Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 11

“Attractive Conversations”

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” Colossians 4:6

 

People are asking big questions these days. With talk of paradigm shifts and pivot points, people are wondering what pandemics and protests might mean on the larger scale. Conversations continue to stir about second waves and security breaches which add to the rising levels of anxiety.

Paul says in Colossians 4:5-6, “Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversations be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

Paul says, “Live wisely.” Another translation states, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders.” The word, “wise,” can also be translated, “to have skill.” Paul states this in the context of asking for prayer that a door may be opened to those who do not know the message of Christ. So, Paul is exhorting the church to have skills as it deals with outsiders in sharing the Gospel. How are we to be wise (skilled)? Perhaps picking up on the words from James (in an earlier devotion), that we are to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19) If emotions run high, and we, as Christians, are able to demonstrate a strong “EQ” (emotional quotient) – we will show ourselves to have skills. A high “EQ” gives a person the skills to not overact but remain in control and calmly discuss potentially highly charged topics. When we can display emotional control, it gives greater opportunity for the message of Christ to be heard and received.

Paul also says that our conversation should be gracious and attractive to others. So, what does attractive conversation look like? Perhaps it is easier to point to what it is not. Attractive conversation is not blaming, defensive, demeaning or intimidating. Rather, attractive conversation will take on qualities such as; respect, honoring, valuing, honesty and transparency. Perhaps the greatest model for attractive conversation was Jesus. People of all make and models were drawn to listen to him. They were drawn into conversation with him. They asked questions, some had honest challenges and wanted further clarity to his teaching. Jesus honored each question, he listened, and then he also gave honest, respectful, and at times, direct answers.

How is it possible to give a right response to everyone? Paul begins the previous paragraph with the words, “Devote yourselves to prayer with an alert mind and a thankful heart.” (Colossians 4:2) As always, Paul points back to the Lord. Strength, wisdom, compassion, understanding, and revelation are all qualities that depend upon God. As we humbly seek, pray and turn to God, He is able to use every opportunity TO TEACH US. Then as we grow in understanding, we can calmly and respectfully with humble confidence share the message of Christ.

Here are two of the biggest questions people tend to ask;

  1. Why am I here?
  2. What is the purpose of my life?

The direct answer to that question is;

  1. You have been created to be in relationship with God.
  2. The purpose of your life is to live for His glory.

These two brief answers can perhaps be the beginning of a deeply gracious and attractive conversation involving Jesus Christ and the Gospel.

May the Holy Spirit continue to guide us into greater skill as He gives us opportunity to share the Gospel.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark

 

 
   
   
   
   

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 9

“Treasure”

“The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field.”  Matthew 13:44

Are you a buried treasure enthusiast? As a young boy, I had dreams of finding buried treasure. Like Indiana Jones, in the jungles of the Amazon, I dreamed of finding a treasure that had been hidden ages ago. I do not think that I am alone. Over the years, there have been people who have traveled the world in search for treasure. They have searched mountains, oceans, tombs, and ancient cities for riches. But there have also been stories of people digging up gold coins right in their backyard. Others have found treasure using metals detector on nearby sandy beaches. And some have even found treasure buried among trinkets at a local thrift store. The idea of finding hidden treasure certainly can get one’s blood pumping.   

For the past decade, thousands of treasure seekers have been pumped to travel into the Rocky Mountains in search of a special-announced treasure. This past weekend, it was reported that the treasure had finally been found. After ten years, the buried treasure trove had finally been unearthed. The name of the man who found the treasure is being kept secret, for now. The bronze chest was believed to have contained not only gold but rubies, emeralds and diamonds as well, estimated to be worth over $1 million dollars.

Ten years ago, Forrest Fenn, an 89-year-old art and antiquities collector, created the treasure hunt. The genesis for the hunt was generated from news that he only had a short time to live. So, he created an adventure for anyone who truly wanted to seek after an honest buried treasure. He hid the treasure in the Rocky Mountains and he left clues leading to the location in a 24-line poem, published in Fenn’s 2010 autobiography, “The Thrill of the Chase.”

It is estimated that over 350,000 people, from all over the world, have hunted for this treasure. Some people quit their jobs, and some even died on the trail, in their quest for riches.

It is amazing what one will do in search for treasure. Back in the goldrush days of the 1840’s, people sold homes, left families, and rolled the dice in hopes that they would get their hands on some of that buried treasure.

In Matthew chapter 13, Jesus talks about buried treasure. He tells a parable about the Kingdom of heaven being like that of buried treasure. He says, “The Kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy, went and sold all that he had and bought that field.”

The genesis of God’s treasure hunt began in a Garden. In the beginning, the treasure was obvious, available and enjoyed by Adam and Eve as they walked, communed and fellowshipped with God. Suddenly, with the onslaught of sin, that treasure seemed to go into hiding. Humanity was no longer, openly seeking after God. They were distracted by other earthly things. Riches of other kinds caught their attention. Since then, the world has been on a chase, wanting riches but digging in the wrong places.     

Jesus entered the chase and tried to highlight the trail. Sometimes his teaching seemed to conceal the path. But if people tracked with him, they would come to know the Way. He also led people to consider the idea of rolling the dice – to go all in. But in this treasure search, there would be no gambling on this roll. For all the risk was upon the one who created the search. God guaranteed a payout, eternal riches, for anyone who would roll the dice on his Son, Jesus Christ. And when the treasures of Christ would be unearthed, the treasure seeker would exhale a cry of celebration and would be willing to go all in, and sell off all other earthly riches because of the joy in the find.

St. Paul describes this joyful discovery as he says, “But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” (Philippians 3:7-8)

It is pretty amazing that over 350,000 people would canvas and scale mountains in search of financial treasure. Yet, the eternal treasures found in God lay buried right under our feet. Actually, the treasure is found right at the feet of Jesus.  We can find this treasure whatever our location, position or posture in life because Jesus has humbled himself as a servant. He makes himself available to us, whoever we are, wherever we are. When a treasure seeker comes to Him with an open, honest heart, true riches are given. And when that joy is received, all else pales in comparison.

While some of us might still hold out a slim hope to hit those lottery numbers, or dream of digging up those dusty gold coins beneath our basement, let us encourage one another to continue to desire and discover the eternal riches that God desperately wants to unearth in us. These are riches that neither moth nor rust nor anything else in all of creation will be able to destroy.

Someone unearthed the true treasure of God’s grace and described it this way:

God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

This conversation also has brought to mind the beautiful hymn: “Jesus Priceless Treasure”.

1 Jesus, priceless treasure,
source of purest pleasure,
friend most sure and true:
long my heart was burning,
fainting much and yearning,
thirsting, Lord, for you.
Yours I am, O spotless Lamb,
so will I let nothing hide you,
seek no joy beside you!

2 Let your arms enfold me:
those who try to wound me
cannot reach me here.
Though the earth be shaking,
every heart be quaking,
Jesus calms my fear.
Fires may flash and thunder crash;
yea, though sin and hell assail me,
Jesus will not fail me.

3 Hence, all worldly treasure!
Jesus is my pleasure,
Jesus is my choice.
Hence, all empty glory!
What to me your story
told with tempting voice?
Pain or loss or shame or cross
shall not from my Savior move me,
since he chose to love me.

4 Banish thoughts of sadness,
for the Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in;
though the clouds may gather,
those who love the Savior
still have peace within.
Though I bear much sorrow here,
still in you lies purest pleasure,
Jesus, priceless treasure!  

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, May 28

“Ride On”

“Sing to God, sing praises to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds –                                                   his name is the LORD, Yahweh – and rejoice before him.” Psalm 68:4

This morning I went on a ride with James and Jon. Two other disciples of Jesus rode along as well.       

No, I was not dreaming, my gluteus maximus is clearly telling me that this ride was real. James reached out to me earlier in the week and invited me on a motorcycle ride. Three others heard about the call. No, it was not Peter, Andrew, and Bartholomew. Rather, they were, brother Bruce, Dave and Jon. So, we 5 disciples met on Thursday at 8 a.m., and rode off from the church.

As we rode away, Jon took the lead. He knew the way. We were going to ride the backroads to Bellingham. We had been on these roads before but not since last summer. It was a beautiful morning. This was my first ride of the season. We rode up Chuckanut Drive (State Route 11) and it was as if we owned the road. Not another car was seen on that entire stretch of pavement. The quiet twists and turns under the canopy of trees was awesome. A cool breeze accompanied us the entire way. We had been this way before, so it was fun to relive the familiar view. We stopped at Starbucks in Fairhaven for coffee. After the break, we talked about the route for our return trip. If I had led, I would have simply returned the way we came. But as we left the parking lot, James took the lead. He took a left at the light.

We went under the freeway and suddenly, for me, we were riding in unfamiliar territory. I had not been on this road before. At the top of the hill, we rode past Lake Padden. The road opened up and twisted around a hill and down into open country. James led us along the south end of Lake Sammish, through Alger, passed Avalon and brought us back into Sedro Wooley. I’ve lived in this area for over 12 years, but this was the first time down this small stretch of road. As we entered back into familiar territory, brother Dave rode up alongside me and declared, “THAT WAS FUN!!” To which I couldn’t have agreed more.

The familiar roads are enjoyable. But today, I was reminded how enjoyable the unfamiliar road can be a well. The key is appreciating the ride for the sake of the ride – and sharing that ride with the people you care about.

Back in the day, Jesus went on a ride with his 12 disciples. He rode into Jerusalem for the sake of the ride. And yes, he cared about his disciples. The crowds were singing and shouting, “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” This was a familiar road. Jesus had entered Jerusalem many times before. He knew the pavement. He also had entered towns and villages to excited and exuberant crowds. But after a rest stop on Thursday in an upper room; after food and fellowship, and drink, and much more, Jesus was about to ride down an unfamiliar road. For the moment, Judas would take the lead. He would leave the parking lot and take a left at the light. For Judas, this left would lead him to destruction. For Jesus, it was an unfamiliar road that would lead him to the cross yet lead us to salvation. He had been destined, forever, to ride down this road. For a few days, this road would test Jesus to his limits. But through this most difficult pain and ride of suffering, the road would open up for others who would come behind him. These followers would experience the ride of their lifetime! Jesus’ disciples would continue to ride down unfamiliar roads. Some stretches filled with enormous joy. Other stretches fill with great challenges and suffering. But they all knew the meaning behind the ride. They also knew that they did not ride alone. They rode with the love of their Savior, and the power of the Holy Spirit. They rode together. They also were willing to share that road with whoever wanted to ride along.

Soon, we will be allowed to get back on the roads. We all will not be riding motorcycles, but we will be returning to familiar experiences and memories. We will ride these roads, taking deep breaths and appreciating more fully what we all once had. We will realize that we have taken much too much for granted, and recognize that our days can be fleeting. But, let us not just ride down the familiar roads. If Jesus leads, He will inevitably take us down unfamiliar paths as well. He will take us places that we have not been before. He will lead us through twists and turns so that we can more fully appreciate the ride. He will show us beauty that we have never experienced before. And yes, at times, he will reveal some sacrifices that will have to be made, and that are necessary to travel that road.

Once you experience the glory of the open road, it continues to call you back. And that beckoning will include both the familiar and unfamiliar.

I look forward to continuing our ride together – perhaps it is a road less traveled!

Hey, James and Jon – thanks for taking the lead on our bikes! I’ll follow you guys any day.

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

P.S. – As this devotion was forming in my head during our ride. This familiar hymn continued to ring in my ears. I want to share it with you today.

Ride on! Ride on in Majesty!

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! Hark! All the tribes hosanna cry.

O Savior meek, pursue your road. With palms and scattered garments strowed.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;

O Christ, your triumphs now begin. O’er captive death and conquered sin.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! The winged squadrons of the sky.

Look down with sad and wond’ring eyes, to see th’approaching sacrifice.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! Your last and fiercest strife is night;

The Father on his sapphire throne, expects his own anointed Son.

  1. Ride on, ride on in majesty! In lowly pomp ride on to die;

bow your meek head to mortal pain, then take, O God, your pow’r and reign.



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 26

“Loaves and Fish”

Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” Matthew 14:16

 

Midway through the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is going to test the disciples understanding of God’s Kingdom. In chapter 14, Jesus withdraws, by boat, to a private place after hearing about John the Baptist’s beheading at the hand of King Herod. Crowds of people follow him on foot. When he lands on shore, the people are waiting for him. He has compassion for them and heals their sick. As evening approaches, the disciples approach Jesus with a concern. They say to him, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” (Matthew 14:15)

Jesus responds, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” The disciples answer him, “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” (Matthew 14:16)

At this halfway point, as there are 28 chapters in Matthew’s Gospel, you could almost call this, the story’s, “Halftime.” Jesus is looking for rest. Up to this point, he has been preaching, teaching and healing the sick. He has called his 12 disciples and has been carrying on his mission non-stop. In this moment, Jesus wants a break. But the crowds don’t back down. Instead, they track him down. Then when evening comes, and the disciples come with their concern, Jesus moves in to see about their understanding of the Kingdom. Keep in mind, that at this point, Jesus has already sent his disciples out on an internship. In chapter 10, Matthew records Jesus giving the disciples authority over evil spirits and their ability to heal every disease and sickness. He sent them out without any money or supplies. Jesus said, “As you go, preach this message: ‘the kingdom of heaven is near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, rive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.” The disciples have already experienced God’s supply in the midst of scarcity. Then, in chapter 13, Jesus continues to teach about the Kingdom of God. He speaks to them in parables and compares the kingdom to a Sower and seed. He goes on and uses the examples of weeds, mustard seed, yeast, and a net, to further teach kingdom principles.

Now with a throng of thousands surrounding them and with virtually no food whatsoever, Jesus challenges the interns to provide food for the crowd. They still have much to learn. Instead of turning to Jesus, trusting him to provide, they despair over their tiny supply of bread and fish. This test exposes that the Kingdom has not yet penetrated the hearts of his students. They will need the second half of the mission to grow more fully into the knowledge of God’s power. But truthfully, the full experience of God’s power will not be fully realized until the event of Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. It is then that the disciples will walk in boldness and confidence, knowing God’s Kingdom power and provision.

Last night I watched a video clip on YouTube entitled, “The Story Behind, ‘The Chosen’.” Dallas Jenkins is the director and producer for this Gospel series.  As the story goes, Dallas Jenkins was an up and coming Hollywood producer. He had been noticed by a number of powerful people in the film industry who wanted to support him. He thought this was his great moment. They produced a film entitled, “The Resurrection of Gavin Stone.” This film was going to launch his career to new heights. The film did not do well at the box office. In fact, Jenkins recalled that the film crashed and burned so mightily that he believed his future in Hollywood was over. He returned home to lick his wounds. While he and his wife prayed and sought God for greater understanding in this disaster, they both were drawn to Matthew’s account of Jesus feeding the 5,000. They didn’t really understand the deeper significance of the story, but they knew God was wanting to reveal something to them.

Jenkins recalled that the very same night, while he was at his desk at 3:00 am (I might add, the fourth watch of the night), he received a text message. It was from a person he called, “an acquaintance.” He had not spoken to this person in quite some time and would not really even call him a friend. Jenkins said that this text arrived completely out of the blue and read,

“Remember, it’s not YOUR job to feed the 5,000. Your job is to bring your bread and fish.”

 Jenkins was dumbfounded and replied,

“What led you to say that?”

The return text said,

“Wasn’t me – I felt led to tell you that right now.”

Jenkins testified that in this most dark moment of his life, God met him at 3 am. He said that this moment would mark his life and he would never be the same. He says that he approaches everyday with great peace, knowing that it is not his job to feed the 5,000. His job is simply to provide what loaves and fish he has. If he does that, he trusts God to do the rest.

From this new enlightened kingdom principle, Jenkins entered into “The Chosen” series with complete trust. He and his crew would bring what they have, and God would do the miracle. Since that time, they have witnessed God’s miraculous provision over and over again. They have faced many untold challenges, yet God has continued to provide, often at the eleventh hour. They are currently preparing for season 2, with the hope of filming 8 seasons. Over 33 million people around the world have visited the site and more are viewing it every day. They are the number one publicly funded series in film history.

We are sure to face many tests and challenges on our own journey of faith, especially in the midst of this pandemic. But may we hold on to this kingdom principle of Christ. May we also be encouraged from this living testimony from Dallas Jenkins. Let us offer whatever loaves and fish we have, and let us trust Jesus to provide the rest.

Let the third quarter begin!

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 25

“A New Birth of Freedom”

“For freedom Christ has set us free” Galatians 5:1

 

Today, Frank Devita turned 95 years old. He is a veteran of World War II. There are not too many Frank Devita’s left. Of the 16 million men and women who wore a uniform during the war, there are only a few hundred thousand left alive.

Six years ago, Frank Devita returned to the beaches of Normandy. He was an eighteen-year old kid from Brooklyn, New York, as he aided the assault upon Omaha Beach on D Day, June 6, 1944. He served in the Coast Guard and was part of a landing craft crew. They returned to their ship 12 times in order to retrieve soldiers and continue the assault upon the Atlantic Wall. With fortified German defenses, and machine gun bullets constantly blazing by both ears, Devita described being dumbfounded how he ever survived that day. NBC News Anchor, Tom Brokaw, was with Devita on Omaha beach that day six years ago. Brokaw asked Devita what lesson should be taken away from that historic moment of D Day? Devita humbly replied, “Love your freedom!” He continued, “We all fought for your freedom!”

After hearing Devita speak of freedom, on this Memorial Day, I was moved, once again, to read Abraham Lincoln’s iconic Gettysburg Address. How is it that one can immediately be moved by a simple description of the passage of time? But something is triggered and stirred whenever I hear or read the words, “Four score and seven years ago.” It is not that these numbers, in and of themselves are sacred. But it is the depth of content that is moving. And it is this depth and content that moved a country in a desperate time to a higher ideal. This content continues to move people today. These 272 words of Lincoln have resonated in the hearts of individuals and raised the attention of every generation since, as if it is holy text. This faith-filled president humbly and succinctly called the current generation and future generations to consider what is hallowed. Four months after the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln stood on the ground upon which 10,000 soldiers gave their lives along with 30,000 more casualties. He quickly confirmed that the ground they were standing upon, had already been consecrated by the blood shed and lives lost in battle.

Then President Lincoln, with precision, called the crowd and the nation to conceive of something beyond the soldier’s sacred sacrifice. He called them to consider a calling beyond themselves. He challenged them to not let these lives be lost in vain. He set forth a vision, called out from an ancient truth. He declared, “…that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom…”

Lincoln’s call to a new birth of freedom, harkened back to a higher, richer, deeper call cried out ninety-three score and 15 years ago. Jesus called out for a new birth of freedom to be advanced in the heart of each individual soul. And these new souls birthed in this new found freedom would build a kingdom unlike any known before. Unlocked and unleashed in these new hearts would be a force of love that would be undeniable. A nation of believers would be lifted up to live a life greater than themselves. This new birth of freedom would be defined by self-sacrifice and obedience to the call. Jesus, living this charge, would model this new birth of freedom by example. And in only a few words, he would crystalize the content of this new birth. Jesus declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

St. Paul echoed these words of freedom and this new birth in his book to the Galatians. He stated simply, “For freedom, Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1). But these seven words have left a score of interpretations that have left the call incomplete. Often, these few words of Paul calling for freedom, have left people returning to the old, familiar ways of self-service. Self-sacrifice and surrender to a higher ideal becomes lost in the hot pursuit of simple self-satisfaction and the right to do so. Paul tried to point his people to live a life beyond self, into a new birth of faith lived out in love–a life and love found and established in the person and service of Jesus Christ.

Let freedom ring. Today, we hear many voices speak of freedom. On this Memorial Day, may the words of Frank Devita, President Abraham Lincoln and our Savior Jesus Christ continue to speak. May we love the freedom that has been given to us. May we give thanks for all the men and women who have fought valiantly and sacrificially for this freedom. May we pray for a new birth of freedom in our country. May hearts and minds be lifted to a higher ideal and greater cause in unity. And may we extol praise to the One who laid down his life and sacrificed himself for the cause of our eternal salvation.

Let freedom ring. Let freedom reign. Let our freedom ring in a new birth.

God Bless You and God Bless America!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 30

“Messiah”

There is no other name under heaven given to all people by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

 

Yesterday, the news reported that over 1,000 Orthodox Jews gathered in downtown New York City. Disregarding social distancing, they wanted to honor their beloved rabbi who passed away. This sent the New York Police department running.

Recently, I ran across a story about another beloved rabbi. This rabbi lived in Israel. When he passed away in 2006, over 300,000 people attended his funeral. Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri was one of the most famous and beloved rabbis in all of Israel’s modern history. He lived to be 108 years old. Yes, that is correct, he was born in 1898, and lived to be 108 years old.

What is even more amazing is that in his last years, Rabbi Kaduri set out on a personal quest to identify the name of the Messiah. During this time, he reported that the Messiah had appeared to him in a vision. Not only that, but that the Messiah told him his name and that he would come soon.

Before his death, Rabbi Kaduri wrote a note which was sealed in an envelope and was not allowed to be opened until a year after his death. The note revealed the name of the Messiah. After the one-year anniversary of his death, the envelope was opened and the note was read.

The note said, (written in Hebrew)

               “Concerning the initial letters of the name of Messiah:

                              He will lift up the people and prove that his word and his teaching is valid.

Written with my signature in the month of Mercy. Yitzhak Kaduri.”

The first letter of each word reveals the name of the Messiah. In Hebrew, the name of Messiah that is spelled out is; “Yehoshua”  =  “Yeshua”  = “Jesus”.

The long and short version of the name, “Yeshua”, was translated in the Septuagint (the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible), even 200 years before the birth of the Lord as “Jesus” (Iesous). It is the same name in Hebrew and Greek.

The Bible reveals that the Messiah should come to earth twice. The first time to die for our sins and the second time to save Israel and the world from destruction.

Hebrews 9:27-28 states, “And just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once, to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him.”

Peter declared before the rabbis of his day and also the religious leaders and scribes, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that, by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him, this man is standing before you healed. He is, ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10-12)

Many Jews and much pressure has been exerted to demonstrate this note to be a forgery. Should that be surprised?

After Jesus’ resurrection, much pressure was put on the Roman guards who kept watch over the tomb. Matthew 28:12-15 states, “When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ So, the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this day.”

So, should we trust Rabbi Kaduri and his note? Did he meet the Messiah and reveal his name?

Let our trust be in the Lord! But let us follow the rabbi’s example and do our own personal search for Messiah. Jeremiah 29:13 promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you”, declares the Lord.

Continue to seek, with all of your heart, and you will find him. Continue to ask, with all of your heart, and you shall receive him. Continue to knock, with all of your heart and the door shall be opened to him. These are words of promise from our Messiah.

What is his name? His name is Jesus! His is the name above every name! The Messiah!

God Bless You in the name of Yeshua,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 19

“Royalty”

“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…” 1 Peter 2:9

Royalty is not for the faint of heart! We are watching the drama of Prince Harry unfold from a distance. If we were allowed an up-close picture, I’m sure we would see a lot of pain. Like I said, royalty is not for the faint of heart. Just ask Prince Harry’s new wife, Meghan. She felt the full force of royalty and fought for her family to walk away. The reality is that there are no easy paths. Whatever road we travel, it will be fraught with challenges. Prince Harry and Meghan are feeling a certain freedom even while being in quarantine. They are in the middle of purchasing a $15 million dollar home in Malibu. But along with this freedom comes the reality of re-establishing one’s identity. Harry is walking away from the only identity he has ever known. While he might not like the conditions and restraints and lack of privacy he has had to endure, this new road will be rocky. Re-discovering a new identity is never easy. He will smile for the cameras, but beneath the surface, internal struggle will be his daily food.

Still royal and sitting on her throne, young prince Harry would do well to learn from his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II. Her reign began in 1952. She has ruled the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth for over 68 years. She publicly voiced her commitment to serve the British people for the rest of her life at the young age of 24. At that time, with her father in poor health, Princess Elizabeth spoke publicly and declared her allegiance to the people. She was not wearing rose colored glasses. She had grown up in the palace. She had endured the fiercest world war the world had ever known. She stood resolved, committed and eager to serve her people. Life would not be easy. Her family, country and commonwealth would face innumerable challenges, yet she still stands. What has steadied her throughout almost 7 decades of reign has been her understanding of service. Her reign, rule and life exist in order to serve for the betterment of her countrymen and women. While there have been times of great suffering personally and publicly, she will be remembered as the greatest royal to serve the English people.

Some of us, in the cheap seats, look at royalty and wish for the day. We wish that we could ride in the carriage and wave the royal wave to cheering fans. But after the pomp and circumstance, the life of the royals is simply hard work. Their every day is planned and scheduled. Every step and word is recorded. Scrutiny and criticism are around every corner. And false claims are on every weekly tabloid. Yet with all the challenges, there remains great satisfaction in being royal. Prince Harry will soon begin to realize all that he has left. And he will begin the long, difficult road to discover within himself what he has never needed to know. The world will watch and record how he stands.

Did you know YOU are royalty? St. Peter states, “(Believers) You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood.” Some Christians live their whole lives believing that they are simple commoners. Many believers simply wait for the scraps to fall from their master’s table. Yet the Scriptures declare something different. We are royal. We are heirs to a Kingdom. We’ve been given keys to that kingdom, and authority to rule in a righteous robe which Christ has placed upon us. Some believers remain living in the cheap seats, wearing their rose-colored glasses. These believers envision all glory laud and honor  will simply be bestowed upon them. Jesus clearly declared, before he left his disciples, that being royal in God’s Kingdom was to be something different. Jesus would say in no uncertain terms that, indeed, the royal life would not be for the faint of heart. Rather than being Kings who seek to be served and rule over others, his Kingdom was going to be filled with royals who seek to serve. God’s royalty would serve God first and follow with their neighbor. They would wash feet, carry their cross, love one another, forgive each other’s sin, serve the poor and announce the future coming of the King. It would be hard work. There would be suffering both privately and publicly. But the meaning and satisfaction of being part of this Kingdom reign would bring no greater joy.

Jesus did not soft sell this royal journey. Royalty is only an easy path if one only read’s selected verses from Scripture that do not speak of sacrifice. One must gut all the vital organs out of scripture if we are to overlook the Kingdom’s call. Jesus knows that the only path, on the narrow road that not many will find, exists where personal sacrifice and God’s power intersect. At this crossing of personal death and spiritual life, new life is discovered in him and a new identity emerges. An identity that is saved for royalty. An identity that is more glorious and good than anyone could imagine.

You might not have known but there is a path for royalty laid out in Scripture. This path is not hard and fast with rigid edges. The royal path is followed in trust to God. He leads the way. He determines each step.

There is a path outlined for royals both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Two people who were raised to royalty can give us a clear understanding of that path.

Joseph, the son Jacob, was raised to royalty. Recorded in Genesis, Joseph’s rise can be traced back to his beginning battles with his family, through his enslavement in Egypt and his ultimate rise to the throne -second in command of all Egypt. His life lifts up themes which are consistently found in the royal family.

Jesus, son of Joseph, began as royalty. Jesus reigned in glory, but did not believe royalty was something to be held on to. Thus, Jesus humbled himself in obedience to his Father, took on human flesh and took the lowest place. Born in the backroads of Nazareth, Jesus path eventually took him to the right hand of God. His name is now lifted up above all other names. It is crucial for us as clueless royals to watch, learn and remember their road.     

When the Lord spiritually restored my heart while I was in recovery from cancer surgery in 2006, he revealed the following path. I felt a surge of excitement each morning as he seemed to make more and more connections in Scripture. My heart was strengthened as I began to see the path that both Joseph and Jesus followed – this helped to heal my brokenness.

I will briefly share the 7 moves of God in the path of royalty:

  1.   Chosen
  2.   Challenged
  3.   Suffering
  4.   Exaltation
  5.   Fruit
  6.   Reconciliation
  7.   Rest – Shalom

The first step is never ours. God calls, claims, chooses and draws his royal people to him. St. Peter declares that we are first “Chosen” before we are a “royal priesthood”. Paul in Ephesians chapter 1, states, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he has chosen us in him before the creation of the world…” Eph. 1:3-4.

Joseph was chosen. He was given God driven dreams and ultimately would save God’s chosen people – Israel -from famine. Jesus was chosen. His Father gave him a God driven mission. He was given the responsibility to reveal that the Kingdom of God was at hand and ultimately to save God’s chosen people – the world – from sin. As believers, we also have been chosen by God to carry Jesus’ work and message forward. We are here to help establish God’s royal Kingdom on earth until he returns. We have been crowned with the power of the Holy Spirit to carry out and continue this God driven mission.

Being chosen does not come without challenges. Every royal one will be challenged. Normally, the initial challenge to a royal’s mission originates close to home. Joseph was challenged by his family. His father and brothers were put off by this “young dreamer”. Joseph’s family incredulously challenged God’s chosen, “Are we to bow down to you?” Eventually Joseph’s brothers threw him in a cistern, faked his death and sold him as a slave. So also, Jesus was challenged by his family as he began his ministry. Mark 3:21 records, “When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of Jesus for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.”

Spiritual challenges can also come to crush the initial calling. Jesus was sent into the wilderness before his ministry began. God the Father was going to use the wilderness experience to empower his Son into ministry. Satan was waiting for the “opportune time” to crush the “Chosen One”. Many calls to royals are crushed at the beginning before a Godly foothold can be established. Many people, when they are given the gift of tongues are challenged. Immediately after the Spirit moves, there is a spiritual challenge with the hopes to invalidate the experience and crush it. Satan will challenge each of us at different points in our lives with an attempt to steal, kill or destroy anything of God. He typically will wait for an “opportune time” – as he did with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we are in a weakened, vulnerable place. Luke states, “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time.” (Luke 4:13)

Seven is a special number. Seven is a royal number. Seven is a complete number. Seven is a sign of wholeness and unity. One could argue that 7 is the number for “shalom” – peace, completeness. From beginning to end, the number 7 is significant in the work of God. As bookends, there are Seven days of creation recorded in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. There are also seven churches to whom Jesus speaks, in the last book of the Bible, Revelation. In the book of Joshua, Israel is told to march around the city of Jericho with seven priests, carrying seven trumpets. On the seventh day, they are to march seven times around the city and on the seventh time, God will bring the walls tumbling down. Joshua’s, (it’s not an accident that Jesus’ name means Joshua in Hebrew) leading of the Israelites, represents a victory  that will take place in the future as Jesus steps into his royal position. Throughout scripture, the number 7 has something special to point to spiritually as well as literally.  

Within the seven royal steps, it is also important to recognize “couplings” that grouped within the seven. One step is linked to another. As we are “chosen”, soon will come a “challenge”. When “suffering” comes, “exaltation” is what awaits on the other side. As we begin to “bear fruit”, “reconciliation” is connected to this season of fruitfulness. Finally, “Rest” seems to stand alone. But the reality is that our circular path of royalty is not one and done. We continue to circle in this path as God directs. So, our period of “Rest” or “Shalom” will lead us back into being “Called” and “Chosen” once again for a new mission. And keep in mind that this pattern probably continues into the Kingdom Triumphant as we are “Called” home and we continue to serve at the will of our King.

As one who is royal steps through the challenges of family and spiritual turbulence, a period of “suffering” will follow. Suffering usually comes at the hand of outsiders. Joseph was thrown in a cistern by his brothers but he suffered slavery under the Egyptians. He was a slave under Potiphar. He was falsely accused of rape by Potiphar’s wife. He was thrown in prison. He was left and forgotten in prison for two years. He was left wondering about his future. But we are also told that God was with him!

Jesus suffered at the hands of the religious leaders and the Romans. He was falsely accused. The Jews tried to entrap him. The Romans whipped, beat and scourged him. Finally, he suffered death on a cross.

Royals with eyes completely open understand that this “suffering’ is temporary. They also know that beyond the temporal pain is “exaltation”. Paul points to this in his second letter to the Corinthians. Knowing all the suffering that Paul endured: His whippings, beatings, imprisonments, ship wrecks and more – he states, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor. 4:17)

 It is this place of suffering that many royals back down and walk away. Prince Harry and Meghan could not take the suffering any longer. Feeling unfair treatment, they also projected similar suffering would be laid upon their son. They were unwilling to pay the price. But truth be told – there is price to be paid moving in either direction on the path. Avoidance of current suffering today might simply mean that it is being pushed down the road to surface at a different time. Perhaps it will show up at an “opportune time”. Or they might discover that they had suffered enough and this path opens up to a new exalted position for them. In whatever way their future plays out, the royal position they are looking for will be down the road of service. As they serve others, the path will be made clear, just like their grandmother who has gone before them.  

As God’s royalty, we are looking more deeply down the road. Our eye on the prize is not simply serving others but first it is service to God. A close second is our service to others, but the difference must be made clear. So, we fix our eyes upon Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Hebrews 2:10 states, “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author (Jesus) of their salvation perfect through suffering.” We must understand that Joseph, Jesus and Paul, all three endured suffering and it prepared them for the next position. Suffering paved the way to “exaltation”. They have paved the way for our understanding and placing in context the conditions of suffering.

We never know the length of time for our suffering. It is here that our faith is painfully refined, honed and strengthened in preparation for exaltation. The foundational and fundamental key to achieving the exalted position is humility. If humility does not exist, if pride prevails, the fall will be swift and quick. Philippians 2:8 tells us that Jesus humbled himself and became obedient unto death.” Paul states in 2 Corinthians, “To keep me from becoming prideful because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.” In Paul’s case, whether his suffering was failed eye sight or epilepsy, God did not heal his sickness. Rather, God gave him the promise that God’s grace would be sufficient for him. One more position of faith for Paul in his path of being royal.

Exaltation is on the other side of suffering. Joseph was lifted up into royalty when he who was chosen used his God given gifts to interpret dreams. Joseph was exalted to second in command of all Egypt. He was given authority to rule and entrusted to feed all of the Egyptian people. So also, Jesus, after his suffering and death on the cross, was lifted up and exalted to the right hand of God. Paul states, “Therefore, God has exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9)

From this place of exaltation, Joseph then moved on the road to the next coupled steps. The steps of “Bearing fruit” and “Reconciliation” are closely held together. Joseph entered into a season of bearing fruit and feeding the people in the midst of a great famine. He also bore fruit in the reconciliation of his relationship with his brothers.  Forgiveness, freedom and love fed the souls of Joseph and his brothers. Jacob’s families followed this feeding and healing and moved to Egypt. For a season, Jacob, now named Israel, found rest for their souls. In time, Israel would be put in bondage. But in more time, Moses, a man that God had CHOSEN, would come and deliver Israel from Egypt.

Jesus, in his “exalted” position, sends the Holy Spirit to his disciples. They are filled and empowered by the Spirit and the fruits of the Spirit, described in Galatians 5:22-25, emerge. Reconciliation spreads among the brothers. Jesus reinstates Peter after the resurrection.  And the message of reconciliation takes on new life among the new believers. Unfortunately, Judas stepped off the path and fell off the rails. He was not able to experience the reconciliation that Jesus offered. Judas’ journey ended tragically!

A royal will not be able to move into fruitful abundance if unreconciled relationships exist. Jesus leads his disciples to pray and ask God’s forgiveness even as they would forgive their brothers and sisters. Fruitfulness will flourish as reconciliation is abundant. Unforgiveness of the heart will lead to a drying up of the Spirit and a barren harvest. Prince Harry and Prince William will need to walk down this road of reconciliation if they are to see their families grow in full fruitfulness – so too the rest of their families.

Paul speaks of the step of reconciliation in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. He states, “God who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We therefore are ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).

As Fruit grows and reconciliation spreads, the natural consequence is shalom – peace – REST.

As royals we rest in the Lord. We rest in his grace. We rest in his love. And we wait for the rest of the story. Will God come calling again? Yes, Indeed, God will call again. His rest is not laziness. His rest is creativity. He will call us again and again into His service while we live here on earth. When His opportune time has arrived, His Kairos time, we will be called back into the world. And then finally, when the time is right, our Father will call us to our eternal home, to our home of glory.

For we are CHOSEN! We are HEIRS of His Kingdom! We are ROYALTY!   

Rest in this Truth!

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 Devotions, March 31

“Michael Dennis”

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; HE HAS RISEN!” Luke 24:5

 

Two days ago, Michael Dennis reached out to me. He “friended” me on Facebook and it popped up on my email. I’ve known Michael for over 20 years. He and his family joined our tiny mission church years ago and we all bonded. Michael and his wife, Faye, gave stability and strength to our music program. Our sons roomed together during college, after college, and still remain best of friends.

There is only one problem. Michael Dennis died two years ago. Yes, you read that right. My friend, Michael Dennis died two years ago. Chronic health issues had a grip on him over the years that just wouldn’t let go. Finally, his heart just didn’t have the strength to continue. Jeriah and I spent a special moment with him in Redding, CA. We had one last time to acknowledge our love, friendship and the faith we share in Jesus Christ.

If Michael died two years ago, then who “friended” me? Is someone messing with me? Is this a sick joke? Did someone break into an old account and randomly send out a “friend request”? Or could it be that, miracle upon miracle, Michael IS ALIVE? Could he have come back to life and is truly reaching out to a friend? I would like to think so. Can you imagine his testimony? How would that encounter change my attitude toward life and death and my attitude about things moving forward? But quickly I have to pause and ask myself, “So, where is the evidence?”

If I received a phone call from Michael and heard the tone of his voice; If I heard a knock on my door and opened to see Michael standing and smiling in front of me; and if Michael were to deny social distancing and give me one of his great big bear hugs while we laughed together; now that would be some substantial evidence! But none of that has happened. Other than one simple “friend” request, there has been no other contact. I believe, without a doubt, that Michael is with our Lord, Jesus Christ. But my hopes to see him again on this side of the grave – unfortunately, I’m afraid I do not have any evidence to give me hope.

12 days from now, we will celebrate Easter. Easter is the day the world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Friday before, the world will acknowledge the death of Jesus upon the cross at Calvary. Witnesses that day included Roman soldiers, religious leaders, Jewish bystanders, criminals, friends, family, disciples and strangers from across the world as they gathered for Passover. After witnessing Jesus’ death, they all walked home – some sickly satisfied, some completely devastated, and some were simply wondering what was for supper. But three days later, early that Sunday morning, there was news spreading throughout Jerusalem that Jesus had been sighted. Some people heard that Jesus had come back from the dead – that He was Alive! That announcement had to sound like incredulous news. But just think, what an incredible event – actually, what a world changing event if it was true. But one would quickly have to ask the question, “So, where is the evidence?”

Actually, there was evidence! Actually, there was quite a bit of evidence recorded about the fact that Jesus rose from the dead.

Unlike my friend, Michael, Jesus DID APPEAR in front of his friends. Michael did not knock on my door, he did not greet me nor show me his restored body. But on that first day of Jesus’ resurrection, it is recorded that He did appear to his friends. Jesus even appeared behind locked doors. He greeted them, broke social distancing, stepped closer than six feet and breathed the Holy Spirit on them. He even showed his friends his scars on his body and the holes in his hands. Then he actually ate some fish, to show that it was truly he in the flesh. Some people are skeptics and have a hard time believing these events to be true. They say, “What could you expect from the friends of Jesus?” They would also say that if these things truly did take place, there would be further evidence. There would be evidence that would have been life changing. People who witnessed an event like this would not be able to live the same, act the same, and their whole outlook on life would be different. But wait, if we read history, that is exactly the evidence that follows. History records the transformation of the disciples lives after the news of Jesus’ resurrection. Josephus, the Jewish historian and Tacitus, the Roman scholar both record the radical commitment to the radical message that Jesus returned from the dead.  

Yet skeptics will continue to question the historical accuracy of these details because the Gospels were written so long ago. In addition, ancient historical accuracy can be called into question even if they were not followers of Jesus.

But at what point does one finally simply embrace the evidence, stop resisting and receive what is set before one’s eyes? Unfortunately, I’m afraid that the opening of one’s eyes requires the work of the Holy Spirit. For one can only see and believe by the work of the Spirit’s power. And so, we pray, “Heavenly Father, by the power of your Holy Spirit, continue to open our eyes and the eyes of all who resist, that we all might see the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection. For he is ALIVE! And HE is for US!”

People will continue to fight and argue for more evidence. But honestly, how much more evidence does a rational person really need.

There is more evidence pointing to the accuracy of the Gospels than ANY OTHER ancient writings or documents IN THE WORLD. And scholars around the world accept those other ancient writings without question. The disciples, for the rest of their lives, suffering great cost and death, committed to the message that “Jesus Lives”. As history points out, people will die for a lie they believe to be true, but people will not suffer and die for something they KNOW is a lie. In addition, ancient critics of Jesus Christ, the Pharisee, Saul, and Jesus’ brother James, suddenly, radically, becoming fervent followers of the faith and establish themselves as leaders of the early church.

Archeological discoveries continue to support the accuracy of the Biblical texts. Radical changes in Jewish social structures like keeping the Sabbath Day and the sacrificial system emerge. Amazing growth spreads across the globe and today over 2 billion people confess faith in this one, Jesus of Nazareth – who had no claim to fame – yet the world has claimed him Christ for 2,000 years.

Yes, invaluable and established evidence stands as a monument for the truth of Jesus Christ. But God does not just want the evidence to stand clear. God’s desire is that you and I would KNOW the Truth and that the Truth would set us free. Yes, we have evidence, but let us continue to pray for more and more Daily Encounters with the One, Jesus, who says, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly”. In the end, Jesus is the One we are after, not be lost amidst the evidence. For Jesus IS ALIVE and he is “friending” us right now. Perhaps his request won’t show up on your Facebook – but he is knocking. Open the door of your heart. Receive him. Feel his embrace. Confirm your friendship with Him today. Jesus Loves You! He has more for you. More evidence is to come. It is YOUR VERY LIFE!                                                                                           

He is Risen!  He IS RISEN INDEED!!

In Christ, Pastor Mark