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, May 15

“Mulch”

“When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.” Mt. 13:26

Last weekend, I was weeding a flowerbed in the front yard. The ground on the one side of the bed was hard and dry. It was so hard, that I became more and more frustrated, trying to dig them out at their root. I was hot, miserable, upset and irritated at the whole job. Thoughts whisked through my head that maybe I should just go ahead and sell this stupid place. After hours of laboring and toiling in the heat, I finally finished weeding half of that pesky flowerbed and gave up. The following day, I began pulling weeds on the opposite side of the flowerbed. Those weeds were as thick as thieves. But I discovered that the ground on this side of the flowerbed was soft and moist. The weeds pulled out with such ease, that it was crazy. I hate to say it, but I almost felt like I was having fun – ALMOST! I couldn’t believe the difference experience from the day before. What made the difference? MULCH! As I began to work my way around the flowerbed, I remembered what happened the year before. I ran out of mulch half way around that bed. The difference was amazing. One side I could run my fingers through the soil. The other side, hard as rock!

Now, just because I put down the mulch didn’t mean that I would not have weeds in my face. Actually, more grew in that area. But when it came to pulling them out, the work was so easy, and so satisfying.

During this time of isolation, our hearts can become kind of hard. Remember to throw down some mulch. And even when we tend to our hearts and relationships, it doesn’t mean that we won’t face weeds. Those pesky seeds will find a way into our soil one way or another. But the blessing in the preparation and the tending is in the removal. Weeds are able to be removed from a tender heart with ease. But wait until that heart is hard and crusty, good luck –  let the frustration begin! The weed breaks off every time.

Jesus told many parables about the Kingdom of God using the example of weeds. I wonder if he could have used this one? He told a parable about various soil conditions as well. In Luke 8, Jesus tells of hardpan, rocky, thorny and good soil. The good soil, represents the soft heart toward God that 1. Hears God’s Word. 2. Receives God’s Word. And 3. Perseveres in God’s Word.

In my little parable, I would add that not only in good soil does God’s Word flourish. But in good soil, the weeds are also easy to pull out. I would encourage you to give it a try. Tend to your heart. Throw down some mulch and allow your heart to become soft and responsive. Then see when those weeds of irritation and disappointment pop up, how easily they are pulled out.

God’s Spirit is the mulch to cover the barren ground of our heart. When God’s Spirit is worked into our soil, everything is easier.

So, I’ve decided not to sell my house. And yes, I still have more weeds to pull. But I’m not going to worry about that now. I have some other mulch to lay down. A friend invited me to play golf. It’s Friday afternoon. The tee time is in 32 minutes. The weeds can wait. Time to soften up the soil. With masks on of course. Have a great day.

God Bless!  Pastor Mark