Pastor’s Devotions #124

“A Sleeping Giant”

“For whoever is not against us is for us.” Mark 9:40

 

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter nine, the disciple, John, tells Jesus, “We saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “Do not stop him.” He went on to say, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.”

John was upset that a man was doing mighty miracles, IN JESUS’ NAME, because he was not in Jesus’ inner circle. Jesus quickly pointed out to John that anyone speaking the name of Jesus is on his same team.

After 11:13 a.m. this morning, thoughts were bouncing around in my head. All of a sudden, my phone binged with a special news report. The report said that reddit retail investors have now increased the stock value of AMC theatres over 3,000 percent for the year. A similar move has been reported over the past months with GameStop stock as well as certain cannabis stocks. Retail investors have been making Wall Street uneasy with their united efforts in increasing certain stock values.

When people unite around a common cause, there is power to effect change. We have seen this played out concerning a number of different societal issues. Who would have believed 50 years ago, that today, everyone stepping into an automobile would buckle up with a seat belt – and not give it a second thought? Who could have envisioned the right to smoke in public places virtually prohibited? Who could have conceived two years ago, that an entire nation would mask up and completely change the way they lived?

These changes occurred because enough people believed a change was necessary. They united behind a common cause that they believed would provide protection, safety, and save lives.

Do you know how many Christians there are in the United States? Google says 205 million. There are 205 million Protestant and Catholic Christians in this country. Yet, it seems like the church is virtually a growing non-player in its societal presence – and I’m not speaking politically. (The problem today is that the church is often only seen, and/or heard in political terms.) But, in all truth – the church of Jesus Christ (and I’m not talking about the Mormon church) is a sleeping giant. Hearing that term might take you back to WW2 – and Japan’s General Yamamoto’s reference to the United States as a “sleeping giant”. He was correct. When the U.S. entered WW2 – no other nation in the world had the power and potential to change the direction of the war.

205 million people stand united under the banner of Jesus Christ. Yet, respectfully, very little power is unleashed. Is it because we are all looking at one another and declaring that each – denomination and congregation – “They are not one of us”? We watch the nightly news, as more and more violence erupts in our communities and across our nation and we are greatly disturbed, yet we feel powerless.

In my musings, I wondered, “What if all 205 million Christians untied under the simple truth of three powerful words. The truth is: Jesus Is Lord! It is perhaps the first and most ancient creed of the Christian church. Romans 10:9 states, “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Does our witness and testimony really need to be more than this? What if 205 million believers, ALL Christian churches, untied behind these three fundamental words in common cause? What if we sought to live out Jesus’ lordship in our own lives and shared the love of our Savior with others – all the Christian churches as one? What if we all moved beyond the scrutiny and judgment that each one is not one of us? Rather, we followed Jesus’ words, that if they are not against us, they are for us?

One Christian Church – united in Jesus Christ – is that what our nation is waiting for? Is that what the world is waiting for? Is this what Jesus is waiting for? Jesus prayed as he waited for his crucifixion, “My prayer is not for them alone (the disciples). I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)

No, we are not removing “Lutheran” from our sign. This is about a heart condition. My heart condition!

So, I pray, “Come, Holy Spirit!”

And I await 11:13 a.m. tomorrow.

Grace and Peace to you all,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 9

“Isaiah 55”

So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me void, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

 

Devotion day 55 has led me to Isaiah 55. The prophet records powerful words that we need to hear today. I’m going to include the entire chapter below so that you can breathe in this Word of God for yourselves.

In Isaiah 55:8, I love the reminder that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. This word means that I must re-orient my thinking and re-evaluate my actions. Left to my own thoughts and decision making, my conclusions will not align with God’s will. This word demands that I  listen for God’s Word and understand the language of the Spirit in which He speaks. This is not a natural response. It requires a determination of my will to surrender to Him and open my heart to follow his lead. God needs to initiate and we are to obey in order to walk within His will.

Jesus knew this word. In John 8:28, Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” He goes on, “The One who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus demonstrated his greatest love for his Father as he walked in obedience to his will. Jesus’ human thoughts led him to consider walking away from the cross. But it was his sacrificial love and obedience to his Father’s word that would guide him as a suffering servant and become the Way of salvation for all.

I also love Isaiah 55:11. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return void, but will accomplish what I desire.” If God’s Word is spoken, it will enact change! The one thing that God’s Word will not do is leave conditions status quo. If our church or our personal lives remain status quo, it means we have not received his Word – spoken from his mouth. Sometimes Christians make the mistake believing it is enough to put the words of the Bible in their brains. If the words of Scripture are not combined with the Spirit, the word can easily return empty. It is the power of the Spirit that enacts change. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, believed that the Law was God. So also, some Christians mistakenly believe the Bible to be God. This belief will quickly turn Christians into Pharisees. Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” (John 5:37-38) He continues, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39)

God spoke His Word into the writers of Scriptures. They recorded his Word for us and the world. But His Word must also be written upon our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings God’s Word alive to us today. When the Spirit is moving, the Scriptures explode with wisdom, revelation and truth! If we do not have a relationship with Christ, the Gospel truth can quickly be converted into legalism and Law. Without knowing it, we can find ourselves to simply be a new version of a New Testament Pharisee. How do we guard against “Phariseeism”? We check our hearts and determine whether we are living in LOVE or living in JUDGMENT of others. A Pharisee stands in the place of God to judge others. A Follower of Christ stands in the gap to love others and surrenders judgment to God.

Most of Jesus’ words bounced off the hearts of the Pharisees. But the Bible records Jesus speaking many words that exploded with power, revealing Him to be the Son of God. In Matthew 8:1, Jesus spoke to a leper, “Be Clean!”, and he was cleansed. In Mark 4:39, Jesus spoke to the waves, “Quiet, Be Still!” and they died down. In Mark 5:8, Jesus spoke to demons in a possessed man, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”, and they fled. In Matthew 9:6, Jesus spoke to a paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home!”, and he went home. In Luke 8:54, Jesus spoke to a 12-year old child who had died, “My child, get up!”, and she arose. In Matthew 21:19, Jesus spoke to a fig tree, “May you never bear fruit again!”, and it never did.

In John 11:43, Jesus spoke to Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, “Lazarus, come out!”, and he walked out of the tomb. In John 20:16, Jesus spoke to Mary on the morning of his resurrection. He spoke her name, “Mary!”, and her life would never be the same.

Do you think God’s Word speaks today? Do you think God’s Word speaks TO YOU today?

As Peter confessed the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that they were witnesses of that fact. Today, I confess to you today, that I am a witness to the fact that Jesus still speaks! If you have not heard his voice in your heart, something wonderful is awaiting you. It is not an audible voice. But our hearts need to be tuned into his frequency. He is speaking; often we just are not tuned in. Ask him to speak. Invite him to reveal His Word to you. Jesus promised in John 10:2-3, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

Jesus speaks in, with, and under the Scriptures. Just as Jesus is in, with, and under the elements of Holy Communion, so too in His Word. More than that, He can speak at any moment. His Word will always confirm the words of Scripture.

Years ago, I remember a young adult standing at the altar of our church. He was waiting to receive communion. He was the son of a member in the congregation. As is typical of young people, he had drifted away from the faith. Little did I know, in that moment, the Spirit of God would speak to Matt and leave him changed. In coming years, he felt the call to overseas missions. He packed up his family, moved to Africa, and has never felt more fulfilled.

God is not going to call all of us to Africa. But the Spirit of God is going to call us in ways that are not our own ways, nor will they be our thoughts. But his Word will leave us changed, knowing that He still speaks today.

Let us surrender our thoughts and ways to the Lord. Let us go forth, listening, learning, receiving, waiting, looking, anticipating God to speak – and then wait for him to speak again.

On this beautiful, 80 degree day – Let the full force of God’s Word wash over you and speak:

Invitation to the Thirsty

55 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

 

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 14

“See, I Am Doing a New Thing!”

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Mark



Pastor’s November Blog

 

Pastor Mark’s November Newsletter Blog

“Some Things Change, Some Things Stay the Same!”
 
My cat, my cable company, and Blockchain Technology, what do these three have in common? They are indicators that change is in the air.
 
Tigger, my aging cat, snuck out of the house last night. When I go outside to retrieve wood for the fire, she is increasingly more intent on sneaking outside. The consequence was that she spent all night out on the deck, in the dark. I heard a faint meow in the morning and realized she was outside. In the past months, I have had to change from dry food to canned food because of her digestive problems. And joy of all joys, I’m getting more hair balls coughed up on my bed spread through the night. I’m sure as Tiggy continues to age, as do I, more change will unfold.
 
My cable company told me that I needed to change my recording equipment. A month ago, and four appointments later, I’m still waiting for that change to occur. Once again, I will have to learn a new way of working with new equipment; it’s not a big deal, but just one more change that requires attention.
 
 
Blockchain Technology. Have you heard of it? Now, potentially this IS a big deal. According to Don and Alex Tapscott, authors of “Blockchain Revolution”, the blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value. Now that’s a mouthful!  “In simplest of terms”, they say, “It is a time-stamped series of immutable record of data that is managed by clusters of computers not owned by any single entity.” The three game changers about this technology is that it’s 1. Decentralized. 2. Transparent. And 3. Immutable. And amazingly enough, it’s FREE! Transactions as we know it, in all sorts of fields, will be altered and changed. For the good? Yes, transparency and the inability to deceive, cheat and steal is great. But the fall out will potentially include many business closures and many employees losing their careers (look out Charles Schwab, Edward Jones and Merrill Lynch).
 
It’s interesting that there is a new potential technology involving a free transactional system providing the world with greater security, safety, transparency, and human interconnectedness and accountability.
 
Do you realize that there is already a system in place, in God’s technological platform that provides each one of us – security, safety, transparency, human interconnectedness and also accountability? This platform is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit.
 
And the great news is that it is offered to us FREE of charge. Yet, it is not free to God! He established this platform at great cost, commitment, intentionality, and passion. We are the recipients of this amazing technological transaction – which involved the divine becoming human. A transaction that we will never truly understand but are asked to accept, trust, believe and utilize. And this transactional system is available to us every day, at every moment, for every person.
 
The world’s transactional systems will continue to change and alter and evolve as technology develops. But rest assured that God’s transactional system will never change!

 

Life and salvation through Jesus Christ IS immutable.  

 
The abundant life God promises today, and the eternal life He points us to in the future involves ONE transaction – and Jesus provided that transaction for each one of us on the cross at Calvary 2000 years ago. Everything else of value in this life is to be seen and evaluated through this ONE transaction.
 

All other transactions perhaps can be summed up in the words of St. Paul in Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”  

  Therefore, hold on to the immutable truth, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”   Hebrews 13:5   Some things change, and some things will FOREVER stay the same. Praise God!
 
In Christ,
 
Pastor Mark