Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 6

“The Protestant Church”

“For by Grace you have been Saved through Faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

 

Did you know that protesting is in our DNA? This is not meant to make anyone nervous. But last night, it dawned on me that our Lutheran church, and actually our salvation, emerged from a march in protest.

Every night, over these past two weeks, we have watched crowds march in protest throughout the cities in America. Have you given any thought to consider that the pillars of our faith came in the midst of protest? Until last night, my eyes never saw that angle. To begin with, Jesus marched into Jerusalem and marched up to the cross in protest to sin, death and the devil. Through his march, he stomped on death and destruction and thus enacted an eternal change that would offer salvation to anyone who would call upon his name.

1500 years later, Martin Luther stomped up the steps of the imposing powers of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was witness to the abuses of power. He recognized the exploitation that the church forced upon people theologically, politically, economically and socially. Luther was by no means the first to protest and attempt to publicly address these abuses, but because of advances in technology, his protest caught fire. Luther and his cohorts would become known as the “protestants” – they were the “protesters.” The rebel church that would emerge after Martin Luther’s death would come to be known as the Lutheran church – the first, formal “protesting” church of its kind.

This protesting church would be grounded upon five foundational pillars of faith; Christ Alone, Word Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone, and Glory to God Alone. Establishing these theological pillars required great commitment, cost and sacrifice. Martin Luther was threatened and deemed an outlaw by the religious authorities. He was kidnapped and had to go into hiding for nine months. Two years later, unrest boiled over and violence erupted so much so that it grew into what would be known as the German Peasants War (1524-1525). Up to 300,000 lives were lost in this revolt – of that, 100,000 peasants lost their lives. Luther vehemently voiced opposition to this radical violence and carnage, but the rebellion took on a life of its own. After the radical behavior finally died down, the reformers continued to formulate and articulate the specific theological truths from Scripture. Unfortunately, the protesters were unable to find common ground in all areas deemed essential; Baptism, Holy Communion, and Election, to name a few. Thus, the leaders of the protesting movement, namely, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli – would eventually become the identified leaders of the newly established “protesting” churches – Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist.

Today, as members belonging to a protestant church, we owe a debt of deep gratitude to those willing to march for the sake of the Gospel. Because of these protesting efforts, we have been recipients of knowing about God’s greatest gift. We have grown up under the banner of truth declaring salvation is not based upon individual effort but by the effort of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9 has been the banner scripture that has waved over the Lutheran Church for the last 500 years. It states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Because Martin Luther was engaged in such a mighty battle against an opposing opponent, he fought to protect the purity of God’s grace. He was committed to leave no trace or residue of individual work’s righteousness that would undermine the truth regarding one’s salvation. Thus, Ephesians 2:10 was not emphasized like the light that was placed upon “Grace” and “Faith” in the previous 2 verses.

But being that we are 500 years removed from the intense collision between individual works and the work of Christ, light must shine upon the third verse, Ephesians 2:10. These three verses fit together as if in trinitarian nature. These three verses are to be seen as one. For 2:10 states, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This verse does not threaten the truth about salvation, but rather explains that God has work to be done out of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, because God has saved us by His grace through his Son, Jesus Christ; we are also told that God has good work for us to carry out upon this earth. We are even directed that he has prepared these good works, in advance, for us to do. The one question left to ask is; what exactly are those good works that God has in place for us to do? This is the call of the disciple – to listen, receive and obey.

During tomorrow’s sermon – I will be speaking about what makes for a disciple. Jesus gives three basic directives to be one of his followers. Those directives can be found in John 13:34-35, John 8:31, and Luke 9:23.

In simple terms – a follower of Jesus is:

  1. One who Loves
  2. One who Learns
  3. One who Lives sacrificially

So, if God has works prepared in advance for us to do; we then must ask –

               Who are we to love?

               What are we to learn?

               How are we to live sacrificially?

Protesting will continue. During this time, let us give thanks to our Lord, Jesus Christ who marched to the cross. Let us also give thanks to Martin Luther, and all the protesters of the reformation who marched for the truth of the Gospel.  And if protesting is in our DNA, what message of Christ will He ask us to march for and lift up? You need not worry–He has already prepared it in advance for us to do.

God Bless You All   

 Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 7

“Meditation”

On his Word, he meditates day and night.” Psalm 1:2

 

Did you know that meditation is a biblical exercise? The book of Psalms begins, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit is the seat of mockers. But his/her delight is in the Word of the LORD, and on his Word, he/she meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2)

For the most part, meditation has been surrendered to eastern religions and typically feared by Christians. Yet, 3,000 years ago, King David highlighted the blessing of focused attention upon God’s Word.

Meditation didn’t become popular in the United States until the early 20th century. But long before yoga began stretching its legs here in the United States, David had stretched into the benefits of thinking deeply and meditating upon God’s Word.

Meditation is often seen as the practice to “still one’s mind”. David’s intention was to “still his mind upon Scripture.” Typically, the goal of meditation is to empty one’s mind of worry, stress, judgments and other distractions. David directs us to remove distractions by replacing them upon the truth of God’s Word.

Attention to breathing is another element of Meditation. As believers, the goal is not only to pay attention to the pace of our own personal breathing but also receive the breath of God. Being filled by the Holy Spirit, is the key to experiencing peace and contentment.

2 Timothy states, “All Scripture is God breathed.” Also, Hebrews 4:12 declares, “For the word of God is living and active.” Because of this, our goal is not simply to become more “self” aware through meditation but rather more aware of God.

One act of Christian meditation is surrendering ones worry, stress and distractions to the Lord. The other act is to then have that void filled with the presence of God. For IN HIM our very source of life, hope and breath is found.

One important practice can be to find a few Bible verses that fill you. As believers, our most effective mantra is a promise of God. When I ran the L.A. Marathon years ago, there were many miles that I repeated, Philippians 4:13 over and over again, “I can do all things THROUGH CHRIST, who strengthens me.” (And I actually finished!) In the past year, Jeremiah 16:6 has been a powerful verse that has helped to center me in times of difficulty. It states, “The LORD is my strength and fortress, my refuge in the time of trouble.”

What verse might you commit to memory that the Lord could bring to you in your time of need?

In early Christian circles, it is believed that some used the word, “Maranantha” as a sort of mantra. The word comes from 1 Corinthians 16:22 and means, “Come, O Lord”.

David not only meditated upon the Word of God, he also meditated upon the works of God.

In Psalm 77:12, David declares, “I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.”  

He repeats this focus in Psalm 143:5 as he writes, “I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done.” He continues, “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”

Reflecting upon God’s faithfulness in history and in our personal lives can also be a real source of strength and peace. God has been faithful in the past and we can trust in his faithfulness in the present.

Finally, for me personally, I have found great peace and strength receiving God’s word through worship songs. In the morning, undistracted, I give focused attention to the lyrics of Christian praise music. The artists who have written these songs are pouring their hearts out to God. These songs have been a rich source of strength to my soul each morning. Often, I receive inspiration for my devotions, sermons and other matters of life during that time.

I’m not sure if we are headed for some serious “Dog Days of Summer.” But whether they are long or short, whether day or night, biblical meditation can be a practice that can help us become more aware of God and focus our mind upon his faithfulness. As we focus upon the breath of God – peace will come.

            “On my bed I remember you; I meditate on you through the watches of the night.” Psalm 63:6

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 22

“God’s Green Earth”

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Genesis 1:1

Today, in over 190 countries, people are called upon to reflect upon the state of our planet. This is the 50th anniversary to an event called, “Earth Day”. After seeing the ravages of an oil spill in Santa Barbara in 1969, Gaylord Nelson, a senator from Wisconsin set out to raise the country’s awareness of the environment. Over the years, over 1 billion people have been drawn into the conversation regarding care for creation.

As Christians, the sanctity of God’s creation should be on our radar. In the first chapter of the Bible, human beings have been entrusted with the care of God’s handiwork. God said, “Let us (the Trinity) make human beings in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).

The Hebrew word, “to rule” (radah), does not mean to dominate and destroy. If we look at the overall human footprint on God’s creation, it could be argued that human beings have been crushing creation’s head for continual personal gain. In Genesis chapter 3, a prophecy is given that Christ will crush the head of Satan. Has humanity been inadvertently been crushing that which God created good? Some have even gone so far as to argue that human beings are the virus that is destroying the world. Those are harsh words. But with greater power in humanity’s hands, and with the curse of sin still playing all of its cards, one could conclude that that protection of God’s creation has not been a high priority.  

I have to admit that I am a rather late comer to seriously consider the ramifications of my actions, and overall human action upon the world. Growing up, I do not remember conversations about being a good steward of the earth. As a Christian, I do not remember sermons emphasizing stewardship of creation. And I have spent little time discussing the stewardship of creation in my own messages.  When we moved to Washington, and I found out that one did not get “paid” for recycling aluminum cans, glass and plastic, my reaction exposed my selfishness, “Then why should I recycle?”. Over time, I have come to realize that my faith in Jesus Christ does not simply follow a cerebral, emotional or spiritual track. My faith in Christ is to track with my entire life. My Christian faith needs to seriously impact all of my life, including my stewardship of God’s creation. We honor Him when we honor Christ, His creation and so much more.

As we all have suffered under this global pandemic, it’s interesting that there are a few positives effects that can be seen. One of those positive effects is air quality. Since people have seriously responded to the “stay at home” orders in most every country, air quality has markedly improved. Pictures of cities around the world have shown amazing improvements in smog and the reduction of pollution particles in the air. New Delhi in India looks like a new city. Yesterday, Los Angeles reported the cleanest air on the planet. Can that report even be trusted? The report is hard to believe. But as I saw the before and after pictures for myself, the shots were pretty amazing. In Nepal, the Himalayas could be seen from a major city 120 miles away that is normally consumed in smog. The Champs Elysees in Paris looked like it belonged in the Louvre Museum it was so cleaned up. The clean air could even be seen from satellites in space.

If resting humanity for a few weeks, can cause such a positive effect, what are we to learn from this? I believe that our human imprint does make a difference upon the condition of our planet. Yes, we can argue about how much of an effect. But as we move forward, maybe it just makes some reasonable sense to take out an insurance policy. This was President Reagan’s attitude when confronted with the ozone issue of the 1980’s. That insurance policy is still paying dividends as the atmosphere in the Arctic continues to repair and heal itself. No one argues that taking out a personal life insurance policy to protect one’s family from future tragedies is a good idea. Can this line of reasoning not also apply to the unknown future effects placed upon creation? Wouldn’t a life insurance policy on our own God given creation be better than rolling the dice on establishing a colony on Mars?

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of each one of us, as believers in Jesus Christ, and recipients of God’s good earth, to reflect upon our own personal stewardship. Do we ignore the warning signs and red flags of climate change? The people of Noah’s day were too preoccupied with their own personal endeavors. Only a handful heeded the warning signs and directives while the sun continued to shine. But the climate was soon going to drastically change. By the time the rain began to fall, it was too late. Most drowned and a few were saved.

The establishment of Earth Day was a political ploy to bring attention to creation. We need not be driven by politics. But as believers in Yahweh God, who created the heavens and the earth, God has given us the responsibility to be good stewards of all of His creativity. And we are called to do this, not just one day a year, but rather each day of every year.

So, on this Wednesday, April 22, 2020 – perhaps it’s a day to ask the question: How can I honor God, who created the heavens and the earth for me? For me, it begins with taking my glass and plastic to the recycle bins – with a smile on my face and thanksgiving in my heart. And a prayer that I can love Jesus Christ and His creation much more.

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honor. You make him ruler over the works of your hands, you put everything under his feet.”

Psalm 8:3-6

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s August Newsletter Blog

Pastor Mark’s August Newsletter Blog

“We Choose to Go to the Moon”

On July 20, 2019, the United States celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that landed on the moon.  Neal Armstrong spoke those memorable words, “That is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”   The world watched in awe and amazement as the 2 American Astronauts staked the United States flag in the soil on the moon’s surface. That moment was the conclusion of an impossible dream.   Nearly eight years earlier, on September 12, 1961, at Rice University in Houston, Texas, President John F. Kennedy articulated an audacious dream during his speech to the large crowd. He said,  “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon, in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard…because that is one challenge we are willing to accept…”   What a ridiculous, reckless, irresponsible statement the president declared when the nation had hardly a space program to speak of. History records JFK having second thoughts the day after speaking those crazy words. Yet he had cast a vision of beyond. The dreams of a nation had been sparked to consider the stars. And in a few short years, reckless became a reality, even after he was gone.   2000 years ago, Jesus spoke some ridiculous words to some rather foolish followers.   He said…..

“Go and make disciples of all nations,

baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  Matthew 28:19-20

What a reckless statement to a group of disciples confused, arguably divided and certainly uncertain about their future. Yet the vision had been cast. The dreams of the disciples had been sparked to consider the world, and bring the message of salvation to all who would listen.   In the United States, we might think the message of Christ is diminishing. Fewer people are attending church and our culture has itching ears toward new and improved spirituality. But let’s not be misinformed. The message of Jesus Christ continues to spread across the globe. And in many areas, it’s spreading like an uncontrollable wildfire. According to the Joshua Project, currently there are roughly 2.3 BILLION Christians across the world.    New believers are accepting Christ in the thousands DAILY. Roughly 34,000 in South America, 30,000 in China, 25,000 in Africa and 16,000 Muslims are turning to Jesus DAILY.  Yes, it is sobering to hear that more and more people, especially young adults have left the church in the U.S. and find Jesus’ message antiquated. To be sure, affluence and the myriad of distractions have played a part in this. But also, the church has unfortunately also played its part, often offering a version of religion (focusing on many man made rules and efforts), rather than experiencing an authentic life giving relationship with our living God.   I hope you realize that….

at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, we have much to be hopeful and excited about.

The Holy Spirit is leading us and building a deeper, stronger, faith filled congregation. Sheri, our Treasurer, announced at the Council meeting that pledges are now above $380,000 for our remodel project. What an amazing expression of commitment and resolve to see God continue to build mission and ministry in this community and in our church. Alex Abdallah, our new Student/Family Ministry Director, has jumped in with both feet and is bringing a new level of excitement to our youth program. More people are visiting our church and lots of activities and ministries are moving forward.   Let us continue to carry Christ’s banner. Let us continue to….  “Go and make disciples  –  of all nations…”

We do this not because it is easy, but because it is hard.

We do this because it is a challenge we are willing to accept.

We do this because we are caught up in Christ’s audacious dream.

Let our eyes be drawn heavenward and let our hearts be sparked by the Holy Spirit to chase after it with all the love, faith and perseverance we can muster. And in a few short years, we will all travel to the place that has always been called Home – to be with our Heavenly Father. Your Fellow Foolish Traveler, Pastor Mark