Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 21

“Grace”

“It is by grace that you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:8

 

A simple definition of Grace is “unmerited favor”. We are saved by God’s grace. We have done nothing to earn this salvation, but have received God’s unmerited favor as a gift. Jesus Christ died that we might live! Because so much of our lives center around “getting what we deserve” – grace can be a difficult concept to fully grasp. Yet, during this pandemic, there have been many stories of grace that have been shared. From employers, to the unemployed, students, sick patients, food service and strangers; many have experienced unmerited favor during this crisis. Unfortunately, many have not experienced a touch of grace. Let us look for stories of grace, share stories of grace, be stories of grace – and by the grace of God – live to tell his story of grace.

Recently, I came across this story. I thought I would share it with you today.

UNEXPECTED GRACE

I left work early so I could have some uninterrupted study time right before the final in my Youth Issues class. When I got to class, everybody was doing their last-minute studying. The teacher came in and said he would review with us for just a little bit before the test. We went through the review, most of it right on the study guide, but there were some things he was reviewing that I had never heard of. When questioned about it, he said that they were in the book and we were responsible for everything in the book. We couldn’t really argue with that.

Finally, it was time to take the test.

“Leave them face down on the desk until everyone has one and I’ll tell you to start,” our prof instructed.

When we turned them over, every answer on the test was filled in! The bottom of the last page said the following:

“This is the end of the Final Exam. All the answers on your test are correct. You will receive an ’A’ on the final exam. The reason you passed the test is because the creator of the test took it for you. All the work you did in preparation for this test did not help you get the A. You have just experienced…grAce.”

He then went around the room and asked each student individually, “What is your grade? Do you deserve the grade you are receiving? How much did all your studying for this exam help you achieve your final grade?”

Now I am not a crier by any stretch of the imagination, but I had to fight back tears when answering those questions and thinking about how the Creator has passed the test for me.

Discussion afterward went like this: “I have tried to teach you all semester that you are a recipient of grace. I’ve tried to communicate to you that you need to demonstrate this gift as you work with young people. Don’t hammer them; they are not the enemy. Help them, for they will carry on your ministry if it is full of GRACE!”

Talking about how some of us had probably studied hours and some just a few minutes but had all received the same grade, he pointed to a story Jesus told in Matthew 20. The owner of a vineyard hired people to work in his field and agreed to pay them a certain amount. Several different times during the day, he hired more workers. When it was time to pay them, they all received the same amount. When the ones who had been hired first thing in the morning began complaining, the boss said, “Should you be angry because I am kind?” (Matthew 20:15).

The teacher said he had never done this kind of final before and probably would never do it again, but because of the content of many of our class discussions, he felt like we needed to experience grace.

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Today, thank your Savior for the grace you have experienced. He loves you so very much!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 4

“Stay Humble”

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” 1 Peter 5:6

When Dr. Fauci was asked how long this Covid19 crisis will last and how far this virus will spread, he responded, “We must stay humble!” He continued to express our need to stay open, flexible and teachable because there are so many moving parts to this pandemic. Watching our fair share of alpha males wrestling on the mat of our government these past few weeks, it’s a wonder where humility can find its place.

Peter encourages the young and the old in 1 Peter 5:5, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” Humility has a hard time finding its way among us because it is seen as weakness. In our society of winners and champions, often at whatever cost, humility is something to be crushed and destroyed. Yet the Bible tells us that the ultimate victor is the humble of heart – he/she is the one who will rise and be honored.

Does anyone even know how to define humility in a healthy way? Someone might toss out a picture of one who is needy and has low self-esteem. Yes, it can be defined as someone who thinks of themselves as insignificant, but it’s not that simple. Healthy humility holds a tension between; not thinking to highly of oneself, while also not thinking too lowly of oneself. Humility can be described as one who honestly understands that they are in need, yet not needy. Humility requires the ability to take an honest, inward assessment. A person of deep character has humility but it requires raw honesty. Many humble people have found their way the hard way. Hitting rock bottom through some kind of addiction or crisis they are forced to do that kind of honest investigation. Most of us don’t want to look too closely because we are afraid of what we might find – it’s human nature.

Peter encourages us to take an honest inventory without the crisis. He tells us that we will receive grace from God when we recognize our honest need for him. Maybe the picture that needs to pop up in our mind is that of the Prodigal Son. The humbled son, who recognizes his need and acknowledges being unworthy, returns to his Father. The Father receives him with grace. Not only that, but the Father lifts him up as his son and restores him to honor. Peter affirms this picture as he writes, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” (1 Peter 5:6)

Yes, the Prodigal Son is a picture of humility but then again, it is just a parable. St. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, gives us a picture of a person who is the real deal. Humility is found in chapter 2, in its ultimate form. Paul writes,

               “Jesus, who being in very nature God; did not count equality with God something to be grasped (selfishly held on to) but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man (human), he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name above every name.”  

Jesus humbled himself. Jesus became fully human. Jesus became fully in need of God; but not needy. Jesus became in need of God for our sake. He let go of eternity and took on flesh. This is why he understands human battles and struggles. Jesus, himself, at times, needed encouragement, help, strength, guidance -and that can be seen as he returns from the temptations in the wilderness and as he climbs the mount of Transfiguration. His Father meets him in his time of need, sends ministering angels, and strengthens him. In due time, Jesus is lifted up and exalted after the humility of the cross.

Healthy humility is waiting for us. It passes through recognizing our need for God and hits the bullseye  in the person of Jesus Christ.  We don’t have to be needy. Let us not be arrogant. But let us truly acknowledge the sacrifice made on our behalf. This picture of Jesus Christ, in our mind’s eye, will keep us humble. And in due time, He will lift us up!

Humbly,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotional March 20

 

“Grace and Space”

“…All of you share in God’s grace with me.” Philippians 1:7

St. Paul begins his letter to the church in Philippi by sharing his heart with his people. He expresses thanksgiving, gratitude and love for the joyful opportunity of their partnership in the gospel.

Listen to his words, “I thank my God every time I think of you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.    It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” Phil. 1:3-7

Like Paul, my heart is full of love and gratitude for all of you as well. I thank God for our partnership in the gospel. And whether we feel chained in our homes or not, I give thanks. I am convinced that when this pandemic subsides, we will quickly return together and share the joy that will carry us forth in power and love.

We have a crucial message to share. The world needs to hear it. For you and I share in the grace of God.

Watching Channel 13 News this morning, I heard about grace from an unexpected source. It reminded me about extending undeserved favor. We all need to be reminded about grace in this time and space – for ourselves, for others.

The story was reported in the New York Times. The article was entitled, “I Am Not Turning My Home into a Coronavirus Home School.” A woman explained that she was unprepared and overwhelmed trying to set up a school schedule and routine so that her children would learn.  Lesson plans, packets and snack time was just not going to happen. So, in these unprecedented times, she was going to bake cookies with the kids, watch movies, play video games and allow generous access to the refrigerator.

The News 13 reporter went on to explain that he felt compelled to do a google search on this woman.  Turns out that she has been trained at Harvard University. She has a Phd. In Education. She is a woman who teaches teachers!  She is an educator, but the reality is, she is also a human being. She is trying to manage life’s stresses and because of this she is giving herself and her children some grace.

Is she a terrible mom? Will the kids grow up illiterate, uneducated and living in poverty? Probably not. What I heard is that she is taking a deep breath and extending love and favor to herself and to her children. Will the projects need to be completed? Probably. But right now, she is giving herself and her family some grace and space.

Today, let us acknowledge that we live under a canopy of grace. God’s grace! God has recklessly thrown out the lesson plans with all its deadlines and expectations and has lavishly loved us through his Son, Jesus Christ. WE ALL SHARE IN THIS GRACE TOGETHER! Whatever expectations you might have of yourself and/or of others, take a deep breath. Jesus arrives wanting to give us a breath of fresh air. And then for us to breathe that grace filled air upon others – just stay 6 feet away from them or I’ll have to throw you in jail – just kidding – are you smiling.

Let us smile. Let us laugh. Let us enjoy this beautiful sunny day God has given us. Let us eat that chocolate cake for breakfast. Do you need to take a break from your exercise routine? Do it. Do you really need to vacuum the house again? Don’t do it. Let us take a break from reading, writing, doing whatever it might be. Maybe we just need to “be” today. Receive the grace. It is granted. Let us receive it. Let us share it. Heck, even the government is giving us until July 15 to file our taxes. Can you feel it? GRACE ABOUNDS!

We are in the midst of serious times that require serious action. Let us temper this intensity and allow for some of the grace and space we all share.

It is right for me to feel this way. As you have given me a thick slab of chocolate cake, and extended much grace and favor to my family and I. So, I hope to share that same grace with you, and make it alamode. Thanks be to God that we all share in God’s grace together. So, go ahead. Have a second piece!

Grace and Space through our Savior, Jesus Christ,

Pastor Mark