Pastor Mark’s Blog
 
 

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 29

“The Water is Running!”

Jesus stood and said with a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within them.”                John 7:37-38

 

Have you ever left the water running? The other day I was watering my petunias. I put the hose down and some weeds pulled my attention away from that task. Then I became distracted with a pile of debris on the side of the house. That distraction led to a few other random chores. Needless to say, I never returned to turn off the running water. It ran all night! I didn’t realize the water was running until I went outside in the morning. It made me sick to think about all those gallons of water just pouring out onto the ground.

22 years ago, I stood in front of a fountain in St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The fountain was a drinking fountain. Water flowed from that fountain continuously – 24 hours a day. I remember thinking about all those gallons of water than ran nonstop and very few people were interested to take a drink. It was a holy place and I wanted some holy water, so I put my mouth under the spigot. I was surprised. It ran hard and fast and splashed all over my face.  

In John chapter 7, Jesus calls the crowd in Jerusalem to come take a drink of the running water. He was not referring to water that ran from a hose or a drinking fountain but that flowed from his Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted people to know and understand and experience the fulfillment of drinking spiritual water. Jesus cried out to the crowd, WITH A MIGHTY VOICE, as if to say, “LISTEN UP and PAY ATTENTION!!” He said, “IF ANYONE IS THIRSTY, LET THEM COME TO ME AND DRINK.”  Then he declared, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN ME, STREAMS OF LIVING WATER WILL FLOW FROM WITHIN THEM.” Jesus revealed the truth that if anyone comes to Jesus and believes in Jesus, not only will they be filled, but living water will flow from within them.

Years ago, I remember thinking about the challenges of preparing and preaching a sermon every week. I thought, “If I am going to be a pastor for another 20 years, that means I’m going to have to come up with over 1000+ more sermons. How am I going to be able to do that?” Suddenly, a picture of an outside water spigot came to mind. I realized that the water at that spigot is always available. If I get thirsty or dehydrated, it’s because I do not have my mouth in position to drink. Then I realized that the issue wasn’t for me to come up with one thousand messages. The issue was whether I was going to drink and receive the flowing from the Spirit. And then it hit me, the messages and all of life flows from the Spirit. The pressure was gone and the pursuit was on – continue to drink! I quickly felt the Spirit tell me, “If you continue to drink, you will never run dry!” Wow, what an incredible gift and revelation. A mental picture has remained and sustained me over all these years. The picture has me leaning down under the spigot, water is gushing out, I’m drinking, and the force of water is splashing all over my face. Just like it did at St. Peter’s Square.    

This is day 75 for these daily devotions. Some people have wondered how I can continue to crank these out every day. There is only one way. I’ve been drinking from the fountain. This isolation, has allowed me to intentionally drink more deeply. Worship, reading, praying, resting, and writing have been key postures that put me under the spigot.

How about you? Are you thirsty? The water is running. The truth is, the water will never stop flowing. Jesus invites you, “Come take a drink.” The Spirit of God wants to pour himself into you. Let’s drink TOGETHER. Streams of living water are waiting to flow and splash all over your face. Thank you LORD!

God Bless You All!  

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 28

“Ride On”

“Sing to God, sing praises to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds –                                                   his name is the LORD, Yahweh – and rejoice before him.” Psalm 68:4

This morning I went on a ride with James and Jon. Two other disciples of Jesus rode along as well.       

No, I was not dreaming, my gluteus maximus is clearly telling me that this ride was real. James reached out to me earlier in the week and invited me on a motorcycle ride. Three others heard about the call. No, it was not Peter, Andrew, and Bartholomew. Rather, they were, brother Bruce, Dave and Jon. So, we 5 disciples met on Thursday at 8 a.m., and rode off from the church.

As we rode away, Jon took the lead. He knew the way. We were going to ride the backroads to Bellingham. We had been on these roads before but not since last summer. It was a beautiful morning. This was my first ride of the season. We rode up Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11) and it was as if we owned the road. Not another car was seen on that entire stretch of pavement. The quiet twists and turns under the canopy of trees was awesome. A cool breeze accompanied us the entire way. We had been this way before, so it was fun to relive the familiar view. We stopped at Starbucks in Fairhaven for coffee. After the break, we talked about the route for our return trip. If I had led, I would have simply returned the way we came. But as we left the parking lot, James took the lead. He took a left at the light.

We went under the freeway and suddenly, for me, we were riding in unfamiliar territory. I had not been on this road before. At the top of the hill, we rode past Lake Padden. The road opened up and twisted around a hill and down into open country. James led us along the south end of Lake Sammish, through Alger, passed Avalon and brought us back into Sedro Wooley. I’ve lived in this area for over 12 years, but this was the first time down this small stretch of road. As we entered back into familiar territory, brother Dave rode up alongside me and declared, “THAT WAS FUN!!” To which I couldn’t have agreed more.

The familiar roads are enjoyable. But today, I was reminded how enjoyable the unfamiliar road can be a well. The key is appreciating the ride for the sake of the ride – and sharing that ride with the people you care about.

Back in the day, Jesus went on a ride with his 12 disciples. He rode into Jerusalem for the sake of the ride. And yes, he cared about his disciples. The crowds were singing and shouting, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” This was a familiar road. Jesus had entered Jerusalem many times before. He knew the pavement. He also had entered towns and villages to excited and exuberant crowds. But after a rest stop on Thursday in an upper room; after food and fellowship, and drink, and much more, Jesus was about to ride down an unfamiliar road. For the moment, Judas would take the lead. He would leave the parking lot and take a left at the light. For Judas, this left would lead him to destruction. For Jesus, it was an unfamiliar road that would lead him to the cross yet lead us to salvation. He had been destined, forever, to ride down this road. For a few days, this road would test Jesus to his limits. But through this most difficult pain and ride of suffering, the road would open up for others who would come behind him. These followers would experience the ride of their lifetime! Jesus’ disciples would continue to ride down unfamiliar roads. Some stretches filled with enormous joy. Other stretches fill with great challenges and suffering. But they all knew the meaning behind the ride. They also knew that they did not ride alone. They rode with the love of their Savior, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They rode together. They also were willing to share that road with whoever wanted to ride along.

Soon, we will be allowed to get back on the roads. We all will not be riding motorcycles, but we will be returning to familiar experiences and memories. We will ride these roads, taking deep breaths and appreciating more fully what we all once had. We will realize that we have taken much too much for granted, and recognize that our days can be fleeting. But, let us not just ride down the familiar roads. If Jesus leads, He will inevitably take us down unfamiliar paths as well. He will take us places that we have not been before. He will lead us through twists and turns so that we can more fully appreciate the ride. He will show us beauty that we have never experienced before. And yes, at times, he will reveal some sacrifices that will have to be made, and that are necessary to travel that road.

Once you experience the glory of the open road, it continues to call you back. And that beckoning will include both the familiar and unfamiliar.

I look forward to continuing our ride together – perhaps it is a road less traveled!

Hey, James and Jon – thanks for taking the lead on our bikes! I’ll follow you guys any day.

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

P.S. – As this devotion was forming in my head during our ride. This familiar hymn continued to ring in my ears. I want to share it with you today.

Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry.

O Savior meek, pursue your road. With palms and scattered garments strowed.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;

O Christ, your triumphs now begin. O’er captive death and conquered sin.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! The winged squadrons of the sky.

Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes, to see th’approaching sacrifice.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! Your last and fiercest strife is night;

The Father on his sapphire throne, expects his own anointed Son.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;

bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, your pow’r and reign.



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 27

“God on Display”

“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” Psalm 77:14

 

God delivered the people of Israel from Egypt by performing miracles of great power. God delivered 10 plagues that put God’s power on display for all to see. This displayed power led to Israel’s freedom.

In Psalm 77, King David recalls God’s great power. He writes, “I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.” (77:11). He goes on to say, “Your ways, O God, are holy. What god is so great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (77:13)

God’s power can be seen on display in the past. His power can also be seen on display in creation. Paul writes in Romans 1:20, “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.”

Beyond creation, God’s power can be seen on display through the cross. Even though the world considers the cross foolishness, Paul says that it is the power of God for all who are saved. He says that the Jews seek miraculous signs and the Greek look for wisdom but they are ignorant of God’s ways. Paul states, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.”

God’s power is even displayed in Paul’s weakness. Paul learns more about God’s power as he prays for healing. He describes pleading with God, 3 times regarding a “thorn in his flesh.” But God wants Paul to understand the perfect display of God’s power. Paul records God’s reply, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Additionally, Jesus tells his disciples that God’s power will be put on display when the promised gift of the Father comes upon them. Jesus states, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Jesus describes that they will put God’s power on display when they have received the Holy Spirit and witness about the truth. This takes place when Peter and John heal a lame man in the temple courts. They are brought before the Sanhedrin and asked by what power this man was healed. Peter responds, “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” (Acts 4:10)

Peter and John put God on display in front of a powerful group of men, in a mighty way.

But this week, I watched a news story about Monica Salinas. Monica displayed God in a mighty yet very ordinary, unassuming way.

Monica is a delivery driver for Amazon. She was bringing a delivery to the home of Lucas Pearson. Lucas is an 8-month old baby with a critical heart condition. His health makes him extremely vulnerable to Covid19. Because of this vulnerability, Lucas’ parents have only been ordering food and supplies to the house throughout this pandemic. That day, when Monica delivered the supplies to Lucas’ family, something special happened. Something special was recorded; unbeknownst to Monica. When Lucas’ mom looked through the doorbell camera, she realized that Monica was doing something besides delivering the order. In a wonderful, simple, yet mighty way, God was put on display. For Monica paused and prayed to God for little Lucas and his family. This small gesture was caught on camera and has allowed millions of people to see God displayed through a loving, humble believer.   

Thank you, Monica for your humble, quiet, faithful example that has set God on a platter for so many to see.  

Let us Pray:

“Thank you, Father, for being worthy of all our praise! Thank you for being our Provider and Protector! Guide us, that we may put you on display in simple ways, in ordinary ways, in any way that will lift you up. In Jesus’ Name.” Amen.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark     



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 26

“Loaves and Fish”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16

 

Midway through the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is going to test the disciples understanding of God’s Kingdom. In chapter 14, Jesus withdraws, by boat, to a private place after hearing about John the Baptist’s beheading at the hand of King Herod. Crowds of people follow him on foot. When he lands on shore, the people are waiting for him. He has compassion for them and heals their sick. As evening approaches, the disciples approach Jesus with a concern. They say to him, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” (Matthew 14:15)

Jesus responds, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples answer him, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” (Matthew 14:16)

At this halfway point, as there are 28 chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, you could almost call this, the story’s, “Halftime.” Jesus is looking for rest. Up to this point, he has been preaching, teaching and healing the sick. He has called his 12 disciples and has been carrying on his mission non-stop. In this moment, Jesus wants a break. But the crowds don’t back down. Instead, they track him down. Then when evening comes, and the disciples come with their concern, Jesus moves in to see about their understanding of the Kingdom. Keep in mind, that at this point, Jesus has already sent his disciples out on an internship. In chapter 10, Matthew records Jesus giving the disciples authority over evil spirits and their ability to heal every disease and sickness. He sent them out without any money or supplies. Jesus said, “As you go, preach this message: ‘the kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, rive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” The disciples have already experienced God’s supply in the midst of scarcity. Then, in chapter 13, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of God. He speaks to them in parables and compares the kingdom to a Sower and seed. He goes on and uses the examples of weeds, mustard seed, yeast, and a net, to further teach kingdom principles.

Now with a throng of thousands surrounding them and with virtually no food whatsoever, Jesus challenges the interns to provide food for the crowd. They still have much to learn. Instead of turning to Jesus, trusting him to provide, they despair over their tiny supply of bread and fish. This test exposes that the Kingdom has not yet penetrated the hearts of his students. They will need the second half of the mission to grow more fully into the knowledge of God’s power. But truthfully, the full experience of God’s power will not be fully realized until the event of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It is then that the disciples will walk in boldness and confidence, knowing God’s Kingdom power and provision.

Last night I watched a video clip on YouTube entitled, “The Story Behind, ‘The Chosen’.” Dallas Jenkins is the director and producer for this Gospel series.  As the story goes, Dallas Jenkins was an up and coming Hollywood producer. He had been noticed by a number of powerful people in the film industry who wanted to support him. He thought this was his great moment. They produced a film entitled, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.” This film was going to launch his career to new heights. The film did not do well at the box office. In fact, Jenkins recalled that the film crashed and burned so mightily that he believed his future in Hollywood was over. He returned home to lick his wounds. While he and his wife prayed and sought God for greater understanding in this disaster, they both were drawn to Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. They didn’t really understand the deeper significance of the story, but they knew God was wanting to reveal something to them.

Jenkins recalled that the very same night, while he was at his desk at 3:00 am (I might add, the fourth watch of the night), he received a text message. It was from a person he called, “an acquaintance.” He had not spoken to this person in quite some time and would not really even call him a friend. Jenkins said that this text arrived completely out of the blue and read,

“Remember, it’s not YOUR job to feed the 5,000. Your job is to bring your bread and fish.”

 Jenkins was dumbfounded and replied,

“What led you to say that?”

The return text said,

“Wasn’t me – I felt led to tell you that right now.”

Jenkins testified that in this most dark moment of his life, God met him at 3 am. He said that this moment would mark his life and he would never be the same. He says that he approaches everyday with great peace, knowing that it is not his job to feed the 5,000. His job is simply to provide what loaves and fish he has. If he does that, he trusts God to do the rest.

From this new enlightened kingdom principle, Jenkins entered into “The Chosen” series with complete trust. He and his crew would bring what they have, and God would do the miracle. Since that time, they have witnessed God’s miraculous provision over and over again. They have faced many untold challenges, yet God has continued to provide, often at the eleventh hour. They are currently preparing for season 2, with the hope of filming 8 seasons. Over 33 million people around the world have visited the site and more are viewing it every day. They are the number one publicly funded series in film history.

We are sure to face many tests and challenges on our own journey of faith, especially in the midst of this pandemic. But may we hold on to this kingdom principle of Christ. May we also be encouraged from this living testimony from Dallas Jenkins. Let us offer whatever loaves and fish we have, and let us trust Jesus to provide the rest.

Let the third quarter begin!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 25

“A New Birth of Freedom”

“For freedom Christ has set us free” Galatians 5:1

 

Today, Frank Devita turned 95 years old. He is a veteran of World War II. There are not too many Frank Devita’s left. Of the 16 million men and women who wore a uniform during the war, there are only a few hundred thousand left alive.

Six years ago, Frank Devita returned to the beaches of Normandy. He was an eighteen-year old kid from Brooklyn, New York, as he aided the assault upon Omaha Beach on D Day, June 6, 1944. He served in the Coast Guard and was part of a landing craft crew. They returned to their ship 12 times in order to retrieve soldiers and continue the assault upon the Atlantic Wall. With fortified German defenses, and machine gun bullets constantly blazing by both ears, Devita described being dumbfounded how he ever survived that day. NBC News Anchor, Tom Brokaw, was with Devita on Omaha beach that day six years ago. Brokaw asked Devita what lesson should be taken away from that historic moment of D Day? Devita humbly replied, “Love your freedom!” He continued, “We all fought for your freedom!”

After hearing Devita speak of freedom, on this Memorial Day, I was moved, once again, to read Abraham Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address. How is it that one can immediately be moved by a simple description of the passage of time? But something is triggered and stirred whenever I hear or read the words, “Four score and seven years ago.” It is not that these numbers, in and of themselves are sacred. But it is the depth of content that is moving. And it is this depth and content that moved a country in a desperate time to a higher ideal. This content continues to move people today. These 272 words of Lincoln have resonated in the hearts of individuals and raised the attention of every generation since, as if it is holy text. This faith-filled president humbly and succinctly called the current generation and future generations to consider what is hallowed. Four months after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln stood on the ground upon which 10,000 soldiers gave their lives along with 30,000 more casualties. He quickly confirmed that the ground they were standing upon, had already been consecrated by the blood shed and lives lost in battle.

Then President Lincoln, with precision, called the crowd and the nation to conceive of something beyond the soldier’s sacred sacrifice. He called them to consider a calling beyond themselves. He challenged them to not let these lives be lost in vain. He set forth a vision, called out from an ancient truth. He declared, “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

Lincoln’s call to a new birth of freedom, harkened back to a higher, richer, deeper call cried out ninety-three score and 15 years ago. Jesus called out for a new birth of freedom to be advanced in the heart of each individual soul. And these new souls birthed in this new found freedom would build a kingdom unlike any known before. Unlocked and unleashed in these new hearts would be a force of love that would be undeniable. A nation of believers would be lifted up to live a life greater than themselves. This new birth of freedom would be defined by self-sacrifice and obedience to the call. Jesus, living this charge, would model this new birth of freedom by example. And in only a few words, he would crystalize the content of this new birth. Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

St. Paul echoed these words of freedom and this new birth in his book to the Galatians. He stated simply, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1). But these seven words have left a score of interpretations that have left the call incomplete. Often, these few words of Paul calling for freedom, have left people returning to the old, familiar ways of self-service. Self-sacrifice and surrender to a higher ideal becomes lost in the hot pursuit of simple self-satisfaction and the right to do so. Paul tried to point his people to live a life beyond self, into a new birth of faith lived out in love–a life and love found and established in the person and service of Jesus Christ.

Let freedom ring. Today, we hear many voices speak of freedom. On this Memorial Day, may the words of Frank Devita, President Abraham Lincoln and our Savior Jesus Christ continue to speak. May we love the freedom that has been given to us. May we give thanks for all the men and women who have fought valiantly and sacrificially for this freedom. May we pray for a new birth of freedom in our country. May hearts and minds be lifted to a higher ideal and greater cause in unity. And may we extol praise to the One who laid down his life and sacrificed himself for the cause of our eternal salvation.

Let freedom ring. Let freedom reign. Let our freedom ring in a new birth.

God Bless You and God Bless America!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 24

“70”

The land enjoyed it’s sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” 2 Chronicles 36:21

 

The southern tribes of Israel lived in exile for 70 years. Due to Israel’s idolatry, God allowed the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, and his army to destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The remaining Jews were deported to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah tried to warn the Jews of their impending doom, but they would not listen. Even though God’s people were unfaithful, God still remained faithful! Even though the Jewish captivity began in 597 B.C., God promised that they would return to the City of Zion in 70 years. God is faithful to his promises. When Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered the Babylonians, in 538 B.C., he declared an edict allowing the Jews to begin their migration back to their homeland. Ezra 1:1 described this moment, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom.” King Cyrus would also oversee the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezra records, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2)

The final verse of 2 Chronicles 36 mirrors the declaration found in the book of Ezra. King Cyrus says, “The LORD… has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.” (2 Chron. 36:23)

This Sabbath day is the 70th day of these devotions. It’s been 10 weeks since Governor Inslee declared the edict to “Stay at Home”. Inslee’s order, was in essence, sending us into exile to our homes. Today, all 50 states are being allowed to return from this captivity on a variety of mitigated levels, to resume a touch of normalcy.

In returning to this account of King Cyrus, 2 Chronicles 36:21 caught my attention. This verse begins, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests…” For 70 years, the land remained quiet and at peace. Jerusalem remained in rubble for 70 years, but we are told that the land was at rest and found joy.

From all respective reports, it seems that today, this land, our land, has also enjoyed it’s sabbath rests. Not seventy years but in 70 days, global reports regarding air quality, seem to be sending us the message that mother earth has also been enjoying this 10-week respite. In fact, even animals in the wild, have been enjoying greater grazing and are flourishing while the national parks have remained at rest. 

But as human beings, how have we landed after 70 days? It’s definitely a mixed bag. If we have lost a loved one due to this pandemic, this rest has been devastating. If we have lost jobs, our small business, or our financial security, this rest can feel like a nightmare. But if our basic life needs have remained intact, I wonder if there is room to receive more. If not from the land, perhaps we can learn from our LORD. Both of them seem to understand the importance and meaning of rest. Sabbath rest is to be a time of renewal.  Most of the time, it seems that we don’t have time for that. This issue of time and renewal, some would say, is the most significant issue of our time. The pace of life continues to speed up and the temptation to not turn from pushing the pedal to the metal, is too strong.

We are returning from exile. Whether the President or the governor gives the declaration, my question is; what have we learned – as a nation, a community, a church or personally in these 70 days? I’m still trying to reason my way through this mosaic. I’m still trying to remain open to the Spirit of God to teach and remind and reveal to me what I need to know. Moving forward, I don’t like to be cooped up. Yet, looking back, I have found great joy and peace in the last week’s quiet pace. And it very well could be that we will have to move back in order to deal with something that got in front of us. I pray that will not be the case. But I also pray that I take new knowledge and understanding forward in this maze of reorientation. Can you synthesize your emotions, movements and marker moments in these past 70 days? For me, it’s still a work in progress.

If I take a rest and take a look at our LORD, I think I find the nugget I’m looking for. Whether Jesus was running or resting, the piece parts of his life always point back to relationships. Jesus would find himself removed from heaven and having to deal with the rubble in his own hometown. He would face disturbances in the synagogue, at the Temple and in front of the Roman governor on the stone Pavement. Amidst that rubble of rejection and rebuke, Jesus returned to a landing he recognized. He steadied himself and found rest in life renewing relationships. Relationships that centered first and foremost with his Father. But those relationships also extended to others with open hearts and open minds seeking for truth.

Looking ahead, we will continue to wrestle with the stops and starts of returning to life without restrictions. More edicts are sure to come. Let us not be quick to run back to our normal life as it was before. May we return a bit more cautious, ready to remove and uncover more from the rubble. We have much to learn from our Father’s fundamental edict: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. May we rest and wait and find joy in this one most important declaration.

I’m glad to be piecing this together with all of you!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 23

“Hotspots”

“Now, the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians,

for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day

to see if what Paul said was true.

Acts 17:10-11

 

The term “hotspots” has taken on new meaning over the last few weeks. If you hear the term on the news these days, it will relate to a new outbreak of Covid19 in some part of our country. As of five hours ago, Florida and Texas are states that have been identified as having new “hotspots”. Globally, Brazil and Russia are “hotspots” as new cases and more deaths continue to grow in number.

If you talked about “hotspots” in February, everyone would assume you were talking about Wi-Fi connections. This kind of hotspot relates to a physical location serving as an access point to connect various devices to each another using Wi-Fi.

If you talked about “hotspots” last summer, people would assume you are talking about wildfire containment. 

What if I throw out another meaning for the term, “hotspot”? Hotspots were popping up all over the ancient world after the event of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out upon the disciples at Pentecost. They were filled with new tongues, new power, and a new boldness to testify about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. After that, the spread of believers was growing on a daily basis. Jerusalem was the first “hotspot”, but spots continued to emerge in more and more cities. Even as the religious leaders tried to quarantine Peter and John, and contain the spread of the message, they couldn’t stop it. People were being cut to the heart. Miracles were mighty. Boldness was being prayed for and embraced. The Sanhedrin had a contagion on their hands and they had no idea what to do. They whipped and beat these new believers and continued to throw them into isolation but nothing seemed to stop the spread. Acts 8:1 describes what happened when they tried to exert increasing pressure to shut it down: “On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.” Acts 8:4 states, “Those who had been scattered, preached the word wherever they went.” The apostle Philip went down to Samaria and spread the faith among all the people. Even Simon, the Sorcerer, caught the Spirit and was baptized. Great signs and miracles surfaced wherever the message was shared. (Acts 8:13) An Ethiopian eunuch that was headed home was not only exposed, but became a believer and was baptized. The place was so hot that even the greatest Law enforcement officer, Saul, the Pharisee, was hammered by the Savior. Saul was headed to Damascus, to isolate and contain the new believers and place them in mandatory quarantine. While on the way he was struck by the One leading the Way. He was hit so hard that he was blinded and needed help to get into town. The experience was so profound that his name was changed to Paul, and it reoriented the rest of his life.  

Hotspots continued to pop up in Lydda, Joppa, and Caesarea. It spread to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch.

Acts chapter 17 does describe a people in Thessalonica that displayed an immunity to the message. Brother Paul and Silas had to leave at night and travel to Berea. But the Bereans caught the full brunt of the Word. Acts 17:11 states, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans put Paul through the full measure of testing to make sure he was truly containing the truth. And he tested positive! The conditions were right. Acts 17:12 confirms, “Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.”

Since then, hotspots have continued to pop up in unknown places among unknown people for the last 2,000 years. And the Word has continued to spread. No one has been able to quarantine the Word. Hotspots continue to emerge.

Will hotspots pop up in Stanwood and Camano Island? Will it surface in the “Rain Shadow”? Will a hotspot emerge at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church? With all our hearts. Let us pray, “Please, Yes, Lord Jesus. Let the spread of your Word move in us and through us. Let the truth infect our hearts and the rest of the globe.”

Can you feel it? It’s starting to warm up!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 22

“Testimony”

“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to

give the reason for the hope that you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

 

In the Spring of 2014, Jeriah and I were sorting out potential colleges to which she might apply. She had her wish list of schools. She also had her realistic list of schools. But no where on the list was Whitworth University. Whitworth was a small Christian school, in Spokane. We knew a number of people who attended that school but Jeriah had high aspirations to study science. We made the assumption that larger schools had stronger science programs. We were praying hard through this process, because we wanted a school that would challenge her academically, yet not trivialize her faith.

One fateful morning, Michael McCune showed up at church. Michael was attending Whitworth at the time. After church, we were all in the right place at the right time. Michael asked Jeriah about her future plans. She talked about her ambitions in science and brought up various schools. Michael suddenly became pretty excited. He began to enthusiastically describe Whitworth’s science program. He wasn’t in that area of study but was quite familiar with it. He acknowledged that it was a small school but they had a great science program. He said that the program kind of flies under the radar. He encouraged Jeriah to put Whitworth on her list. He also said that he could set up an appointment with one of the leading professors in the program. Whitworth was not even on our radar, but suddenly because of Michael’s testimony, it was now on the list.

That summer, Jeriah and I drove to Spokane to visit the Whitworth campus and meet Dr. “K”. As we arrived on campus, the winds picked up and it began to rain. The wind blew so hard that it was picking up chairs and tables and throwing them across the quad. As we were running for cover, suddenly a large fir tree in the center of campus snapped like it was a match stick. Lighting was cracking and thunder was exploding. I had never been in such a fierce storm that came on so suddenly. In the midst of this wild storm, we were able to find the science building. We walked to the basement and located the office of Dr. “K”. It was Friday afternoon. He greeted us warmly with a smile. He asked Jeriah about her goals and he seemed genuinely interested. I will always remember that first picture of walking into Dr. K’s office. He had science books and papers smeared across his desk. But alongside those books was a Bible and a Bible Commentary. In our discussion, he explained that he was preparing for a Bible study he was teaching at his church on Sunday morning.

My heart immediately paused, “Lord, is this the place you want Jeriah?” I thought, “Is this the space where science and faith are being held together?” As fate would have it, Jeriah would not be accepted to her dream schools – Princeton and Stanford were not interested in the girl from Stanwood. Rather she was accepted and would attend Whitworth University. Ironically, she would later find out that her two most influential professors had both graduated from Princeton and Stanford. Rather than being taught by teacher assistants in these larger schools, Jeriah was blessed to be one on one with professors from these world class institutions. Jeriah would also learn later that they left these larger institutions so that they could invest more directly into student’s life and be free to share their faith more openly.

The disappointment over “dream schools” quickly disappeared and in the coming years, we witnessed God’s guiding hand in many and various ways. Opportunities opened up for her to study in Florida, return to Stanford, and travel to Chile, among other things. As she just finished her first year of graduate studies in New York, these years have not always been easy. But God knew that Whitworth was the perfect place for Jeriah to study, grow and develop both academically and in faith. And Whitworth was the perfect place to set the table for Jeriah’s larger dreams. Over these past six years, we can give testimony and witness to the fact that God’s hand has continued to lead, guide, and provide for her in incredible ways.  

Below is a link to Dr. K’s faith testimony that is in the current issue of Christianity Today. I hope you will take the time to read his testimony and be strengthened in your own faith. The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ continues to call and transform people’s lives.  

Perhaps take a moment today and consider your own testimony. We all have one. What has been your journey of faith to know Jesus Christ? Identify a few marker moments that are easy to remember, jot them down – so that when someone asks you the reason for the hope that you have, you will be prepared to give an answer.

https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2020/may-web-only/kamesh-sankaran-humbling-proud-hindu.html?fbclid=IwAR3lXPhpeMTgOgsDQTexvhn69p5WfgtnLVWdYY9D001iwTPYO938HlYVqMA

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 21

“Grace”

“It is by grace that you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:8

 

A simple definition of Grace is “unmerited favor”. We are saved by God’s grace. We have done nothing to earn this salvation, but have received God’s unmerited favor as a gift. Jesus Christ died that we might live! Because so much of our lives center around “getting what we deserve” – grace can be a difficult concept to fully grasp. Yet, during this pandemic, there have been many stories of grace that have been shared. From employers, to the unemployed, students, sick patients, food service and strangers; many have experienced unmerited favor during this crisis. Unfortunately, many have not experienced a touch of grace. Let us look for stories of grace, share stories of grace, be stories of grace – and by the grace of God – live to tell his story of grace.

Recently, I came across this story. I thought I would share it with you today.

UNEXPECTED GRACE

I left work early so I could have some uninterrupted study time right before the final in my Youth Issues class. When I got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The teacher came in and said he would review with us for just a little bit before the test. We went through the review, most of it right on the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that I had never heard of. When questioned about it, he said that they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. We couldn’t really argue with that.

Finally, it was time to take the test.

“Leave them face down on the desk until everyone has one and I’ll tell you to start,” our prof instructed.

When we turned them over, every answer on the test was filled in! The bottom of the last page said the following:

“This is the end of the Final Exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an ’A’ on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A. You have just experienced…grAce.”

He then went around the room and asked each student individually, “What is your grade? Do you deserve the grade you are receiving? How much did all your studying for this exam help you achieve your final grade?”

Now I am not a crier by any stretch of the imagination, but I had to fight back tears when answering those questions and thinking about how the Creator has passed the test for me.

Discussion afterward went like this: “I have tried to teach you all semester that you are a recipient of grace. I’ve tried to communicate to you that you need to demonstrate this gift as you work with young people. Don’t hammer them; they are not the enemy. Help them, for they will carry on your ministry if it is full of GRACE!”

Talking about how some of us had probably studied hours and some just a few minutes but had all received the same grade, he pointed to a story Jesus told in Matthew 20. The owner of a vineyard hired people to work in his field and agreed to pay them a certain amount. Several different times during the day, he hired more workers. When it was time to pay them, they all received the same amount. When the ones who had been hired first thing in the morning began complaining, the boss said, “Should you be angry because I am kind?” (Matthew 20:15).

The teacher said he had never done this kind of final before and probably would never do it again, but because of the content of many of our class discussions, he felt like we needed to experience grace.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Today, thank your Savior for the grace you have experienced. He loves you so very much!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 20

“Rebuilding”

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us hold one another accountable.

Let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Let us not be intimidated.

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark