Pastor’s Devotion #113

“Sacred”

“I am the LORD, who makes you holy” Leviticus 20:8

 

You are holy! You are holy because God has made you holy! When was the last time that thought crossed your mind? It is a sacred thought. We are holy because of the blood of Jesus Christ, bled and shed for you, for me, for all humankind. We have been created to be drawn into the holy and sacred spaces of God’s created life. Why do these sacred moments seem so fleeting and unfamiliar? Has science and human reason infringed upon it with numbers and calculations, so much so that we look to equations and codes to figure it out? But we haven’t figured it out. The race, the unrest, the riots – it’s reckless really – but it’s real! But isn’t sacred also real? The powerful and penetrating reality of a living God that delivers shalom – peace – complete wholeness and unity. Can one truly calculate the meaning of being brought before a burning bush? Like Moses, eyebrows singed, fingertips burned, knees shaking, the Word of God spoken into the soul of a man – what’s the equation for this encounter? Sacred! It’s Sacred! We have a need to recapture this holiness and be captured by the Holy of Holies.

When was the last time you recognized being brought into a sacred moment? You definitely did not discover it sitting in front of the television set, or computer screen. You found it, standing in front of a burning bush, as Moses did, standing on holy ground. It was a time set apart from space and routine. Sacred captures the soul. Sacred is experienced in the presence of, and in communion with the living God.

When was the last time you found yourself walking along the water’s edge? It’s just before dawn. The darkness still reigns, yet as you look to the east, your eyes capture the tiniest flicker of light illuminating the outline of the mountain peaks. A pink hue is detected, when all of a sudden, the brilliant white light bursts forth and breaks through, fully announcing that a new day has dawned. You are wrapped in a thick, warm jacket. You can feel the sting of the frigid air on your cheeks. You walk with the one you love. A cup of coffee warms your hands. The silence, the quiet, warms your soul. Not a word is spoken – but it is speaking – loud and clear – you know it. This moment is Sacred!

How long has it been since you felt the sacred rest upon your soul? This ongoing pandemic can be seen as an imposing threat to this peace. For many of us, perhaps most of us, it feels like foreign soil. We typically live in the mundane, rapid fire of repetitious activities day after day. A ticking timebomb that leads to disappointment. Now, with the pandemic restrictions, we wrestle within ourselves, unable to avoid that something internal is missing. Our isolation exposes our inability to distract ourselves and wonder what’s within. But is it possible that this pandemic can usher in new possibilities to encounter holy? What are you looking for? What are you listening to? What is the condition of your heart? Broken, tired and weary? If so, you are in perfect position to surrender and be brought to the bush, burning in its sacredness. Whether it is the wilderness, the wandering wood, or along the water’s edge, a sacred communion with God is waiting.

Come with me, let’s go further.

What is sacred? Breath, life, relationships, marriage, moments of all varieties and types – they are all sacred- they can be.  How do we “redeem” them? How do we “buy them back” after we have sold and squandered them and treated them like trivial cheap trinkets won at a small town carnival?

What do we hold sacred? What do YOU hold sacred? Better yet, what does GOD hold sacred? It takes time to consider the deep things of God. There are no short cuts. Is that why God established the Sabbath day and declared it – Sacred? One day in seven to be holy. Did God make it holy that we might take time to consider the precious gifts given? One cannot consider anything sacred racing and rushing through space and time.

Consider “communion”. HOLY Communion. Sacred Communion. We celebrate it regularly in our worship service. Perhaps too regularly? – is that possible? Holding sacred the body and blood of our Savior’s sacrifice for our salvation? But all of us, AND I LEAD THE CHARGE, to rush through the moment. Taking a “dutiful” pause before throwing down the wine, like we were just poured an ounce of whiskey in a shot glass.

Consider a different picture. Consider a sacred picture. A family is gathered around large tables. Members have traveled near and far to celebrate a child’s achievement – a graduation – given with honors. The gathering is set at a favorite restaurant, overlooking the harbor. White sails are seen in the distance. White table cloths cover the tables. Candles are lit, flowers are in their vases, and the celebration is about to begin. Anticipation, joy and love are beginning to spread around the table. It is a time to acknowledge perseverance, progress, and highlight the pleasure of the accomplishment. The waiter introduces himself and explains the movements of the evening. It will be a whole night affair. He leaves the table and a pause, selah, a breath is taken before it all begins. Quiet conversation ensues. For a few moments, hearts are allowed to breath. The waiter returns with a bottle of red wine. A special wine has been chosen and held specifically for this special occasion. The waiter removes the cork, he lets the bottle breathe. He pours a tiny amount into the bottom of the glass. The head of the table lifts the glass. He inspects the color. He lifts the glass to his nose and smells the rich aroma. He moves the glass to his lips, let the wine rest upon his tongue. He savors the rich texture, flavors and depth of the fruit of the vine. It is perfect. He smiles at his loved ones. All eyes are centered upon him. He nods his head in approval and beckons the waiter to share with all who are seated. It is a sacred moment – sacramental. And it is just beginning but they will remember this moment forever.

Jesus highly anticipated this sacramental moment with his disciples. He “eagerly” desired to share this momentous meal with them. He had hoped that they would forever remember this evening; remember this fellowship; remember this broken bread and cup of wine, remember his body and remember his accomplishment. He took time to have everything perfectly prepared. The candles, the herbs, the unleavened bread, the wine, the placements. A sacred moment. A sacred meal. Yet in the midst of lifting the wine, before his body was lifted to the cross, it seemed like all the meaning of the meal would be lost. His frustrated followers were lost. They were lost in arguments. Each one arguing which of them was the greatest. More arguments erupted. The “sacred’ was seemingly squandered in disagreements, defensiveness and misunderstandings.

But isn’t this the way of the world? How many times have we squandered and misunderstood the sacred right under our nose? When have we forgotten to rest and breathe in the sanctity of the day, the relationship right next to us, and the Word that is near – in our mouth and in our heart? Without truly thinking or understanding, the aroma is lost. Our life is filled with scattered activity without a hint of holy or moments of breathless delight. We rush through worship, but our rushing blinds us to so much more.

When was the last time you smelled the aroma of a new born babe? Can you recall the miraculous moment when your tender lips first kissed the soft cheeks of your infant child? You breathed in the miracle of life with all its beauty, depth and complexity in such a vulnerable state. Never was it more clear that only the Author of life could perform such glory. Or were you already lost in the preparations, plans and pressures that await at home? It is so easy to do. We all do it, in our own way. The sacred becomes lost among the laundry list of daily duties.  

Or perhaps its lusting after or lunging toward some temporal target.

Can you remember your wedding night? A sacred night. Vows and promises, hearts and minds filled with hope, united in a sacred moment, ordained by God and breathed by the Spirit. Two lives becoming one. A mystery. The bush burns between the two. Eyes meet, hands held, lips touch. Tender yet explosive in hope for what is to come. Or was it already washed away nights before in the back of a truck, or on a first date, or in front of a computer screen. More and more, the world paints a trivial picture of the union between man and woman. Some circles discuss disbanding this ancient tradition with its meaningless chirping. Perhaps it is because the observations of love have grown cold. Partners eating at the same table, but no words are spoken, no glances are made, no connections being shared. Something sacred is being lost.

Marriages can be written off, almost like a rite of passage. But it’s painful and spills destructive forces in all sorts of directions. I personally know that pain. I have felt those destructive forces and the sting that follows. How did the sacred slip away? The haunting questions still linger. Yet, with God’s amazing grace, possibilities still remain. The sacred can be recaptured. Forgiveness and humility are the gateways to this rediscovery. Thank God, I have felt this too. Two willing hearts able to return to a new sacred space.

And the covenant between man and wife, then compared to the covenant between Christ and his church. Another burning bush revelation. This is holy ground. The head of the church, the head of the body, at the head of the table, in sacramental communion with his people. He is calling them forth to carry forth his mission and message. The world compares belonging to the bride of Christ to that of a community group selling raffle tickets and cotton candy? No longer necessary. No longer a priority. What happened to the days, when the first actions of the first settlers, built a church for the community because they knew they needed something sacred?

What about the sacredness of life itself? Has this pandemic put a stake in the heart of the soul? For many, the answer is, yes. The loss of loved ones linger like a heavy fog that remains and is determined to destroy. Moments are now past memories. Life seems to be lost in loneliness and grief.

Others have lost the connection to their soul altogether. Lost souls, in a moment of insanity. This too, seems to be taking place in epic proportions. Suffering souls, taking permanent, panicked actions to stop the pain. News, just today, report of a woman in New York City, leaping from a 12-story building, taking her 5 year-old daughter along with her. This is not an isolated case. Doomed decisions that lead, in this case, to one stopping to take depression medications that leads to listening to lies about life and a meaningless future, that leads to an inescapable dark hole and the destruction of two more souls.

What happened to sacred? Life, so precious. Life, so fragile. Life, a gift given, so miraculous, so meaningful yet thrown away and tragically squandered. Heart wrenching. Pain, stifling. A million miles away from smelling the aroma of new birth. Light years away from lips of a parent pressed on their child’s cheek, cradling and caressing a modern, mind boggling miracle.

You DO understand that you are a modern, mind boggling miracle? Your heart pumps, your ears hear, your eyes see without any necessary thought. But what will it feel? What will they hear? What will they see? That’s where sacred becomes vulnerable. God has created you to be holy, to be sacred, because God is sacred. You have been made to walk, listen and see in holy communion with the One Holy God.

Today, let us take note of our breath. Let us hear the sounds of holy, even in silence. Let us taste and see a new day. Let it rest upon our tongues, and be pressed upon our lips.

For the One, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is standing at the head of the table. He is smiling over you. Can you see the sails in the distance? The table is set. It is for you! The candles are lit. He is lifting his glass to you. You are his honored guest. You are precious in his sight. He has tasted and given his approval. He has accomplished all that is necessary. Take a drink. Trust Him. Enjoy! Savor this moment. This is just the beginning. But you will remember it forever. For this moment is sacred!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions #111

“Rhythms and Routines”

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.”

Matthew 24:44

I could not have planned for this–I just had to be ready. 

  • A question about death and heaven, that led to writing a devotion.
  • A plea about a lost loved one, missing from a mountain mudslide that led to prayer.
  • A call about a car emergency that led to a financial crunch.
  • A notification about cancelled reservations and travel plans that led to a disappointing conversation.
  • A report about a medical concern that led to a follow up. (everything is fine.)

I could not have planned for any of these–I just had to be ready.

Jesus directs us to be ready at all times. He tells us this because we do not know when He will return, nor does He. His words can also give us direction on a day to day basis, because, truly, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring. So how do we stay ready? How are you staying ready? We are all suffering from Covid fatigue and just want all of this to be over. But even with a number of vaccines ready to be mass distributed, we are still in this for the long haul. Do you still have some fuel in the tank or are you running on fumes? Countless people are just done with this whole ordeal – and to Dr. Fauci, Governor Inslee, or any other person in position of power, the answer is – “To hell with it, I’m going to see my family on Christmas!” This is truly what we all want to say and do – but yet we also want this all to be over – truly over and problem solved. So, most of us take a step back and take another look at our options.

Whatever your decisions, Christmas is going to be different this year. We will be more vulnerable than ever to the variety of emotions and feelings that can swing us in one direction or another. That being said, how do we prepare ourselves and get ready – and also be ready for the post-holiday blues and aftermath of an unrelenting pandemic?

I would like to suggest a few things to consider as we are in the midst of Advent and trying to get ready for Christmas.

If I asked you about your routines and rhythms, what would you say? Are you aware of any routines and rhythms in your daily life that help to bring a stable course or renewal for your heart? Perhaps, your routine, first thing in the morning, is to go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, wash your face, take your vitamins and look for that first cup of coffee. Does the day just happen, or can you recognize or put yourself in a place to feel a certain rhythm to your day? Many people make a check list – a “to do” list and their routine is to check off as many items on the list as possible. That can be helpful. I have become more of a list maker myself – but when you have 20 items on your list and you only accomplish 2, that can be rather disappointing.

Some people target one simple objective to focus on in the morning – to kind of jump start their day. This can be a helpful step in putting your heart in a good place, and energizing yourself for more. Choosing one doable task can protect your heart from getting overwhelmed with a long list of chores and discourage you from even beginning. This one small step can begin a move from routine to rhythm.

 Another small step in finding a helpful rhythm to your day is to consider starting something new. Some couples have discovered a new joy in being together as they have ventured out in a new way – by walking together, hiking together, cooking together – and being involved in an activity that allows for deeper conversation. As couples have stepped beyond their normal routines, they have found greater peace, energy and ebb and flow as they walk, talk and cook. Time has a chance to breathe and loved ones or friends can feel a new found freedom with each other.  

Also, consider your devotion time with the Lord. Does your relationship with God tend to be structured and formal and routed out? Routine can be a good thing. If you are going to read through the Bible in one year – it will require a commitment to a regular routine of daily Bible reading. But in the end, your reading scripture could possibly become another check mark on your “to do” list. In the routine you might have missed the deeper opportunity to spend time in rhythm with God, allowing Jesus to lead and the Holy Spirit to speak.

My regular routine, upon waking up, includes feeding Tigger, brushing my teeth, drinking a glass of water along with my glucosamine pills, reheat my day-old coffee, start a fresh pot, start a fire in the fireplace, turn on Pandora Christian worship music, settle down on the couch and then allow the next hour or more to free-flow with the Lord. Each day is different, but it all centers around drawing near to God – giving time and space to breathe, listen, hear, speak, sing, pray, write and worship him. This rhythm is what has helped my heart stay full to preach, write, respond to unexpected circumstances and not run dry. Rhythms are different for each person. But the more time becomes a crunch – rhythms are crushed in the process. You will know when you have found some helpful rhythms when your heart remains full and your response to the unexpected surprises you.  

If you want to fight off the fatigue from this pandemic – ask the Lord to help you find a helpful rhythm. It might include watching “The Nativity” Christmas film and then go on a walk – or zoom with your friends to talk about it. So too, the series, “The Chosen”. The second season is being completed this week. This series treats Jesus and his disciples as real human beings, while maintaining a faithfulness to Scripture. This could be a new rhythm that allows the Holy Spirit to breathe over you. What about reading a book out loud together with your partner, child or grandchild? Perhaps painting, planting or woodworking if it has been something you have thought of pursuing sometime down the road. You are down the road far enough – it’s time to give it a try.

Perhaps taking your old photos and putting together a picture book of family history or adventure – that gives you a chance to re-live and re-connect with people who are important to you – and make multiple copies for everyone to have one.

Consider this picture of rhythm.

Our music director, Erik Ronning, loves to surfboard. I’m sure he has routines getting his gear, loading up his vehicle, driving down to his favorite beach, finding his spot, putting on his wet suit. Then he splashes in the surf, paddles with his board over the oncoming waves. He finally reaches his spot. He sits on his board and waits. He watches. He’s prepared to catch a wave. Water laps over the board. He feels the cold water on his toes. The swells lift him up and settle him down. He is in his element. The wind blows, the sun shines, the seagulls squawk – Rhythm. He’s not in control of what wave comes next – but he’s ready – he’s waiting – his heart is full and he’s excited to be in the moment. When the moment finally arrives, he catches the wave, twists and turns and feels the energy and rides the wave until it exhausts itself. As the wave wears out, in the blink of an eye, Erik makes the turn, feels the rush, and is ready to paddle out and wait for another wave.

Can you feel it? Have you felt it? Rhythm, it is a wonderful thing. It allows us to breathe again. It allows us to begin again. It allows us to look at the long journey of a pandemic again and be ready for whatever comes again – and live again.

Go, grab your surfboard, go to the water, wait, ride and feel the wave – whatever it is, whatever it takes – you will breathe again – and you will find the rhythm of your soul again.

God Bless You All.

Pastor Mark



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, 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, May 17

“A Sign of Life”

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.” Isaiah 35:1-2

Where were you exactly 40 years ago? Today, at 8:32 a.m., 40 years ago, Mt. St. Helens exploded sending ash 80,000 feet into the air. A magnitude 5.1 earthquake was accompanied by a rapid series of events. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the volcano’s northern bulge and summit became the largest debris avalanche on earth in recorded history. Ash spewed into the air at over 300 mph. Within a few moments, 1300 feet of the summit had disappeared.

I was a junior in high school when this event occurred. I remember attending church at Kent Lutheran that morning. I did not know that the mountain exploded until I went to work later in the day. I worked at the Woodland Estate Apartment complex. My job involved maintenance and yard work. People kept coming out of their apartments, talking about the explosion. They all said how lucky we were that the ash blew to the east. I’m sure that the people to the east did not feel that way. The ash settled inches thick over most of eastern part of the state. Eventually, no matter where a person lived, that massive blast of ash would touch everyone on the planet.

This ash would touch my dad in an interesting way. During this time, my dad had left parish ministry and worked for an insurance company. He traveled every week throughout the states in the Northwest. A few weeks after the blast, he drove across eastern Washington on I-90. He said the terrain looked like a desert wasteland. Grey ash covered everything. The landscape looked like the moon. After hours of driving through this greyish deathly wasteland, he grew desperate to locate something that resembled life. Mile after mile, all he could see was what looked like the land of the dead. He finally became so desperate that he pulled off the highway and began to march through the ash looking for a sign. He hiked for about 20 minutes before his eye finally snatched a glimpse of something. As he drew closer, there at his feet, a tiny flower had broken through the crust of ground. He witnessed a crack in the grey soil. It was weak and fragile, but there it was. A sign of life. The land surrounding that flower was devoid of life. But the sign was there. A tiniest splash of color against the backdrop of grey. My dad said that he marched back to his car, dusted himself off, and with a renewed sense of joy, drove on to his next appointment. For more life and more color would be coming soon.  

We might be tempted to look around today and see nothing but grey. The landscape around us can look rather bleak. The nightly news reports continue to tell us of growing death totals. Covid19 cases continue to increase around the country. And the unemployment rates are moving into the unimaginable realms. But in the midst of this heavy, ashen reality, there are splashes of color. Life is breaking through, as fragile as it might seem. Love is being spread. Kindness is being paid forward. Compassion is breaking through on crusty hearts. The grey landscape will not last.

There was a bleak landscape surrounding that first Easter morning. But something broke through. New Life. This life was not fragile but rather filled with power. This life was not dull but a splash of light and color that would cover every corner of the globe. May this splash of color break through to your heart today. May there be a renewed sense of joy to carry you to your next appointment.

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.” Isaiah 51:3

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 16

“Life is Good. Life is Hard”

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

 

Years ago, I was with my dad as he cleaned out his personal library. Every so often, he would pull a book off the shelf, and I could tell he was reminiscing. He would hold it, thumb through the pages, then turn to me and say, “That’s a good one!” One book he pulled out was entitled, “Life is Good. Life is Hard.” I remember him saying that the contents of the book, was not really that stirring.                                        But he said, “I love that title!”

Life is good. Life is hard. People around the globe are trying to find meaning between these pages. People are looking for more than a snappy title, they want substance that stirs the soul.

This morning, I read an article by Heather Lanier entitled, “Surrendering to Uncertainty”. She reveals her personal quest and challenge of gluing together the pages of “goodness” and “hardness”. Eight years ago, she was told that her nine- month old baby had Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome. It is a rare condition caused by a genetic deletion in her fourth chromosome. The doctors told her that her baby might talk or might not. They told her that her baby might walk or might not. She and her husband were going to have to live with uncertainty. They would be pressed to their limits to discover if life could be found between good and hard.

Her daughter has made progress. But the victory has not been found in her ability to do a dance routine across the kitchen floor. The victory has been discovered as they have dug deeper into their own story. In her discovery, she declares, “I would never want to relive that first year with my daughter, yet I would never give it back.” One can only imagine the trauma, and the drama and the depth held between those two tensions as they pushed and pulled on each other.   

She said that she listened as a geneticist told her that her daughter could choke on her own saliva. She told of holding her baby’s thrashing body as the doctor snaked a black tube up her nose and down her throat. She said that she watched her daughter’s lips turn blue during a grand mal seizure.

But she also expressed that through all the heart ache, she discovered an aching tenderness within. This life of uncertain fragility exposed a tenderness deep within her heart. It was found existing beneath her ribs, and resting under her previously held beliefs. This experience pointed her toward discovering what was most important in life.

Pressed between precious and pain, a word seemed to be spoken. A tender word. A direct word. Out of the darkness it came, “Don’t squander this.” The Word continued, “You want, with all your might to wish this away. But there is something vital here, in all this unknown.”

There is something vital here for all of us. This pandemic is unleashing uncertainty into all our lives as never before. Our initial desire is to wish this all away. Yet, there is a voice that remains and speaks softly, slowly and directly. We can choose to ignore this still, small voice. But there is a Word to be discovered by each of us between the pages of prayer and pain. A message to be found between life being good and life being hard. We are encouraged, “Don’t squander this!”

What might be hiding under our ribs and resting beneath our beliefs? What tender, mighty truth might be revealed to transform our entire interpretation of our story?

Life is good. Life is hard. It is interesting that as my father’s health weakened; and as each day became harder; his soft voice could be heard speaking the words, Life Is Good! Life is a Gift!

The book title that my dad loved, might not have had content that stirred him. But my Father’s life story has stirred me in many and various ways. His life has led me to dig deeper knowing that in this good, hard life, there are things that I do not want to squander.

Good, hard days are ahead of us. Let the voice of God speak. There is something vital to be found within each one of us.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s October Newsletter Blog

“Happiness:  Making a Few Moves”

 
This past month has brought some new moves. Jeriah has moved into her new life in New York. She has moved away from what was familiar to a brand new set of conditions – academically, socially, spiritually, physically, culturally, and if nothing else, adjusting to life without Costco. Fortunately, Trader Joe’s is only a 15 minute drive away. Simultaneously, I’ve moved back into an old house with new conditions. The loud noise of resounding quiet rings in my ears. No more daily connections around meals or meetings or work schedules. No more shared moments during sunrise or sunsets. No more spontaneous adventures wherever the wind might take us. It’s a new culture for me too. A familiar feeling that reminds me when she left for college, yet this is farther reaching, farther climbing, farther challenging. A father could not be more excited for his daughter’s new found adventure. But as I hear the familiar wind chimes ring in the distance, I also recognize that this move is something new.
 
Perhaps you are experiencing something new, and these words are ringing true for you. How are we to handle these new moving conditions?
 
This morning I read an article about finding greater happiness in life. Some of the recommendations given were to play more video games and take more selfies. This article sent me on my own pondering about…. what truly brings greater happiness in one’s life?
 
As I began to jot down a few notes, the following thoughts quickly emerged and without knowing it, an article of my own was being created. Perhaps this might be helpful to my daughter, I don’t know – but I quickly realized that I need these thoughts for myself and perhaps they might resonate with you.
 
Buried in each thought is a secret treasure that can be found in scripture – but I’ll leave that searching for you if you want to find.
 
This is not necessarily a complete list – maybe it’s a KEY list – and maybe these thoughts will provoke a few ponderings of your own to add, delete, adjust, or expand to personalize it for yourself.
 
    A Few Moves Toward Happiness:  
  1. Move to REST in a peaceful place – enjoy quiet, music, devotion.

  Rest for your inner soul. Time with God. Time with yourself.

  1. Move to ACCOMPLISH something that brings satisfaction – exercise, yard work, house work or homework, perhaps a remodel project or even paying the bills – some tangible tasks that feel good accomplishing.

  A work that is gratifying not a work that is driven by shame or guilt.

  1. Move to CONNECT with someone. Meet for coffee, a walk or a talk. Share a meal, a snack or perhaps happy hour. Personal connection with another human being – resist email or text or even phone call if possible.

  Face to face contact is always most satisfying.

  1. Move to SERVE (or encourage) someone else with an act of kindness. Shift your focus from self to others – help to meet a need.

  Helping to meet another in need will always bring meaningful satisfaction and happiness to your soul.

  1. Move to UNDERSTAND your life in a larger context. You will live more fully in the moment with the knowledge that your life is connected to a bigger picture. If a Christian, your life is lived within God’s grand design.

  From day to day, you might not see movement but understand, God is moving you toward His destiny!

Happiness is found when you are moving toward something of intrinsic value, not in your running away from something nor as you are paralyzed by fear, nor by simply treading water aimlessly.

   So, where are you headed?

   Take time to….. * listen to the birds * smell the flowers * sip the coffee * taste the wine * rest in the quiet * watch the sunrise * stir the sauce on the stove * walk the familiar path * receive from the Spirit * read the Word * return to what you know * share your inner thoughts * help a person in need * thank God for the moments you have right here, right now.

   Remember what has brought you joy in the past.

Happiness is here for us today. It will be waiting for us tomorrow. Can you see it? Can you perceive it? Let us move in these moments and receive it!   As I sip my coffee in this quiet moment, I recognize a familiar move: “Thanks Be to God!”

“And my God will supply all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”    Phil 4:19