Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 20

“Rebuilding”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us hold one another accountable.

Let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Let us not be intimidated.

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 19

“Scalable”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to scale up with all of you!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 


Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 18

“Perspective”

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

 

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

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

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

 

Keeping Things in Perspective

 

Maybe we don’t have it that bad?

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

Imagine you were born in 1900. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All,

 

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 17

“A Sign of Life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 16

“Life is Good. Life is Hard”

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 

Years ago, I was with my dad as he cleaned out his personal library. Every so often, he would pull a book off the shelf, and I could tell he was reminiscing. He would hold it, thumb through the pages, then turn to me and say, “That’s a good one!” One book he pulled out was entitled, “Life is Good. Life is Hard.” I remember him saying that the contents of the book, was not really that stirring.                                        But he said, “I love that title!”

Life is good. Life is hard. People around the globe are trying to find meaning between these pages. People are looking for more than a snappy title, they want substance that stirs the soul.

This morning, I read an article by Heather Lanier entitled, “Surrendering to Uncertainty”. She reveals her personal quest and challenge of gluing together the pages of “goodness” and “hardness”. Eight years ago, she was told that her nine- month old baby had Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. It is a rare condition caused by a genetic deletion in her fourth chromosome. The doctors told her that her baby might talk or might not. They told her that her baby might walk or might not. She and her husband were going to have to live with uncertainty. They would be pressed to their limits to discover if life could be found between good and hard.

Her daughter has made progress. But the victory has not been found in her ability to do a dance routine across the kitchen floor. The victory has been discovered as they have dug deeper into their own story. In her discovery, she declares, “I would never want to relive that first year with my daughter, yet I would never give it back.” One can only imagine the trauma, and the drama and the depth held between those two tensions as they pushed and pulled on each other.   

She said that she listened as a geneticist told her that her daughter could choke on her own saliva. She told of holding her baby’s thrashing body as the doctor snaked a black tube up her nose and down her throat. She said that she watched her daughter’s lips turn blue during a grand mal seizure.

But she also expressed that through all the heart ache, she discovered an aching tenderness within. This life of uncertain fragility exposed a tenderness deep within her heart. It was found existing beneath her ribs, and resting under her previously held beliefs. This experience pointed her toward discovering what was most important in life.

Pressed between precious and pain, a word seemed to be spoken. A tender word. A direct word. Out of the darkness it came, “Don’t squander this.” The Word continued, “You want, with all your might to wish this away. But there is something vital here, in all this unknown.”

There is something vital here for all of us. This pandemic is unleashing uncertainty into all our lives as never before. Our initial desire is to wish this all away. Yet, there is a voice that remains and speaks softly, slowly and directly. We can choose to ignore this still, small voice. But there is a Word to be discovered by each of us between the pages of prayer and pain. A message to be found between life being good and life being hard. We are encouraged, “Don’t squander this!”

What might be hiding under our ribs and resting beneath our beliefs? What tender, mighty truth might be revealed to transform our entire interpretation of our story?

Life is good. Life is hard. It is interesting that as my father’s health weakened; and as each day became harder; his soft voice could be heard speaking the words, Life Is Good! Life is a Gift!

The book title that my dad loved, might not have had content that stirred him. But my Father’s life story has stirred me in many and various ways. His life has led me to dig deeper knowing that in this good, hard life, there are things that I do not want to squander.

Good, hard days are ahead of us. Let the voice of God speak. There is something vital to be found within each one of us.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 15

“Mulch”

“When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” Mt. 13:26

Last weekend, I was weeding a flowerbed in the front yard. The ground on the one side of the bed was hard and dry. It was so hard, that I became more and more frustrated, trying to dig them out at their root. I was hot, miserable, upset and irritated at the whole job. Thoughts whisked through my head that maybe I should just go ahead and sell this stupid place. After hours of laboring and toiling in the heat, I finally finished weeding half of that pesky flowerbed and gave up. The following day, I began pulling weeds on the opposite side of the flowerbed. Those weeds were as thick as thieves. But I discovered that the ground on this side of the flowerbed was soft and moist. The weeds pulled out with such ease, that it was crazy. I hate to say it, but I almost felt like I was having fun – ALMOST! I couldn’t believe the difference experience from the day before. What made the difference? MULCH! As I began to work my way around the flowerbed, I remembered what happened the year before. I ran out of mulch half way around that bed. The difference was amazing. One side I could run my fingers through the soil. The other side, hard as rock!

Now, just because I put down the mulch didn’t mean that I would not have weeds in my face. Actually, more grew in that area. But when it came to pulling them out, the work was so easy, and so satisfying.

During this time of isolation, our hearts can become kind of hard. Remember to throw down some mulch. And even when we tend to our hearts and relationships, it doesn’t mean that we won’t face weeds. Those pesky seeds will find a way into our soil one way or another. But the blessing in the preparation and the tending is in the removal. Weeds are able to be removed from a tender heart with ease. But wait until that heart is hard and crusty, good luck –  let the frustration begin! The weed breaks off every time.

Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God using the example of weeds. I wonder if he could have used this one? He told a parable about various soil conditions as well. In Luke 8, Jesus tells of hardpan, rocky, thorny and good soil. The good soil, represents the soft heart toward God that 1. Hears God’s Word. 2. Receives God’s Word. And 3. Perseveres in God’s Word.

In my little parable, I would add that not only in good soil does God’s Word flourish. But in good soil, the weeds are also easy to pull out. I would encourage you to give it a try. Tend to your heart. Throw down some mulch and allow your heart to become soft and responsive. Then see when those weeds of irritation and disappointment pop up, how easily they are pulled out.

God’s Spirit is the mulch to cover the barren ground of our heart. When God’s Spirit is worked into our soil, everything is easier.

So, I’ve decided not to sell my house. And yes, I still have more weeds to pull. But I’m not going to worry about that now. I have some other mulch to lay down. A friend invited me to play golf. It’s Friday afternoon. The tee time is in 32 minutes. The weeds can wait. Time to soften up the soil. With masks on of course. Have a great day.

God Bless!  Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 14

“Your Smile Matters!”

Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them’.” Psalm 126:2

I received the following email a few weeks ago. It put a smile on my face and in my heart. I hope it does the same for you. Smile, God Loves You MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW!!!

Read Psalm 126:2 once more: “Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The LORD has done great things for them’.”

Today, share your smile and laughter with someone. They might need it MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW!!!

————————————————————————————————————————————

-I used to spin that toilet paper like I was on the Wheel of Fortune. Now I turn it like I’m cracking a safe.

-I need to practice social distancing from the refrigerator.

-Half of us are going to come out of this quarantine as amazing cooks. The other half will probably come out with a drinking problem.

-Every few days try your jeans on just to make sure they fit. Pajamas will have you believe all is well in the kingdom.

-Homeschooling is going well. 2 students suspended for fighting. 1 teacher fired for drinking on the job.

-I don’t think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks, we’d go from Standard Time to the Twilight Zone.

-This morning I saw a neighbor talking to her cat. It was obvious she thought her cat understood her. I came into my house, told my dog…..we laughed a lot.

-Homeschooling: One of these little monsters called in a bomb threat.

-I hope the weather is good manana for my trip to Puerto Backyarda. I’m getting tired of Los Livingroom.

-Classified Ad: Single man with toilet paper seeks woman with hand sanitizer for good clean fun.

-Homeschooling: My children said, “I hope I don’t have the same teacher next year”….I’m offended.

-So, after this quarantine….will the producers of My 600 Pound Life just find me or do I find them?

-Smile – Better 6 feet apart than 6 feet under.

Have a great day. Wear that smile all day long. You have a great one!

“The LORD BLESS you and KEEP you; the LORD make his face SHINE upon you and be GRACIOUS to you; the LORD TURN his face toward you and give you PEACE. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”

God Bless You All!     Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 13

“The Path to Reopening”

“The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.” Leviticus 23:1-2

Governor Inslee has appointed four phases as a pathway to reopen our economy and allow people to assemble. Interestingly enough, God appointed four feasts in the Old Testament, as a pathway to acknowledge him and assemble his people together. Not only that, but within these four feasts, Jesus also points to understanding how God is using this pathway to open up his eternal Kingdom and assemble his people forever.

God directed Moses to establish four feasts: (Leviticus 23)

  1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread – Passover
  2. The Feast of Weeks – Pentecost
  3. The Feast Trumpets – Day of Atonement
  4. The Feast of Tabernacles – Ingathering

The first feast: The Feast of Unleavened Bread began with the celebration of Passover. Passover was the celebration to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. During this Passover meal, the Israelites ate roasted lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and drank wine to recollect God’s strong arm setting them free. It is during this Passover meal that Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with his disciples. It is at this meal that Jesus brought new meaning to this gathering. He identified himself as the Passover lamb. In the breaking of the bread and drinking of the third cup of wine, Jesus established himself as the one who’s body would be broken and blood would be shed for the redemption of all people.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to follow the Passover celebration. For seven days, the people of Israel were to eat bread made without yeast. Bread made without yeast represented both “bread of haste” – for when the Israelites left Egypt – they had to leave in a hurry and did not have time to allow bread to rise. Yeast also represents sin. In preparation for the Feast of Unleavened bread, the Israelites were to remove all items containing yeast from their households, representing the removal of sin from their lives. This first of four feasts was focused upon God’s salvation. Passover was to point to God who opened a pathway for the Israelites to be free from slavery. Jesus followed the pattern of this feast but pointed to himself as the pathway for all people to be free from sin.

The second feast: The Feast of Weeks is also called the Feast of First Fruits. This feast began with the first grain of harvest. After seven weeks, counting off 50 days, Israel presented an offering of new grain to the LORD. This feast was also called “Pentecost”, as the feast was celebrated 50 days after the beginning of harvest. It is during this Jewish festival that God sent the Holy Spirit as a sort of first fruits, beginning the harvest of God’s Kingdom. Pentecost is the day that power was bestowed upon the disciples. The early church formally assembled after this event and they began to spread the Gospel message to the world. Paul points to the evidence of the “first fruits” in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. He says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Through the Holy Spirit, God opened up phase 2 of his path into his Kingdom. In phase 1, salvation was made secure through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In phase 2, the power to live out that salvation is provided through the empowerment of God’s Spirit. Phase 2 begins the move of God’s message out into the world, and that his salvation is open to both Jews and gentiles. The first fruits of God’s Spirit, lived out among his people, is to be the witness to the world, that they would join in this pathway to God. 

The third feast: The Feast Trumpets was to be a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. This feast would mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Postexilic Judaism would celebrate this day as Rosh Hashanah, i.e. New Year’s Day. The Feast of Trumpets was to prepare for the most holy month of the year. During this month, the nation was to celebrate the Day of Atonement. This was the one day of the year in which atonement for the sins of the nation would be made. The High Priest would make sacrifice for the sins of the nation. It is on this day of Atonement, that Jesus was crucified upon the cross at Calvary. This was the final sacrifice and atonement made for all nations, for all sin, once and for all.

When Jesus returns at his Second Coming, his appearance will be preceded by a trumpet blast. Jesus said, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Many coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)

The fourth feast: The Feast of Tabernacles is the final assembly at the end of the harvest. The nation of Israel was to gather together, and live in tents (booths) for seven days as a reminder of their being brought out of Egypt. This end of the harvest was to celebrate God’s faithfulness and provision for his people. This feast is also called the “Feast of Ingathering”. It was to be a feast after all the crops had been gathered in from the fields. Within this fourth feast, it is believed that God will gather in his people on earth and open the ultimate pathway home. No one knows the exact time or date of the opening of phase 4. But as God has opened up each of the previous feasts as pathways to draw the people closer to him, and as Jesus has used these feasts as a template for the pathway he’s opened up to the world, it would seem consistent that Jesus’ Second Coming would arrive during the timing of the fourth feast and gather in his people to return home.

Our state governor is trying to work four phases to open up our economy. God has been working since the Fall to sin, to fully reopen his path into his Kingdom. He has given us four feasts to track his movement. We are closer today, to this reopening, than yesterday. Let us keep our lamps burning. Let us stay alert, awake, and watchful.

He has come. He will come again!

God is certainly working His path toward reopening!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark    



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 12

“Living History”

“He is not here, he has risen” Luke 24:6

 

Have you thought about the fact that we are “Living History”? History by definition is the study of past events, particularly in human affairs. But what we are living in right now, we know will be studied and examined for decades to come. Some people might even define their lives by these moments, having lived through this year, 2020.

 My dad was born in 1930. I can remember him talking about, The Great Depression of the 1930’s. He was born at the beginning of the depression. He was still a young boy when the United States entered World War 2, which formally ended the era of The Depression. But it didn’t end for my dad. When I was a young boy, I can remember my dad often referring to the fact that he was a “depression baby”. He used this phrase to define himself. When he was worried about money, debt, food scarcity, or job security, he would refer to the lasting effects of The Great Depression. The Depression left a lasting mark on this young boy. My dad used to explain that he took life so seriously and didn’t really know how to have much fun because of those depression years. Life was serious business that was passed down from his parents. He used to tell me that his dad picked up 4 ounces of beef steak, from the butcher, which was like shoe leather, each night for their family of four during those depression years. Hard work and responsibility were drummed into him at an early age. When he grew up, he definitely passed on those ideals to his children. He grew up with the attitude that if anything was to be accomplished in life, he, himself would have to make it happen. Financially, he was a lone ranger who had to find his way; and he worried about it.

Looking back at the history of my father, I would say that The Depression was THE most defining national event of his lifetime. The world moved on from the Depression after ten years. But in many ways, the ten year old boy did not move on from The Depression. It had made its mark upon this young boy and he would wrestle with it throughout his lifetime.

We are currently in the midst of “living history.” As this year, 2020, is playing out, how do you think it will influence us? Have you considered how these events might play out upon the psyche of our children and grandchildren? Will the next generation simply move on, as often parents think of their kids simply moving on from a divorce or a death or some other traumatic event? Is there the potential for a 10-year old boy or girl to attach attitudes and actions about life forming right now in the midst of this pandemic?  Will people live lives more protected, guarded, and cynical due to the effects of this pandemic? Perhaps the next generation will grow up with a low-grade level of PTSD.

Or perhaps we can help remove the level of high anxiety by the way that we live history today.

When children face highly traumatic events; so also, when soldiers return from traumatic battles, one helpful way people live through those experiences is to expose the trauma, talk about it, and appropriately frame it in greater context.

We have the opportunity to help this next generation not lose hope and help them see a future that is framed full of possibilities.

Certain markers in history have been said to have stolen certain qualities from a particular generation.

The Great Depression is said to have stolen the nation’s sense of security. JFK’s assassination is said to have stolen our nation’s sense of innocence. 911 is said to have stolen our nation’s sense of freedom. Where will 2020 line up on this list of loses?

Maybe we have the opportunity to frame this experience of 2020 in view of other pictures.

Most markers in a nation’s history seems to revolve around conflicts and wars. But when I was a boy, I watched a different moment in history. I was nine years old on July 20, 1969 when the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took the first footsteps upon the face of the moon. This event was a marker moment not drenched in pain and death. This moment in history catapulted a culture forward to dream impossible dreams. This moment in history highlighted a country coming together. This country sought to achieve something that seemed beyond the imagination. Unlike the 10 years of struggle and survival of the Depression in the 1930’s, this 10-year journey and achievement of Apollo 11, in the 1960’s, invigorated a generation to look beyond the stars.

As we attempt to put this coronavirus in context, could we perhaps frame it in a picture of togetherness? Can we talk to our children about all the heroes who are sacrificially serving one another for the greater good? There are pictures all around us of people reaching out to others in love. Let us hand those pictures on the walls of our minds.

Then to add more color and definition, where can our faith be painted onto the canvas? How can we expose the truth and discuss the events in context to our living Lord Jesus Christ?

Rather than a Picasso painting depicting a “Depression Baby” or “2020 Baby” with its detached shapes and figures, is there a way to discover a Rembrandt drawing of, “The Resurrection Baby.” Can we help this next generation find themselves and locate their identity in the One who is still living history? For this to happen, we must first locate ourselves within this identity. We must let go of past identities and definitions of ourselves that have found their way onto our canvas. Then we must expose, discuss, and frame our faith in the larger context of God’s plan. When we can see our lives clearly within the framework of God’s creation and salvation, that is the context to paint the picture for those others in our lives.  

Let us embrace this living history. Let us embrace Jesus Christ! May this living history become oral history, which is spoken of regularly. Let us share our thoughts, hearts, hurts, and faith in the God who is greater than any other moment in history.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 11

“Broken Praise”

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?                                                                Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” Psalm 42:11

 

Right now, we are in the midst of receiving a lot of mixed messages and mixed signals. There is hope in the air, as some of our economy is opening up. But as Covid19 cases continue to increase, and the death toll continues to climb, it is clear that the virus is also still in the air. South Korea has been the champion for clamping down on the virus. Yet, even there, new cases are starting to surface. More symptoms, new child cases and more questions seem to be emerging. The pubic is troubled and frustrated and wants to be given more freedom. There is some good news. The medical field is making strides in more accurate testing and more economical methods. But all this news is confusing and can lead to mixed emotions.  

Receiving a steady stream of uncertain information over time can really play tricks on our emotions. We can be up, one minute, and down the next. One day we might feel hopeful, while the next day we might drop into feelings of despair. Without a consistent, congruent path, we are vulnerable to emotional peaks and valleys, and waves of fear.

During this time of upheaval, consider the idea of, “Broken Praise”. I feel like the Holy Spirit brought these two words to my attention this weekend. Immediately, I knew this would somehow develop into a devotion. During these unsettling times, I believe the concept of, “Broken Praise”, can be an anchor for our soul.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 states, “Give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” For sure, we are to give thanks, for it is God’s will. But often our emotions cannot catch up with the conditions we face. Sometimes, the idea of giving God thanks and praise feels like a hammer pounding us into the ground. But if we are able to acknowledge our feelings of despair and discouragement; if we can declare our heavy heart and be honest with our broken dreams; something positive can rise from the dust and ashes. Praise becomes a possibility in the midst of pain. It is not a mixed message to acknowledge a broken heart and praise to God. Rather it is taking two parts, pain and praise, and making them one. The joining of these two positions, actually allows a person to stand. This posture and pose correctly positions honesty, authenticity, and raw truth. This paradox is often the way God reveals his power.  

King David modeled a posture of “Broken Praise” in Psalm 42. He was able to stand in complete honesty and walk in the power of God.

(Once again, I discovered that the number 42 was hammered into my consciousness – as this psalm provides much hope and encouragement in my walk of faith.)

David declares, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” He also acknowledges, “By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.”

But David also honestly speaks of his broken heart. He states, “My tears have been my food day and night.” He also speaks of his depression, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?”

Yet with all this mix of raw emotion, David directs himself to join together the two positions. He feels pain, but he turns to praise. He says, “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” He even repeats this reminder twice in his psalm. David repeats and finishes his prayer with this final verse, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Often, out of fear or embarrassment, we feel the need to mask our pain. We are afraid of what others might think. Or we are afraid of where this fear might take us. But the ability to stand stable and secure in uncertain times actually comes when we are able to honestly acknowledge and give voice to the brokenness we feel. When we then point our pain to God and join Him in praise – a force of power is able to arrive – not only allowing us to stand but to walk forward in whatever uncertain our future.   

Whatever day greets you tomorrow; whether you need help or hope; hold on to the unity of “Broken Praise”.  Acknowledge being downcast. Put your hope in God. It’s what your soul thirsts for!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark