Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 30

“Messiah”

There is no other name under heaven given to all people by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

 

Yesterday, the news reported that over 1,000 Orthodox Jews gathered in downtown New York City. Disregarding social distancing, they wanted to honor their beloved rabbi who passed away. This sent the New York Police department running.

Recently, I ran across a story about another beloved rabbi. This rabbi lived in Israel. When he passed away in 2006, over 300,000 people attended his funeral. Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri was one of the most famous and beloved rabbis in all of Israel’s modern history. He lived to be 108 years old. Yes, that is correct, he was born in 1898, and lived to be 108 years old.

What is even more amazing is that in his last years, Rabbi Kaduri set out on a personal quest to identify the name of the Messiah. During this time, he reported that the Messiah had appeared to him in a vision. Not only that, but that the Messiah told him his name and that he would come soon.

Before his death, Rabbi Kaduri wrote a note which was sealed in an envelope and was not allowed to be opened until a year after his death. The note revealed the name of the Messiah. After the one-year anniversary of his death, the envelope was opened and the note was read.

The note said, (written in Hebrew)

               “Concerning the initial letters of the name of Messiah:

                              He will lift up the people and prove that his word and his teaching is valid.

Written with my signature in the month of Mercy. Yitzhak Kaduri.”

The first letter of each word reveals the name of the Messiah. In Hebrew, the name of Messiah that is spelled out is; “Yehoshua”  =  “Yeshua”  = “Jesus”.

The long and short version of the name, “Yeshua”, was translated in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible), even 200 years before the birth of the Lord as “Jesus” (Iesous). It is the same name in Hebrew and Greek.

The Bible reveals that the Messiah should come to earth twice. The first time to die for our sins and the second time to save Israel and the world from destruction.

Hebrews 9:27-28 states, “And just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once, to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Peter declared before the rabbis of his day and also the religious leaders and scribes, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that, by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him, this man is standing before you healed. He is, ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

Many Jews and much pressure has been exerted to demonstrate this note to be a forgery. Should that be surprised?

After Jesus’ resurrection, much pressure was put on the Roman guards who kept watch over the tomb. Matthew 28:12-15 states, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So, the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this day.”

So, should we trust Rabbi Kaduri and his note? Did he meet the Messiah and reveal his name?

Let our trust be in the Lord! But let us follow the rabbi’s example and do our own personal search for Messiah. Jeremiah 29:13 promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you”, declares the Lord.

Continue to seek, with all of your heart, and you will find him. Continue to ask, with all of your heart, and you shall receive him. Continue to knock, with all of your heart and the door shall be opened to him. These are words of promise from our Messiah.

What is his name? His name is Jesus! His is the name above every name! The Messiah!

God Bless You in the name of Yeshua,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 29

Census”

“Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

 

Yesterday, I received my second notice regarding the 2020 Census. I placed the envelope on my growing pile of “low priority” communications. I have yet to open either envelope. And the question remains whether I will open either one before the third reminder arrives.

I went online to educate myself regarding the clear purpose for this decennial census. According to the 2020census.gov website, this census will, 1. Determine the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives as well as draw congressional and state legislative districts; 2. Inform hundreds of billions in federal funding, such as new schools, clinics, new roads and other services; and 3. Provide data and programs that will impact communities for the next decade, such as Medicaid, Head Start, Mental Health Services, etc.

After more fully understanding it’s purpose, I am much more motivated to complete the forms. I wonder how many others have their census notices on the low priority pile? Not everyone! I spoke to a pastor friend last week and he shared how motivated his mother was to make sure the form was filed. He shared that she was relentless in reminding him about having her information recorded. It was critically important that she was counted!

In the Bible, there are two “censuses” that stand out. One in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, King David called for a census. His census is recorded in two places;      2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. In 2 Samuel, God is the acting agent who incites King David to call for the numbering of all able soldiers in the nation. In 1 Chronicles, Satan is the one who incites King David to number Israel. Why the different agents? It makes the most sense that God allowed Satan to stir up David to call for the census. Similarly, God allowed Satan to test Job. So also, Satan asked God to sift the disciple Peter like wheat during Jesus’ Last Supper.

In any case, King David called for the census. David also did not levy a tax on the people to pay for the census as is instructed in Exodus 30:12. It states, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.” The tax would be a ransom to protect the people from a plague. Ultimately, Jesus would be the ransom who would protect the people. David’s desire to count the people seemed to rise from a spirit of pride. The census took 9 months and 20 days to complete. When the census was completed, 2 Samuel 24:10 states, “David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done.’”

The next day, the LORD gave David 3 options to choose from as a consequence of his sin. He could choose between 3 years of famine, 3 months of fleeing for his enemies, or 3 days of plague in the land. David said, “Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great, but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (2 Samuel 24:14)

So, the LORD sent a plague upon Israel and 70,000 people died. Death reigned for three days. One thousand years later, there would be a 3-day reign of death that would end in the resurrection!

From this tragedy of death, the LORD told David through the prophet Gad, to raise up an altar to the LORD. David ended up purchasing the land upon which the altar was built. And it was in this location that the future Temple would be build and raised up. Out of pride, tragedy, and repentance, this place would become THE place for the Jews to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. And finally, in the same location, at the place of the cross, the world would receive God’s mercy and forgiveness!

While Satan provoked David’s census through pride, there was another famous census provoked by simple greed. In the New Testament, the Roman King, Caesar Augustus, called for a census. His primary intent was to track the numbers so he could tax the people. This census is perhaps the most famous because it is remembered and read every Christmas Eve. Luke 2:1, states, “In those days, Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.” Caesar Augustus was motivated by money but God was motivated by mercy. God counted the time and place in Bethlehem to mark the moment He became incarnate in the flesh. God used this gathering of the people to gather the holy couple together. They were at the right place at the right time so that the Savior of the world would be born to spark salvation for all.

It IS important to be counted! Yes, let’s fill out our nation’s 2020 census together. But there is a much more important place to be counted together.

Jesus counted out 72 disciples and sent them out before he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He would ride his way to the Temple which sat upon the land which David purchased and where he repented. Before Jesus entered Jerusalem, his disciples returned to him with joy and declared, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” He continued, “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:18-20)

Ultimately, to be recorded and written down in heaven, this is the most important place to be counted!

Today, give thanks to God, for Jesus has been written upon your heart. And because of this, your name has been written in heaven’s Book of Life.

Who else might God lay upon our hearts – that they may hear, and their names will also be counted and recorded?

“The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their name from the book of life, but will acknowledge their name before my Father and his angels. The one who has an ear, let them hear.” Revelation 3:5

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 28

“Doing the Math”

“Are you envious because I am generous?” Matthew 20:1

 

Everyone is doing math these days. Students are doing math trying to keep up. Every business in America is crunching numbers trying to stay afloat. Every family in the country is trying to figure out their financials and their future. And the government is breaking the bank trying to figure out any math that makes sense.

We are told that we have a generous God who promises to provide for all of our needs. But what are our prospects when our country is over $24 trillion dollars in debt? If we are going to understand God’s provision, we are going to have to realize that God’s math is done differently. When Jesus acknowledged that a widow’s two copper coins was greater than all the other larger sums offered, clearly his addition was done differently. When Jesus told the parable about the Kingdom of God being like a landowner who hired men to work in his vineyard, obviously the logic and computation didn’t really add up. Jesus’ parable concludes with the landowner paying each worker the same amount of money even though some worked 12 hours, some 6 hours, some 3 hours, and some only worked 1 hour. With a monetary mindset, our sense of justice cries out, “Foul!” But Jesus is not concerned about the money. Jesus is giving a lesson on Kingdom Economy. The parable concluded with the landowner responding to those who felt cheated, “Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?” (Matthew 20:13-15)

God’s Kingdom economy is different than our American economy. God’s Kingdom currency is not based upon a monetary system. God’s Economy is based upon faith that rests in the heart. The widow gave more than all the others, because she gave all she had from the faith that remained within her heart. God’s Kingdom Economy is not built through infrastructure involving roads, bridges and buildings. God’s Economy is built through relationships. God’s Kingdom goal is not to let the free market reign that money may abound. God’s Kingdom goal is to set men and women free by faith to reign in His glory, that love would abound within God centered relationships.

In less than two months, since the invasion of the coronavirus, our country has added $2.74 trillion to our mind-boggling national debt. These two stimulus steps have been essential to keep our economy afloat. Perhaps more financial support will be needed.

But there is a difference between “crisis” management and “strategic” management. In the long run, I wonder if we, as a country will take the long view in solving our economic issues. Certainly, God’s Kingdom Economy takes the long view. God has been looking down the road for a long time. He has laid out strategic plans to build a bridge between heaven and earth. God has not been worried about the brick and mortar nor the money management to fund his plan. Jesus is the centerpiece of his plan. It’s about a relationship with him. With God, it’s always about relationships. The road to glory is built by faith and relationships – with God and with others.

If we are able to look down the long road to recovery, it will require a different view of how we do math. We will need a higher view of how we deal with the numbers. God’s Kingdom equations have the potential to lead us to peace and prosperity. Our challenge as a country is having to look beyond the numbers.

A number of years ago, I watched an extremely powerful movie called, “A Beautiful Mind”. Russell Crowe plays the real life figure of Dr. John Nash, professor of Mathematics at Princeton University. The movie tracks his rise in academia, his fall due to schizophrenia, and his redemption due to his wife, Alicia.

One day, during my exercise routine, I watched the movie, but I also listened to the director, Ron Howard, explain all the “behind the scenes” throughout the film. It was fascinating to listen to all the details and decisions made that I was oblivious to. That experience made me reflect upon just how much God must be working behind the scenes, directing the elements of our lives in which we have no awareness of his efforts.

Early in the film, as Nash was writing out some equations, Ron Howard said behind the scene, “In speaking with our research mathematician, I had no idea that at this level of mathematics, they don’t think about numbers or sums. Their focus is on shapes and relationships. It’s all about relationships.”

Wow! At the highest level of math, numbers disappear and the only thing that remains is relationships. So, if we want to look through the lens of highest values, the common denominator between modern mathematics and God’s Kingdom Economy is the same: it’s all about RELATIONSHIPS!

Dr Nash was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in Stockholm, Sweden in 1994, for his theory of Equilibrium

It is ironic that a man who began his studies too arrogant to establish any meaningful relationship, then because of a disease, was unable to carry on any relationship of substance, would discover a cooperative bargaining theory that would influence the world. Nash’s theories have influenced global trade negotiations, national labor relations and even breakthroughs in evolutionary biology. But the one steadfast relationship that rescued John through all his nightmares was his wife. Alicia redeemed his life! She is the heroin of the story. When Dr. Nash accepted the Nobel Prize, he stated that after all of his academic achievements; after losing his mind and returning; he looked at Alicia and declared, “You are my reason for living – you are ALL my reasons.”  John Nash acknowledged that after all the numbers were added up, and all the numbers disappeared, the only number that remained was the one willing to stand with him through it all. Nash confessed that it was the heartfelt love within the relationship with his wife that saved him. The equation that made them one was the only thing that made any sense.

The recovery of our economy and the recovery of our world will also be found at the highest level. Indeed, the redemption of our society will not be found looking at the numbers. Our rescue will be found looking through the long lens of building relationships. Yes, right now, people need cold, hard, cash in their pockets to survive this crisis. But again, there is a difference between “crisis decision making” and “strategic decision making”. As we move into recovery from this crisis, our rebound will be directly related to our ability to foster win/win, cooperative bargaining relationships, nationally, regionally, locally and globally that will allow people to be set free and support one another.

Keep in mind, during our recovery, regulations must be put in place to keep people honest. Regulations protect relationships. They help guard against abuse and protect the most vulnerable. God regulated the nation of Israel with the Ten Commandments to protect the relationships between He and the people themselves. Sometimes just enough pressure can cause people to do the right thing: Case in point: Los Angeles Lakers and Shake Shack returning their small business loans. It is amazing that these institutions would receive these loans, but ultimately, they returned the money. They returned the money to avoid bad public relations, but at least it got the job done. Regulations are put in place so that people will be treated fairly. Unlike former Chair of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan’s atttitude, that many believe ushered in the 2008 recession, people will not naturally make the right decisions nor will the economy naturally correct itself. Sin knocks too closely at the door.   

If we scour the pages of Scripture, building relationships for a strong Kingdom Economy has always been the hidden plan of our Creator. Ever since the Fall into sin, God has been behind the scenes working toward a cooperative bargaining relationship with the world. God saved and rescued it. We are to join him in his Kingdom building through heart-felt faith and healthy God focused relationships. With these conditions everyone wins.

And when the time comes for each of us to fully enter into God’s Kingdom Economy in heaven, we will ALL understand and declare, “Jesus, you are our reason for living – You, Jesus, are ALL our reasons.”

Let’s go build some relationships and BY GOD rescue this land!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 27

“Distribution”

“The Grecian Jews complained because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.” Acts 6:1

People are being overlooked during this pandemic. We have been facing a distribution problem. This is nothing new. 2000 years ago, the early church also had a distribution problem.

Acts chapter six begins, “In those days when the number of disciples were increasing…” This was a crazy time in the early church. People were coming to faith. People were sharing what they had. They were gathering together in the Temple courts and in their homes every day. There was no social distancing in this crowd. The Spirit was moving. More and more converts were bringing more and more excitement to the faith. Miracles were happening. Apostles were already being thrown in jail. Church leaders were already being brought before the Sanhedrin. The Church was peaking with enthusiasm but they also had little organization. It was kind of the wild, wild west for this new faith. The energy was electric. But without oversight and direction, the church quickly fell into a situation that could have potentially robbed this energy and turned it destructive.

In the beginning, the early church was filled with only Jewish believers. The Bible tells us that as the number of believers grew, the Grecian Jews and the Hebraic Jews had a run in. The Greeks realized that when the food was being distributed, their widows were being left out by the hands of the Hebraic Jews. It was time to rumble.

The distribution problem had to be addressed. Here we are given a beautiful example, at the hands of the Apostles, how to handle conflict with wisdom and discernment. Acts 6:2-4 describes it this way:

               “So, the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, ‘It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

The Apostles began by gathering ALL the disciples together. When developing communication and organization, it is critical to engage all involved. This problem was going to be dealt with in the open. Everyone would know how the problem would be handled. They then identified their own roles as Apostles. These Twelve needed to stay focused on studying, preaching and teaching God’s Word. Then they gave direction. The Twelve explained that other men should be assigned the new roles and defined the handling of those practical issues. They also empowered their fellow believers to make their own decisions in choosing who shall serve. They trusted the people to call their men forward that they felt were best prepared to lead. Then they went on to give definition to decisions that needed to be made. They explained that there should be 7 men who should oversee the ministry. They also gave crucial clarification that these men must be known and have a reputation for being filled with Holy Spirit and wisdom. Finally, the Apostles indicated that they would not micro-manage the ministry leaders. They stated, “We will turn this responsibility over to them.” 

Healthy organizations establish healthy ways to handle conflict. It is amazing that without any manuals, the early church has given us a sold template for resolving conflict.

To review this template –

  1. Engage all involved.
  2. Identify specific roles.
  3. Give direction – assigning and defining new roles.
  4. Empower others in decision making.
  5. Bring further definition to tasks.
  6. Do not micro-manage

Following this process, Acts 6:5 indicates the results, “This proposal pleased the whole group.” Everyone was on board, and on the same page, because of the way the issue was handled. The Bible goes on to list the seven individuals who were chosen to serve as deacons, most notably Stephen. These men were then presented to the Apostles. The Twelve laid their hands on them and prayed over them.

What was the final conclusion to the conflict? Acts 6:7 declares, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Peace and unity set the stage for great things! Because the disciples found a healthy way to handle conflict, peace and unity quickly returned to the body. Because harmony hovered over the believers, The Spirit of God moved with great fire and continued to spread the faith.

I’m not sure peace and unity are words I would use to describe our government these days. But there are many business and churches that suffer from this same lack of harmony. Rather than cast a critical eye upon those beyond our control, let’s look closer to home. Are there any areas in your life that might benefit from the early church template? Good, healthy communication brings peace to the soul.  

Let us pray to God for a healthy nation and government. Let us pray for our federal, state and local leaders that they can find greater unity and harmony working together. Let us pray for our church that we will walk in step with the Spirit and with one another. And let us pray for our families – that when conflicts arise, we are able to handle them following the faithful example set before us.

No need to rumble – just stay humble – God will cause the walls of conflict to tumble.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s 42nd Devotion, April 26

“42”

“But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”     Luke 10:42

(If you listen/watch my sermon today on our website, this devotion will make a little more sense.)

Since this is devotion day “42”, I want to give a shout out to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Early on a Sunday morning, just like this one, Jesus hit me with a spiritual wave. I was spending devotion time with the Lord at home in our loft when the importance of the number “42” was finally revealed.

“42” had been ringing in my ears for months. I didn’t know what it meant but I even reheated my coffee for 42 seconds in the microwave. That particular Sunday morning, my eyes hit upon Luke 10:42. The light bulb went on and I felt like I was hit by a Mac truck. Luke 10:42 reads, “But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Most of you are probably familiar with this story. I had read this encounter countless times, but hitting home personally was waiting for this particular morning.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem with an appointment on a cross. Before reaching Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples stopped at his close friend’s house. Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in Bethany. They opened their home to the large group. Mary took the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching. Martha was busy preparing the food for their visitors. Martha became frustrated with Mary because she was not helping with all the necessary preparations. Finally, Martha was so upset and heated that she unloaded on her sister. In fact, she even unloaded on Jesus, her special guest. She said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work myself? Tell her to help me!”

Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, (42) but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

While reading this story, the verse number 42 virtually jumped off the page. As I mentioned in earlier devotions, this happened during the same time that God was healing and restoring my heart in the mornings during the week. In a moment, I felt God was giving me a warning and direction for my future. Jesus was clearly showing me that my strength will always be found sitting at his feet – and nothing will take it away from me. If and when I move away from him and get distracted with all other sorts of worries and obligations – church, family, house, community, nation – that is when my spiritual life will be in trouble. If I am to remain strong and healthy spiritually, I must always return to him and find regular, undistracted time with Jesus.

Some people have been amazed that I can write a devotion each day for the past six weeks. The reason I have been able to accomplish this points to the significance of 42. This “stay at home” order has allowed me extended undistracted time to sit at Jesus’ feet. Jesus has provided thoughts, ideas, pictures, dreams, scriptures, analogies, and insights that have emerged from a Spirit saturated soul. I have felt it. By your comments each week, I believe you have also. Jesus has provided every single day. This has confirmed his words to me – It is the one most important thing needed for me – and it will never be taken away.

Since that morning, there have been a number of other situations when number “42” has popped up.

If you watch Major League Baseball, you know that there is one day each year when all the professional players wear number “42” on their jerseys. So also, no individual players have their names printed on their backs. This one day is to honor the name and number of Jackie Robinson. Jackie was the first African American player to break the baseball racial barrier. On April 15, 1947, at age 28, Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier as he went on the field playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Not only could Jackie hit for average and home runs, he hit the racial barrier out of the park. He faced incredible harassment and bigotry. But he endured all the trials and opened the door for all other African American baseball players to join him in the league. Yes, there were other players before him who knocked on the door. But at the right time, Jackie being the right person, broke down the door and others walked through behind him.

There was another one who broke down a dividing wall. This One knocked down the door of separation and has allowed all of us to walk through behind him. Thank you Jesus, for enduring the trials and opening the door to salvation!

Whether Luke 10:42 or jersey number “42”, God has used that number to break through some hard core divisions and some hard headed individuals.

Finally, did you know that the number “42” is on the perfect number list? According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, “42” is the quintessential number of the universe.

The first Sunday morning that I shared the importance of “42” with my church folks, Tom Catchpole caught me after the service. He said to me, “Pastor, did you know that “42” is the perfect number in the universe?” I responded to Tom with surprise and said, “No, Tom, I did not know that.” According to The Guide – 42 is, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything”. It was calculated by a supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years.

Wow! If that is the case, it sounds pretty important and something we should take a closer look at. Over the years, many people have made similar comments about both, Jackie Robinson and The Hitchhiker’s Guide.

I will close with a statement from a longtime friend, Lori Pape. She made a comment one day about her husband, John. I was hit by another spiritual wave. Lori said, “John might not be perfect – but he is perfect for ME!”

I’m not sure if the number “42” is the perfect number of the universe. But I do know that it is the perfect number for ME!

Thank you, Jesus, for a personal number that I can live by and always find my bearings.

I close this devotion the same way I began; “My shout out is to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!!

Day 42. Maybe you will get hit by a wave today. Maybe you’ll take a Peter Plunge today (a reference to my sermon today). In any case, Jesus loves YOU personally! And if the wave does not come today, there is a wave coming out upon the waters of grace, to wash over your heart and consume you with his love.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 25

“Even the Dandelions Know!”

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

 

Why do the weeds know more than the flowers? This morning I was looking forward to mowing down the flowering herbaceous perennial plant of the family Asteraceae. In other words, I was ready to destroy all of those bright yellow dandelion plants peppering my yard. But as I looked out my kitchen window, there were no yellow flowers to be seen. Those pesky weeds were hunkering down due to the strong winds and pelting rain. Why would the weeds know to protect themselves more than my flowers? The few tulips I have in the yard, stand up through whatever weather comes. In the process, those beautiful flowers get painted and battered beyond belief?

The sun is supposed to shine this afternoon. You know, as well as I, that once a few rays of sunshine fall, those perennial weeds will rise up and bloom in all their glory. To make matters worse, their blooms are a precursor to the seeds that will rise and spread throughout the yard. The flowers, on the other hand, have been so beaten down by the weather, that they are left in shreds. It doesn’t matter how much sun shines down on them, they are toast and ready for the burn pile.  

Yesterday, I watched reports of people who hunkered down in their basements while the raging tornado tore apart their houses. Entire neighborhoods, a day earlier, that were once beautiful, now were left in shreds. Yet from the rubble, as the sun returned, reports shot out about neighbors reaching out to help fellow neighbors. People all over town were experiencing beauty rise from the ashes.

Sometimes, it seems like weeds know more than we. Somehow, they can inherently read the signs. When a storm is coming, they stay put. When the sun is shining, the weeds send forth their flowers. Sometimes, when storms blow into our lives, we try to face them head on, taking on the full torrential force. And when we do face the rage on our own, we are often left in shreds. We must be careful to protect the Spirit within. Some people have been so beaten down that it has wiped out their faith – beyond belief.

Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.”

Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

We must know to read the signs. We must know when to guard our heart from outside threats. We must also know when it is time to come out from hiding and share our heart with those around us. The key is the SON!

We have been facing an unprecedented storm. When you feel the winds blowing and the sting of pelting rain on your face, guard your heart. There are times that we simply need to hunker down and protect our soul. Then when the storms blow over, and we begin to feel the Son on our face, that is the time to come out from hiding. The Son is always with us! The Son will be the indicator when we rise and spread our flowering herbaceous in love to all the world.

I could take this analogy a bit further and discuss Jesus’ parable about wheat and weeds. I could write about how the wheat is stored in barns and the weeds are burned and destroyed. But I think I’d rather stop right here. I’d rather just wait for the sun to appear and then mow those suckers down!

Enjoy a wonderful Saturday. Let the feel of the Son indicate when you guard yourself and when you spread the seed and let them fly!

Remember you are not a weed. You are more precious to God than the lilies of the field!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 24

“Best Practices”

“The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by perseverance produce a crop.” Luke 8:15

 

The first time I heard the term, “Best Practice” was from a fellow pastor friend from our LCMC Association. As we ate breakfast at I Hop, he told me that he would be attending a, “Best Practices” Conference. Since retiring from parish ministry, he had jumped head long into a counseling retreat center. He was going to be a speaker at this conference to share their “Best Practices” in their ministry setting. This conference was hosted by a large Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and many ministries were invited to share their “best practices”.  

Since that time, it seems like I’ve heard this term thrown around in all kinds of circles. From business to schools to government to athletics to church and even personal hygiene; everyone wants to figure out the best ways to practice their craft or conditioning.

So, how does “best practices” play out in our spiritual life? How would you evaluate the practice of your faith? Who would you want to listen to at a conference to teach the best ways to live out faith?

In my mind, Jesus would be the optimal individual to teach us, since he lived a pretty practiced life. Indeed, he lived the perfect life. Jesus actually speaks about faith practices in Luke chapter 6. Jesus states, “Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and do not do what I say? I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.” (Luke 6:46-47) Jesus then gives his hearers a visual picture. He says, “He is like a man building a house who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built his house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck the house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Yesterday, the news reported a series of tornadoes ripping through the southern states leveling homes and neighborhoods. To be one of those families who has just lost their home in the midst of this pandemic seems like it would be overwhelming. It very well could be. But Jesus points us to a foundation in the midst of a storm. The key to a sturdy house and a sturdy life, he says, is going to be found in its foundation. Best faith practices are going to center upon the foundation of Jesus Christ himself. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians writes about foundations. He says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building upon it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other that the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11) Outr life is best practiced when it is grounded and secure in the saving grace and blood of Jesus Christ. Meaningful life will not ultimately be found in our own work, career, hobbies, adventures, or even our own families. We are witnesses to how quickly so much can be blown away in a day. The one who practices deep digging and discovers life upon the bedrock of Christ alone, he/she is the one that will be able to stand in the midst of the mighty storm, and pick up the pieces when it is all over.

Jesus also touches on “best practices” when he tells the parable of the sower and the seed in Luke chapter 8.  Jesus explains the deeper meaning of the parable when his disciples probe him away from the crowds. Jesus reveals that the seed is the Word of God. The Greek word Jesus uses here is “logos”. “Logos” is the complete Word of God. It can be an utterance, a saying, a decree, a speech or a person. In the Gospel of John, the Word refers to Jesus himself. He begins with the declaration, “In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” (John 1:1-2)

When Jesus refers to the seed as the Word in the parable of the sower, he seems to be referring to an instructional word. The sower casts seed in many directions. Some seed falls upon the hardened path. Jesus says that the condition of the soil represents the hearts of the people. The hearts that are like hardened clay, Satan comes and quickly snatches the word from them and they will not believe. The hearts that are like soil filled with rocks are the hearts whose seed cannot grow deep roots. They are quickly excited but when tough times roll in, they cave and are unable to stand. The hearts that are like soil filled with thorns are filled with worry. The life of the word also gets choked out by over attention to riches and pleasures and are unable to mature. Finally, Jesus reveals the soil and heartbeat of best practices. He says, “The seed upon good soil stands for those who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop.”

Therefore, Jesus, our conference speaker, instructing us upon the nature of “best practices”, says it involves three fundamentals. The best practiced believer has a heart open to receiving God’s Word. Best practices begin with listening. Listening is followed up with “retaining”. “Retaining” God’s word becomes the brick and mortar that holds the whole building together. Finally, “best practices” requires testing. The heart that will produce an abundant crop for the Kingdom must be able to withstand abundant challenges and suffering. Through this perseverance, the believer comes to know that the Word made flesh is the rock upon which one stands. And the truth is, no darkness shall ever overcome it.

I don’t know about you, but I definitely don’t feel like I belong in the “best practiced” believer grouping. Let us not get discouraged. As the classic hymn declares; “My Hope is Built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness!”  Our fragile faith is in following the one who practiced the best: Jesus Christ.

Let us listen for God’s Word. Let His Words be raised up from the foundation of Christ himself. And let us weather every storm – even a pandemic, even a tornado, even an earthquake if it shall come, for His Word is a lamp unto our feet, and a light unto our path.

Peace be With You!

Pastor Mark      



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 23

“The Rest of the Story”

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

 

The following story is not one of Paul Harvey’s. I received this story from a member recently and thought it would be appropriate to pass it on to you today.

In a supermarket, Kurtis the stock boy, was busily working when a new voice came over the intercom asking for a carry out at check register #4. Kurtis was almost finished, and wanted to get some fresh air, and decided to answer the call. As he approached the check-out stand a distant smile caught his eye; the new check out girl was beautiful.

She was an older woman (maybe 26, and he was only 22) and he immediately fell in love. Later that day, after his shift was over, he waited by the punch-out clock to find out her name. She came into the break room and smiled softly at him and took her card and punched out and left. He looked at her card – BRENDA. He walked out only to see her start walking up the road.

The next day, he waited outside as she left the supermarket, and offered her a ride home. He looked harmless enough, and she accepted. When he dropped her off, he asked if maybe he could see her again, outside of work. She simply said it wasn’t possible. He pressed and then she explained she had two children and she couldn’t afford a baby-sitter. So, he offered to pay for the baby-sitter. She reluctantly accepted his offer for a date for the following Saturday.

That Saturday night, he arrived at her door only to have her tell him that she was unable to go out with him. The baby-sitter had called and cancelled. To which Kurtis simply said, “Well, let’s take the kids with us.” She tried to explain that taking the children was not an option, but again not taking no for an answer, he pressed. Finally, Brenda brought him inside to meet her children.

She had an older daughter who was very cute, Kurtis thought. Then Brenda brought out her son, in a wheelchair. He was born a paraplegic with Down’s syndrome. Kurtis asked Brenda, “I still don’t understand why the kids can’t come with us?” Brenda was amazed. Most men would run away from a woman with kids, especially if one had disabilities. Just like her first husband and father of the children did.

That evening Kurtis and Brenda loaded up the kids, went to dinner and the movies. When her son needed anything Kurtis would take care of him.

When he needed to use the restroom, he picked him up out of his wheelchair and took him. The kids loved Kurtis. At the end of the evening, Brenda knew this was the man she was going to marry and spend the rest of her life.

A year later, they were married and Kurtis adopted both of her children and since then have added two more children to the family.

AND NOW FOR THE REST OF THE STORY:

So, what happened to the stock boy and the check-out girl? Well, Mr. and Mrs. Kurt Warner now live in St. Louis, where he used to be employed by the St. Louis Rams, and played quarterback in 2 Super Bowls.

__________________________________________________________________________________

This story seemed appropriate today as the National Football League is holding their Annual Draft today. Some college football players’ hopes and dreams of a lifetime will be fulfilled today. Other players will feel the agony of dropping down on the leader board. Some players will feel the sting of not being selected at all.

That was Kurt Warner’s story. In 1994, Kurt Warner, after playing quarterback for little unknown Northern Iowa University went undrafted. He was invited to attend the Green Bay Packers summer camp but quickly was cut. In 1995, he found himself playing Arena football for the Iowa Barnstormers. He put in his time for three years and then took a chance in the European NFL and played for the Amsterdam Admirals. After a successful year in Europe he was invited to the St. Louis Rams camp. Warner did so well that he made the team as a backup quarterback. The starting quarterback in 1998, for the Rams was Trent Green. He was injured in the first game of the year. Kurt Warner was sent into game and never looked back. In his rookie year, after waiting five years in obscurity, Warner took the NFL by storm. He won the MVP award for the entire league that year as a rookie. He also won the MVP award for Superbowl 34, and the Rams became NFL champions. Following a 12-year NFL career, in 2017, Kurt Warner was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame. Kurt Warner is considered to be the best undrafted NFL player of all time.

BUT THERE IS MORE TO THE STORY.

Beyond all Kurt Warner’s achievements on the gridiron, undergirding all of his success is his faith in Jesus Christ. Warner has been vocal about his faith in Jesus and has always given credit for his triumphs to Jesus.

Warner had to languish a long time before being given his opportunity. But when the opportunity came, he seized it. God had a plan for his life, even while he was hidden behind shelves of a local grocery store. God saw him! God provided a wonderful wife and family for him to enjoy for a lifetime. And along the way, God allowed him to play out his dreams on the football field. Through it all, his faith in God would remain steady. So also, his character would never waver. So, you see, the “more to” the story is the best of the story! 

No matter where you find yourself in this pandemic, God still has his eyes on you. God sees you! His plans and the rest of the story might be a little more mundane – but they are on their way. Just be patient, the timing is His – just give Jesus all the credit.

In Christ, Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 22

“God’s Green Earth”

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

Today, in over 190 countries, people are called upon to reflect upon the state of our planet. This is the 50th anniversary to an event called, “Earth Day”. After seeing the ravages of an oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969, Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin set out to raise the country’s awareness of the environment. Over the years, over 1 billion people have been drawn into the conversation regarding care for creation.

As Christians, the sanctity of God’s creation should be on our radar. In the first chapter of the Bible, human beings have been entrusted with the care of God’s handiwork. God said, “Let us (the Trinity) make human beings in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).

The Hebrew word, “to rule” (radah), does not mean to dominate and destroy. If we look at the overall human footprint on God’s creation, it could be argued that human beings have been crushing creation’s head for continual personal gain. In Genesis chapter 3, a prophecy is given that Christ will crush the head of Satan. Has humanity been inadvertently been crushing that which God created good? Some have even gone so far as to argue that human beings are the virus that is destroying the world. Those are harsh words. But with greater power in humanity’s hands, and with the curse of sin still playing all of its cards, one could conclude that that protection of God’s creation has not been a high priority.  

I have to admit that I am a rather late comer to seriously consider the ramifications of my actions, and overall human action upon the world. Growing up, I do not remember conversations about being a good steward of the earth. As a Christian, I do not remember sermons emphasizing stewardship of creation. And I have spent little time discussing the stewardship of creation in my own messages.  When we moved to Washington, and I found out that one did not get “paid” for recycling aluminum cans, glass and plastic, my reaction exposed my selfishness, “Then why should I recycle?”. Over time, I have come to realize that my faith in Jesus Christ does not simply follow a cerebral, emotional or spiritual track. My faith in Christ is to track with my entire life. My Christian faith needs to seriously impact all of my life, including my stewardship of God’s creation. We honor Him when we honor Christ, His creation and so much more.

As we all have suffered under this global pandemic, it’s interesting that there are a few positives effects that can be seen. One of those positive effects is air quality. Since people have seriously responded to the “stay at home” orders in most every country, air quality has markedly improved. Pictures of cities around the world have shown amazing improvements in smog and the reduction of pollution particles in the air. New Delhi in India looks like a new city. Yesterday, Los Angeles reported the cleanest air on the planet. Can that report even be trusted? The report is hard to believe. But as I saw the before and after pictures for myself, the shots were pretty amazing. In Nepal, the Himalayas could be seen from a major city 120 miles away that is normally consumed in smog. The Champs Elysees in Paris looked like it belonged in the Louvre Museum it was so cleaned up. The clean air could even be seen from satellites in space.

If resting humanity for a few weeks, can cause such a positive effect, what are we to learn from this? I believe that our human imprint does make a difference upon the condition of our planet. Yes, we can argue about how much of an effect. But as we move forward, maybe it just makes some reasonable sense to take out an insurance policy. This was President Reagan’s attitude when confronted with the ozone issue of the 1980’s. That insurance policy is still paying dividends as the atmosphere in the Arctic continues to repair and heal itself. No one argues that taking out a personal life insurance policy to protect one’s family from future tragedies is a good idea. Can this line of reasoning not also apply to the unknown future effects placed upon creation? Wouldn’t a life insurance policy on our own God given creation be better than rolling the dice on establishing a colony on Mars?

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each one of us, as believers in Jesus Christ, and recipients of God’s good earth, to reflect upon our own personal stewardship. Do we ignore the warning signs and red flags of climate change? The people of Noah’s day were too preoccupied with their own personal endeavors. Only a handful heeded the warning signs and directives while the sun continued to shine. But the climate was soon going to drastically change. By the time the rain began to fall, it was too late. Most drowned and a few were saved.

The establishment of Earth Day was a political ploy to bring attention to creation. We need not be driven by politics. But as believers in Yahweh God, who created the heavens and the earth, God has given us the responsibility to be good stewards of all of His creativity. And we are called to do this, not just one day a year, but rather each day of every year.

So, on this Wednesday, April 22, 2020 – perhaps it’s a day to ask the question: How can I honor God, who created the heavens and the earth for me? For me, it begins with taking my glass and plastic to the recycle bins – with a smile on my face and thanksgiving in my heart. And a prayer that I can love Jesus Christ and His creation much more.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands, you put everything under his feet.”

Psalm 8:3-6

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 21

“Inspiration”

Moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courts.” Luke 2:27

Captain Tom Moore is a veteran of World War II. He served in the British Armed Forces. He is now, 100 years old. A few weeks before his 100th birthday, Capt. Moore recognized the stress and strain the pandemic had placed upon the U.K. Healthcare System. He was inspired with an idea. Perhaps he could help support this war effort of another kind, by raising some additional funds. His inspiration: If he could walk (with the aid of his walker) 100 laps alongside his garden, perhaps people might be willing to donate toward the healing of a nation. His goal was to walk 10 laps for 10 days. He was hoping to raise $1000 pounds (roughly $1,200.00 U.S.). Ten days before his 100th birthday he began the ten-day challenge. The people of England were immediately inspired and the pounds began to pour in. Because of the rush of funds, a few days later his goal of $1000 pounds was pushed to $500,000 pounds. With each passing day, the excitement grew and the money continued to come. Money poured in from all different directions. At the end of the 10th day, after Capt. Moore finished his final lap, more than $16 million dollars had been raised. It’s amazing what a little inspiration can do!

One is never too old and it is never too late to provide some inspiration. The Bible tells us that Simeon, an elderly gentleman, was righteous and devout. We do not know exactly how old he was, but we know he was waiting in Jerusalem for a long while. The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that before he died, he would see the Lord’s Christ. We are told that the Holy Spirit was upon him. Finally, one day, he was inspired by the Spirit to go to the temple courts. At just the right time, Simeon crossed paths with Mary and Joseph as they came to present Jesus as was the custom of the Law. Simon recognized the moment, and with excitement raised the boy in his arms and praised God. Simeon’s inspiration: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-30) It’s amazing what a little inspiration can declare!

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Simeon didn’t raise financial support for a cause but he did raise his voice for the cause of salvation. Simeon was not thinking about helping a healthcare system, but his eyes were laid upon the Healer that would bring life and hope to the sin sick world.

Are you increasing in years? It does not mean that your productive days are over. Capt. Moore, as a centenarian is still providing inspiration to a nation. His two copper coins of effort raised the attention of a country in a time of need. Inspiration rises when one heart touches another. Perhaps we should call him a “centurion” of another kind! Certainly, the heart of this soldier touched the heart of the nation.

Likewise, Simeon, waning in years, was moved by the Spirit and inspired to declare hope for a world in need. He was chosen as one in waiting, along with Anna, the 84 year-old prophetess, to witness the coming of the King. They will stand forever as inspiration to us all. Hearts that touched the heart of God.  

A little inspiration can go a long way. Young or old, wait for him. Let the inspiration come. Who knows, you may raise the attention and lift the burden of someone in need.

May God’s heart continue to touch yours with the inspired truth: A Light has truly been revealed.

Yours in Christ, Pastor Mark