Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 21

“We’ve Been Here Before!”

“History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

As a country, we’ve been here before! One hundred years ago, America wrestled with a pandemic that infected millions of people and is estimated to have killed almost 700,000. There was no cure for the virus and people were told to wear masks to control the spread. That demand was met with a variety of responses. Honestly, this is nothing new.

But I would like to bounce back another 30 years, to a time period that has been labeled, “The Gilded Age.” The Gilded Age was an era that occurred during the late 19th century, from the 1870’s to around 1900.

During this time, the United States grew in industrialization and urbanization. The railroad was the driving force in connecting all parts of the country as never before. The railroad drove economic growth. Certain entrepreneurs became extremely successful. One might categorize them as the “Big Five.” Andrew Carnegie made his fortune in steel. Cornelius Vanderbilt built his empire in shipping and the railroad, John D. Rockefeller in oil, William Randolph Hearst in publishing and newspapers, and JP Morgan in finance and banking. During this time, an elite aristocracy was growing (the rich one percent), so also the working poor. Farming and agriculture were struggling and growing deeper in debt. Money was to be made if one was a skilled laborer. But a wave of over 3 million immigrants flowed into the country in less than five years, looking for a brighter future. Two economic depressions hit during that era that created up to 20% unemployment across the country. Unrest was growing with the common laborers as they felt forgotten and left behind by those experiencing prosperity. Groups began to organize, raising the issue of inequality. The country was wrestling with progress and poverty. The country was also wrestling with democracy and capitalism. Does any of this sound familiar?

As I listened and learned about this time capsule in American history, it was like I was slapped across the face. We are still wrestling with many of these same issues. We have been here before!

Rather than the railroad driving the connections around our country, now it is the internet as our digital railroad. Rather than entrepreneurs building their empires around steel, railroads, oil, newspapers, and banking, today, the “Big Five” have been driving their empires electronically with such names as, Bezos, Zuckerburg, Buffet, Jobs and Gates (you can throw in Walton if you’d like). Skilled laborers can make a healthy living, but common laborers are still living paycheck to paycheck. Immigrants are wanting to enter our country due to the historical reasons of religious persecution and poverty. Groups are growing to address the issues of inequality. The country continues to wrestle with progress and poverty. And the country has still not really come to terms with a democracy that calls for equality – each one, votes one, and a capitalist system that tends to give rise to inequality whereby the rich become more wealthy and more powerful.

Much truth can be found in the quoted words of John Adams that democracy without morality is dead.

So, what does this have to do with faith? I was reminded of King Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 1:9, “History merely repeats itself. It has been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new.”

King Solomon wrote these words over 3,000 years ago. I find both hope and challenge in his words. I find hope, for if we have faced similar situations before and have found a way to survive, surely we can do so again. But they are also challenging words because it means that we continue to repeat the same patterns and pitfalls that cause the same pain and problems as in the past.

When God brought the Israelites into the Promised Land, he cautioned the people not to forget from whence they had come. God had provided and protected them for forty years in the wilderness. They were to trust, follow and obey God’s direction and commands. If they did so, God would bless them mightily. And if they passed this teaching on to their children and the following generations, they would experience peace and prosperity at the hand of God.

But the Israelites were unable to obey. They continued to follow a cycle that would repeat itself over and over again for hundreds of years during the period of the Judges.

Judges 3:7-11 summarizes the path that Israel followed:

Othniel Becomes Israel’s Judge

The Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight. They forgot about the Lord their God, and they served the images of Baal and the Asherah poles. Then the Lord burned with anger against Israel, and he turned them over to King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim.[a] And the Israelites served Cushan-rishathaim for eight years.

But when the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help, the Lord raised up a rescuer to save them. His name was Othniel, the son of Caleb’s younger brother, Kenaz. 10 The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, and he became Israel’s judge. He went to war against King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram, and the Lord gave Othniel victory over him. 11 So there was peace in the land for forty years. Then Othniel son of Kenaz died.

The following is the pattern of the cycle that the Israelites would wrestle with over and over again:

  1. Israel Disobeys
  2. Israel is Oppressed
  3. Israel Cries out to God
  4. God raises up a Deliverer (a Judge)
  5. Israel is Delivered
  6. Israel is at Peace.

Unfortunately, when the deliverer died, the nation of Israel would fall back into a time of disobedience, and the cycle and pattern would be repeated.

Reading and learning about Israel’s repetitive cycle is painful yet within the pain, there is a promise. It is painful because Israel is unable to consistently walk in obedience to God. Yet there is a promise that brings hope because when they finally cry out to God in their pain, God comes to their rescue.

This repetitive cycle during the era of the Judges lasted for roughly 400 years. They definitely took, “Been there, done that” to the extreme. When the era of Judges moved on to the period of the Kings, a familiar cycle of disobedience followed. But it is interesting that God spoke a word of promise to King Solomon after he finished constructing God’s Temple in Jerusalem. God said, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

God gave King Solomon a message for all of God’s people. When times are hard and pain is close at hand, when people come to realize that they have been down a troublesome highway once again, there is a pattern worth repeating: Humility, Prayer, Seek God and Turn from evil. When people take this action, the crooked road will straighten, the rocky road with become smooth, and the narrow road will widen. God will hear! God will forgive! And God will bring healing!

Today, the Christian church, in many ways, is traveling a similar road to that of the church during the Gilded Era. The church was facing many new changes and challenges. People were leaving the church. There were challenges to its doctrines. People were looking for something new. They wanted to believe in the improvement of human nature. Does this sound familiar? The church was challenged with trying to address and respond to changing needs in the midst of a changing culture. The Christian church today is traveling down this same road. But honestly, it has been down this road before.     

King Solomon made the statement that there is nothing new under the sun. And it is true. Yes, we will face problems that we have faced time and time again. But let us remain steadfast knowing that whatever is ahead, we face it with the repeating promises and provisions of God. He will deliver us! He will defend us! And He will delight in us! Because we will humble ourselves, pray and seek Him and turn from any of our evil ways.

“God, who calls you is faithful, and He will do this!” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

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