Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 30

“The #1 Thing People Want from Their Church”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 2

“Begin with God!”

“In the beginning, God…” Genesis 1:1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 4

“Stay Humble”

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” 1 Peter 5:6

When Dr. Fauci was asked how long this Covid19 crisis will last and how far this virus will spread, he responded, “We must stay humble!” He continued to express our need to stay open, flexible and teachable because there are so many moving parts to this pandemic. Watching our fair share of alpha males wrestling on the mat of our government these past few weeks, it’s a wonder where humility can find its place.

Peter encourages the young and the old in 1 Peter 5:5, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” Humility has a hard time finding its way among us because it is seen as weakness. In our society of winners and champions, often at whatever cost, humility is something to be crushed and destroyed. Yet the Bible tells us that the ultimate victor is the humble of heart – he/she is the one who will rise and be honored.

Does anyone even know how to define humility in a healthy way? Someone might toss out a picture of one who is needy and has low self-esteem. Yes, it can be defined as someone who thinks of themselves as insignificant, but it’s not that simple. Healthy humility holds a tension between; not thinking to highly of oneself, while also not thinking too lowly of oneself. Humility can be described as one who honestly understands that they are in need, yet not needy. Humility requires the ability to take an honest, inward assessment. A person of deep character has humility but it requires raw honesty. Many humble people have found their way the hard way. Hitting rock bottom through some kind of addiction or crisis they are forced to do that kind of honest investigation. Most of us don’t want to look too closely because we are afraid of what we might find – it’s human nature.

Peter encourages us to take an honest inventory without the crisis. He tells us that we will receive grace from God when we recognize our honest need for him. Maybe the picture that needs to pop up in our mind is that of the Prodigal Son. The humbled son, who recognizes his need and acknowledges being unworthy, returns to his Father. The Father receives him with grace. Not only that, but the Father lifts him up as his son and restores him to honor. Peter affirms this picture as he writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Yes, the Prodigal Son is a picture of humility but then again, it is just a parable. St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, gives us a picture of a person who is the real deal. Humility is found in chapter 2, in its ultimate form. Paul writes,

               “Jesus, who being in very nature God; did not count equality with God something to be grasped (selfishly held on to) but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man (human), he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name.”  

Jesus humbled himself. Jesus became fully human. Jesus became fully in need of God; but not needy. Jesus became in need of God for our sake. He let go of eternity and took on flesh. This is why he understands human battles and struggles. Jesus, himself, at times, needed encouragement, help, strength, guidance -and that can be seen as he returns from the temptations in the wilderness and as he climbs the mount of Transfiguration. His Father meets him in his time of need, sends ministering angels, and strengthens him. In due time, Jesus is lifted up and exalted after the humility of the cross.

Healthy humility is waiting for us. It passes through recognizing our need for God and hits the bullseye  in the person of Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to be needy. Let us not be arrogant. But let us truly acknowledge the sacrifice made on our behalf. This picture of Jesus Christ, in our mind’s eye, will keep us humble. And in due time, He will lift us up!


Pastor Mark

Pastor Mark’s Devotions, March 27


“Put on the Full Armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Eph. 6:11

During the Covid19 crisis, we are learning new terms and their meanings. There is no question that people, while they might not comply, understand the meaning of “Safe Distancing”. Also, the phrase, “flatten the curve” will bring a picture to mind not quickly forgotten. Before this pandemic, I could not tell you if I had ever heard the acronym, “PPE”. Now those letters are thrown around regularly and everyone knows what it means; “Personal Protective Equipment”. We are also very aware of the lack of personal gear for our health care providers. When I first heard this term repeated on the news, it seemed a concern that was a healthy distance away. I know that I wasn’t alone. But then I quickly realized the concern is much closer to home. Dawn and my niece, Grace, are on the medical front lines. Grace, my niece, who is an EMT serving the downtown Seattle area, is given one mask per day no matter how many calls. So also, Dawn’s clinic had one box of masks that had to last the entire week for all employees.  

All our health professionals and those serving the public are in great need of greater Personal Protective Equipment. It is no more clear than watching the news and witnessing nurses wrapped in black plastic garbage bags. Prayerfully the Federal Government and private companies will begin flooding the states with the equipment that is needed.

The reality is, we all need Personal Protective Equipment. As Christians, we are called to recognize our need for spiritual protective gear. St. Paul, in chapter 6 of Ephesians, says that we need this equipment in order to protect ourselves from Satan’s scheming. The Bible tells us that Satan is the Father of all lies, who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He wants to destroy our hearts, trample on our faith, and trip up our trust in God. Earlier in chapter 4, Paul states that it is the leadership in the church to help “equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the full measure of Christ. (Eph. 4:12-13) The people of God will not be equipped for works of service nor grow in maturity, if we do not put on the proper personal protective gear. In truth, people are being cut down by our enemy every day! Paul points out that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but similar to Covid19, he is an invisible enemy. We cannot see him coming, but we can clearly see his effects. If the world can acknowledge the effects of this virus and take global action, why is the world so blind to the effects of the spiritual virus, our enemy, Satan?

To protect ourselves against this hidden enemy, Paul says, “Put on the FULL ARMOR of God so that you can take your stand.” We could not conceive of sending our soldiers out on to the battle field without a weapon and proper battle gear. It seems like we are sending our health workers out to the front lines wearing rags like the militia of the Revolutionary War. And the country is up in arms about this tragedy.  So too, we cannot send our fellow believers out into the world without armor and expect them to stand.

Paul states, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Paul identified the personal equipment we need to protect ourselves. Now what? Consider today you are entering bootcamp. Bootcamp is a place where you are broken down, built up, and learn how to become proficient with your armor. Yes, one could argue that it is time we storm the beaches of Normandy. I’m not sure it’s time for a frontal attack. Basic training lasts between 8-12 weeks. It looks like a lot of us could be sheltering in place for 8-12 weeks. Let us use this time to become more mature in the faith. You might have your sights on hoping this crisis disappears as quickly as possible. Friends, another crisis is around the corner. Somehow, somewhere, sometime. A fire, a flood, an earthquake; a cancer diagnosis, a heart attack, a child’s addiction. This time can be training so that no storm nor trial will toss us to and fro. And when we are released, we will move with greater power and purpose. Let our goal drive us to graduate from this basic training with greater faith, deeper trust, broader hope and a convincing confidence in God.

There was a time, and still is in certain countries, where people have to share a Bible. People have to guard the scriptures like they are N95 masks because they are in such short supply. We do not face this crisis. More than likely, you have a Bible sitting on a shelf somewhere. If it has been collecting dust, brush it off and begin reading the Gospel of Matthew. If you’ve already been picking up your weapon – “HOORAH!!” – keep going! Take this time and make this commitment to yourself to read through the entire New Testament. If you can picture me sitting in my home writing this devotion to you, read the Bible like you can picture God dictating something he wants to share from his heart to yours. Bootcamp Christianity begins with being handed the Word of God and gaining a greater familiarity with the character and nature of God – for yourself!  The Word of God is the foundation of our Personal Protective Equipment. Miss this one, and any of us will be fully exposed to our enemy’s schemes. Battle tested by God’s Word with prayer and the Holy Spirit – and bound together – we will be a tough out!

God Bless You All!  Chow is at 0600 hours. See you there!

In Christ, Pastor Mark