Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 21

“We’ve Been Here Before!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 8

“V-V Day”

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray…” 2 Chron. 7:14

Today, May 8th, is the 75th Anniversary of V-E Day. This day marks the end of World War II in Europe, known as “Victory Europe”. The youngest living veterans of this foreign war are nearing 92 years of age. Needless to say, there are not too many veterans left alive. The war, to be remembered for the ages, that cost nearly 70 million lives, is nearly forgotten by younger generations. Soon, museums will be the ones left to tell their story.

Recently, I listened to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s speech following the signing of Germany’s unconditional surrender in Reims, France. He talked about the “togetherness“of those soldiers who fought on land, in the air, and on the sea. Together, they were able to overcome a terrible enemy. Together they were able to establish peace on European soil. The war was not completely over, for victory over Japan – “V-J Day” would not arrive until August 15, 1945.

Some have stated that we are at war with the coronavirus. Is that true? Are we together, as a nation, in that declaration? I’m not sure. If we are, it feels more like the Vietnam War than World War II. The Vietnam War did not unite the nation. The Vietnam War divided the nation. The Vietnam War was confusing, unclear, and troublesome. The soldiers of that war came home to little appreciation and much hostility. There were terrible casualties in both wars. But in the former conflict, they fought together. The enemy was clear. The objective was without question. The cost would be mighty. But those on land, in the air and on the sea – so also those at home – would make sacrifices, work together, and wrestle the dragon to the ground.

If we are at war, this is a new war. It is a war we have not seen before. We face, for all practical purposes, an invisible enemy. In former world wars, the nation was called to action. People of all kinds were put to work to achieve the common goal of freedom. In this war today, most people are called to inaction. People are called to sit on their hands and watch their life savings and small business’ dreams wash down the drain. There seems to be a growing fight among ourselves rather than against this coronavirus because there is no clear objective.

V-V Day will arrive. The Victory over the Virus will be celebrated. But when will that victory be achieved? It seems that the coronavirus will be unwilling to sign off, until a vaccine is found. But when the vaccine is found, will that mark the end of the war or symbolically like taking of the beaches at Normandy? Right now, if we have secured the beaches, it seems like a lot of people are satisfied to slather on sunscreen and play in the surf. But the truth is, we have yet to organize an assault on Normandy. The time has not yet come. And when we do have a vaccine, and when we execute the assault on Omaha and Utah beaches, we will still be a long way from Berlin. The good news is that a vaccine means that the days for Covid19 are numbered. The bad news is that there will be more casualties on the road to that victory.  

This new war is challenging everything we know about how to fight. We must determine new technology and acquire new insights to combat our foe. But is there anything we can carry forward from those who have fought before us? The word from the Supreme Allied Commander, is still ringing in my ears; “Togetherness”. If there is one truth to take away from a World War that inflicted massive casualties, let it be a commitment to fight together. This fight will not be identified by those soldiers who fought on land, in the air, and on the sea. Rather, this new war will require those in politics, in financial markets, in medical fields – and all of us around the country, to come together to win this war.

Many challenges face us in these coming months. But if we attack these challenges together, by God’s grace, we can save lives, restore peace, and perhaps find greater unity than our divided past.

This unity will only be found by God’s grace. Just as God led this nation through World War II, God is the one who will unite our nation and provide vision for our future.

As people of God we must pray! We must pray for God to press in upon his people. We must pray for the leaders of our nation and for all our people, to live in humility and unite together.  

After King Solomon finished building the Temple in Jerusalem and his royal palace, God came to Solomon. He said that he had heard Solomon’s prayer. God also promised in times of plague and hardship, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Let us pray for humility. Let us pray for unity. Let us seek God. The beaches at Normandy will be taken as before. A vaccine will be found. Berlin will be conquered as before. Treatment will be made available to all in need. The virus will be brought to its knees. V-V Day will surely come! 

God, bring us together and win this war.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 3

“Lockdown”

“About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Acts 16:25

Yesterday, Governor Inslee extended our home “lockdown” until May 4th. People have been doing some pretty creative things during this “stay at home” order. People have been dancing, drawing, writing and making music. The national news has reported people singing and playing in pretty creatives ways. Full choirs are recording on zoom. Local neighborhoods are stretching out their windows singing 4-part harmonies. A family in the UK recorded Les Miserables, “One More Day” like the Von Trapp Family Singers. If you want a good laugh, watch Julie Andrew’s sing “Do Re Mi” with new lyrics about Covid19 on youtube.

Yesterday, we talked about Paul’s painful journey throughout his ministry. Acts chapter 16 describes Paul, and his associate, Silas, in lockdown in Philippi. While they were locked in an inner cell of the prison with their feet fastened in the stocks, they too began to make music. The Scripture tells us that it was midnight. It also says that in the middle of night, they were singing hymns and praying to God, while the other prisoners listened. While we might feel our stay at home is tough duty, the Bible gives us 2 details about Paul and Silas’ lockdown that could prove quite devastating. They were located in an “inner cell”. This would be a place cold, dark, damp, dripping with dread. This is a place for hardened criminals that would have no chance of escape. Add to this, they were locked down from free movement. We are told that their legs were locked in the stocks. Remember watching the movie, “Braveheart”? Remember William Wallace locked in the stocks? It is a time and place to think about one’s future and fate with little hope. Yet, we are told that while Paul and Silas are in lockdown, they are caught up praying and singing to God. What would provoke a person to make music to God at a time like this? Paul had a hope that this world knew nothing about. Paul had a knowledge of his Savior, Jesus Christ that transported him beyond the circumstances of his cell. And we are also told that even the other prisoners were taking interest. These were hardened criminals not fit for society. They would not be found in the local synagogue singing Kum ba yah. But perhaps it is true, there are no atheists in foxholes. Maybe they were considering their fate; how could they not? Perhaps Paul’s praise reached the inner cell of those prisoner’s hearts and unlocked something they found for the first time.

Two days ago, I had a moment of “breakout” from my own lockdown. I broke out of my house and walked to the top of Thunder Ridge. While walking, a Jenn Johnson song came on Pandora that I think is fitting for today’s conversation. The song is entitled, “You’re Gonna Be Ok”. Jenn wrote this song for her husband. He is a full-time minister in Redding, CA. He is in full time ministry, just as Paul was. And he was in lockdown just like Paul. But his lockdown did not involve chains and stocks. His lockdown was an emotional lockdown. While helping and encouraging others, there came a moment when he realized that he was emotionally knocked down and he stayed down. Jenn wrote this song to encourage and help lift the love of her life. She made music to help restore her husband’s heart and give him hope.

She writes, “I know it’s all that you’ve got to just be strong. And it’s a fight just to keep it together. I know that you think that you are too far gone. But hope is never lost. Hope is never lost. Hold on, don’t let go. Oh Oh. Hold on, don’t let go. Just take, one step, closer, put one foot in front of the other, you’ll get through this, just follow the Light in the darkness, you’re gonna to be ok….”

 

There is more to the song – If you want to listen to the entire song, here is the link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0PCblOjOxg

Whether you are a minister of the Gospel, a member of a local church or simply a member of society, this extended “lockdown” will create challenges for all us. From one day to the next, you will find yourself locked down physically or emotionally or spiritually.  Perhaps worship music might be a powerful key to unlock your soul during these times of bondage. Paul found it freeing. The prisoners around him found it intriguing, Jenn Johnson found it strengthening, and her husband found it soothing. Maybe there is something in this for you.

Personally, I listen to Pandora, normally a station made up of Lauren Daigle songs and similar artists. Just type her name, or any other artist/group you find edifying, and it will set up a station for you. I listen in the morning to prepare myself for the Word. I listen in the afternoon when I climb the hills. And sometimes I listen at midnight so that the promises and praise of God might linger in my mind all night long.

Join me in the lockdown. Let’s follow the Light! Let us stay locked in and listening to music unto the Lord.

Your Prayer Partner,  

Pastor Mark