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