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Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 21

“We’ve Been Here Before!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 16

“Finding Your Voice”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 29:3-11

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

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

 

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 

 

 

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 13

“Fake News or Good News?”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps today, we might consider following in the footsteps of the fellow believers in Berea. Paul and Silas were sent to bring the Good News of Jesus to the Bereans. When they arrived, they went to the local synagogue. Acts17:11 tells us how the Bereans responded to the Good News. “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  

The Bereans were on the lookout for fake news. They studied the Scriptures EVERY DAY to ferret out the truth of God. They were determined to discover the truth for themselves.

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

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

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

C.S. Lewis – “Mere Christianity”

Lee Strobel – “The Case for Christ”

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

Ravi Zacharias – “The Logic of God”

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

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

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

God Bless You All

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 9

“The Parable of the Petunias”

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

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

Those who have ears, let them hear!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 7

“Hiking a New Trail”

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 2

“Begin with God!”

“In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1:1

Today, I pulled a book off my shelf written by John Stott. As I read the opening pages of his book entitled, Basic Christianity, I thought it might be good to return to the basics. Stott begins with four important words. ‘In the beginning God.’ He explains,

“The first four words of the Bible are more than an introduction to the creation story or to the                                                      book of Genesis. They supply the key which opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole. They tell us that the religion of the Bible is a religion of the initiative of God.

You can never take God by surprise. You can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there ‘in the beginning’. Before human beings existed, God acted. Before human beings stir themselves to seek God, God has sought them. In the Bible, we do not see humans groping after God; we see God reaching after humans.

               Many people visualize a God who sits comfortably on a distant throne, remote, aloof, uninterested, and indifferent to the needs of mortals, until, it may be, they can badger him into taking action on their behalf. Such a view is wholly false. The Bible reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to man to turn to him, while man is still lost in darkness and sunk in sin, takes the initiative, rises from his throne, lays aside his glory, and stoops to seek until he finds him.

               This sovereign, anticipating activity of God is seen in many ways. He has taken the initiative in creation, bringing the universe and its contents into existence: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’. He has taken the initiative in revelation, making known to mankind both his nature and his will: ‘In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…’ He has taken the initiative in salvation, coming in Jesus Christ to set men and women free from their sins: ‘God…has visited and redeemed his people…

               God has created. God has spoken. God has acted. These statements of God’s initiative in three different spheres form a summary of the religion of the Bible.”  (Stott – pages 1-2)

John Stott accurately articulates in the opening pages of his book that all begins with God. God initiates and human beings are called to respond to his initiation. Why is this important? Because this order establishes of first importance, the dynamics of the relationship between Creator and creation. 

What brings order from chaos, understanding from ignorance, meaning from apathy and morality from evil? It is knowing a Creator remains at the center of all that exists. What is more, the clearest expression of this Creator’s existence is found in the person of Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:15-16 states, “The Son is the image of the invisible God…For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things have been created through him and for him.”

Therefore, all of life revolves not around the sun, but rather The Son! When individual lives understand this rotation, and know the One who is at the center, then it is clear – each one waits with expectation to respond to the One who initiates -the One who has always been from the beginning – and the One who will act when He deems the time is right!

It is a new day. God has begun. Watch for Him!                                                           In Christ, Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 30

Thought for Today”

“Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” Deuteronomy 4:10

 

A few days ago, I discovered a newspaper clipping that I had tucked away in my Bible. It had yellowed over the years and looked like it belonged with other old, similar yellowed newspaper pages found in boxes holding my Christmas decorations stored in my attic. This particular page of news came from the section that held the crossword puzzle, cartoons and birthdays of famous people. At first, I could not remember why I had saved this particular clipping. The page was dated, Thursday, April 9, 2015.  Finally, my eye caught the brackets I had made around the, “Thought for Today.” Quickly, I remembered the moment I read the quote. One sentence that hit with a punch. I was surprised, for one, that The Daily Herald would include a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Secondly, I was struck by this singular thought from Bonhoeffer. His quote stated, “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” This quote was written during the turbulence and shadow of World War II. Today, it still speaks and gives pause to ponder and consider this world of ours. What kind of world are we truly going to leave our children? Given, the conditions and crises of today, it seems we as a society would do well to ponder this thought for much longer than today. Then I was pressed to consider this thought more personally. What kind of world am I personally going to leave my own children? Another question to wrestle with beyond the day.

What kind of world will we leave our children? Will we pass on economic, civic and political unrest? Will we pass on polluted water, polluted air, and polluted attitudes and perspectives? Will we leave a $30 trillion dollar debt for the next generation to figure it out for themselves? And what kind of world will I leave my children? Will it be fraught with uncertain, unspoken, and unknown subjects filled with question marks? Or can I leave them with understanding, unchanging devotion and undying commitment. Every child and every human being for that matter, has the innate need for safety, security, and love. Can we deliver on these for the next generation in the midst of these turbulent times? As a society, we have delivered great technological advances for our children. Life is easier for them than ever before. But we all know this not to be true. Foundations are being shaken. The youth today are being shaken emotionally, psychologically, mentally and spiritually as never before. Much of this could be arguably attributed to the very technology that was to make their lives so much easier. Yet, technology, in and of itself cannot be seen as the simple culprit. Is it true, that the moral and spiritual fabric of our culture is coming undone? If this is true, what can be done? What did the previous generations teach us and leave to us? What are we missing? What do we need to understand?

If we look to the past, Moses had his eye upon the next generation. He would not travel with his people into the Promised Land, but he didn’t want them to miss what was most important. He declared, “Only watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live.” Moses continued, “Teach them to your children and to their children after them. Remember the day you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, when he said to me, “Assemble the people before me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.” (Deuteronomy 4:9-10)

It is very likely, that the world will continue to scurry about and seem to grope in the dark. Let us keep our eye on the prize. Let us return to the light and to our salvation. David declares, “THE LORD is my light and salvation, whom shall I fear? THE LORD is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) Let us leave a legacy to our children and the next generation that points to the ways of the LORD. David states in Psalm 78:3-4, “What we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done.” No matter what happens in the world around us, let us teach, model, live and give witness to the ways of the LORD. Let us point our children to an encounter with the living God. Let us leave a legacy to the world that directs them to a God whose ways are trustworthy and true. And that no matter what kind of world is left to our children, they will live safe and secure, knowing that they are loved by God and that He holds their future in his hands.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 25

“Infection”

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

 

Yesterday, it was reported that currently, there are over 120 vaccines in different developmental stages to combat the coronavirus. 13 human trials have already begun. 5 trials in China, 3 in the U.S., 2 in the U.K., and 1 in each of Australia, Germany and Russia. The report acknowledged that there would need to be vaccinations made available for more than 7 billion people. They are preparing for the need to inoculate every person on the planet. It finally hit me. This virus is just like Sin. The coronavirus infection rate has the potential to have a universal effect. One way or another, every single person is going to have to deal with the reality of this contamination. The spread will occur by human to human contact or by inoculation methods, but at the end of the day, everyone will carry the virus with them.

It’s been amazing how all the world’s major powers are working to combat this virus. Every nation understands the implications of this disease. Death and destruction could reach every corner of the globe. Never in human history has there been such a worldwide concerted effort to solve an infectious disease crisis like this. Simultaneously, nations are working on multiple vaccines, knowing that there will need to be a multi-level attack to fight the virus.

In my mind, it’s raised the question; “Why has it been so difficult for nations to work together to fight other crises?” Climate change, pollution, drought, and famine, just to name a few, are also issues that arguably are stretching out across the globe. Yet the world does not earnestly unify against these threats. Why? Because nations, as a whole, do not feel the universal effect, at least not yet. And if an individual person or nation is not influenced or affected by a particular threat, the innate, natural response is to brush it aside. Self-interest and self-preservation take over. And the reason for this self-interest and self-preservation can be traced back through human history and discover its beginning in a Garden. From two human beings, who were created to be in complete communion with God, a universal spiritual infection entered into the world. Through disobedience and self-centeredness, the virus has spread across every continent and touched every corner. The name for this novel virus is called, Sin.

No one really likes to talk about this infectious disease. All the world suffers from a wide array of its symptoms, yet this virus flies under the radar. This Sin full contagious infection causes people to act and operate out of a purely selfish pursuit without regard to another individual or consequence. Sin keeps the world from working with one another and/or trusting each other. Sin, when fully infectious, will cause the complete destruction to anyone or anything that lies in its path. And in its diabolical way, in the end, will be the cause for the self-destruction of its host. But often this wiley virus appears asymptomatic. It hides under the breath of unknowing and unsuspecting carriers, waiting to express its vile effects later on.   

What would happen if the world acknowledged the universal infection of Sin across the human race? What if the nations recognized the recycled symptoms and signs of this virus throughout history and unilaterally declared war against this destroyer? Can you imagine a world that has conquered Sin? Literally, it would be heaven on earth! No more death, or mourning or crying or pain. The old order of things would pass away and EVERYTHING would be new. We would understand stewardship, dominion and rule in a completely new way. We would no longer be contaminated with solely selfish pursuits but our souls would pursue selfless Godly priorities. Unity, wholeness, community and shalom would be the common denominator and common experience in every household. Love, hope, peace and joy would be the strongholds in every single heart.

What if the world’s major powers concentrated every ounce of effort and focused every resource available, as they are with the coronavirus, to discover a vaccine for Sin? The unfortunate reality is that they will never do this. Sin has completely corrupted the human heart and mind. And Satan is working hard to distract the world from recognizing this true culprit. To the world, this effort would be absolute foolishness. Yet, in reality, a vaccine has already been provided. Even though the world will not receive it, the blood of Jesus Christ contains the antibodies that will inoculate the entire world. Sin has so corrupted the human heart that no one, in and of themselves, will call out for this vaccine. But still the vaccine remains available. And to all who receive him, who receive his blood and believe in his name, all are given the power, authority and right to be healed and given new life. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, consider yourself to be one of the fortunate ones. You did not come to this faith on your own. Your faith in Jesus Christ, means that by the grace of God, you have been inoculated and this is through no effort of your own. Faith is the result of being injected with the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace you have been injected and have been given the ability to receive and believe in the blood.

Even though nations will not join together. Let us continue to come together in earnest and confess our sickness to Sin. Let us confront Satan and acknowledge our helplessness in overcoming this virus. But with the same breath, let us also boldly confess that we are not looking to heal ourselves. Our healing is based upon another One’s blood that contains the ultimate antibodies. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and the power of the devil by his blood.  And what the world considers foolishness, we know to be our life, hope and salvation.

Now is the time for us to share the Good News of this vaccine that has already been provided. His name is Jesus. And He can save every sinner from Sin.

God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.” 1 Peter 1:2

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark  



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 23

“One Life Matters”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

 

Do black lives matter? Yes! Do blue lives matter? Yes! What about brown lives, yellow lives, and red lives? Yes, they all matter. So do Muslim lives, Mormon lives and Mystical New Age lives. They all matter!

Sunday afternoon, after church, on Father’s Day, I went on my familiar Thunder Ridge walk. As often happens, after around 45 minutes, after climbing all the hills, and I’m returning home, an epiphany will suddenly shoot into mind. Most often, these epiphanies relate to my upcoming sermon. On this particular Sunday, I was still feeling the spillover of the Holy Spirit that generated great freedom during the morning Drive In Worship (that’s why I spoke so long!) My earbuds were in. I was worshipping as I walked but my mind was also mulling over all media coverage regarding the pandemic and the protests. All the coverage, conditions and concerns regarding “Chop” in Seattle has brought these issues even closer to home. I’ve been reading, listening and trying to learn more about race issues that have been at work for a long time in our society. One of the big problems I have found in this process, is that I do not know, what I do not know. Many times, it feels like I’m trying to track down a moving target. It’s as if I’m flying an old airplane with a center stick while having a damaged wing. I’m trying to hold her steady so I can bring her in for a landing, but that joystick is being thrust in all different directions that I cannot control.

I have also felt at times, “lost in the fray.” Fray, by definition, means to “unravel or become worn at the edge, typically through constant rubbing.” It can also mean, “to show the effects of strain – of a person’s nerves or temper.” How often have you felt lost in the fray during these last three months? I’m sure we all have felt worn at the edges emotionally over all past weeks.  

As I walked and was considering the implications of “black lives” and “blue lives” and all the other lives that are being impacted during this period of time, suddenly three words shot into my mind. In an instant, I felt the joystick in my mind stop moving. I felt a rudder and a grounding to my thinking. I felt one commanding message, “One Life Matters!” Suddenly, it was as if all the individual pictures flashed through my mind in an instant and all my confusion cleared out. I had clarity. Ultimately, it is this One life of Jesus Christ that matters. When those three words were brought to my attention, it was not to diminish black lives nor be less aware of blue lives nor any other lives. Actually, focusing upon the One Life that Matters, brought greater value and emphasis upon each of these lives. This one life of Jesus Christ, if we are his followers, brings us the purpose, meaning, and focus for how we are to live, act and respond. As Christ followers, our own human attitudes, perspectives and desires are to fall away. As Christians, we are to live in him, through him and with him. The question is, how does this One Life influence–better yet, transform our life and the lives of those around us? The goal of this One Life is to bring a conversion such that our lives are lived through him. In the end, ultimately all lives will disappear and only One Life will matter. In the meantime, because only One Life matters, Jesus Christ brings meaning and hope to every life- – especially those who are broken and downtrodden.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find a maneuver that would allow me to fly above the fray. I was hoping to get above the fog and gain greater clarity and perspective of the landscape. Indeed, those three words, “One Life Matters” brought me up out of the clouds. But then something striking took place. Because of that clarity, it brought me back down to the reality that this One Life calls me to fly back into the fray and fog. This One Life calls me to declare and deliver the truth that no matter what line is drawn in the street, One Life matters for All and every Individual! And that this One Life lives among those in the fray as friend.

I am assuming that most of us are basically battling this same kind of turbulence. Being that we can distance ourselves from the fray, in many ways, by simply turning off the television, social media, or radio, it is difficult to stay tuned in. My emotions have moved from feeling, “lost in the fray” to wanting to “fly above the fray” to “fleeing from the fray” to simply being “fatigued by the fray.” But if we stay focused upon the “One Life That Matters,” we will be able to enter into the fray. We will even be able to move through the fray, and even be agents of healing in the midst of the fray because we know that it’s that One Life That Matters!

The writer of Hebrews gives the exhortation, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Consider the One Life that matters. Jesus entered the fray of humanity in all fullness. He endured the cross, took on our shame, and brought victory back to heaven. He willingly entered the unraveling and rub of humanity in innocence as a baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2). He entered into Samaria and encouraged a broken woman at the well with truth. (John 4). He entered Jericho and called an oppressive tax collector named Zacchaeus to conversion which brought about correction and justice. (Luke 19). He entered into conversation with a mob about to carry out the death penalty with an adultress with clarity and conviction. (John 8) He entered the sin of that same adultress woman with grace and forgiveness. (John 8) He entered countless towns and villages meeting the broken hearted with compassion and healing. (Matthew 9) He entered Jerusalem with resolve and in submission to his Father’s will as he faced his cross. (Luke 19) He entered the arrogance of the religious leaders and called them white washed tombs, calling a spade, a spade. (Matthew 23) He entered a garden and met a weeping woman with the reality of the resurrection. (John 20). He entered into heaven in glory, with the name above every name. (Luke 24) He entered darkness with light. He entered death with life. And he also entered his own hometown of Nazareth as he began his public move amidst the fray. While he was with his own people, he painted a picture of the One Life that Matters most. Isaiah, the prophet, had foretold of this One Servant, 700 years earlier. Jesus entered and attached himself to this One Chosen Servant of God:

               “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18)

Consider this One Life that matters. His attention was set upon the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. He entered this life to provide all these people with a lifeline. And let us be clear that all these people, the ones who are poor, blind, and oppressed prisoners that he has his eye upon – we are those poor, blind prisoners! And because of the grace given to us, we have found this lifeline. Now, we have been called to let out this One Life Line for any and all who wish to take hold. Whatever streets we march in or convention centers we mask up in, this One Life Line is our mission.

Right now, because of historic and ongoing injustice, black lives have raised their hands and cried out for fair and equal treatment. They will not be the only ones who will call for equality. In this broken world, we are surrounded by injustice. Is this why God spoke to Micah to remind his people, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act with justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

So, how would you imagine that the One Life That Matters most would respond to these cries? Would he feel lost, fly over, or flee from the fray? Or would he, even if fatigued, enter into the pain, brokenness and wounded hearts of the hurting? I believe we all know the answer to that question. As the One Life has met us in our brokenness and brought healing, let us focus upon that One Life and concern ourselves with the brokenness of our brothers and sisters. More than that, let us lead those who are hurting to the One Life that Matters the most! And as we ride the waves into the future, whoever cries out, let us be ready to throw the lifeline of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do black lives matter? Indeed! Do blue lives matter? Definitely! Do brown, yellow and red lives matter? Without a doubt. Each life matters. But let us be clear – One Life Matters Most! May the Love of this One Life, Jesus Christ, heal the brokenhearted, bring justice for all, and reveal to each of us what we need to know.  

Below, I’m including an 18-minute video produced by Phil Vischer, entitled “Race in America.” Vischer succinctly lays out many reasons why race relations have escalated in our country. You might recognize his voice, he was the producer of the Veggie Tales series. Pastor Annette at Peace Lutheran in Silvana highlighted this informative summary in their newsletter. I mentioned it in my online message of June 21 – but many might have missed it if you attended the Drive in Worship. This video can be a simple way for us to enter into the fray with more conversation and understanding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY&t=4s

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

  

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 18

“Bridge Building – Part 2”

“Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:48

In my previous devotion (#85), I discussed the relational bridge built between two different sets of people. The first set involved a Roman solider named Cornelius and a Christ follower named Simon Peter. The second set involved an African American named Calvin and a police officer named Justin.  Only the first half of the encounter between Cornelius and Peter was included, so today, I will include the second part – from Acts 10:24-11:18. So also, I want to introduce a new set of characters, that built a bond of friendship during difficult days.

God used the encounter between Cornelius and Peter to break barriers. Jews were never to associate with gentiles. As the Good News about Jesus began to spread, the target audience of the early believers were fellow Jews. Jewish believers would never have considered sharing the Gospel with the gentiles because the Law directed them to never cross that line. But God, in His divine plan, had other ideas. God sent an angel to Cornelius, who we are told was a devout and God-fearing man. We are also told that he gave generously to those in need and prayed regularly. God revealed himself to this man of character and told him to send for Simon Peter who was staying in Joppa. The following day, around noon, servants arrived in search of Simon Peter. God has already prepared Peter for this encounter. God gave Peter a vision opening his eyes to the truth that nothing is impure which God has made clean. God showed him a sheet with countless animals in it and told Peter to, “Kill and eat.” Peter initially refused because the animals were considered, “unclean.” But after the third time, Peter began to understand the message. God was breaking down the barriers to Jewish dietary restrictions. Then God was about to lead Peter on a path to break an even greater barrier. Suddenly, three servants invite Peter to Caesarea, to the home of Cornelius, a Roman solder, but more than that – a Gentile!

Upon entering the house of Cornelius, Peter said to him, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objections.” (Acts 10:28-29)

Cornelius then told Peter the story about the visit from the angel and the directions to send for him. Peter then responded, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As Peter shared the Good News about Jesus with Cornelius and the gathered crowd, suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message. The Jewish believers who accompanied Peter were absolutely astounded that the Spirit had been poured out – even on Gentiles! Peter then said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)

God had just broken a barrier that had stood for centuries. As amazing a move of God as this is – it is even more amazing that Simon Peter could move with God, embrace his plan and welcome these new Gentile believers. When the word of what happened in Caesarea got back to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Peter was initially criticized for associating with Gentiles. But when Peter shared how the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon both Jews and Gentiles alike, they also celebrated God’s ground breaking action and declared, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”         (Acts 11:18)

There would be future battles between Gentile Christians and circumcised believers, but this moment between Cornelius and Peter would be a type of D-Day event. This would be a marker moment bringing down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. And the message that would be pounded out and carried forth is found in Galatians 3:26-28. The Apostle Paul states, “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Today, I would also like to share another example of a significant and ground breaking, bridge-building relationship. This relationship was formed in 1930, in New York City. An unexpected bond was formed between a German born, European theologian and an African American theologian born in Alabama. Their names were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Albert Franklin “Frank” Fisher.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is considered one of the foremost Lutheran theologians and arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. His books entitled, “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together” have left a lasting impression upon future generations. Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi dissident and a founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany. He joined the Resistance during WWII and was a participant in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Eventually, he was tragically killed only a few weeks before the end of the war at the young age of 39.

Long before the war, Bonhoeffer left Germany to study in America. While at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City, he met another seminary student, Frank Fisher. He was disappointed and disheartened by what he found within the American seminary. He stated, “In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.” The one notable exception was that of the “negro churches.” It would be in the socially downtrodden African American community where Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested. It changed his life. Eric Metaxas, in the book, “Bonhoeffer”, explains that Dietrich Bonhoeffer found, what he would call, a “theological feast” at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. brought the fire of a revivalist preacher with great intellect and social vision. Metaxas stated that Powell was active in combating racism and minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say, “For the first time, Bonhoeffer saw the gospel preached and lived out in obedience to God’s commands – he was entirely captivated for the rest of the time in New York.”

During this time, Bonhoeffer traveled with Frank Fisher and was given a front row seat to African American life, culture and suffering. These experiences would leave a lasting impression upon him and influence his response, in the coming years, to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer did not learn much academically during his time in the United States, but he received more than his share of invaluable experience in what it meant to “be church” from the African American community. He learned what it meant to live in a Christ-centered community. For the first time, he experienced the power of music through “negro spiritual” songs. He also came to realize that the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering.   

After returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer’s experiences within the African American community would be instrumental in formulating and articulating his views regarding discipleship and Christian community.

All this rich discovery came about from a friendship formed between two unlikely individuals. Two men who built a bridge of friendship in which barriers were brought low, and love grew deep. God knew what he was doing when Dietrich and Frank were introduced to each other. Just as he knew what he was doing when Simon Peter was introduced to Cornelius.

Perhaps there are people in our future, whom God knows, who will help us build bridges, bring barriers low and grow deep in Christian love. Holy Spirit, show us the way.

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

Cornelius Calls for Peter (continued) – Acts 10:23-11:18

 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” 27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

The Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,[a] 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public,[b] but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers[c] who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[d] and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Peter Explains His Actions

11 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers[e] in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers[f] criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles[g] and even ate with them!” they said.

Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me.

When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’

“‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.[h]

“But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.

11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[i] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”