “No”. It’s not that our earthly life is not important. It is this earthly life that has brought us to this spiritual life. Jesus enters into a spiritual conversation with the Pharisee, Nicodemus. He acknowledges that flesh gives birth to flesh and Spirit gives birth to Spirit. But Jesus states, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter into the Kingdom of God unless he/she is born again. Born of water and the Spirit. We are born again, on earth, and become children of God. Then we are born a second time when we are transformed into our spiritual bodies and enter into the Kingdom of heaven. And as that transformation takes place, our attention, will be focused upon this new existence, and in the glory and presence of God. Every other earthly concern will fade in “insect” importance. Which begs the question, why do we worry so much about our short time on this earth.

Consider how often you “look back” and think about your use of rotary phones. Wait, what do rotary phones have to do with anything? Exactly! Do we have any real need to look back at “dialing up”? How about your use of a flip phone? Perhaps there is a bit of nostalgia looking back, but your current smart phone has transformed communication. Perhaps many of you are thinking, “Yeah, but I don’t really like it.” I. too, am tired of constant technological change. But then again, how would it feel to go back to the time before the telephone; or to the time before the telegraph machine, or to the time before the printing press for that matter? Martin Luther could certainly talk about the advantages of that transformational change.

The Bible tells us that our life in Christ here on earth is a foretaste of the feast to come. As the Spirit continues to transform us from glory to glory, looking back has less and less significance. If you are living life, constantly looking in the rearview mirror, that is a red flag warning. You are in need of the Holy Spirit to shift your focus. The Holy Spirit is to give us eyes to see – spiritually! If you need, right now, invite the Holy Spirit to move in you and through you to open your eyes and heart to his presence and where He wants you to look. The more the Spirit moves in our hearts, the more our eyes will be drawn forward, looking and longing to see the presence of God in our every day, ordinary lives. And the more our hearts will experience transformation. This process is catching a glimpse of heaven on earth.

We can be tempted to think, “If we could only return to the good ‘ol days”. Our eyes want to romantically look back at the beautiful times gone by. Certainly, there have been good days. Yes, there have been “glory days”. And there have also been “gory days”. It is not wrong to look back, unless God directly tells us not to(i.e. Lot’s wife or John). But by looking back, we can get stuck on the “glory” or the “gory” and not move on. We can do this as individuals, as couples, as congregations and as communities. It is critically important to look back in order to give thanks, to heal, to forgive, to rejoice and honor the important people and history that has brought us to this present moment. But in looking back, it cannot get in the way of our looking forward. For God is moving His entire creation forward. Looking back cannot control our future forward move. Looking back ought to empower us to live with greater purpose in the present. And ultimately, bring greater glory to God!

So, where do you find yourself looking today?  

May we follow the words of Paul. Let us “press on” toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Devotion #116

“How Many Miracles Will It Take?”

JESUS DID MANY OTHER MIRACULOUS SIGNS in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have LIFE in his name.” John 20:30-31

 

The Apostle John, traveled with Jesus for three years. According to his own words, he witnessed countless miracles performed by the Son of God. As he was moved by the Holy Spirit to write his personal account of the Gospel, do you think he ever wondered, “How many miracles will it take?”  How many miracles will it take to convince his future readers that Jesus truly is the Savior of the world? It seems John arrived at the number 7. Seven is a complete number. To the Jews, seven is a perfect number. Seven days of creation. Seven days in a week. Seven Jewish festivals. Debts released every seven years. The Year of Jubilee was to happen every 49 years, seven times seven – doubly perfect. In his Gospel, John records seven “I Am” statements of Jesus, in essence, declaring himself God. In his book, Revelation, John even records a message from Christ to each of the SEVEN Christian churches.

Which do you think came first for John, the number 7 or the miracles themselves?  However it emerged, moved by the Spirit, John recorded 7 key miracles between chapters 2 through 11. Each miracle mounting with growing meaning and impact. The first miracle records Jesus turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). Then John records Jesus healing an official’s son (John 4:43-54), followed by the healing of a man who had been an invalid for 38 years (John 5:1-11). Jesus, then feeds 5,000 people with only five tiny loaves and 2 fish (John 6:1-13). He then walks on water to meet is disciples in the midst of a storm (John 6:16-21). Jesus gives sight to a man who was born blind (John 9:1-7). Finally, after four days, Jesus resurrects his dear friend, Lazarus from the dead (John 11:38-44).

Since John was an eye witness to all of these miracles, and certainly he had to be drawn back in, recalling and recording the magnitude of these moments; do you think, he thought, “How many more miracles will people need, to prove that Jesus is truly who he said he is – the promised Messiah?”

This line of thinking came to my mind, as I recalled, the miraculous moments I have been witness to over just the past few months. How many more miracles DO I REALLY NEED to demonstrate that Jesus is truly the promised Messiah? How many miracles do you think YOU need? How many miracles will it take for your skeptical son or daughter, cousin, niece, friend or neighbor to come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? The truth is, it’s not so much about the number, it’s about the heart. It’s always about the heart. It’s about being open rather than being resistant. For many, it doesn’t matter the miracles, they are simply not open to the humble, honest, transparent confession of someone captured by the love of God. In part because they have been lied to, or deceived, or at the very least, distracted away from the truth. The Bible tells us that faith comes by hearing. But that hearing is not generated by our human words. Faith is generated by the Holy Spirit. Faith is spoken by the Spirit into the hearts of those who will receive him. Thus, the mystery – and so our need to pray! We pray for the Spirit to move over the hearts and minds of us all, to be fully convinced of the Truth about Jesus Christ. And may we thank Him for the miraculous moments that are still taking place today, right in our very midst!

Whether it is received or not, I felt compelled to write down what I have been witness to over the past few months. I have talked about the necessity, in today’s world, to move from what has typically been a “private” faith into a growing “personal” relationship with Jesus and a “public” proclamation of who He is. As we have prayed and asked God to lead us. He has been answering our prayers! We have seen a steady stream of our own people willing to “publicly” testify and share their miraculous testimonies. As I remembered the stories and have recounted the moments, guess how many I came up with. Seven. I’m sure there are countless others, but these are the ones I’m highlighting today. I am praying that seven modern day miracles, at the hands of Jesus Christ, will more fully convince the nominal believer and the committed skeptic, that Jesus Christ is worth a closer look. Come Holy Spirit! Perhaps, one day, my grandchildren might be sitting on the fence of faith, and maybe after they read this devotion compiled by their grandfather, no longer living, but bearing witness to this selected list – perhaps they might take a closer look. So, I pray! Come Holy Spirit!

The miracles began with the testimony of a woman in our church, who had battled cancer for over two years. She is still in the battle. Cancer had spread to her brain. Prayers for healing. Intercession for intervention in the name of Christ. The day she arrived to begin treatment for the tumor – the doctor declared without human understanding – “The tumor is gone!”

A young executive was called upon to take the helm of a growing insurance agency based in Seattle. As the pressure mounted and physical pain emerged, he found himself calling out, crying out to God for help and relief.  In the middle of the night, he awoke to a Scripture verse spoken to him. A completely unfamiliar Scripture verse. One in which, he called out in the darkness, as if young Samuel calling out to God, for clarity. He again received the word, “1 Chronicles 4:10”. He woke his wife. He wrote it down. What could this mean? In the morning, He opened his Bible to 1 Chronicles 4:10, which read, “Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain. And God granted his request.” Having never heard of Bruce Wilkinson nor his tiny book, The Prayer of Jabezhis pain left him and has not returned!

A woman who lost her husband, lost her stability, lost her health and lost her will to live. She described a loss and lack of connection with God that seemed insurmountable. Yet through her pain and emptiness, she shared her experience and life changing encounter with the mercy and love of God. God has opened her heart and increased her faith. God has placed her feet on steady ground and given her the fire of the Holy Spirit that burns within like never before.

A retired, extremely wealthy and successful business man – who had every luxury at his fingertips. He described the joy of a successful career – but now, has come to understand, in indescribable fashion, the true riches and wealth he has found in the treasure of knowing Jesus Christ. His focus, attention and what he values as success has been turned upside down – on its head. He is now in hot pursuit of knowing his Savior, Jesus Christ, on a daily basis and living to obey his will.

A young woman lost her seven-year-old son almost 20 years ago. She recalled a conversation with him before he passed away. She wanted to know that he made it safely to heaven and that he would let her know. He agreed he would send a sign, only if God allowed. They talked about yellow flowers and a green snake. After his passing and she returned to work as a nurse in the ER – a fellow nurse came to her one day, carrying a single yellow rose. When asked why she brought her the rose – she had no answer. She just felt she was to bring the rose to work for some reason. Tears fell from a mother’s eyes. Later that year, while hiking in Colorado, she almost stepped on a snake. She had seen plenty of snakes in her day, but never like this one – a neon, green snake, lying across the trail. Once again, tears fell from her eyes. She received the message. God allowed her son to deliver the message, loud and clear – he made it home to heaven safely!

A woman lost her husband, surrounded by the love of her family. As we shared memories, she recalled losing her father years ago. They had been very close, and his passing was terribly traumatic. She felt utterly lost. She prayed, and cried out to God for help. She was given a dream and taken to see a glimpse of heaven. The experience was so powerful and wonderful, that she never wanted to return. She woke up at peace, without fear, assured that her father was home and one day, she would be too.

Finally, last week, on Wednesday, I received this text message:

Dear Pastor Mark,

Early on January 5, just as I was beginning to wake up, I saw words and heard a voice say, “The cancer is gone!”

Monday, of this week, (January 25th), I had a CT scan. Today, Wednesday, I saw the doctor and with a smile on his face he said the same thing. God is so good!!

This, from a woman who had never personally heard from, nor seen a direct message from God such as this! Now she knows! Now she knows!!

So, how many miracles will it take? Do your friends or neighbors need more? OK, I have two more bonus miracles to share with you – from a few years ago.

 

Mary Jane Lund. After hospice had been called in, she confessed to having Jesus, personally come and hold her hand, during the night, in her time of need. Mary Jane carried her share of anxiety and worry through life, and also as her last days approached. After that morning, a peace that passes understanding fell upon her. Some might want to dismiss this because of the pain meds administered by hospice. But those present know better. This peace remained visible upon her face. Those close to her could clearly see, it was more than medications. And it remained until her time to go home.

Erling Skrinde. He walked directly into my office after a doctor visit. A man in his late 80’s, the doctor gave him 3 months to live. The doc told him to get his affairs in order and maybe meet with his minister. Erling and I went on to meet weekly for over three years and he lived a total of SEVEN more years. Erling was a quiet, humble, Norwegian farmer who attended the local Lutheran church for most of his life. He was a man of few words. One day, without warning, Erling shared an out of body experience with me. He was in surgery, was lifted above his body, watching everything in the room and given a glimpse of heaven. It was not his time. He was healed and returned to his farm. He kept his experience a secret for years.

He chose to share his miracle with me. I’ve been blessed to have these many miracles shared with me; countless miracles.

I haven’t even mentioned, my friend, my brother from another mother – Ric Shallow. He has a story, and a book detailing his whole miraculous experience!

Today, I am choosing to share these miracles with you!

So, what do you think? How many more will it take?  

If you find yourself on the fence, I hope this moves you off. And so, I pray! Come, Holy Spirit!

LET’S ALL PRAY! “Come, Holy Spirit!”

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark 

 



Pastor’s Devotions #115

“Three Men Standing Together”

“I want men (people) everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”                    1 Timothy 2:8

It was an interesting site, three men standing together. During President Biden’s Inauguration Day, at Arlington Cemetery, before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, three former Commander-in Chief, stood side by side. Politically speaking, they would be categorized as fierce rivals. Personally, they have discovered fellowship, and found friendship. Shoulder to shoulder, they stood united in hope for a stronger, united America. Former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, can we learn something from their example? Certainly George H.W. Bush, if he were still alive, and Jimmy Carter, if he were still able, would have joined these three.

Why is it that these men of this mighty nation have laid down their swords?  Yet, while they have turned their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, those standing on the sidelines, and watching from the cheap seats, still hold grudge and wrestle over past impeachments, WMD’s, and Obamacare? There could be plenty of pointing fingers and placing blame – but these men have found a new way and left accusations behind. Yes, clearly, they hold different views regarding taxation and immigration, but now they view America from a different perspective. They view themselves from a different perspective. They have been lifted to a new plane. How can fierce rivals become future friends?

These past two weekends, I saw three other men standing together. Not at the same time, not on the same field, but standing together. They have been fierce competitors, they still are. But once they walk off the gridiron of the professional football field, as commanders and quarterbacks of their respective teams, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are respected friends. Who knows, they might have even exchanged jerseys with one another. Tom was even caught throwing passes to Drew’s son after the game. They address each other with first names rather than football foes. All three have come to recognize a reality beyond football glory. But for fans sitting in the bleachers, the visceral hatred can be palpable toward opposing teams or players and even poured out (beer and soda) on opposing fans.  

These two pictures of these three men made me think of three men in the Bible that had their differences yet found an enduring friendship. At times they clearly opposed each other, yet were able to fix their eyes upon a greater purpose.

Peter, Paul and Barnabus stood together in their proclamation of the Gospel. But there were times in their ministry when they fiercely opposed each other.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:11, that when Peter came to Antioch, he opposed Peter to his face, because according to Paul, Peter was clearly in the wrong. Paul describes Peter having fellowship with Gentiles until men from James arrived. When Peter felt the peer pressure from the “circumcision” group, he then drew back and separated himself from the Gentiles. Paul declared that because of Jewish customs Peter was undermining the Gospel and even Barnabas was led astray by his example.

Tensions also arose between Paul and Barnabas as they discussed a second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, his relative, along with them, but Paul would have nothing of it. Acts 15:38-39 describes the disagreement. Paul didn’t want to bring John Mark because, according to him, John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. So, Barnabas took John Mark and Paul chose Silas and they went their separate ways.

As time went on, a new relationship formed between Paul and John Mark. Paul states in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me. Get (John) Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Something happened between those two in which they found a new friendship and worked together for the sake of the Gospel. This reconciliation would have certainly endeared Barnabus toward Paul as well.

And while Peter was sent to bring the Gospel to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, they remained united in their proclamation. You can hear the affection and respect in Peter’s words as he describes Paul in 2 Peter 4:15. He states, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”  While disagreement arose, fellowship, friendship and respect won the day as these two leaders led the charge of proclaiming God’s Kingdom.

Peter, Paul and Barnabus lived in turbulent times. They faced opposition, disagreements and misunderstandings. They made mistakes. Yet through their ministry, they remained united in declaring salvation through Jesus Christ.

Listen to the words, Paul writes to another fellow minister and mentee as they stood together for the sake of the Gospel

To Timothy, Paul writes,

“I urge, then, first of all, that request, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings (President Biden) and all those in authority, (Congress, state, and local government) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men (and women) to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose, I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the truth faith to the Gentiles. I want men (and women) everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”

May we look and live beyond rivalries. May we stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, being lifted upon a new plane, in unity and in our love for Jesus Christ!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions #114

“Inauguration”

“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Jesus. Unrolling it, he found the place where it was written…”
(Luke 4:17)

Tomorrow, our nation formally announces Joe Biden as the 46th President of the United States. Arguably, not since the inauguration of our 16th President, Abraham Lincoln, has this transition of power, and our country been in a more contentious condition. Tomorrow’s inauguration will be the ceremony that will formally begin Biden’s Presidency. During this official observance, President Biden is prepared to declare his intentions for the next ten days, next 100 days, and, in general, the next four years.

His speech will include working for greater unity and efforts to heal a divided nation. The White House has released a memo stating that his agenda will include facing four overlapping and compounding crises. He will highlight the pandemic, the economy, the environment, and racial equity.

On the eve of this inauguration, as followers of Jesus Christ, it is timely to consider Jesus’ inauguration. For the past two weeks, during Sunday sermons, I have spoken about the “transfer of power” that Jesus experienced. Jesus initiated this with his parents, Mary and Joseph, at the Temple in Jerusalem. A transfer of power also took place with John the Baptist (earthly power), and from God the Father along with the Holy Spirit (divine power). This transfer formally took place, in what can be considered his “inauguration” at the Jordan River. Jesus’ baptism was the formal ceremony that set forth his public ministry, and officially declared that the Kingdom of God was at hand.

Jesus did not give a speech at this inauguration. The Spirit anointed him. The Father blessed him. Jesus’ agenda and his direction in ministry for the next 3 years, would come at a later date. And it would come with quite contentious reactions. Be it noted that Jesus entered his reign at a most contentious time in general. The conflict between Romans and Jews was palpable. Let alone hateful feelings toward Samaritans, foreigners, outsiders, outcasts, and “sinners”.

But shortly after Jesus receives the baton and blessing during his baptism, it is followed by his triumph over Satan in the wilderness. Finally, the time has come, for Jesus to officially walk upon the public stage. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus returned to Galilee and went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. On the Sabbath day, we are told, he entered the synagogue, which was his custom. His coming out party was about to be personally and publicly declared. Among friends and neighbors, Jesus highlighted his agenda through the prophet Isaiah. Can you picture the setting? All are gathered at the synagogue. Jesus stands up. He walks to center stage. He is handed the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He stands before the table and podium. He is in position at the center of the room as religious teachers do. All eyes are glued upon him. He unrolls the sacred scroll. There are no numbers marking the scroll with chapter and verse. But he knows the Word. His finger finds the place. He knows what’s at stake. He knows the plan and his purpose. He is to redeem a divided people. He is to unite God and man. It will not come without a contentious fight. From the prophetic words of Isaiah, inspired 700 years before this moment, Jesus declares his agenda:

    The Spirit or the LORD is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of our LORD’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2)

Through Isaiah, Jesus clearly lays out his five-point agenda. His plan is to reach the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed – both physically and spiritually – and finally, proclaim God’s grace for all! Jesus then goes silent. He does not speak another word. Quiet takes over the room. Jesus quietly rolls up the scroll and returns it to the attendant. Jesus returns to his seat. All eyes are fastened upon him. Thoughts are racing. Questions hang in the air. Finally, Jesus rips through and shreds the silence and declares, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing!” Luke records the reaction from the crowd, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” They asked, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22)

But how quickly the emotional tides can turn. Gracious words quickly turn to furious reactions. Emotions runs high. People do not want to be confronted with the truth. Jesus continues his comments to the crowd. He states, “Surely, you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.” Jesus knows the hearts of his people. He knows the hearts of humanity. He knows that his hometown will want to witness magic tricks just like others, yet their hearts are far from God and far from wanting to know the truth.

Jesus continues, “I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zaraphath, in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed – only Naaman the Syrian.”

Hearing these confrontational words from their home boy, the hometown crowd now turns into a mob. They are enraged and incensed. They demand, “Who is this common carpenter’s son that has the gall to condemn us with his words?” The mob drives him out of the synagogue and out of his own hometown. It would not be the last time. They took him to the brow of the hill, in order to throw him down off the cliff. What was it that sparked such rage? What did he say?

Jesus called the crowd, his friends and neighbors, to examine their hearts. He wanted them to consider their inner motives. But they would have none of it. They returned his call regarding truth with defensiveness, resistance, and violence. Their hearts led them to the desire to kill the messenger.

Then Luke records, “But Jesus walked right through the crowd and went on his way.” (Luke 4:30)

Jesus did not flinch when the mob raged. Jesus was focused upon his obedience to his Father and the purpose for his arrival. Jesus would face many other crowds throughout his 3 years of ministry. Some would embrace him and some would blaspheme him and one would even betray him. But he knew his purpose. He knew his Father’s plan, and he would walk in accordance to the will of his Father.

I don’t know whether you will celebrate tomorrow’s inauguration or you will have great concern regarding the ceremony for our 46th President. I would expect that, either way, you had the opposite emotions, and felt differently four years ago. And four years from now, where do you think your feelings will find you?  

As Christians, let our eyes be fastened upon the person and agenda of our Lord and Savior. He is still standing at the table and at the podium, announcing the same five-point agenda. As he has fulfilled his redemptive purpose, now he calls you and I forward to declare the same. Some will embrace us, others will be enraged. Jesus has already warned us of this. He challenges us to look within and examine our own hearts, examine our motives. And he has called us to carry out his agenda – those needing to hear His Good News. He has come for those who are poor, and in prison, and have lost their reason for living and are suffering from oppression. We are here to announce, as St. Paul states, “Christ has come to set us all free.” (Galatians 5:1)   

For now, may we continue to put our trust in God’s Inspired Word. Titus 3:1 tells us, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all people.”

Let us pray for those who are stepping into governmental authority tomorrow: President Biden, Vice President Harris, their Cabinet, Congress and other government leaders. May we be a people who mightily pick up the baton of prayer. May we engage this worthy weapon of God, and call upon the Holy Spirit to work revival across our divided nation.

The way of revival? Remember: Love Wins! Love ALWAYS Wins!

And with God’s help, may we walk through angry crowds, as our Savior did, because our ultimate allegiance is to Jesus Christ, and our obedience is to Him alone!

God Bless You All! 
Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Devotion #113

“Sacred”

“I am the LORD, who makes you holy” Leviticus 20:8

 

You are holy! You are holy because God has made you holy! When was the last time that thought crossed your mind? It is a sacred thought. We are holy because of the blood of Jesus Christ, bled and shed for you, for me, for all humankind. We have been created to be drawn into the holy and sacred spaces of God’s created life. Why do these sacred moments seem so fleeting and unfamiliar? Has science and human reason infringed upon it with numbers and calculations, so much so that we look to equations and codes to figure it out? But we haven’t figured it out. The race, the unrest, the riots – it’s reckless really – but it’s real! But isn’t sacred also real? The powerful and penetrating reality of a living God that delivers shalom – peace – complete wholeness and unity. Can one truly calculate the meaning of being brought before a burning bush? Like Moses, eyebrows singed, fingertips burned, knees shaking, the Word of God spoken into the soul of a man – what’s the equation for this encounter? Sacred! It’s Sacred! We have a need to recapture this holiness and be captured by the Holy of Holies.

When was the last time you recognized being brought into a sacred moment? You definitely did not discover it sitting in front of the television set, or computer screen. You found it, standing in front of a burning bush, as Moses did, standing on holy ground. It was a time set apart from space and routine. Sacred captures the soul. Sacred is experienced in the presence of, and in communion with the living God.

When was the last time you found yourself walking along the water’s edge? It’s just before dawn. The darkness still reigns, yet as you look to the east, your eyes capture the tiniest flicker of light illuminating the outline of the mountain peaks. A pink hue is detected, when all of a sudden, the brilliant white light bursts forth and breaks through, fully announcing that a new day has dawned. You are wrapped in a thick, warm jacket. You can feel the sting of the frigid air on your cheeks. You walk with the one you love. A cup of coffee warms your hands. The silence, the quiet, warms your soul. Not a word is spoken – but it is speaking – loud and clear – you know it. This moment is Sacred!

How long has it been since you felt the sacred rest upon your soul? This ongoing pandemic can be seen as an imposing threat to this peace. For many of us, perhaps most of us, it feels like foreign soil. We typically live in the mundane, rapid fire of repetitious activities day after day. A ticking timebomb that leads to disappointment. Now, with the pandemic restrictions, we wrestle within ourselves, unable to avoid that something internal is missing. Our isolation exposes our inability to distract ourselves and wonder what’s within. But is it possible that this pandemic can usher in new possibilities to encounter holy? What are you looking for? What are you listening to? What is the condition of your heart? Broken, tired and weary? If so, you are in perfect position to surrender and be brought to the bush, burning in its sacredness. Whether it is the wilderness, the wandering wood, or along the water’s edge, a sacred communion with God is waiting.

Come with me, let’s go further.

What is sacred? Breath, life, relationships, marriage, moments of all varieties and types – they are all sacred- they can be.  How do we “redeem” them? How do we “buy them back” after we have sold and squandered them and treated them like trivial cheap trinkets won at a small town carnival?

What do we hold sacred? What do YOU hold sacred? Better yet, what does GOD hold sacred? It takes time to consider the deep things of God. There are no short cuts. Is that why God established the Sabbath day and declared it – Sacred? One day in seven to be holy. Did God make it holy that we might take time to consider the precious gifts given? One cannot consider anything sacred racing and rushing through space and time.

Consider “communion”. HOLY Communion. Sacred Communion. We celebrate it regularly in our worship service. Perhaps too regularly? – is that possible? Holding sacred the body and blood of our Savior’s sacrifice for our salvation? But all of us, AND I LEAD THE CHARGE, to rush through the moment. Taking a “dutiful” pause before throwing down the wine, like we were just poured an ounce of whiskey in a shot glass.

Consider a different picture. Consider a sacred picture. A family is gathered around large tables. Members have traveled near and far to celebrate a child’s achievement – a graduation – given with honors. The gathering is set at a favorite restaurant, overlooking the harbor. White sails are seen in the distance. White table cloths cover the tables. Candles are lit, flowers are in their vases, and the celebration is about to begin. Anticipation, joy and love are beginning to spread around the table. It is a time to acknowledge perseverance, progress, and highlight the pleasure of the accomplishment. The waiter introduces himself and explains the movements of the evening. It will be a whole night affair. He leaves the table and a pause, selah, a breath is taken before it all begins. Quiet conversation ensues. For a few moments, hearts are allowed to breath. The waiter returns with a bottle of red wine. A special wine has been chosen and held specifically for this special occasion. The waiter removes the cork, he lets the bottle breathe. He pours a tiny amount into the bottom of the glass. The head of the table lifts the glass. He inspects the color. He lifts the glass to his nose and smells the rich aroma. He moves the glass to his lips, let the wine rest upon his tongue. He savors the rich texture, flavors and depth of the fruit of the vine. It is perfect. He smiles at his loved ones. All eyes are centered upon him. He nods his head in approval and beckons the waiter to share with all who are seated. It is a sacred moment – sacramental. And it is just beginning but they will remember this moment forever.

Jesus highly anticipated this sacramental moment with his disciples. He “eagerly” desired to share this momentous meal with them. He had hoped that they would forever remember this evening; remember this fellowship; remember this broken bread and cup of wine, remember his body and remember his accomplishment. He took time to have everything perfectly prepared. The candles, the herbs, the unleavened bread, the wine, the placements. A sacred moment. A sacred meal. Yet in the midst of lifting the wine, before his body was lifted to the cross, it seemed like all the meaning of the meal would be lost. His frustrated followers were lost. They were lost in arguments. Each one arguing which of them was the greatest. More arguments erupted. The “sacred’ was seemingly squandered in disagreements, defensiveness and misunderstandings.

But isn’t this the way of the world? How many times have we squandered and misunderstood the sacred right under our nose? When have we forgotten to rest and breathe in the sanctity of the day, the relationship right next to us, and the Word that is near – in our mouth and in our heart? Without truly thinking or understanding, the aroma is lost. Our life is filled with scattered activity without a hint of holy or moments of breathless delight. We rush through worship, but our rushing blinds us to so much more.

When was the last time you smelled the aroma of a new born babe? Can you recall the miraculous moment when your tender lips first kissed the soft cheeks of your infant child? You breathed in the miracle of life with all its beauty, depth and complexity in such a vulnerable state. Never was it more clear that only the Author of life could perform such glory. Or were you already lost in the preparations, plans and pressures that await at home? It is so easy to do. We all do it, in our own way. The sacred becomes lost among the laundry list of daily duties.  

Or perhaps its lusting after or lunging toward some temporal target.

Can you remember your wedding night? A sacred night. Vows and promises, hearts and minds filled with hope, united in a sacred moment, ordained by God and breathed by the Spirit. Two lives becoming one. A mystery. The bush burns between the two. Eyes meet, hands held, lips touch. Tender yet explosive in hope for what is to come. Or was it already washed away nights before in the back of a truck, or on a first date, or in front of a computer screen. More and more, the world paints a trivial picture of the union between man and woman. Some circles discuss disbanding this ancient tradition with its meaningless chirping. Perhaps it is because the observations of love have grown cold. Partners eating at the same table, but no words are spoken, no glances are made, no connections being shared. Something sacred is being lost.

Marriages can be written off, almost like a rite of passage. But it’s painful and spills destructive forces in all sorts of directions. I personally know that pain. I have felt those destructive forces and the sting that follows. How did the sacred slip away? The haunting questions still linger. Yet, with God’s amazing grace, possibilities still remain. The sacred can be recaptured. Forgiveness and humility are the gateways to this rediscovery. Thank God, I have felt this too. Two willing hearts able to return to a new sacred space.

And the covenant between man and wife, then compared to the covenant between Christ and his church. Another burning bush revelation. This is holy ground. The head of the church, the head of the body, at the head of the table, in sacramental communion with his people. He is calling them forth to carry forth his mission and message. The world compares belonging to the bride of Christ to that of a community group selling raffle tickets and cotton candy? No longer necessary. No longer a priority. What happened to the days, when the first actions of the first settlers, built a church for the community because they knew they needed something sacred?

What about the sacredness of life itself? Has this pandemic put a stake in the heart of the soul? For many, the answer is, yes. The loss of loved ones linger like a heavy fog that remains and is determined to destroy. Moments are now past memories. Life seems to be lost in loneliness and grief.

Others have lost the connection to their soul altogether. Lost souls, in a moment of insanity. This too, seems to be taking place in epic proportions. Suffering souls, taking permanent, panicked actions to stop the pain. News, just today, report of a woman in New York City, leaping from a 12-story building, taking her 5 year-old daughter along with her. This is not an isolated case. Doomed decisions that lead, in this case, to one stopping to take depression medications that leads to listening to lies about life and a meaningless future, that leads to an inescapable dark hole and the destruction of two more souls.

What happened to sacred? Life, so precious. Life, so fragile. Life, a gift given, so miraculous, so meaningful yet thrown away and tragically squandered. Heart wrenching. Pain, stifling. A million miles away from smelling the aroma of new birth. Light years away from lips of a parent pressed on their child’s cheek, cradling and caressing a modern, mind boggling miracle.

You DO understand that you are a modern, mind boggling miracle? Your heart pumps, your ears hear, your eyes see without any necessary thought. But what will it feel? What will they hear? What will they see? That’s where sacred becomes vulnerable. God has created you to be holy, to be sacred, because God is sacred. You have been made to walk, listen and see in holy communion with the One Holy God.

Today, let us take note of our breath. Let us hear the sounds of holy, even in silence. Let us taste and see a new day. Let it rest upon our tongues, and be pressed upon our lips.

For the One, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is standing at the head of the table. He is smiling over you. Can you see the sails in the distance? The table is set. It is for you! The candles are lit. He is lifting his glass to you. You are his honored guest. You are precious in his sight. He has tasted and given his approval. He has accomplished all that is necessary. Take a drink. Trust Him. Enjoy! Savor this moment. This is just the beginning. But you will remember it forever. For this moment is sacred!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark