Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 20

“Spillover”

“Jesus gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs.” Mark 5:13

 

An article in a recent National Geographic issue estimates that there are 10 nonillioin (10 to the 31st power) individual viruses on our planet.  Most of these viruses are not poised to hop into humans. Viruses infiltrate every aspect of our natural world but they can only replicate themselves with the help of a host. Sara Sawyer, virologist and disease ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, says that these pathogens are extraordinarily picky about the cells they infect. She says that only an infinitesimally small fraction of the viruses that surround us actually pose any threat to humans. But as this Covid19 pandemic clearly demonstrates, outbreaks of a new human virus do happen.

The National Geographic article goes on to state that most new infectious illnesses enter the human population as a zoonosis, or a disease that infects people by way of an animal. In order to make a successful transition from one species to another, the virus must clear a series of biological hurdles. The pathogen has to exist in one animal and come into contact with another. After that, the pathogen has to establish an infection in the second host. This transition is called a “spillover” event. After the virus has set up shop in a new host, it then needs to spread to other members of that species.

The world is focusing its global effort to locate the original “spillover” event. I thought it might be interesting to consider the concept of “spillover” from a spiritual perspective.

The Gospel of Mark describes a pretty incredible “spillover” event. In chapter five, (Mark 5:1-20) Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Garasenes. He met a man who was filled with an evil spirit and who lived among the dead. This man was host to a demon virus. The virus had so infected this man that he was uncontrollable. No one could subdue him. He tore chains apart and broke the irons around his feet. The infection was destroying him and causing him to bleed but the virus still needed its host. The demoniac saw Jesus from a distance and screamed at the top of his lungs, “What do you want with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God?” The demon virus recognized its enemy even when no one else did. The virus appealed to the Son of God to not torture him. Jesus commanded the spiritual infection to be drawn out of the man. Jesus asked the demon its name. The virus said its name was, “Legion – for we are many.” The virus had completely spread through the man’s body. What began as a fingerhold infection grew to a foothold, spread into a stronghold, and finally developed into a full-blown possession of the man. The virus was relentless and wanted to go to war with Jesus but it did not have the power. It begged Jesus over and over again to not eradicate them. The legion of demons saw a herd of pigs on a nearby hillside. They beg Jesus to initiate a “spillover”. They begged Jesus to send them into pigs. The demons who had a home in a human species, wanted to be spilled over into another animal species. Jesus gave them the ok. The new host did not react to the infection in the same way as the human. The 2000 pigs rush down the steep bank and into the lake and drowned. The spillover infection was unsuccessful for the demons. The spillover event for the human healed and set him free.

Tens of thousands of lives have been lost because of a zoonosis that has spilled over from animal to human. The Gospels report a host of miracles that Jesus performed beyond human understanding. It is interesting to consider, once again, the power of the Son of God, who has the power and ability to initiate a spiritual zoonosis between spiritual demons and a human being. Some people may consider this conversation nonsense because they believe there is no such thing as real-life spiritual demons. Yet Jesus consistently acknowledges the presence of Satan. As Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, one primary petition is to “deliver us from evil”. Not only that, but if we want to be most accurate, the translation is, “deliver us from the Evil One.” Jesus also tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat during their Last Supper. Jesus tells Peter that he is praying for him. Then St. Paul acknowledges in Ephesians 6:12, that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul encourages the believers put on the full armor of God so that they can, “take their stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Virologists tell us that a virus needs an available host, overcome a number of variables and spread among other members of the species. I believe the spread of a spiritual virus can be seen in a variety of contexts in Scripture. One fundamental symptom of spiritual sickness is fear. Is this why the most common command from the messengers of God is, “Do not be afraid”? Could this command be to calm an individual but also to command the spirit of fear to flee? Do you suffer from fear? One treats the symptom of fear with faith – it is a faith which is administered by the Spirit of God. Fear has to flee when faith is confessed in the living God!

The spread of a spiritual virus showing symptoms of fear can be seen with the nation of Israel recorded in Numbers chapter 13. The nation of Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land. At God’s direction, Moses, commanded a number of spies to explore the land of Canaan. When the explorers returned they gave their report to the nation. They initially might have looked asymptomatic but they were already carriers of the virus. They brought back this infection of fear and spread it to all the others. The virus had spread to all the explorers except Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb had antibodies that fought off the infection – they had faith in God. The hosts who carried the infection quickly infected the rest of the nation. They reported that the nations in Canaan were filled with giants and large cities that were fortified and powerful. The infection spread like wildfire. The whole community, consumed with fear, wept out loud and threatened to kill their leaders – Moses and Aaron. The consequence of this epidemic was tragic. Thousands of lives were lost. Eventually an entire generation died off. The entire nation was called to turn around and were led into quarantine for 40 years in the wilderness. The older, high risk, generation never made it back. The younger generation would be given another opportunity to combat the virus and enter into the Promised Land. Would this new generation fight off the fear and hold on to the faith? Joshua and Caleb, the ones who had immunity during the first wave, joined the second wave, and made their homes in the land God had promised them. Faith brought them into the land of milk and honey.

That same stubborn virus of fear can be seen among Jesus’ disciples. They battled a storm on the Sea of Galilee. They also battled the fear that made its presence known. Fear infected the disciples and it quickly spread throughout the boat. Peter seemed to be somewhat immune. He had enough faith to call out to Jesus and he begged him to walk on the water. Peter stepped out onto the sea and began to walk on the water. He felt the wind and saw the waves and the virus pulled him down. He began to sink with the illness. Peter cried out to be saved. His Savior immediately caught him and injected him with the antidote. Faith swelled. Jesus called to the storm, “Be Still!”. He turned to his other disciples and calmed their fears. And Just like the demoniac, the virus was drowned.

As believers, over and above the worrying about a virus that might spill over from one species to another, consider the “spill over” of the Spirit. Without God, we are empty vessels. Left to ourselves, all sorts of things can fill our jars of clay. But God has promised his Holy Spirit to be spilled into us. Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit”. He also says in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The vaccine and antibodies that will defend us against the virus and infections of fear and any other demonic virus is found in the person of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of God fills our weakened jars of clay. As his Spirt continues to fill its host, the remaining infection of sin and contamination of fear spills out. The Spirit fills us with love, joy, peace, patience and a host of other wonderful spiritual fruits. And because our vessels contain cracks, it is key that the antidote of the Spirit continues to be spilled into us -not just for a two-week time but for a lifetime.

Yes, there are a nonillioin number of viruses in the world. We only need 1 vaccine that will protect us from every existing spiritual virus – Jesus Christ. He is our vaccine and it is administered to us through the Holy Spirit. Your shot is waiting for you. All you have to do is ask. I guarantee that unlike Covid19 tests at your local hospital – you will not be denied!

I pray that His spillover, may spill over in to all the lives around you!

God Bless You All!    

Pastor Mark

 

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 19

“Royalty”

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…” 1 Peter 2:9

Royalty is not for the faint of heart! We are watching the drama of Prince Harry unfold from a distance. If we were allowed an up-close picture, I’m sure we would see a lot of pain. Like I said, royalty is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Prince Harry’s new wife, Meghan. She felt the full force of royalty and fought for her family to walk away. The reality is that there are no easy paths. Whatever road we travel, it will be fraught with challenges. Prince Harry and Meghan are feeling a certain freedom even while being in quarantine. They are in the middle of purchasing a $15 million dollar home in Malibu. But along with this freedom comes the reality of re-establishing one’s identity. Harry is walking away from the only identity he has ever known. While he might not like the conditions and restraints and lack of privacy he has had to endure, this new road will be rocky. Re-discovering a new identity is never easy. He will smile for the cameras, but beneath the surface, internal struggle will be his daily food.

Still royal and sitting on her throne, young prince Harry would do well to learn from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. Her reign began in 1952. She has ruled the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth for over 68 years. She publicly voiced her commitment to serve the British people for the rest of her life at the young age of 24. At that time, with her father in poor health, Princess Elizabeth spoke publicly and declared her allegiance to the people. She was not wearing rose colored glasses. She had grown up in the palace. She had endured the fiercest world war the world had ever known. She stood resolved, committed and eager to serve her people. Life would not be easy. Her family, country and commonwealth would face innumerable challenges, yet she still stands. What has steadied her throughout almost 7 decades of reign has been her understanding of service. Her reign, rule and life exist in order to serve for the betterment of her countrymen and women. While there have been times of great suffering personally and publicly, she will be remembered as the greatest royal to serve the English people.

Some of us, in the cheap seats, look at royalty and wish for the day. We wish that we could ride in the carriage and wave the royal wave to cheering fans. But after the pomp and circumstance, the life of the royals is simply hard work. Their every day is planned and scheduled. Every step and word is recorded. Scrutiny and criticism are around every corner. And false claims are on every weekly tabloid. Yet with all the challenges, there remains great satisfaction in being royal. Prince Harry will soon begin to realize all that he has left. And he will begin the long, difficult road to discover within himself what he has never needed to know. The world will watch and record how he stands.

Did you know YOU are royalty? St. Peter states, “(Believers) You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood.” Some Christians live their whole lives believing that they are simple commoners. Many believers simply wait for the scraps to fall from their master’s table. Yet the Scriptures declare something different. We are royal. We are heirs to a Kingdom. We’ve been given keys to that kingdom, and authority to rule in a righteous robe which Christ has placed upon us. Some believers remain living in the cheap seats, wearing their rose-colored glasses. These believers envision all glory laud and honor  will simply be bestowed upon them. Jesus clearly declared, before he left his disciples, that being royal in God’s Kingdom was to be something different. Jesus would say in no uncertain terms that, indeed, the royal life would not be for the faint of heart. Rather than being Kings who seek to be served and rule over others, his Kingdom was going to be filled with royals who seek to serve. God’s royalty would serve God first and follow with their neighbor. They would wash feet, carry their cross, love one another, forgive each other’s sin, serve the poor and announce the future coming of the King. It would be hard work. There would be suffering both privately and publicly. But the meaning and satisfaction of being part of this Kingdom reign would bring no greater joy.

Jesus did not soft sell this royal journey. Royalty is only an easy path if one only read’s selected verses from Scripture that do not speak of sacrifice. One must gut all the vital organs out of scripture if we are to overlook the Kingdom’s call. Jesus knows that the only path, on the narrow road that not many will find, exists where personal sacrifice and God’s power intersect. At this crossing of personal death and spiritual life, new life is discovered in him and a new identity emerges. An identity that is saved for royalty. An identity that is more glorious and good than anyone could imagine.

You might not have known but there is a path for royalty laid out in Scripture. This path is not hard and fast with rigid edges. The royal path is followed in trust to God. He leads the way. He determines each step.

There is a path outlined for royals both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Two people who were raised to royalty can give us a clear understanding of that path.

Joseph, the son Jacob, was raised to royalty. Recorded in Genesis, Joseph’s rise can be traced back to his beginning battles with his family, through his enslavement in Egypt and his ultimate rise to the throne -second in command of all Egypt. His life lifts up themes which are consistently found in the royal family.

Jesus, son of Joseph, began as royalty. Jesus reigned in glory, but did not believe royalty was something to be held on to. Thus, Jesus humbled himself in obedience to his Father, took on human flesh and took the lowest place. Born in the backroads of Nazareth, Jesus path eventually took him to the right hand of God. His name is now lifted up above all other names. It is crucial for us as clueless royals to watch, learn and remember their road.     

When the Lord spiritually restored my heart while I was in recovery from cancer surgery in 2006, he revealed the following path. I felt a surge of excitement each morning as he seemed to make more and more connections in Scripture. My heart was strengthened as I began to see the path that both Joseph and Jesus followed – this helped to heal my brokenness.

I will briefly share the 7 moves of God in the path of royalty:

  1.   Chosen
  2.   Challenged
  3.   Suffering
  4.   Exaltation
  5.   Fruit
  6.   Reconciliation
  7.   Rest – Shalom

The first step is never ours. God calls, claims, chooses and draws his royal people to him. St. Peter declares that we are first “Chosen” before we are a “royal priesthood”. Paul in Ephesians chapter 1, states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he has chosen us in him before the creation of the world…” Eph. 1:3-4.

Joseph was chosen. He was given God driven dreams and ultimately would save God’s chosen people – Israel -from famine. Jesus was chosen. His Father gave him a God driven mission. He was given the responsibility to reveal that the Kingdom of God was at hand and ultimately to save God’s chosen people – the world – from sin. As believers, we also have been chosen by God to carry Jesus’ work and message forward. We are here to help establish God’s royal Kingdom on earth until he returns. We have been crowned with the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out and continue this God driven mission.

Being chosen does not come without challenges. Every royal one will be challenged. Normally, the initial challenge to a royal’s mission originates close to home. Joseph was challenged by his family. His father and brothers were put off by this “young dreamer”. Joseph’s family incredulously challenged God’s chosen, “Are we to bow down to you?” Eventually Joseph’s brothers threw him in a cistern, faked his death and sold him as a slave. So also, Jesus was challenged by his family as he began his ministry. Mark 3:21 records, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of Jesus for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.”

Spiritual challenges can also come to crush the initial calling. Jesus was sent into the wilderness before his ministry began. God the Father was going to use the wilderness experience to empower his Son into ministry. Satan was waiting for the “opportune time” to crush the “Chosen One”. Many calls to royals are crushed at the beginning before a Godly foothold can be established. Many people, when they are given the gift of tongues are challenged. Immediately after the Spirit moves, there is a spiritual challenge with the hopes to invalidate the experience and crush it. Satan will challenge each of us at different points in our lives with an attempt to steal, kill or destroy anything of God. He typically will wait for an “opportune time” – as he did with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we are in a weakened, vulnerable place. Luke states, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)

Seven is a special number. Seven is a royal number. Seven is a complete number. Seven is a sign of wholeness and unity. One could argue that 7 is the number for “shalom” – peace, completeness. From beginning to end, the number 7 is significant in the work of God. As bookends, there are Seven days of creation recorded in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. There are also seven churches to whom Jesus speaks, in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In the book of Joshua, Israel is told to march around the city of Jericho with seven priests, carrying seven trumpets. On the seventh day, they are to march seven times around the city and on the seventh time, God will bring the walls tumbling down. Joshua’s, (it’s not an accident that Jesus’ name means Joshua in Hebrew) leading of the Israelites, represents a victory  that will take place in the future as Jesus steps into his royal position. Throughout scripture, the number 7 has something special to point to spiritually as well as literally.  

Within the seven royal steps, it is also important to recognize “couplings” that grouped within the seven. One step is linked to another. As we are “chosen”, soon will come a “challenge”. When “suffering” comes, “exaltation” is what awaits on the other side. As we begin to “bear fruit”, “reconciliation” is connected to this season of fruitfulness. Finally, “Rest” seems to stand alone. But the reality is that our circular path of royalty is not one and done. We continue to circle in this path as God directs. So, our period of “Rest” or “Shalom” will lead us back into being “Called” and “Chosen” once again for a new mission. And keep in mind that this pattern probably continues into the Kingdom Triumphant as we are “Called” home and we continue to serve at the will of our King.

As one who is royal steps through the challenges of family and spiritual turbulence, a period of “suffering” will follow. Suffering usually comes at the hand of outsiders. Joseph was thrown in a cistern by his brothers but he suffered slavery under the Egyptians. He was a slave under Potiphar. He was falsely accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife. He was thrown in prison. He was left and forgotten in prison for two years. He was left wondering about his future. But we are also told that God was with him!

Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders and the Romans. He was falsely accused. The Jews tried to entrap him. The Romans whipped, beat and scourged him. Finally, he suffered death on a cross.

Royals with eyes completely open understand that this “suffering’ is temporary. They also know that beyond the temporal pain is “exaltation”. Paul points to this in his second letter to the Corinthians. Knowing all the suffering that Paul endured: His whippings, beatings, imprisonments, ship wrecks and more – he states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:17)

 It is this place of suffering that many royals back down and walk away. Prince Harry and Meghan could not take the suffering any longer. Feeling unfair treatment, they also projected similar suffering would be laid upon their son. They were unwilling to pay the price. But truth be told – there is price to be paid moving in either direction on the path. Avoidance of current suffering today might simply mean that it is being pushed down the road to surface at a different time. Perhaps it will show up at an “opportune time”. Or they might discover that they had suffered enough and this path opens up to a new exalted position for them. In whatever way their future plays out, the royal position they are looking for will be down the road of service. As they serve others, the path will be made clear, just like their grandmother who has gone before them.  

As God’s royalty, we are looking more deeply down the road. Our eye on the prize is not simply serving others but first it is service to God. A close second is our service to others, but the difference must be made clear. So, we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 2:10 states, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author (Jesus) of their salvation perfect through suffering.” We must understand that Joseph, Jesus and Paul, all three endured suffering and it prepared them for the next position. Suffering paved the way to “exaltation”. They have paved the way for our understanding and placing in context the conditions of suffering.

We never know the length of time for our suffering. It is here that our faith is painfully refined, honed and strengthened in preparation for exaltation. The foundational and fundamental key to achieving the exalted position is humility. If humility does not exist, if pride prevails, the fall will be swift and quick. Philippians 2:8 tells us that Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death.” Paul states in 2 Corinthians, “To keep me from becoming prideful because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” In Paul’s case, whether his suffering was failed eye sight or epilepsy, God did not heal his sickness. Rather, God gave him the promise that God’s grace would be sufficient for him. One more position of faith for Paul in his path of being royal.

Exaltation is on the other side of suffering. Joseph was lifted up into royalty when he who was chosen used his God given gifts to interpret dreams. Joseph was exalted to second in command of all Egypt. He was given authority to rule and entrusted to feed all of the Egyptian people. So also, Jesus, after his suffering and death on the cross, was lifted up and exalted to the right hand of God. Paul states, “Therefore, God has exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9)

From this place of exaltation, Joseph then moved on the road to the next coupled steps. The steps of “Bearing fruit” and “Reconciliation” are closely held together. Joseph entered into a season of bearing fruit and feeding the people in the midst of a great famine. He also bore fruit in the reconciliation of his relationship with his brothers.  Forgiveness, freedom and love fed the souls of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob’s families followed this feeding and healing and moved to Egypt. For a season, Jacob, now named Israel, found rest for their souls. In time, Israel would be put in bondage. But in more time, Moses, a man that God had CHOSEN, would come and deliver Israel from Egypt.

Jesus, in his “exalted” position, sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples. They are filled and empowered by the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit, described in Galatians 5:22-25, emerge. Reconciliation spreads among the brothers. Jesus reinstates Peter after the resurrection.  And the message of reconciliation takes on new life among the new believers. Unfortunately, Judas stepped off the path and fell off the rails. He was not able to experience the reconciliation that Jesus offered. Judas’ journey ended tragically!

A royal will not be able to move into fruitful abundance if unreconciled relationships exist. Jesus leads his disciples to pray and ask God’s forgiveness even as they would forgive their brothers and sisters. Fruitfulness will flourish as reconciliation is abundant. Unforgiveness of the heart will lead to a drying up of the Spirit and a barren harvest. Prince Harry and Prince William will need to walk down this road of reconciliation if they are to see their families grow in full fruitfulness – so too the rest of their families.

Paul speaks of the step of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. He states, “God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We therefore are ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

As Fruit grows and reconciliation spreads, the natural consequence is shalom – peace – REST.

As royals we rest in the Lord. We rest in his grace. We rest in his love. And we wait for the rest of the story. Will God come calling again? Yes, Indeed, God will call again. His rest is not laziness. His rest is creativity. He will call us again and again into His service while we live here on earth. When His opportune time has arrived, His Kairos time, we will be called back into the world. And then finally, when the time is right, our Father will call us to our eternal home, to our home of glory.

For we are CHOSEN! We are HEIRS of His Kingdom! We are ROYALTY!   

Rest in this Truth!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark    



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 18

“The Dream”

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Ps 73:26

 

I woke up today tired. Tigger, my kitty, was relentlessly chatting at me that it was mealtime. I heated up a cup of leftover coffee and slipped beneath the blanket on the couch. I put on Pandora, exhaled a long sigh and tried to drink in some praise.

I closed my eyes, and asked the Holy Spirit to come. I called on Jesus and the Heavenly Father to meet me. I needed them – all three – in One. I had thoughts about a devotion for the day but they were just rumblings. My head was in a fog and nothing felt quite right. I asked for something more. I asked for something real. “Lord”, I prayed, “I want to write about something deep.”

Immediately, I remembered the dream.

Last night I had a dream. I don’t know the time that the dream played out in my mind, but can tell you it returned to me clear as crystal.

Doors of a café opened. I entered and began to walk across the floor. At a distance I saw one of my longtime friends. He is a soulmate in the Lord. We have journeyed long and far. We have not talked in years but that means nothing. What we have experienced together, the bond is deeper than time and miles.

I saw people sitting at various tables. The tables and the people were gathered comfortably together with generous room between them. Chris rose from one of the tables to meet me. He had that typical smirky smile on his face. He looked down and opened his arms and brought around that huge hug just like old times.

We moved away from the others to a table of our own in the back. We began to catch up. It was as if no time had gone by. We fell right back into comfortable conversation just like we had been together the day before.

To my left, a young girl, around five years old joined us. She was playful and warm. It’s funny, but another word I would use to describe her was “genuine”. She had straight brown hair that hung to her shoulders. She wore a comfortable cotton dress and her face displayed surprising self-assurance. The comfort I felt as she approached was striking. It’s as if she belonged with us but I didn’t know who she was. I looked around wondering who she was with, but it was as if she was alone. She remained with us.

Chris began to tell me about some of the physical challenges he had faced recently. Someone else approached our table and he began to share with him as well. Our meal was served but I did not notice what food was on our plates. We then grabbed hands together to pray. The young girl moved around between us and our hands formed a circle. Holding her hand, I noticed a warmth and comfort. It felt like wearing a well-worn glove. There was no hesitation; it was as if she reached out for our hands first. It was as if we were surrounded by something wonderful and familiar, and sure.  

The thought crossed my mind that maybe we shouldn’t be holding hands. Because of social distancing, maybe we should separate, but that concern immediately faded away.  We bowed our heads and we gave God our thanks.

Wow! What does this dream mean? I’m not completely sure. Why was this dream given now? I don’t know.

I did not awake from sleep this morning aware of a eureka moment. In the moment, I was feeling fatigued. But then, from a place of weakness, God brought to my remembrance something deep. As the cobwebs cleared, I thought, “Could this have been a kind of glimpse of heaven?” What does heaven look like? I’m not sure. John certainly gives us an incredible glimpse of glory in the book of Revelation. What I do know is what I felt – warmth, comfort, friendship, food, love, concern, embrace, hands held in prayer. I felt the love of a child. I felt hands connected in unity. And right now, I can feel the tears run down my cheeks as I recall this moving moment. 

There is so much we do not know. Jesus told his disciples during his final meal with them, “I have so much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:12) Could there be various pictures of heaven that are all woven in unity? People who have died and been given a glimpse of heaven, they recall the endless melodies of music yet they are all harmonious being played in unity. Whatever awaits us in heaven, the one thing we can be assured of – it all centers around Jesus Christ. All love, peace, feasting, prayer, honor and praise will gather around the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. For our God is Alive. He has Risen and He lives forever. AS WILL WE! Hallelujah!!

P.S. – That young girl who brought so much comfort? You might have already guessed. My hunch – Thank you Holy Spirit! Thank you for something deep! Continue to hold our hands!

I praise you, Lord, with all my heart! Indeed, it is another Holy Saturday!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark  

“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,             your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.” Joel 2:28



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 17

“X-Ray Eyes”

Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”     John 3:3

Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, under the cover of darkness. They talked about spiritual things. Nicodemus could not understand the things of which Jesus spoke. Jesus said that spiritual sight required being born again. He also said that entrance into God’s Kingdom involved being born of water and the Spirit. In both cases, Jesus said that seeing and entry requires the work of the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus knew nothing of the ways of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the Christian church has often left its people knowing very little about this very important person of God as well.

As a boy, growing up in the 1960’s, one of my favorite television programs was Superman. There have been countless remakes of the superhero story. The one I remember most is the series played by George Reeves. George starred in the series from 1952-1958. Tragically, he died either by suicide, by accident or was a murder victim. A mystery remains surrounding his death. The Superman superhero had great strength and could fly as fast as a speeding bullet. He also had x-ray vision that allowed him to see through buildings and other solid objects. His x-ray vision helped him see people in need and he was able to come to their rescue. Perhaps we can look to the Holy Spirit as one who can truly give us x-ray vision and the ability to see those in need.

A week ago, on Good Friday, we remembered Jesus’ death on the cross. Like George Reeves, Jesus’ death was tragic. But it’s not Jesus’ death that is shrouded in mystery. It is very clear why Jesus died. The religious leaders trumped up charges about Jesus. They raised a riotous crowd. Pontius Pilate couldn’t handle the pressure and finally gave Jesus over to crucifixion. Certainly, those were the physical terms of the account. But shrouded under these physical circumstances, a more mysterious spiritual condition was being dealt with. No one had spiritual eyes to see the moment for what it was. No one had x-ray vision to see the spiritual implications. If someone had x-ray eyes, they would have understood that these conditions were all planned by God–that God orchestrated all these events in order that his Son would pay the spiritual price for the sins of the world. Spiritually speaking, Jesus brought redemption to a broken world held under curse of sin. All this was plainly hidden in full view for people who were not able to see. Yes, the Prophets wrote and spoke about this redemption, but no one truly saw it coming.

Jesus had x-ray eyes. He saw everything clearly as it unfolded. Jesus told Nathaniel he saw him under a fig tree before Philip called him. (John 1:48) Jesus saw the woman at the well near Sychar. Jesus spiritually “saw” this woman who had five husbands and the woman confessed, “He told me everything I ever did.” (John 4:39) Jesus also “saw” the Pharisees’ traps. Knowing their evil intent, he said to them, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me.” (Matthew 22:18)

Last week, I watched an interesting program about the Dead Sea Scrolls. It wasn’t the scrolls that caught my attention but rather a lump of coal from En gedi. Yes, the program discussed the discovery and preservation of ancient manuscripts found in the Qumran caves. But my curiosity was piqued when the conversation shifted to a discussion about lumps of coal discovered in a synagogue in En gedi. The coal was believed to be the charred remains of ancient manuscripts. No one could begin to read them. And virtually no one could believe that there was anything left to read from these small, hard, crumbly black pieces of ash. It would take x-ray eyes to see for sure. Enter two men from Kentucky. These two men created a CAT Scan machine that is 1000 times stronger than any CAT scan in a regular hospital. They took those black clumps of coal and under the x-ray machine, cut through them electronically over 2,000 times. From those 2,000 slices, thy laid out and pieced together what was hidden inside. It seemed like a truly magical, mysterious, miraculous effort. They were able to reconstruct something that was believed to have been completely lost. To the naked eye, there was nothing to see. To x-ray eyes, the two from Kentucky uncovered the oldest section of the Old Testament next to the Dead Sea Scrolls.

What a discovery!

To see God’s Kingdom beyond crumbly random bits of coal, it will require x-ray vision. We need spiritual eyes to see what others can’t. The Holy Spirit has been given to us that we might be able to slice through people’s rough exteriors and hard hearts to see their real hurt and need. The Holy Spirit can give us the power to see things hidden in history and the history we are currently living through that we might have hope.   

Plenty of people have played plenty of superheroes in movies. But there has only been one Superman who has truly had x-ray vision. Jesus Christ could see right through people in order that he might heal, love and redeem them. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit that we also might be able to see those in need and provide hope. Our true superhero, Jesus, told his disciples on the first night of his resurrected rebirth, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” We are not sent out on our own, nor all alone. Jesus has sent the promised Holy Spirit, the comforter, to be WITH us and live IN us – the one who provides x-ray vision.   

No more mysteries. The secret has been revealed. And God knows everything we need to know.

“And when you pray, do not be like the pagans, for your Father knows what you need even before you ask him.” Matthew 6:8

In Christ,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 16

“Stay In”

Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49

As the weeks roll on, the mandate by Governor Inslee to “Stay In” becomes more and more difficult. The sun is shining and warmer temperatures are greeting us each day. The grass is growing, the weeds are flourishing and there are projects that need to be taken care of. You might not even have any grass to mow. But you have a growing itch to do something. It’s time to get outside and do anything!

After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples faced a similar challenging mandate. Right before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he directed his disciples to “stay in”. He tells them to stay in Jerusalem. Jesus states, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but STAY IN the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Looking at this mandate through a lens 2,000 years old, we might not think anything of it. We know the end of the story. We might tell the disciples, “Relax and let it come to you!” Pentecost was coming. The power of the Holy Spirit was going to be unleashed upon the people. People would speak in other languages declaring the glory of God. There would be tongues that looked like fire resting upon people’s heads. A mighty roaring wind would blow through the city. Pentecost would be an explosive moment. Peter would explain the situation to the crowds of people. Thousands of people would be baptized and come to Jesus. Over 3,000 people, in one single day, would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. All this was going to take place, and all the disciples had to do was stay in – Jerusalem – and wait for 50 days. 50 DAYS!! Can you imagine having to wait 50 days? How difficult would it be not knowing the “Rest of the Story”? Weeks go by and you would be trying to recall some fairly vague instructions from Jesus? That wait could not have been easy for them.

We’ve been “staying in” for about 28 days.  We are told in Matthew’s Gospel, that when the disciples met the resurrected Lord in Galilee, even then, some of them doubted. You can imagine 28 days after Jesus left, some of them had to have doubted his directive to stay in. Some would have doubted that they heard Jesus’ instruction correctly. Some probably doubted that he even gave that directive at all. And some probably doubted that it would make any difference whether they stay in or not. Some of them were probably saying, “Let’s go, Let’s go, we’ve got to get on the move.”  I could envision Peter being tempted to say, “Fellas, it’s time to kick some _ _ _, and take some names, in the name of Jesus, of course.” The only problem was, Jesus told them to “stay”.  

Thank goodness the disciples were willing to wait. At times they must have felt like a dog on too short of a leash. But in the end, the disciples remained obedient to Jesus, and experienced a power unleashed that no one could imagine. They witnessed a second moment from heaven unlike any other in history. The power of God, that was prophesied by the prophet Joel, was unleashed on the people of Jerusalem. And that power propelled the early church to move with great energy and intention. And then they started taking names for the Kingdom.

Now, I’m not equating Governor Inslee’s mandate to be comparable to Jesus. There has been no promise that great power is waiting on the other of his order. But often, good things come to those who wait. Perhaps our waiting can fend off a further outbreak of the virus. Perhaps our waiting will allow our healthcare system to catch up. Perhaps our waiting will propel us further to trust God for our food, finances and our future. Perhaps this waiting will give us further opportunities to witness to others with the faith and hope we have in Christ Jesus. Perhaps this waiting will help us lay down our worries and anxieties and pick up, more fully, greater joy, hope and love found in Him.

I’m not sure about you but I really don’t like to wait. But I can clearly remember pivotal moments when I have waited, and I have seen God’s hand played out in mighty ways. There also have been times when I have rushed ahead and quickly crashed and burned. We have 18 days left to wait until our mandate is over. The reality is, we might be called upon to wait some more. Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, let us wait and watch for God to show his hand. He might have an ace in the hole. My hand? I think I’ll stay!

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 15

The God Who Sees!”

“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

 

Isolation! Some of us have faced more isolation in these last weeks than ever before. Isolation can wreak havoc with our emotions and wellbeing. Even though you might feel isolated today. God sees you! God knows your name and He is with you.

Hagar was an Egyptian maidservant. She was a foreigner and a servant to Sarai, Abram’s wife. Sarai was unable to bear children so Hagar stepped in to be her surrogate. Jealousy arose on both sides. Hagar belittled Sarah. Sarah treated Hagar poorly. Hagar fled. An angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar and told her to return and submit to Sarai. Hagar was told that she would have descendants too numerous to count. Hagar returned to Sarai. She gave a name to the LORD, “Beer Lahai Roi”, for she declared, “You are the God who sees me.”

The Scriptures record this common theme of a foreigner, in isolation, who is seen by God.

Joseph, in the book of Genesis, lived an isolated life. He was emotionally isolated from his family, who as a young boy shared his heavenly dreams. He was isolated again when his brothers threw him into a cistern and had plans to kill him. He was then a foreigner, in isolation as he was thrown into an Egyptian prison being falsely accused of rape. Finally, being exalted to second in command to Pharaoh while being a foreigner and a former slave; welcome isolation!

Yet the Bible tells us that God saw Joseph. God was with Joseph during his turbulent family times. God was with him while being sold into slavery, and while he remained in the Egyptian prison. And God was with him in his exalted position and even brought reconciliation between him and his brothers.

Joseph is one among many, in which God sees an isolated foreigner and draws near.

Moses was a foreigner in the Egyptian Court. He had Hebrew blood but was raised among the Egyptians. After he murdered an Egyptian in defense of a Jew, Moses found himself isolated in the wilderness. He became a foreigner among Jethro’s clan near Mount Horeb. Moses lived a certain isolated existence among Jethro’s people for 40 years. But God saw him. Moses married and became a shepherd but at the right moment, God revealed to him that there would be more. Moses was drawn to a burning bush, in an isolated place and God called Moses to deliver His people. Moses returned and found himself isolated from both the Egyptians and the Hebrew people. He is a foreigner to all involved. Yet God was with him. God saw him and revealed to him his personal name, “Yahweh”. Moses became a friend to God, no longer a foreigner.

Ruth is another example of one found in isolation. Living in a foreign land, she lost everything. Yet God saw Ruth and watched over her. He provided Boaz as her husband and is counted in the generational lineage of Jesus.

Jumping to the New Testament, the boisterous disciple Peter found himself in a foreign place. He was isolated from his brothers. Perhaps he was not isolated physically, but he would have been isolated emotionally. Peter didn’t betray Jesus but he certainly denied him multiple times and the weight of that shame would have generated an uncomfortable social distance more than six feet. Yet on one post-resurrection morning, Scripture tells us that Jesus saw Peter fishing on the water. He calls to him and invites him to breakfast. They share a meal together with the other disciples. Jesus then takes this man in isolation and reinstates him. Jesus re-positions him to lead the fledgling flock. He will be a rock upon which others will receive strength.

God has done some amazing things among men and women in the Bible and in history during a period of isolation.

Martin Luther, the reformer, found himself in isolation. Luther spoke against the abuses of the Catholic Church and quickly found himself a foreigner within his own church. A warrant was finally put out for his arrest and death. Kidnapped by friendlies and held in a castle, he lived under a false name. In isolation and in foreign surroundings, God saw Martin. In the next nine months of isolation, it was there that Martin translated the New Testament Bible into the common German language. It was there that his translation would translate into a change that would affect the entire German landscape. This German Bible would unite a divided people as nothing had ever done in history.

Finally, a contemporary example of our God who sees:

Dallas Jenkins is the current producer for the Biblical video series called, “The Chosen”.  Listening to his testimony, he tells the story of himself isolated in foreign territory as well. His big Hollywood debut was a bomb. A once rising star quickly became a mighty falling star. In a few months, he felt he had lost it all. In this foreign place, feeling isolated from God and himself, God saw Dallas. God met him. And from a mustard seed arose the series, “The Chosen”. He tells the story about how he and his wife, during their devotions, felt drawn to the story of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Gospels. They did not know why. Late one night – during his fourth watch of the night – he received a text from a man who was barely an acquaintance. His text states, “Remember, you are not responsible for feeding the 5,000. Your job is to provide the loaves and fishes!” When Dallas inquired why this man had sent this text, his response came, “I don’t know. God just told me to send it.” Dallas, who is a self-professed Baptist and does not believe in God speaking to people; God sent another, to speak to Dallas for him. In isolation, God remembered him, God saw him, and it is THE marker moment that has transformed his faith. The vision for “The Chosen” is to cover 8 seasons. It will cover the life of Christ and hopefully cover the globe. I can see that!

“See, I am doing a new thing!” – Sorry, that was yesterday’s message. Today’s message is, “See, I see you!” Can you SEE that these messages are the same? That even though you are isolated and in foreign circumstances, God sees you and he wants to do a new thing inside of you?  

The Scriptures tell us that all of us are foreigners in this strange land. We all will face moments of isolation. But God’s clear word to us is, “I See You!” What might HE want to tell you? Create room to listen. Trust me, our God still speaks today! Don’t get caught up in listening for an audible voice. God wants to speak to us more deeply – into our heart – that is where transformation takes place – just ask Dallas. It’s usually a “Still, Small Voice”. Ask him to speak into your heart today.

By faith, Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” Hebrews 11:9

The unbelieving man says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” Ps. 10:11

In Christ, Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 14

“See, I Am Doing a New Thing!”

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18-19

 

Isaiah prophesied to the nation of Israel, while they were in exile, that God was going to make a way for them. Yahweh was going to do a new thing. He was going to make a new path through the desert wasteland. God was going to return Israel home from exile in Babylon through another exodus. Isaiah asks Israel, “Can you not see it nor perceive it? God is doing a new thing. Do not dwell on the past.”

Are you open to new things? Of course, you are open to new things. The better question is, “What new things are you open to?”

We have all found ourselves in a petri dish these past weeks having to adjust to new things. We have been ordered to shut down business, walk away from jobs, stay at home, wear masks, social distance, and a number of other things. This is a new thing. How are you handling it? Listen to God’s promise in the second part of Isaiah 43 verse 19. He says, “I Am (God) making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Know this, in trying times, God continues to show himself in new, life giving ways.

It’s been interesting to watch how our fifty states have reacted to the new things of this pandemic. Governors of the various states have responded and reacted in a variety of different ways. This morning I read an article about the governor from South Dakota. Governor Kristi Noen continues to reject the idea of requiring a state wide “stay at home” order. She is not alone. There are four other states currently, that also are rejecting this mandate. While South Dakota has now been earmarked as a “hotspot” for the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Noen states that the “stay at home” order reflects a “herd mentality”. She believes that the decision to stay at home is up to the individual, not government -to decide whether to exercise one’s right to work, worship, play or even stay at home. The article peaked my interest because my parents are from South Dakota and I still have relatives that live there.

Obviously, other governors feel differently. Washington state Governor Jay Inslee took the opposite approach. While there was great discussion and significant resistance to his mandate, he issued a “stay at home” order for the entire state. Because of his early adoption to new Covid19 information, our state seems to be in the front of the line, flattening of the line of new cases.

I find all the states governors’ responses to this pandemic an interesting case study – responding and reacting to something new.

Studies have determined that when an individual is confronted with something new in life – there are five basic responses. Those five responses can be broken down into the percentages within each category. The top 2% of people are called – “Early Adopters”. These early adopters see something new and immediately are ready to take action and respond. Then there are 20% who are called – “Ready Responders”. This second group is open to taking action but need a little more time and information to respond. The third group is called – “The Crowd”. The crowd makes up 50% of responders and they will either accept or reject the “new” thing based upon quantity and quality of information. The fourth group is called, “Resistant Responders”. This fourth group, which includes another 20%, is firmly positioned to resist the “new” thing – but with much information and time, these resistors can become open to adapting to what new thing is coming. The final group is called, “Never Adopters”. The 2% that make up this group will never accept the new thing.  It doesn’t matter how much information is given, this group rejects the whole idea of the new thing and will do what is right in their own minds.    

Looking at our governors who mandated “stay at home” orders, it seems like the percentages play out pretty closely. There are a few “early adopters” like Inslee and Newsom of California- who I might add, faced a fair amount of opposition in the early days.  A few more “ready responders” like those in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and Ohio. Then there is “the crowd” of governors who followed the wave. A number of governors were “resistant” at the beginning, like Florida and Alabama, but have come around to declare the mandate. And finally, there are a few governors left who have indicated they will never give the order.

This devotion is not just about governors. It is interesting to see the response of the disciples to the new message, that Jesus had risen from the dead. Once again, I would suggest that the percentages play out pretty closely as with the governors.

Mary Magdalene and Peter are definitely “Early Adopters”. They were the earliest to respond to the Good News! The two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus and Doubting Thomas could be seen as “Ready Responders”. They didn’t believe initially, but it didn’t take much for them to turn to the Good News when they heard and saw Jesus. There is “A Crowd” that hears the Good News – that would be the rest of the disciples. But also, the most public crowd reported can be seen on the day of Pentecost. In this crowd, after Peter addresses them with the message that they were witnesses to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead – some people are “cut to the heart”, asking what they must do. Others in the crowd “resist in their heart” and go, report the news to the Religious Leaders. The “Resistant Responders” can easily been seen in Saul, who became Paul. He was completely resistant and began persecuting the new believers. He was committed to destroying the “Way”. But after Jesus appears to him, he becomes the greatest evangelist of the early church. James, the brother of Jesus, was also one who initially resisted the news about Jesus. It took time for him to embrace his brother as the Christ. But James as well, became a leader of the early church. Then we can clearly see the Pharisees and religious leaders are the “Never Adopters”. No matter what miracles or message is proclaimed, they will never believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They will continue to do what is right in their own minds – according to the Law.

So, do you think these percentages apply to us as well? I believe so.  As I said earlier, we are all open to new things. The question is, “What new things are we open to?”

Most of us are open to planting new flowers and new bulbs in our gardens. We are open to new paint on our walls and new appliances in our kitchens. We are open to reading new books and watching new movies. We are open to the birth of a new baby girl or baby boy. We are open to a whole host of new things. But then again, there are a host of things that we potentially are not open to. Not all of us are open to new technology. We like things the way they used to be. We respond differently to new virtual ways to communicate. We react uniquely to new online ways to shop or pay bills. Was your family the first ones to buy a television set? When did you commit to using seat belts in your car? When did you exchange your VHS player for a DVD player, and then the blue ray player? When did you start using sun screen or start scheduling colonoscopies? Or the reality facing us right now, when did you start social distancing or wearing a mask? Some of us still struggle with eating vegetables, not texting while driving and flossing each night.

Given these examples, do you tend to be an “early adopter” or a “resistant responder”? Any of the categories are workable except the category of “Never Adopters”. When we shut down our minds to anything new, nothing fresh and alive is able to move into our lives. And one could argue that the “never” attitude puts others at risk. We can easily spot the “never adopters”. They are the ones who continue to go to the beaches and parks congregating together. They are the ones holding worshipping services indoors with the attitude, “No one is going to tell me what I can do”.  

How about the Christian church in America? The percentages of churches responding in the same pattern is pretty evident. Churches are closing and dying at an alarming rate. Has God left the church or perhaps is God challenging the people of God to consider something new. Some churches are on the forefront of reaching the lost with the Gospel. Other congregations are ready to respond. There are a whole host of churches that are sitting on the fence – waiting, wondering, pondering, reflecting, discussing – but as of yet, really have not made any significant decisions. Time will tell, but time is not on their side. Other congregations focus upon being faithful to their traditions and their past. They are resistant to looking toward the future. But if God reveals himself in a mighty way – those churches could have a mighty witness, following in the footsteps of St. Paul. Then there are those congregations who will reject considering any new thing. They have figured out their response in their own minds and how they understand it is laid out in the Bible. And like the Pharisees, they will miss the new thing in front of them and they will miss Jesus right in the midst of them.  

People of God, new things are happening. Is God doing something new? If He is, how will we respond?  The disciples had to be open to something new to receive the Good News of the resurrection. They also had to remain open to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Do you think that God has stopped doing new things? History records reformers and revivalists bringing something new to the church. Certainly, God continues to do new things. And it requires trust and faith for us to follow him into uncharted waters.

Some might argue, “But wait, God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Yes, it is true that God is the same. But He is the same in that he continues to do NEW THINGS to return us to Christ.  God is doing a new thing that will be the same and never change – bringing salvation to a lost world through Jesus Christ. God asks his church, his body, to participate in this never changing new work.

Today, let the Holy Spirit breathe new life into the words of Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert of Covid19 and streams in the pandemic wasteland.”

Dear Jesus, give us eyes to see whatever new thing you chose to do. Give us hearts ready to respond, and hands ready to serve. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 13

The First Day of the Week

“On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took spices…” Luke 24:1

 

That first Easter morning was full of surprises. Nothing finished as it began. That was God’s plan. The result was more glorious than anyone could imagine. The disciples’ master and friend was truly who he said he was, Savior of the world – and he was ALIVE!

Today is Monday. It is “OUR” first day of the week. While we are still living under the “stay at home” order, memory can quickly remind us that Monday is to be a work day. Few of us are working, but that will ultimately change. For us, Easter is a holiday. It is a day of celebration, rest and time with family. But consider that the first experience of the resurrection happened on a work day. It was the first day of the week, Sunday, when many in Jerusalem would have been preparing to go back to work. Yes, this all occurred during the Passover celebration. But Friday was still a day of preparation for rest. Sabbath day, Saturday, was “thee” day of rest. And Sunday, for many, the essential workers, it was still a time to get back to work. But that work day was interrupted with the most incredible news the world would ever hear. The messengers of God declared the immortal words, “He is not here; he has risen!” There were surprises on that first day of the week that no one saw coming except for God himself.

Well, yesterday – on Sunday, our day of rest and celebration, we had a few surprises. Many of you went to our website looking to watch our Easter service – but just like Jesus’ body, it wasn’t to be found. Strips of linen cloths and pieces of worship could be found and heard, but the full body wasn’t there. Technology crashed at 4:30 a.m. that morning – it delayed our service being posted until 4:30 p.m. Sunday night.

As a side bar, have you ever wondered at what exact hour Jesus’ rose from the dead? I’m pretty sure only God knows. But if I were to wager a guess, I would choose 3:00 a.m. I would say 3:00 a.m. because it is at the fourth watch of the night, when Jesus comes to the disciples, battling the storm of their lives, walking on the water. It is in that moment that Jesus reaches down to save Peter from drowning and rescues the other disciples from the raging storm. He calms the storm with his hands. Then he joins them, climbing into their boat. He breathes peace upon them and over the situation. And in confused exhilaration, celebration erupts among them. That sounds like something that happened in another context on another day. Perhaps that rescue on the Sea happened on the first day of the week.

But one might also argue that Jesus’ resurrection happened the moment right before sunrise. Since the darkest moment is believed to be right before the dawn – it would seem appropriate that Jesus would overcome that darkness right with light, right at that moment.  Whatever the case, our own personal darkest moment occurred at 4:30 a.m. Shock, fear, disappointment – but thanks be to Sharon Hanson for her perseverance and saving the service for us.

Today, most of us think that Easter is now over. But if we follow with that first Easter morning, Easter would take place today, on Monday. And no one would expect it! People today, just like people back in the day, are preparing for their regular life to begin. Truthfully, no one is expecting something special to happen today. What about you? Are you expecting anything special on this first day of the week? Scripture tells us over and over and over (3 times? A hint from yesterday’s devotion) to be watchful, waiting, and on alert. We are told, many times, that the Lord will come on a day when we least expect.

Let it be known that the Easter message has arrived once again on the first day of the week. This Monday morning, the Good News is now available in complete form, on our website, on YouTube for anyone to watch.  Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/PMWVhKvAldg?feature=oembed

Early this morning, I received an email from Jannette Stoneman. She writes, “Pastor Mark, I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate all the effort you have put in to make this holy season meaningful. I have just finished listening and watching the Easter Service. Beginning with Michelle Rockwood’s solo on the French horn, the readers of the gospel, Kristen, Ava, Arnold, Erik, Sig, and you. Then the solo by Sonya Ronning, the sermon and the duet by Anna and Erik and finally the Ronning family; flute, violin, harp and trumpet. Absolutely beautiful. A BIG thank you to all. Love, Janette. (yes, I received permission to repeat this email.)

She watched the 45-minute service, and received the Good News on this first day of the week.

Perhaps it’s waiting for you too.

Let us not be caught off guard, looking at the days ahead, but rather look with anticipation where God will show his hand – full of surprises – whatever day of the week!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

P.S. – Many of our people have expressed gratitude to me for the services throughout Holy Week. But let me express my heartfelt gratitude to Sharon Hanson for her tireless efforts in assembling and recording all the services – every week! As well as Arnold Ronning for reading and compiling the Gospel drama for each service. Thank you to the Ronning family for their wonderful music and reading. As well as Sig Hanson and Michelle Rockwood for their contributions. Delivering this Holy Week to you was a group effort and I am so thankful to be working with such wonderful people! I am blessed to be a part of it all!

 



Pastor Mark’s Easter Devotion

“Three Times”

Remember how he told you…” Luke 24:6

Early, that first Easter morning, Luke records women, who were followers of Jesus, rose in the dark and made their way to the tomb. The women stumbled upon a stone that had been rolled away and a body that had mysteriously disappeared. Suddenly, two angels, gleaming like lightning, appeared and declared the unbelievable news that Jesus was alive. Then God’s messengers said, “Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.” Then we are told, “The women remembered his words”.

As I wrote on Friday, Jesus had been prepared for his death. But it is comforting to know that Jesus also tried to prepare his disciples for his death and resurrection. Three times, at various locations and hours, Jesus forewarned his disciples that He would be arrested, suffer and die – but on the third day be raised to life. On this Easter day, let us remember that Jesus also wants us to be prepared, whether tragedy or triumph. Today, as we center ourselves in Christ, and in his resurrection, no matter what comes, there will be ultimate victory.

It’s interesting that Jesus would speak of his death and resurrection three times. It is also interesting that three times in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus warns his 3 sleeping disciples. He tells them to pray and watch out for temptation. Jesus’ friends were never able to stay awake but it reveals the heart of Jesus. He wanted to prepare his friends for the events of the very near future.  

Even more personally, Jesus forewarns Simon individually. During the Last Supper, after a third discourse about washing feet, Jesus warns Simon that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat. What does “sifting” even mean? Perhaps we can replace the word, “sift” with the verbs, “pulverize” or “crush”. Understanding that Satan has the desire to “crush” Simon is a scary thought. Yet to know that Jesus wanted to prepare Simon, brings great comfort.

It should be noted that while Jesus was wanting to protect Simon, Jesus was preparing for his own “crushing”. You might think of the Garden of Gethsemane primarily as a place where Jesus prayed 3 final prayers to his Father- and that his sweat was like drops of blood. But going even further into the garden, reveals something even greater.  

Jesus gathered in the garden and prayed beneath the olive trees. Olive trees produce olives that when pressed and crushed, produce olive oil. Olive oil was used in anointing. Olive oil was used in anointing kings, anointing for healing, and other special purposes. Olive oil also represented light. Jesus was going to be the anointed King – and it would require a crushing on a cross. He would eventually be anointed King of Kings but it was going to take a mighty crushing in the process. When olives are crushed to produce oil, what process is involved? To extract all the oil from the olives, it requires the olives to be crushed 3 times. There would be three “crushings” required of our Savior – body, mind and spirit – a complete sacrifice to pay the price for sin.

Today is Easter day! May this knowledge of Jesus’ complete crushing and resulting resurrection protect and prepare us for whatever future we might face. May we remember that through his crushing and through his rising, he shines LIGHT upon this world.

So, let us shout three times. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Our anointed King LIVES! And He has CRUSHED DEATH FOREVER!!

Thanks Be to God!

Pastor Mark

 

    



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 11

“Consider Holy Saturday”

“Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.” John 19:42

 

Jesus died on Friday. He arose on Sunday. Have you ever considered what happened on Saturday? Some Christian traditions call it, “Holy Saturday.”  If you are to truly consider Holy Saturday, you must remove thoughts of Easter Sunday because it has not arrived – yet.

Saturday is the time between death and new life. To consider Saturday, your heart is going to be more heavy set because you are going to be wrestling with death more than life. Catholics might want to liken Saturday to purgatory because to them it is the place one rests between death and before heaven.  But since the theme of purgatory cannot be found in the Bible, we do not want to pause on this idea very long. Holy week has been likened to that of a caterpillar going through a metamorphosis. The caterpillar goes through a process and transforms into a butterfly. The demise of the caterpillar happens on Friday. The butterfly beautifully emerges on Sunday. It is the cocoon that remains on Saturday. Have you ever considered what actually occurs in the cocoon? 

What about the time between Winter and Spring? Winter represents death. Spring represents new life. Have you ever considered what happens right at that razor’s edge moment when winter becomes spring? A transformation of buds and flowers will follow, but in that sharpest of moments, Saturday stands.

What about the time between a mother’s heart-breaking miscarriage and the thought of conceiving again? It is on Saturday, when she has to wrestle with the deep loss of life and the longing for new life. The painful question stands, “Should we take another chance?”

For an eight year old boy – Saturday is the time between dropping his ice cream cone on the pavement and wondering whether his father will buy him a new one.

If I were to try to find words that might describe this razor’s edge moment, I would suggest the words, “Painful Hope.” And Saturday would lean toward the pain. The wounds, the memories and the feelings of loss are still so very fresh on Saturday. Yet there is some sense, somewhere in the darkness, that possibly something new might come. Maybe it’s just a faint flicker of light that can easily be quenched – but it still flickers ever so slightly. It’s Saturday. Have you ever considered that “painful hope” is where most metamorphosis takes place? Painful hope is where a change or transformation of attitude, ideas or perspective emerges. Living this painful hope is the preparation and maturation needed to press through into this new life. This path through the cocoon is not easy. The paths through miscarriage and winter and the jumbled miscue of an eight-year-old boy are not either – how could they be. It’s Saturday.

Jesus tells the story of, “The Prodigal Son” – also called, “the Graceful Father.” The Prodigal Son dies on Friday. He dies to himself, when he comes to himself. He sees the death of his soul. Sunday is the day that the prodigal returns home to his Father’s outstretched arms. It’s Sunday that the prodigal is reborn and reinstated as a true heir. But it is Saturday, when the boy is on the road going home. Have you ever considered the conversation the prodigal had with himself on the road? Jesus tells us some of the conversation. There were thoughts of shame, being unworthy, a smell of humility and a taste of brokenness. The son is willing to be his Father’s servant. The prodigal faintly hopes, “If only my Father will allow me to live in the barracks with the other slaves; that would be enough.” But it is Saturday and he is not sure if he has a chance. Perhaps the prodigal gives us a picture of “painful hope.” The pain of looking back at his deathly decisions but somewhere in that darkness, he hopes for a crumb of mercy. Indeed, it’s Saturday.

Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. They would experience Friday, Saturday and Sunday. They have always struggled with God. Sunday would not come until they walked down the road on Saturday. They disobeyed God. That would be the death of the older generation. Friday would arrive. Yet from their death, a new generation would arise – a new birth. Sunday also would arrive. But this new generation would have to suffer on Saturday. It was Saturday that this new generation set up camp on the other side of Jericho. They were leaving the wilderness but they were still a stone’s throw away from the land of milk and honey. Before God would bring them into the Promised Land, a metamorphosis would need to take place. It would be a painful, physical slice, splattered with a bit of hope on its blade. God said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” (Joshua 5:2). Make note of the word, AGAIN. Once again, need I remind you? It’s Saturday. The razor’s edge was once again felt on Saturday.

So here we are today. It’s still Saturday. We feel the pain of no actual treatment for the coronavirus. Too many lives have been lost on Friday. Hope runs thin. There is a glimmer of hope that antibodies and vaccines are in the works. But that hope still seems like a string dangling in the wind. What do we do with this reality on Saturday? It has been said that if one has faith as much as a mustard seed, they could say to this mountain move from here to there, and it will move. Perhaps on this Saturday, even though there is only a tiny hint of honey resting on that Saturday blade – only a tiny bit of honey is all that is needed. That one droplet of honey will get us over the edge to Sunday. How can this be, you might be tempted to ask? Because, it has also been said, that nothing is impossible with God!

And when Sunday arrives, Saturday will be a mere memory. Yes, some scars will remain. Why? They are the testimony to the transformation that just took place.

The truth seems to taste a little sweet and sour. Oh, it’s sweet – trust me, the sour will fade with time.

He Has Risen! He Has Risen Indeed! Hallelujah!

SEE YOU SUNDAY!!

God Bless you all on this Holy Day.

Pastor Mark