Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 23

“One Life Matters”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

 

Do black lives matter? Yes! Do blue lives matter? Yes! What about brown lives, yellow lives, and red lives? Yes, they all matter. So do Muslim lives, Mormon lives and Mystical New Age lives. They all matter!

Sunday afternoon, after church, on Father’s Day, I went on my familiar Thunder Ridge walk. As often happens, after around 45 minutes, after climbing all the hills, and I’m returning home, an epiphany will suddenly shoot into mind. Most often, these epiphanies relate to my upcoming sermon. On this particular Sunday, I was still feeling the spillover of the Holy Spirit that generated great freedom during the morning Drive In Worship (that’s why I spoke so long!) My earbuds were in. I was worshipping as I walked but my mind was also mulling over all media coverage regarding the pandemic and the protests. All the coverage, conditions and concerns regarding “Chop” in Seattle has brought these issues even closer to home. I’ve been reading, listening and trying to learn more about race issues that have been at work for a long time in our society. One of the big problems I have found in this process, is that I do not know, what I do not know. Many times, it feels like I’m trying to track down a moving target. It’s as if I’m flying an old airplane with a center stick while having a damaged wing. I’m trying to hold her steady so I can bring her in for a landing, but that joystick is being thrust in all different directions that I cannot control.

I have also felt at times, “lost in the fray.” Fray, by definition, means to “unravel or become worn at the edge, typically through constant rubbing.” It can also mean, “to show the effects of strain – of a person’s nerves or temper.” How often have you felt lost in the fray during these last three months? I’m sure we all have felt worn at the edges emotionally over all past weeks.  

As I walked and was considering the implications of “black lives” and “blue lives” and all the other lives that are being impacted during this period of time, suddenly three words shot into my mind. In an instant, I felt the joystick in my mind stop moving. I felt a rudder and a grounding to my thinking. I felt one commanding message, “One Life Matters!” Suddenly, it was as if all the individual pictures flashed through my mind in an instant and all my confusion cleared out. I had clarity. Ultimately, it is this One life of Jesus Christ that matters. When those three words were brought to my attention, it was not to diminish black lives nor be less aware of blue lives nor any other lives. Actually, focusing upon the One Life that Matters, brought greater value and emphasis upon each of these lives. This one life of Jesus Christ, if we are his followers, brings us the purpose, meaning, and focus for how we are to live, act and respond. As Christ followers, our own human attitudes, perspectives and desires are to fall away. As Christians, we are to live in him, through him and with him. The question is, how does this One Life influence–better yet, transform our life and the lives of those around us? The goal of this One Life is to bring a conversion such that our lives are lived through him. In the end, ultimately all lives will disappear and only One Life will matter. In the meantime, because only One Life matters, Jesus Christ brings meaning and hope to every life- – especially those who are broken and downtrodden.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find a maneuver that would allow me to fly above the fray. I was hoping to get above the fog and gain greater clarity and perspective of the landscape. Indeed, those three words, “One Life Matters” brought me up out of the clouds. But then something striking took place. Because of that clarity, it brought me back down to the reality that this One Life calls me to fly back into the fray and fog. This One Life calls me to declare and deliver the truth that no matter what line is drawn in the street, One Life matters for All and every Individual! And that this One Life lives among those in the fray as friend.

I am assuming that most of us are basically battling this same kind of turbulence. Being that we can distance ourselves from the fray, in many ways, by simply turning off the television, social media, or radio, it is difficult to stay tuned in. My emotions have moved from feeling, “lost in the fray” to wanting to “fly above the fray” to “fleeing from the fray” to simply being “fatigued by the fray.” But if we stay focused upon the “One Life That Matters,” we will be able to enter into the fray. We will even be able to move through the fray, and even be agents of healing in the midst of the fray because we know that it’s that One Life That Matters!

The writer of Hebrews gives the exhortation, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Consider the One Life that matters. Jesus entered the fray of humanity in all fullness. He endured the cross, took on our shame, and brought victory back to heaven. He willingly entered the unraveling and rub of humanity in innocence as a baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2). He entered into Samaria and encouraged a broken woman at the well with truth. (John 4). He entered Jericho and called an oppressive tax collector named Zacchaeus to conversion which brought about correction and justice. (Luke 19). He entered into conversation with a mob about to carry out the death penalty with an adultress with clarity and conviction. (John 8) He entered the sin of that same adultress woman with grace and forgiveness. (John 8) He entered countless towns and villages meeting the broken hearted with compassion and healing. (Matthew 9) He entered Jerusalem with resolve and in submission to his Father’s will as he faced his cross. (Luke 19) He entered the arrogance of the religious leaders and called them white washed tombs, calling a spade, a spade. (Matthew 23) He entered a garden and met a weeping woman with the reality of the resurrection. (John 20). He entered into heaven in glory, with the name above every name. (Luke 24) He entered darkness with light. He entered death with life. And he also entered his own hometown of Nazareth as he began his public move amidst the fray. While he was with his own people, he painted a picture of the One Life that Matters most. Isaiah, the prophet, had foretold of this One Servant, 700 years earlier. Jesus entered and attached himself to this One Chosen Servant of God:

               “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18)

Consider this One Life that matters. His attention was set upon the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. He entered this life to provide all these people with a lifeline. And let us be clear that all these people, the ones who are poor, blind, and oppressed prisoners that he has his eye upon – we are those poor, blind prisoners! And because of the grace given to us, we have found this lifeline. Now, we have been called to let out this One Life Line for any and all who wish to take hold. Whatever streets we march in or convention centers we mask up in, this One Life Line is our mission.

Right now, because of historic and ongoing injustice, black lives have raised their hands and cried out for fair and equal treatment. They will not be the only ones who will call for equality. In this broken world, we are surrounded by injustice. Is this why God spoke to Micah to remind his people, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act with justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

So, how would you imagine that the One Life That Matters most would respond to these cries? Would he feel lost, fly over, or flee from the fray? Or would he, even if fatigued, enter into the pain, brokenness and wounded hearts of the hurting? I believe we all know the answer to that question. As the One Life has met us in our brokenness and brought healing, let us focus upon that One Life and concern ourselves with the brokenness of our brothers and sisters. More than that, let us lead those who are hurting to the One Life that Matters the most! And as we ride the waves into the future, whoever cries out, let us be ready to throw the lifeline of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do black lives matter? Indeed! Do blue lives matter? Definitely! Do brown, yellow and red lives matter? Without a doubt. Each life matters. But let us be clear – One Life Matters Most! May the Love of this One Life, Jesus Christ, heal the brokenhearted, bring justice for all, and reveal to each of us what we need to know.  

Below, I’m including an 18-minute video produced by Phil Vischer, entitled “Race in America.” Vischer succinctly lays out many reasons why race relations have escalated in our country. You might recognize his voice, he was the producer of the Veggie Tales series. Pastor Annette at Peace Lutheran in Silvana highlighted this informative summary in their newsletter. I mentioned it in my online message of June 21 – but many might have missed it if you attended the Drive in Worship. This video can be a simple way for us to enter into the fray with more conversation and understanding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY&t=4s

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

  

 



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, June 4

“A Crisis of Faith”

“If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

Last week, Jon Steingard, lead singer for the Christian band, Hawk Nelson, confessed on an Instagram post, that he no longer believed in God. Jon said, “After growing up in a Christian home, being a pastor’s kid, playing and singing in a Christian band, and having the word, ‘Christian’ in front of most of the things in my life – I am now finding that I no longer believe in God.” He cites questions about God, the Bible, and his upbringing and said that he can no longer lead songs like, “Drops in the Ocean” in good conscience.

While his confession is troubling, it is important to hear his bandmates response. In their own statement, they declare, “We are called to love one another unconditionally, as God loves us.” And they also said, “Our mission is to inspire and encourage all people with the truth that God is for them and not against them – now this is for one of our own.” What a wonderful expression of love and brotherhood for a friend who is struggling, searching, still seeking to know truth.

As Christians, looking in from the outside, we can easily cast judgments, be angry or share disappoint in Jon’s words. But if we pause and listen closely, there can be a lot we can learn. The reality is that many believers are one crisis away from seemingly throwing in the spiritual towel. If one more unexplainable tragedy occurs, or just one more problem shows up to tip the scale, many feel ready to be done with their belief in God.

So, what is to be done in the midst of a crisis of faith? I would suggest it is very similar to what we are being called to do in the midst of this pandemic and in the face of these peaceful protests. We are called to come along side those who are struggling. We are to remind them that they are not alone. We are to listen and remain open to understand their story. And we are to understand that deeper understanding can emerge in the midst of a crisis.  

Listening more closely to Jon’s words, he makes some significant statements. He expresses the desire to finally be open, honest, vulnerable and transparent. These are important qualities to work through a crisis. Up until now, he has kept his doubts, fears, and questions, hidden in his heart. Nothing good comes from hiding. Adam and Eve hid from God in the Garden and nothing good came from it. Jon’s honest confession opens the door to address his crisis of faith and the possibility of discovering a deeper experience with God.

Jon also states, “I want to be transparent with you all – and also open to having my heart changed in the future. He goes on to say, “I am not looking for a debate at all – just a chance to share my story in the hopes some good can come from it. I love you all.”

Wow, Jon makes some amazing comments. Along with transparency, he says that he wants his heart to be open to change. He is saying that he really wants to believe that there is a God, but he just can’t see it right now. He also says that he isn’t looking for someone to fix him or have a question and answer quiz session. His simple hope is that by being honest, something good can happen.

Jon is confessing a lot of different things in his post. One thing is for certain, he is wrestling with spiritual things. Wrestling is a good thing. Wrestling in the wilderness is the place where Jacob, in the Old Testament met God. In that wrestling, Jacob had an experience with God. His name and heart were changed and he became a different person.   

Jon then makes the most revealing statement. He says, “I’m actually open to the idea that God is there.” But he says, “I suspect if he is there, he is very different than what I was taught.”

With those words, Jon just gave a window into the hearts of many people. Most people actually believe that there is a God. But what they have been taught from the Bible has little relevance for their life.  

Hopefully, his bandmates and/or his close Christian friends will allow him to share his story. Hopefully, they will ask questions about the kind of Christianity he was taught. He has already confessed that he is open to God but he needs someone to help guide him in knowing and/or rediscovering the truth about the faith. Someone needs to clarify that everything about Christianity centers itself in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Over the years, I have heard many stories about people growing up in Christian homes that have missed on the centerpiece of our faith – namely, Jesus Christ. Sure, we teach about Jesus being born in Bethlehem, doing some miracles and that he died on a cross. But many people have not been led into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Christianity can easily become a list of do’s and don’ts and evaluating faith based upon church attendance and activities. If this happens, Christianity simply becomes another legalistic religion, centered upon human good works, that will eventually kill the spirit. It could be that this is where Jon finds himself.  

Most people who have left the church and/or Christianity is because they were taught information about God but not led into a relationship with God. We can gain much wisdom about God, but still be vulnerable to a crisis because we still might not know him. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” John 10:14. This “knowing” of which Jesus speaks, is about a personal experience with the living God.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul prays that God would give, both wisdom and revelation to the believers in Ephesus. He says, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17)

Wisdom is not enough. Revelation leaves a mark on the heart in which the Holy Spirit opens up an encounter with the living God. Fully knowing God through wisdom and revelation provides the sturdy foundation from which a life of faith is built. But even in that, be aware that crisis’ of faith can still occur and that is why we need brothers and sisters in the faith to walk with us, and talk with us, and pray for us in our times of need.  

Consider King Solomon. He was the wisest of all the kings of Israel. God gave Solomon all the wisdom the world had to offer. Solomon mesmerized crowds and even the Queen of Sheba with his insights. He spelled out some of his comprehensive wisdom in the book of Proverbs. God chose him to build His Temple in Jerusalem. God gave him peace among the nations. Yet Solomon had a crisis of faith. Solomon lost perspective. In Ecclesiastes Solomon wrote, “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (3:1) Yet somewhere along the line, his wisdom  about God did not sustain him. He began the book of Ecclesiastes with the confession, “Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher, “Utter meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” He came to this conclusion that all was vanity after spending his life in pursuit of knowledge, pleasure, splendor and work. Yet in all of it, he lost his pursuit of God and all his efforts left him empty.

Solomon had been given plenty of wisdom. What he needed was revelation. What he needed was relationship. Solomon needed close companions to help guide him back to faith in Yahweh, the living God.

The good news is that Jon Steingard has a band of brothers who are standing with him, praying for him and who are wanting to point him to the truth of Jesus.

As people come to us in the midst of a crisis, may we be a church that is able to guide people to the centerpiece of our faith – that vital relationship with Jesus Christ.

If one of our family members has a crisis of faith, let us not fear. Rather, let us see it as a red flag of opportunity. Doubts that were once hidden are now being exposed. That which is troubling is now able to be healed. That which is questioned has the opportunity to be answered. And that which is unknown – can become an invitation to know the living God on a deeply personal, life transforming level.

May God prepare each of us, in our own crises of faith, to take us deeper with Him.

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 2

“What’s the Message?”

“He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” 2 Corinthians 5:19

 

Is the message getting across? Protesters have been walking the streets all across the country for seven days. Most marches have been filled with people peacefully walking. Too many marches have been hijacked by groups seeking to cause chaos and destruction. Because of this intrusion, is the message getting lost?

Police officers are trying to meet with protesters and communicate their message. But many times, pushing and shoving begins, bottles are tossed, tensions increase, and before you know it, tear gas and pepper spray are unloaded on the crowd. Because of this infusion, is their message getting lost?

President Trump walks from the White House, across the street to St. John’s Episcopal Church. He stands in front of the church and raises a Bible in his hands. He doesn’t speak a word. What exactly is his message?”

Parents and children emerge from their homes sweeping up shattered glass, scrubbing graffiti, and removing debris; their message is not lost!

The church has a very clear message, but is it getting through? St. Paul says that Jesus has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19 states that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! And all this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

In the midst of these trying times, do you think the church’s message is lost? As the church, we peacefully attend worship services and speak about God’s love. But there are people who infiltrate the faith and hijack the truth? Does the country turn a deaf ear to the message because it gets drowned out by violence and destruction in the name of Jesus?

Does the church try to meet people in their protest against religion, but tensions rise and one firecracker explodes the peace talks and good will.

Does the church stand with a Bible in one hand, and the church building as their backdrop, assuming that people will get the message?

Or does the church simply sweep, scrub and clean up the mess that others have left behind?

Paul says in Galatians 5:6, “…The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Perhaps in these painful times, picking up a bucket and a brush is one of the most practical way to pass on the message.

For surely, Jesus picked up our iniquities and washed away our sin. As he expressed his faith through love, perhaps it is enough to hear his words, “Go and do likewise.”

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 12

“Living History”

“He is not here, he has risen” Luke 24:6

 

Have you thought about the fact that we are “Living History”? History by definition is the study of past events, particularly in human affairs. But what we are living in right now, we know will be studied and examined for decades to come. Some people might even define their lives by these moments, having lived through this year, 2020.

 My dad was born in 1930. I can remember him talking about, The Great Depression of the 1930’s. He was born at the beginning of the depression. He was still a young boy when the United States entered World War 2, which formally ended the era of The Depression. But it didn’t end for my dad. When I was a young boy, I can remember my dad often referring to the fact that he was a “depression baby”. He used this phrase to define himself. When he was worried about money, debt, food scarcity, or job security, he would refer to the lasting effects of The Great Depression. The Depression left a lasting mark on this young boy. My dad used to explain that he took life so seriously and didn’t really know how to have much fun because of those depression years. Life was serious business that was passed down from his parents. He used to tell me that his dad picked up 4 ounces of beef steak, from the butcher, which was like shoe leather, each night for their family of four during those depression years. Hard work and responsibility were drummed into him at an early age. When he grew up, he definitely passed on those ideals to his children. He grew up with the attitude that if anything was to be accomplished in life, he, himself would have to make it happen. Financially, he was a lone ranger who had to find his way; and he worried about it.

Looking back at the history of my father, I would say that The Depression was THE most defining national event of his lifetime. The world moved on from the Depression after ten years. But in many ways, the ten year old boy did not move on from The Depression. It had made its mark upon this young boy and he would wrestle with it throughout his lifetime.

We are currently in the midst of “living history.” As this year, 2020, is playing out, how do you think it will influence us? Have you considered how these events might play out upon the psyche of our children and grandchildren? Will the next generation simply move on, as often parents think of their kids simply moving on from a divorce or a death or some other traumatic event? Is there the potential for a 10-year old boy or girl to attach attitudes and actions about life forming right now in the midst of this pandemic?  Will people live lives more protected, guarded, and cynical due to the effects of this pandemic? Perhaps the next generation will grow up with a low-grade level of PTSD.

Or perhaps we can help remove the level of high anxiety by the way that we live history today.

When children face highly traumatic events; so also, when soldiers return from traumatic battles, one helpful way people live through those experiences is to expose the trauma, talk about it, and appropriately frame it in greater context.

We have the opportunity to help this next generation not lose hope and help them see a future that is framed full of possibilities.

Certain markers in history have been said to have stolen certain qualities from a particular generation.

The Great Depression is said to have stolen the nation’s sense of security. JFK’s assassination is said to have stolen our nation’s sense of innocence. 911 is said to have stolen our nation’s sense of freedom. Where will 2020 line up on this list of loses?

Maybe we have the opportunity to frame this experience of 2020 in view of other pictures.

Most markers in a nation’s history seems to revolve around conflicts and wars. But when I was a boy, I watched a different moment in history. I was nine years old on July 20, 1969 when the Eagle landed and Neil Armstrong took the first footsteps upon the face of the moon. This event was a marker moment not drenched in pain and death. This moment in history catapulted a culture forward to dream impossible dreams. This moment in history highlighted a country coming together. This country sought to achieve something that seemed beyond the imagination. Unlike the 10 years of struggle and survival of the Depression in the 1930’s, this 10-year journey and achievement of Apollo 11, in the 1960’s, invigorated a generation to look beyond the stars.

As we attempt to put this coronavirus in context, could we perhaps frame it in a picture of togetherness? Can we talk to our children about all the heroes who are sacrificially serving one another for the greater good? There are pictures all around us of people reaching out to others in love. Let us hand those pictures on the walls of our minds.

Then to add more color and definition, where can our faith be painted onto the canvas? How can we expose the truth and discuss the events in context to our living Lord Jesus Christ?

Rather than a Picasso painting depicting a “Depression Baby” or “2020 Baby” with its detached shapes and figures, is there a way to discover a Rembrandt drawing of, “The Resurrection Baby.” Can we help this next generation find themselves and locate their identity in the One who is still living history? For this to happen, we must first locate ourselves within this identity. We must let go of past identities and definitions of ourselves that have found their way onto our canvas. Then we must expose, discuss, and frame our faith in the larger context of God’s plan. When we can see our lives clearly within the framework of God’s creation and salvation, that is the context to paint the picture for those others in our lives.  

Let us embrace this living history. Let us embrace Jesus Christ! May this living history become oral history, which is spoken of regularly. Let us share our thoughts, hearts, hurts, and faith in the God who is greater than any other moment in history.

God Bless You All!

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 Devotions, April 15

The God Who Sees!”

“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

 

Isolation! Some of us have faced more isolation in these last weeks than ever before. Isolation can wreak havoc with our emotions and wellbeing. Even though you might feel isolated today. God sees you! God knows your name and He is with you.

Hagar was an Egyptian maidservant. She was a foreigner and a servant to Sarai, Abram’s wife. Sarai was unable to bear children so Hagar stepped in to be her surrogate. Jealousy arose on both sides. Hagar belittled Sarah. Sarah treated Hagar poorly. Hagar fled. An angel of the LORD appeared to Hagar and told her to return and submit to Sarai. Hagar was told that she would have descendants too numerous to count. Hagar returned to Sarai. She gave a name to the LORD, “Beer Lahai Roi”, for she declared, “You are the God who sees me.”

The Scriptures record this common theme of a foreigner, in isolation, who is seen by God.

Joseph, in the book of Genesis, lived an isolated life. He was emotionally isolated from his family, who as a young boy shared his heavenly dreams. He was isolated again when his brothers threw him into a cistern and had plans to kill him. He was then a foreigner, in isolation as he was thrown into an Egyptian prison being falsely accused of rape. Finally, being exalted to second in command to Pharaoh while being a foreigner and a former slave; welcome isolation!

Yet the Bible tells us that God saw Joseph. God was with Joseph during his turbulent family times. God was with him while being sold into slavery, and while he remained in the Egyptian prison. And God was with him in his exalted position and even brought reconciliation between him and his brothers.

Joseph is one among many, in which God sees an isolated foreigner and draws near.

Moses was a foreigner in the Egyptian Court. He had Hebrew blood but was raised among the Egyptians. After he murdered an Egyptian in defense of a Jew, Moses found himself isolated in the wilderness. He became a foreigner among Jethro’s clan near Mount Horeb. Moses lived a certain isolated existence among Jethro’s people for 40 years. But God saw him. Moses married and became a shepherd but at the right moment, God revealed to him that there would be more. Moses was drawn to a burning bush, in an isolated place and God called Moses to deliver His people. Moses returned and found himself isolated from both the Egyptians and the Hebrew people. He is a foreigner to all involved. Yet God was with him. God saw him and revealed to him his personal name, “Yahweh”. Moses became a friend to God, no longer a foreigner.

Ruth is another example of one found in isolation. Living in a foreign land, she lost everything. Yet God saw Ruth and watched over her. He provided Boaz as her husband and is counted in the generational lineage of Jesus.

Jumping to the New Testament, the boisterous disciple Peter found himself in a foreign place. He was isolated from his brothers. Perhaps he was not isolated physically, but he would have been isolated emotionally. Peter didn’t betray Jesus but he certainly denied him multiple times and the weight of that shame would have generated an uncomfortable social distance more than six feet. Yet on one post-resurrection morning, Scripture tells us that Jesus saw Peter fishing on the water. He calls to him and invites him to breakfast. They share a meal together with the other disciples. Jesus then takes this man in isolation and reinstates him. Jesus re-positions him to lead the fledgling flock. He will be a rock upon which others will receive strength.

God has done some amazing things among men and women in the Bible and in history during a period of isolation.

Martin Luther, the reformer, found himself in isolation. Luther spoke against the abuses of the Catholic Church and quickly found himself a foreigner within his own church. A warrant was finally put out for his arrest and death. Kidnapped by friendlies and held in a castle, he lived under a false name. In isolation and in foreign surroundings, God saw Martin. In the next nine months of isolation, it was there that Martin translated the New Testament Bible into the common German language. It was there that his translation would translate into a change that would affect the entire German landscape. This German Bible would unite a divided people as nothing had ever done in history.

Finally, a contemporary example of our God who sees:

Dallas Jenkins is the current producer for the Biblical video series called, “The Chosen”.  Listening to his testimony, he tells the story of himself isolated in foreign territory as well. His big Hollywood debut was a bomb. A once rising star quickly became a mighty falling star. In a few months, he felt he had lost it all. In this foreign place, feeling isolated from God and himself, God saw Dallas. God met him. And from a mustard seed arose the series, “The Chosen”. He tells the story about how he and his wife, during their devotions, felt drawn to the story of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Gospels. They did not know why. Late one night – during his fourth watch of the night – he received a text from a man who was barely an acquaintance. His text states, “Remember, you are not responsible for feeding the 5,000. Your job is to provide the loaves and fishes!” When Dallas inquired why this man had sent this text, his response came, “I don’t know. God just told me to send it.” Dallas, who is a self-professed Baptist and does not believe in God speaking to people; God sent another, to speak to Dallas for him. In isolation, God remembered him, God saw him, and it is THE marker moment that has transformed his faith. The vision for “The Chosen” is to cover 8 seasons. It will cover the life of Christ and hopefully cover the globe. I can see that!

“See, I am doing a new thing!” – Sorry, that was yesterday’s message. Today’s message is, “See, I see you!” Can you SEE that these messages are the same? That even though you are isolated and in foreign circumstances, God sees you and he wants to do a new thing inside of you?  

The Scriptures tell us that all of us are foreigners in this strange land. We all will face moments of isolation. But God’s clear word to us is, “I See You!” What might HE want to tell you? Create room to listen. Trust me, our God still speaks today! Don’t get caught up in listening for an audible voice. God wants to speak to us more deeply – into our heart – that is where transformation takes place – just ask Dallas. It’s usually a “Still, Small Voice”. Ask him to speak into your heart today.

By faith, Abraham made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.” Hebrews 11:9

The unbelieving man says to himself, “God has forgotten; he covers his face and never sees.” Ps. 10:11

In Christ, Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, March 27

                                                                                    “PPE”

“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

 

 



Pastor’s Blog March 17

 

St. Patrick’s Day

                 “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Romans 10:15

 

Are you wearing green today? Perhaps your pajamas? Typically, this is the day the color green is splashed all across our country like no other. Hats and shamrocks, green glimmering vests, glitter and gold, beer and whiskey and corn beef and cabbage rule the day. Even the Chicago River runs green on March 17th. But not today. There will not be any grand, public celebrations as all public gatherings, bars and restaurants have been shut down.

 

I am 75% Norwegian. I figure that’s what pushed me half way through the door at Our Saviour’s in 2007. But I do have a touch of Irish blood in me. My great, great grandfather broke the rules and fell in love with a young Irish girl named Miss Mary Fee. Generations late, that touch can still be seen in my brother’s subtle red hair. Growing up I touched many a lefsa and lutefisk but corn beef was never touched and never on the menu. I had no contact with the meaning of St. Patty’s Day, only that people wore green. Perhaps that is how Christians today respond to the day of Pentecost. We wear red, but most folks understand very little of the Holy Spirit.

 

So, what is the true significance of St. Patrick’s Day?

 

Patrick lived in the 5th Century and died on March 17th. He is the patron saint of Ireland and its national apostle. Born in Roman Britain, he was kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave at the age of 16. He later escaped but returned to Ireland and was credited with bringing Christianity to its people.

That bears repeating. St. Patrick was credited with bringing Christianity to the people of Ireland. Now that is something to celebrate. St. Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As is it written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:14-15.

Over the centuries, I’m sure for most, the meaning of St. Patrick’s Day has been lost and it’s simply a day to party with friends. Today, the ability to celebrate with others has been denied. We have been told to shelter at home. But being separated from others does not negate our ability to acknowledge and give thanks to God for the message behind the man. Let us take a moment today to praise God for Patrick, the man that endured great hardship, became a believer in Jesus Christ, and influenced a nation through faith. But let us take a lifetime to live in thanksgiving for God, whether we are together or not, for the message and the man, immortal, who has brought salvation for all, Jesus Christ. We have been touched and are to be transformed by this gift of faith. And whether the river runs green or not – nothing can deny the blood that ran red upon the cross.

Today, we are unable to physically run with quickened feet to share the Good News with our neighbors. But sometime today, perhaps with a phone call, text or email – you might ask the question, “Do you know the significance behind the man, St Patrick?” And who knows what the Holy Spirit might do – a river of living water might flow – one that results in a great party celebration! Remember, Jesus has already washed and blessed your feet! 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!                                                      Celebrating with you All, Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s January Blog

Pastor Mark’s January Newsletter Blog

“Fast & Pray”

In the Old Testament book of Ezra, as the exiled children of Israel are preparing to return to Jerusalem, Ezra says, “Therefore, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possession.”

Ezra goes on to say,

“I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen

to protect us from enemies on the road,

because we had told the king,

‘The gracious hand of God is on everyone who looks to him,

but his great anger is against all who forsake him.’

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this,

and he answered our prayer.” (Ezra 8:21-23)

Have you ever fasted?

And preparing for a colonoscopy doesn’t count….otherwise I would be a veteran “faster”.   I have intentionally fasted a few times in my life, but in general, I think fasting has become a lost discipline. Many times, the Bible records God’s people taking time to fast and to pray as they face a crossroads looking to the future.

In the New Testament book of Acts, in the church at Antioch, we are told,

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said,

‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for the work to which I have called them.’

So, after they had fasted and prayed,

they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:1-3)

I believe that the year 2020, in the life of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, will be a very important one. In many ways, this past year has been one of preparation. Our facilities are being prepared. Youth ministry is being prepared. Structures are being prepared to support ministries like the Caring Place.   And our hearts are being further prepared to…..

walk in faith,

follow the leading of the Holy Spirit,

and encourage one another in love.

As we enter this new year, what might happen if we all humble ourselves before God, fasting and praying that God would move powerfully through our church?   LCMC is encouraging all its congregations to PRAY for 3 days from January 7-9, 2020. I’d like to include fasting along with prayer. Fasting involves intentionally denying yourself something that you value as a sacrifice in honor to God. This self-denial is an exercise that opens up the senses to further connect with God. Is it a mandate? No. But just as singing in a worship service is not required in worship to God, the act of making a joyful noise further opens up one’s heart to connect with God. So also, fasting can further open one’s heart in prayer and connection to God.

So, I invite you to join me in fasting and prayer during these 3 days in early January. You can choose whatever food or drink you would personally like to include in your fast. Perhaps keep it to yourself.

Jesus says to keep it between you and the Father. (Mt. 6:16-18)

And then pray…. Pray, Pray, Pray, that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit in power will direct our church, our ministry, our personal faith in dynamic ways. Pray…. that we would, as one body, live and share in the joy of Jesus Christ. Pray…. that we grow in boldness, confidence and humility recognizing the move of God in our congregation and in our community. Pray…. that the presence of God will fall upon us and that it will be undeniable. Pray…. protection against the evil one and that nothing interferes with God’s desire for us.

I’m looking forward to an amazing year filled with many challenges and many celebrations!!