Pastor’s Devotions, #104

“You Will Never Die!”

Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:26

 

For the last nine months, on a daily basis, we have watched the media tally up the growing number of people dying due to Covid19. There are questions about the counting and whether the number should be larger or smaller – but in the end, the conversation centers upon death.

As human beings, we all share a similar fate. At some future date, we will breath our last and our life on this earth will be finished. As your pastor, I deal with death on a regular basis. And I would say that it’s pretty safe to say, I THINK about death AND life, every single day. Recently, Bill Williams and Doris Hatlen passed away.  Bill and Doris were wonderful, faithful, loving people that I had the privilege of knowing. Annabelle Birkestol passed away a few weeks ago and I will miss seeing her frail yet strong, faithful presence in the front row of the sanctuary every Sunday as we worshipped together.

Don’t get stuck thinking about death, keep reading!

Growing up in the church, with my dad, as a pastor, incidents of the sick and dying were a regular part of our life. Then, when my mom passed away in 1987, at the age 56, due to breast/liver cancer – death became much more personal. When my dad died in 2016, realizing that he was no longer there to lean on, there came a moment when the pall of death hung like a shroud over my shoulders. I can remember a moment when the magnitude of living this one momentary life hit me squarely between my eyes. The reality is that life on earth is but a breath. There is no going back, no do over’s, no second tries or repeats. When our life is over, it is over, really over – FOREVER. That seeming reality hit me like a sledge hammer and came on like a wave that swept me under, pulling me to a place of emptiness.

Don’t get stuck thinking about death, keep reading!

I wandered and wondered and wrestled in my mind over this experience for quite a while. Upon reflection, perhaps it was a type of Jacob wrestling or Jesus’ workout in the wilderness.

But by the grace of God, I did not get stuck thinking about death. I was given a gift! Keep reading!

I was given the opportunity, in my soul, to experience, what I would describe as “humanity without hope”. Looking at life through purely human eyes, there is a definite start and finish, and a clearly placed period at the end of our days. No more words – no more sentences – no more adjectives or adverbs – only blank white space.

Keep reading!

But Jesus came and sent the Holy Spirit to us, that we would see life and death and our future not through human eyes but with spiritual eyes! Life on this earth has a certain timetable, but life with God is eternal. This eternal life can only be seen and experienced spiritually. Jesus said, “The Spirit gives life, the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) Paul expresses it this way, “The body that is sown perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:42-44)

Can you see it? Do you believe it? This is the question Jesus posed to Martha upon his arrival at the mourning of her brother, Lazarus who had died.

Jesus said to Martha, “I AM the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Did you hear Jesus’ claim? He made quit an audacious and humanly speaking, unbelievable statement! He said that whoever lives and believes in him, WILL NEVER DIE! Recently, there has been so much talk about death, I think it is easy to lose the reality of life! Looking with human eyes, yes, the reality is that we all die. Yet, looking with spiritual eyes, the reality is, WE WILL NEVER DIE! When we close our eyes and breathe our last on this earth, in the next moment, our next reality will be opening our eyes to Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven that he has prepared for us, standing before us.

According to Jesus, Bill, Doris and Annabelle, as followers who lived and believed in him, never died – they continued to LIVE! Certainly, I watched each of my parents take their final breath here on earth, but it was the beginning of a new life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus guaranteed this inheritance through the presence of his Holy Spirit. Each one left their physical bodies behind and put on their spiritual bodies. In the blink of an eye, they went home, their true home, and all of earth’s experiences faded with importance. They stood before the throne of grace. All their pressing questions needed not to be asked because they were in the presence of eternal Truth. It’s not that their questions would not have value nor their identity on earth any significance, but their true identity has now been defined, clothed and created in Jesus Christ in a new way. Many things, we come to find out, even in this life, do not carry the weight or concern that they once did. (And we hear this confident, convincing confession of this truth from every single individual who has experienced a glimpse of Heaven and returned to tell their regal account.)

Since that time of personally experiencing, what I would call, the fear of human hopelessness, the Spirit of God has filled that void. God has poured more of his Spirit within me. New life and its certainty has emerged more fully. One marker of this outpouring has been the ability to write a continual stream of devotions for weeks on end during this pandemic. Yes, there will be plenty of dry days ahead, and I am sure more times that the Spirit will lead me down another path into the wilderness, but Life has revealed itself. Death has lost its sting!

Are you still reading? One final thought.

We are promised that we will NEVER die. So also, life in the Spirit and eternity exists TODAY! It emerges more and more as we meditate upon the life we have to live in Him here, than the death our flesh will face out there. Life here and life there – this is Jesus’ promise to us.

The promise is genuine, but the words, at times, can seem a bit hollow. Recently, I read a devotion written by Ravi Zacharias that might be helpful. He wrote about a visit to the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia, with his wife and son. He commented how his wife would take her time to study and reflect upon each painting. Ravi, took more of a flyby approaching, glancing at each painting and quickly moving on to the next. Some years later, he reported reading about theologian and author, Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was so captured by a simple poster of Rembrandt’s painting, “The Return of the Prodigal Son”, that he traveled to the same museum in Saint Petersburg just so that he could be in front of the actual painting himself. He sat in front of Rembrandt’s painting for four hours – and it changed his life. After Nouwen’s encounter, he knew that he wanted to work with mentally handicapped children and joined a community in Toronto, dedicated to this ministry. Ravi commented on the difference between his glancing encounter with the work of art compared to Nouwen’s immersion of the piece. Then Zacharias followed with a quote from one of his favorite author’s A. W. Tozier. Tozier writes, “I have often wished that there were some way to bring modern Christians into a deeper spiritual life painlessly by short easy lessons; but such wishes are vain. No shortcuts exist…May not the inadequacy of much of our spiritual experience be traced back to our habit of skipping through the corridors of the kingdom like little children through the marketplace, chattering about everything but pausing to learn the true value of nothing?”

Ravi admitted to skipping through the museum, chattering much about nothing and missing the moment. It is easy to skip about and chatter, learning the true value of nothing. But let’s not miss the picture Jesus painted clearly before us.

He prayed and promised, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)

Consider the picture and the time you reflect upon life and death. Ask the Holy Spirit for spiritual sight. Let His Life be your light! I encourage you to imprint this scripture upon your heart and mind – John 11:26 – Jesus said, “Whoever lives and believes in me will NEVER die!”

Yes, it’s true. You will never die.

Now, no more readingIt’s Time to LIVE!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 10

“Mother’s Day”

“I have been reminded of your sincere faith (Timothy), which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” 2 Timothy 1:5

 

Thank you to all the mothers, grandmothers and women who have loved us, encouraged us, and planted seeds of faith in our lives.

Here is an inspirational story on this Mother’s Day.

ENOUGH

Recently I overheard a mother and daughter in their last moments together at the airport. They had announced the departure. Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the mother said, “I love you and I wish you enough.”

The daughter replied, “Mom, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough too, Mom.”

They kissed and the daughter left. The mother walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see she wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on her privacy but she welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?”

“Yes, I have,” I replied. “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?”

“I am old and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is – the next trip back will be for my funeral,” she said.

“When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, ’I wish you enough’. May I ask what that means?”

She began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone”. She paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail and she smiled even more. “When we said, ’I wish you enough’, we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them”. Then turning toward me, she shared the following as if she were reciting it from memory.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.

I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.

She then began to cry and walked away. They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them but then an entire life to forget them.

I wish you Enough!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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