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, April 14

“See, I Am Doing a New Thing!”

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18-19

 

Isaiah prophesied to the nation of Israel, while they were in exile, that God was going to make a way for them. Yahweh was going to do a new thing. He was going to make a new path through the desert wasteland. God was going to return Israel home from exile in Babylon through another exodus. Isaiah asks Israel, “Can you not see it nor perceive it? God is doing a new thing. Do not dwell on the past.”

Are you open to new things? Of course, you are open to new things. The better question is, “What new things are you open to?”

We have all found ourselves in a petri dish these past weeks having to adjust to new things. We have been ordered to shut down business, walk away from jobs, stay at home, wear masks, social distance, and a number of other things. This is a new thing. How are you handling it? Listen to God’s promise in the second part of Isaiah 43 verse 19. He says, “I Am (God) making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  Know this, in trying times, God continues to show himself in new, life giving ways.

It’s been interesting to watch how our fifty states have reacted to the new things of this pandemic. Governors of the various states have responded and reacted in a variety of different ways. This morning I read an article about the governor from South Dakota. Governor Kristi Noen continues to reject the idea of requiring a state wide “stay at home” order. She is not alone. There are four other states currently, that also are rejecting this mandate. While South Dakota has now been earmarked as a “hotspot” for the coronavirus outbreak, Governor Noen states that the “stay at home” order reflects a “herd mentality”. She believes that the decision to stay at home is up to the individual, not government -to decide whether to exercise one’s right to work, worship, play or even stay at home. The article peaked my interest because my parents are from South Dakota and I still have relatives that live there.

Obviously, other governors feel differently. Washington state Governor Jay Inslee took the opposite approach. While there was great discussion and significant resistance to his mandate, he issued a “stay at home” order for the entire state. Because of his early adoption to new Covid19 information, our state seems to be in the front of the line, flattening of the line of new cases.

I find all the states governors’ responses to this pandemic an interesting case study – responding and reacting to something new.

Studies have determined that when an individual is confronted with something new in life – there are five basic responses. Those five responses can be broken down into the percentages within each category. The top 2% of people are called – “Early Adopters”. These early adopters see something new and immediately are ready to take action and respond. Then there are 20% who are called – “Ready Responders”. This second group is open to taking action but need a little more time and information to respond. The third group is called – “The Crowd”. The crowd makes up 50% of responders and they will either accept or reject the “new” thing based upon quantity and quality of information. The fourth group is called, “Resistant Responders”. This fourth group, which includes another 20%, is firmly positioned to resist the “new” thing – but with much information and time, these resistors can become open to adapting to what new thing is coming. The final group is called, “Never Adopters”. The 2% that make up this group will never accept the new thing.  It doesn’t matter how much information is given, this group rejects the whole idea of the new thing and will do what is right in their own minds.    

Looking at our governors who mandated “stay at home” orders, it seems like the percentages play out pretty closely. There are a few “early adopters” like Inslee and Newsom of California- who I might add, faced a fair amount of opposition in the early days.  A few more “ready responders” like those in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, and Ohio. Then there is “the crowd” of governors who followed the wave. A number of governors were “resistant” at the beginning, like Florida and Alabama, but have come around to declare the mandate. And finally, there are a few governors left who have indicated they will never give the order.

This devotion is not just about governors. It is interesting to see the response of the disciples to the new message, that Jesus had risen from the dead. Once again, I would suggest that the percentages play out pretty closely as with the governors.

Mary Magdalene and Peter are definitely “Early Adopters”. They were the earliest to respond to the Good News! The two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus and Doubting Thomas could be seen as “Ready Responders”. They didn’t believe initially, but it didn’t take much for them to turn to the Good News when they heard and saw Jesus. There is “A Crowd” that hears the Good News – that would be the rest of the disciples. But also, the most public crowd reported can be seen on the day of Pentecost. In this crowd, after Peter addresses them with the message that they were witnesses to the fact that Jesus rose from the dead – some people are “cut to the heart”, asking what they must do. Others in the crowd “resist in their heart” and go, report the news to the Religious Leaders. The “Resistant Responders” can easily been seen in Saul, who became Paul. He was completely resistant and began persecuting the new believers. He was committed to destroying the “Way”. But after Jesus appears to him, he becomes the greatest evangelist of the early church. James, the brother of Jesus, was also one who initially resisted the news about Jesus. It took time for him to embrace his brother as the Christ. But James as well, became a leader of the early church. Then we can clearly see the Pharisees and religious leaders are the “Never Adopters”. No matter what miracles or message is proclaimed, they will never believe that Jesus is the Messiah. They will continue to do what is right in their own minds – according to the Law.

So, do you think these percentages apply to us as well? I believe so.  As I said earlier, we are all open to new things. The question is, “What new things are we open to?”

Most of us are open to planting new flowers and new bulbs in our gardens. We are open to new paint on our walls and new appliances in our kitchens. We are open to reading new books and watching new movies. We are open to the birth of a new baby girl or baby boy. We are open to a whole host of new things. But then again, there are a host of things that we potentially are not open to. Not all of us are open to new technology. We like things the way they used to be. We respond differently to new virtual ways to communicate. We react uniquely to new online ways to shop or pay bills. Was your family the first ones to buy a television set? When did you commit to using seat belts in your car? When did you exchange your VHS player for a DVD player, and then the blue ray player? When did you start using sun screen or start scheduling colonoscopies? Or the reality facing us right now, when did you start social distancing or wearing a mask? Some of us still struggle with eating vegetables, not texting while driving and flossing each night.

Given these examples, do you tend to be an “early adopter” or a “resistant responder”? Any of the categories are workable except the category of “Never Adopters”. When we shut down our minds to anything new, nothing fresh and alive is able to move into our lives. And one could argue that the “never” attitude puts others at risk. We can easily spot the “never adopters”. They are the ones who continue to go to the beaches and parks congregating together. They are the ones holding worshipping services indoors with the attitude, “No one is going to tell me what I can do”.  

How about the Christian church in America? The percentages of churches responding in the same pattern is pretty evident. Churches are closing and dying at an alarming rate. Has God left the church or perhaps is God challenging the people of God to consider something new. Some churches are on the forefront of reaching the lost with the Gospel. Other congregations are ready to respond. There are a whole host of churches that are sitting on the fence – waiting, wondering, pondering, reflecting, discussing – but as of yet, really have not made any significant decisions. Time will tell, but time is not on their side. Other congregations focus upon being faithful to their traditions and their past. They are resistant to looking toward the future. But if God reveals himself in a mighty way – those churches could have a mighty witness, following in the footsteps of St. Paul. Then there are those congregations who will reject considering any new thing. They have figured out their response in their own minds and how they understand it is laid out in the Bible. And like the Pharisees, they will miss the new thing in front of them and they will miss Jesus right in the midst of them.  

People of God, new things are happening. Is God doing something new? If He is, how will we respond?  The disciples had to be open to something new to receive the Good News of the resurrection. They also had to remain open to receive the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Do you think that God has stopped doing new things? History records reformers and revivalists bringing something new to the church. Certainly, God continues to do new things. And it requires trust and faith for us to follow him into uncharted waters.

Some might argue, “But wait, God is the same yesterday, today and forever.” Yes, it is true that God is the same. But He is the same in that he continues to do NEW THINGS to return us to Christ.  God is doing a new thing that will be the same and never change – bringing salvation to a lost world through Jesus Christ. God asks his church, his body, to participate in this never changing new work.

Today, let the Holy Spirit breathe new life into the words of Isaiah:

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert of Covid19 and streams in the pandemic wasteland.”

Dear Jesus, give us eyes to see whatever new thing you chose to do. Give us hearts ready to respond, and hands ready to serve. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Pastor Mark



Pastor’s Blog March 16

“On Eagles Wings”

 

“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles…”

                                                                                                                              Isaiah 40:31

 

Yesterday, we all were challenged to find a way to worship away from church.  I chose to listen to a sermon online entitled, “Ruah”, from my sister’s pastor. “Ruah” is the Hebrew word for “Spirit” or “Breath of God”, and refers to the Holy Spirit.

As I listened to the message, I walked to the window, the sun was streaming in. The mountains were crystal clear. It was an incredibly beautiful morning. As I stood gazing at the beauty, with coffee cup in hand, my eye caught an eagle in flight. Then I saw two. They were beautiful birds, wings extended, drifting and hovering high above the trees. It seemed as if they were suspended and were being lifted up higher and higher without any effort of their own.

Then the scripture came to mind, “Those who hope in the Lord, they will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31

Can you picture those beautiful birds? I’m sure you’ve seen eagles in flight many times before. They are magnificent, strong creatures, but they also know how to use the wind beneath their wings.

In these next weeks of uncertainty, let us be like the eagle – stretching out our lives, our concerns, our worries and allow the “Ruah”, the Holy Spirit to lift us up and hold us steady. The Holy Spirit will lead us, guide us, strengthen us, and give us peace.

Isaiah tells us that those who “hope” in the Lord will renew their strength. That word “hope” refers to “waiting patiently with expectation”. Many circumstances are beyond our control. We are being called upon to be concerned, to take this pandemic very seriously, to plan but not panic. Let us wait patiently with the expectation that God will continue to lift us up, and direct our paths through this difficult time. Let us continue to pray for our leaders, communities, business owners, the sick, our friends and our neighbors – that the Holy Spirit will lift us all up, unite our hearts and allow us to soar high above all fear.

 

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Mark