Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor’s Devotions, #104

“You Will Never Die!”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep reading!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you still reading? One final thought.

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s true. You will never die.

Now, no more readingIt’s Time to LIVE!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions #103

“Flyby”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotion 102 -Sept. 22

“Compassion”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, September 17

Devotion #101

“Shalom”

“You will keep in perfect peace (shalom), those whose mind is steadfast, because they trust in you.     Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.” Isaiah 26:3-4

 

 Yes, the prophet, Isaiah, uses the personal name for God, “Yahweh”, 3 times in one verse – verse 4 of chapter 26. Whenever you see the term “LORD” spelled with all capital letters, the writer is referring to God’s personal name, which God first revealed to Moses in the wilderness. In later years, God’s name was considered so holy and reverent that the Jewish people were sworn never to speak it. Instead, they were to use the name “Adonai” (a kind of holy nickname) whenever referring to their holy God.

The prophet, Isaiah uses God’s name 3 times because he wants to pound a punctuation mark upon the place people were to find peace. Not only peace, but the word is translated “perfect peace”. The Hebrew word for this “perfect peace” is “shalom”. The term, “shalom” took on many meanings. It was used as a general greeting, perhaps like the Hawaiian word “aloha”. It was used as a blessing, hope for success, and comfort. On a deeper level, “shalom” is to denote a deep state of peacefulness and well-being, both internally and externally. King David picks up on this nuance in Psalm 4:8 when he writes, “I will lie down and sleep in “shalom” (peace), for you alone, Yahweh (O LORD), make me dwell in safety.”

It is important that we understand the context in which Isaiah wrote these words. Isaiah ministered for 40 years during the reign of four Judean kings: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah (roughly 800 years before Christ). He lived during a time of relative peace and prosperity. But he also lived in a time when people were spiritually destitute and a mighty storm with hurricane destructive force would blow through their lives at the hands of an Assyrian army. Lives would be lost, homes would be crushed, hopes and dreams dismayed, a future uncertain, and those left alive, carried away into exile.

In the midst of the world crashing in on them, Yahweh extended a call to Isaiah to bring a word of hope in the midst of hellish circumstances. Isaiah was caught up in a holy vision when Yahweh calls, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (6:8). Isaiah responds to the Call and says, “Here I am. Send me!”

Isaiah’s name means “The LORD saves” or “The LORD is Savior”. The book of Isaiah contains more prophecies about the coming Messiah (God’s Anointed One) than any other book in the Old Testament. Salvation is revealed so comprehensively in Isaiah’s writings that Augustine called the book the “Fifth Gospel”. It has also been referred to as “the Bible in miniature” because it contains 66 chapters – as the Bible contains a total of 66 books. In the midst of storms raging and in the middle of his writing, Isaiah points us to the place of peace.

A few weeks ago, Isaiah, my son, and I were hunkered down in the wilderness feeling the effects of a wind storm that felt like a freight train, roaring in the distance and eventually hitting us broad side. It felt like it was determined to flip our tent fly and tear our tent apart.

Before we left on our trip, Ed Snowden and I replaced the roof on my little guest house. Each time I look out my window, I feel such satisfaction that there will be no more leaks, and it will be safe for another forty years. But isn’t that a false sense of security! We have been watching as people have experienced their roofs completely ripped up and torn off their homes. We have witnessed flames of wildfires, show no mercy, and consume homes and belongings like matchsticks and paper money.

With all of this, we certainly are not the first ones to experience destructive forces. The Jews have a whole historic heritage of destruction, displacement and difficulty. Recently, after WWII, the Jewish people, and Europe as a whole had lost everything known to them. The Jews were a people without a home and without a country. Do you think, at some point, a rabbi pointed to the prophet Isaiah and reminded them that even in their nation’s moments in exile, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.”

But even though people have been displaced in the past, today is our reality, and no one has lived this time before. This morning, I tried to review from whence we’ve come – over these past six months – and recount the upheaval. It truly is quite astounding.

We have suffered a global pandemic that has included sickness, death and unprecedented strains on our medical communities. Isolation, food and supply shortages, business closures and unemployment. Work from home, virtual meetings and schools online. Furloughs, financial hardships, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual fears. Frustrations over responses and reactions from government and the public. Divisions and disagreements. Protest, police and racial tensions. Elections and voter uncertainty. Natural disasters that include tornadoes, mega fires, hurricanes, storm surges and flooding. Roads, bridges, homes, and businesses ripped to shreds. Storms that are generating their own climate within the tempest. Smoke, smog and the worst air quality in the world found right here in Portland and Seattle. And perhaps the greatest threats are the smoke signals from Siberia and the melting of the perma-frost. The smoke has still not cleared and we still are uncertain of the road ahead. But the road, in this life, will always remain a bit uncertain. Last week, my crown broke that will require a visit to the dentist. Last week, my washer flooded that will require a visit from a repairman. Last week, I sliced my finger with a utility blade that will require time and healing. Do those count? Of course they do, they all count. All your day to day struggles count. Day to day we do not know what life will deliver.

But let us return to Isaiah, the one Called by God and who responded. The one who declares without confusion or uncertainty, that God has a plan of salvation through his Anointed One and He WILL deliver.

Listen once again to Isaiah’s words, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose mind in steadfast, because they trust in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.”

Let us draw near to this ROCK. He will guide us through these uncertain times today and on into eternity.

P.S. There have already been 18 storms on the seas that have been given names this season. 3 weeks earlier than ever before. The only English name left in the alphabet is, “Wilfred”. After that, the names of the storms will move to the Greek alphabet – alpha, beta, gamma, etc. As the storms continue to hit,  Yahweh continues to declare (in Revelation 21:6), “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

P.S.S. – Did you notice that I repeated Isaiah 26:3-4 – three times? No, it was not a mistake. It was meant to pound a punctuation mark upon your soul and point to the place of peace.

Shalom!    Pastor Mark 



August 11

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church Member Devotion:

 

Dear Members and Friends;

As I mentioned in my last devotion, I would be taking a break for a few weeks. During this four- week hiatus, a suggestion was made that perhaps some of our members might be interested in writing a devotion. I reached out to a number of our people, and they answered affirmatively. So, for the next few weeks, you will receive a devotion from a fellow member of our church, who is willing to go public with their faith. It’s pretty exciting.

A year ago, I remember Annette Bowden sharing a devotion, written by her father, years ago, from a booklet that was put together at Our Saviour’s as an Advent Devotional. The year was 1989. As I thumbed through its pages, I recognized many names of people who contributed writings that are still active in our church today. One of those contributors was our beloved, Elsie Pritchard. As we begin these next few weeks  – listen to a reflection from Elsie. While her writing was intended to point us to Christmas, it forever points us to Christ!
 
Each Tuesday and Thursday, there will be a new devotion that you can access from the link on our home page –
 

P.S. – Don’t you think it’s time that we put together another OSLC Member Advent Devotional for 2020? Something to think and pray about.

Yours in Christ, Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s 100th Devotion, Aug 6

“No Greater Love”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

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

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, Aug 4

“Search and Rescue”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 30

“The #1 Thing People Want from Their Church”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 28

“A New Creation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis writes,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 23

“Hope”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis writes;

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

God Bless You All!    Pastor Mark