Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 23

“One Life Matters”

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” Hebrews 12:2

 

Do black lives matter? Yes! Do blue lives matter? Yes! What about brown lives, yellow lives, and red lives? Yes, they all matter. So do Muslim lives, Mormon lives and Mystical New Age lives. They all matter!

Sunday afternoon, after church, on Father’s Day, I went on my familiar Thunder Ridge walk. As often happens, after around 45 minutes, after climbing all the hills, and I’m returning home, an epiphany will suddenly shoot into mind. Most often, these epiphanies relate to my upcoming sermon. On this particular Sunday, I was still feeling the spillover of the Holy Spirit that generated great freedom during the morning Drive In Worship (that’s why I spoke so long!) My earbuds were in. I was worshipping as I walked but my mind was also mulling over all media coverage regarding the pandemic and the protests. All the coverage, conditions and concerns regarding “Chop” in Seattle has brought these issues even closer to home. I’ve been reading, listening and trying to learn more about race issues that have been at work for a long time in our society. One of the big problems I have found in this process, is that I do not know, what I do not know. Many times, it feels like I’m trying to track down a moving target. It’s as if I’m flying an old airplane with a center stick while having a damaged wing. I’m trying to hold her steady so I can bring her in for a landing, but that joystick is being thrust in all different directions that I cannot control.

I have also felt at times, “lost in the fray.” Fray, by definition, means to “unravel or become worn at the edge, typically through constant rubbing.” It can also mean, “to show the effects of strain – of a person’s nerves or temper.” How often have you felt lost in the fray during these last three months? I’m sure we all have felt worn at the edges emotionally over all past weeks.  

As I walked and was considering the implications of “black lives” and “blue lives” and all the other lives that are being impacted during this period of time, suddenly three words shot into my mind. In an instant, I felt the joystick in my mind stop moving. I felt a rudder and a grounding to my thinking. I felt one commanding message, “One Life Matters!” Suddenly, it was as if all the individual pictures flashed through my mind in an instant and all my confusion cleared out. I had clarity. Ultimately, it is this One life of Jesus Christ that matters. When those three words were brought to my attention, it was not to diminish black lives nor be less aware of blue lives nor any other lives. Actually, focusing upon the One Life that Matters, brought greater value and emphasis upon each of these lives. This one life of Jesus Christ, if we are his followers, brings us the purpose, meaning, and focus for how we are to live, act and respond. As Christ followers, our own human attitudes, perspectives and desires are to fall away. As Christians, we are to live in him, through him and with him. The question is, how does this One Life influence–better yet, transform our life and the lives of those around us? The goal of this One Life is to bring a conversion such that our lives are lived through him. In the end, ultimately all lives will disappear and only One Life will matter. In the meantime, because only One Life matters, Jesus Christ brings meaning and hope to every life- – especially those who are broken and downtrodden.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been trying to find a maneuver that would allow me to fly above the fray. I was hoping to get above the fog and gain greater clarity and perspective of the landscape. Indeed, those three words, “One Life Matters” brought me up out of the clouds. But then something striking took place. Because of that clarity, it brought me back down to the reality that this One Life calls me to fly back into the fray and fog. This One Life calls me to declare and deliver the truth that no matter what line is drawn in the street, One Life matters for All and every Individual! And that this One Life lives among those in the fray as friend.

I am assuming that most of us are basically battling this same kind of turbulence. Being that we can distance ourselves from the fray, in many ways, by simply turning off the television, social media, or radio, it is difficult to stay tuned in. My emotions have moved from feeling, “lost in the fray” to wanting to “fly above the fray” to “fleeing from the fray” to simply being “fatigued by the fray.” But if we stay focused upon the “One Life That Matters,” we will be able to enter into the fray. We will even be able to move through the fray, and even be agents of healing in the midst of the fray because we know that it’s that One Life That Matters!

The writer of Hebrews gives the exhortation, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Consider the One Life that matters. Jesus entered the fray of humanity in all fullness. He endured the cross, took on our shame, and brought victory back to heaven. He willingly entered the unraveling and rub of humanity in innocence as a baby in Bethlehem (Luke 2). He entered into Samaria and encouraged a broken woman at the well with truth. (John 4). He entered Jericho and called an oppressive tax collector named Zacchaeus to conversion which brought about correction and justice. (Luke 19). He entered into conversation with a mob about to carry out the death penalty with an adultress with clarity and conviction. (John 8) He entered the sin of that same adultress woman with grace and forgiveness. (John 8) He entered countless towns and villages meeting the broken hearted with compassion and healing. (Matthew 9) He entered Jerusalem with resolve and in submission to his Father’s will as he faced his cross. (Luke 19) He entered the arrogance of the religious leaders and called them white washed tombs, calling a spade, a spade. (Matthew 23) He entered a garden and met a weeping woman with the reality of the resurrection. (John 20). He entered into heaven in glory, with the name above every name. (Luke 24) He entered darkness with light. He entered death with life. And he also entered his own hometown of Nazareth as he began his public move amidst the fray. While he was with his own people, he painted a picture of the One Life that Matters most. Isaiah, the prophet, had foretold of this One Servant, 700 years earlier. Jesus entered and attached himself to this One Chosen Servant of God:

               “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18)

Consider this One Life that matters. His attention was set upon the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. He entered this life to provide all these people with a lifeline. And let us be clear that all these people, the ones who are poor, blind, and oppressed prisoners that he has his eye upon – we are those poor, blind prisoners! And because of the grace given to us, we have found this lifeline. Now, we have been called to let out this One Life Line for any and all who wish to take hold. Whatever streets we march in or convention centers we mask up in, this One Life Line is our mission.

Right now, because of historic and ongoing injustice, black lives have raised their hands and cried out for fair and equal treatment. They will not be the only ones who will call for equality. In this broken world, we are surrounded by injustice. Is this why God spoke to Micah to remind his people, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act with justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

So, how would you imagine that the One Life That Matters most would respond to these cries? Would he feel lost, fly over, or flee from the fray? Or would he, even if fatigued, enter into the pain, brokenness and wounded hearts of the hurting? I believe we all know the answer to that question. As the One Life has met us in our brokenness and brought healing, let us focus upon that One Life and concern ourselves with the brokenness of our brothers and sisters. More than that, let us lead those who are hurting to the One Life that Matters the most! And as we ride the waves into the future, whoever cries out, let us be ready to throw the lifeline of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Do black lives matter? Indeed! Do blue lives matter? Definitely! Do brown, yellow and red lives matter? Without a doubt. Each life matters. But let us be clear – One Life Matters Most! May the Love of this One Life, Jesus Christ, heal the brokenhearted, bring justice for all, and reveal to each of us what we need to know.  

Below, I’m including an 18-minute video produced by Phil Vischer, entitled “Race in America.” Vischer succinctly lays out many reasons why race relations have escalated in our country. You might recognize his voice, he was the producer of the Veggie Tales series. Pastor Annette at Peace Lutheran in Silvana highlighted this informative summary in their newsletter. I mentioned it in my online message of June 21 – but many might have missed it if you attended the Drive in Worship. This video can be a simple way for us to enter into the fray with more conversation and understanding.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGUwcs9qJXY&t=4s

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

  

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 18

“Perspective”

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Father feeds them.” Matthew 6:26

 

Last week, I received the email that is reprinted below. The article peeked my curiosity because it asked me to imagine that I was born in 1900. My mom’s dad, Oskar Johnson was born in 1900. Today is his wife’s, my grandmother’s birthday. Josephine Johnson was born on May 18, 1902. My grandparents, on my dad’s side, were born in the years, 1881 and 1889 respectively. Sometimes, it seems incredible that one of my grandparents was born only 16 years after the Civil War. All my grandparents were born and raised in South Dakota. Oskar Johnson and Frank Bankson both died of cancer years before I was born. Oskar was a farmer, who died of lung cancer in 1939. My mom was 8 years old. The family moved into the tiny town of Worthing, south of Sioux Falls. They lost the farm and opened a small oil and gas business. My uncle Bob joined the Navy and went off to fight in WWII. He returned to help his mom work the gas and oil business for the rest of his life. Eventually, my mom left home and attended Augustana College in Sioux Falls, where she met my dad.

Grandma “J”, as we would call her, visited our family many times in California. We also returned to visit her in South Dakota, in the summer, every other year. Grandma J died in her early 80’s. At the time, I thought she had lived a good, long life. Now, it doesn’t seem quite as long as it once did. Sometimes we heard stories about her growing up as a young girl. She grew up with no running water and no indoor plumbing. She attended a one room school house. At times, it was a long bitter cold walk to school. She grew up with no telephone and few automobiles. Flying across the country and flying to the moon were absolutely unimaginable.

The following article continues to paint an even clearer picture of what that generation experienced and had to endure. Gaining a broader perspective is always a good thing. I’m thankful for my grandparents who endured many hardships yet still kept a strong faith. I pray that we all will do the same!

 

Keeping Things in Perspective

 

Maybe we don’t have it that bad?

It’s a mess out there now. Hard to discern between what’s a real threat and what is just simple panic and hysteria. For a small amount of perspective at this moment,

Imagine you were born in 1900. 

On your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war. Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million. 

On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 33. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy. 

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet. And don’t try to catch your breath. On your 41st birthday, the United States is fully pulled into WWII. Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war. 

Smallpox was epidemic until you were in your 40’s, as it killed 300 million people during your lifetime.  

At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. From your birth, until you are 55 you dealt with the fear of Polio epidemics each summer. You experience friends and family contracting polio and being paralyzed and/or die.  

At 55 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. During the Cold War, you lived each day with the fear of nuclear annihilation. On your 62nd birthday you have the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, almost ended. When you turn 75, the Vietnam War finally ends.

Think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How did they endure all of that? When you were a kid in 1985 and didn’t think your 85 year old grandparent understood how hard school was. And how mean that kid in your class was. Yet they survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Refined and enlightening as time goes on. Let’s try and keep things in perspective. Your parents and/or grandparents were called to endure all of the above – you have been called to stay at home and stay six feel apart.

The sun is shining. The birds are singing. Thank you, Lord, for another beautiful day.

God Bless You All,

 

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 20

“Spillover”

“Jesus gave them permission, and the evil spirits came out and went into the pigs.” Mark 5:13

 

An article in a recent National Geographic issue estimates that there are 10 nonillioin (10 to the 31st power) individual viruses on our planet.  Most of these viruses are not poised to hop into humans. Viruses infiltrate every aspect of our natural world but they can only replicate themselves with the help of a host. Sara Sawyer, virologist and disease ecologist at University of Colorado, Boulder, says that these pathogens are extraordinarily picky about the cells they infect. She says that only an infinitesimally small fraction of the viruses that surround us actually pose any threat to humans. But as this Covid19 pandemic clearly demonstrates, outbreaks of a new human virus do happen.

The National Geographic article goes on to state that most new infectious illnesses enter the human population as a zoonosis, or a disease that infects people by way of an animal. In order to make a successful transition from one species to another, the virus must clear a series of biological hurdles. The pathogen has to exist in one animal and come into contact with another. After that, the pathogen has to establish an infection in the second host. This transition is called a “spillover” event. After the virus has set up shop in a new host, it then needs to spread to other members of that species.

The world is focusing its global effort to locate the original “spillover” event. I thought it might be interesting to consider the concept of “spillover” from a spiritual perspective.

The Gospel of Mark describes a pretty incredible “spillover” event. In chapter five, (Mark 5:1-20) Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Garasenes. He met a man who was filled with an evil spirit and who lived among the dead. This man was host to a demon virus. The virus had so infected this man that he was uncontrollable. No one could subdue him. He tore chains apart and broke the irons around his feet. The infection was destroying him and causing him to bleed but the virus still needed its host. The demoniac saw Jesus from a distance and screamed at the top of his lungs, “What do you want with me, Jesus Son of the Most High God?” The demon virus recognized its enemy even when no one else did. The virus appealed to the Son of God to not torture him. Jesus commanded the spiritual infection to be drawn out of the man. Jesus asked the demon its name. The virus said its name was, “Legion – for we are many.” The virus had completely spread through the man’s body. What began as a fingerhold infection grew to a foothold, spread into a stronghold, and finally developed into a full-blown possession of the man. The virus was relentless and wanted to go to war with Jesus but it did not have the power. It begged Jesus over and over again to not eradicate them. The legion of demons saw a herd of pigs on a nearby hillside. They beg Jesus to initiate a “spillover”. They begged Jesus to send them into pigs. The demons who had a home in a human species, wanted to be spilled over into another animal species. Jesus gave them the ok. The new host did not react to the infection in the same way as the human. The 2000 pigs rush down the steep bank and into the lake and drowned. The spillover infection was unsuccessful for the demons. The spillover event for the human healed and set him free.

Tens of thousands of lives have been lost because of a zoonosis that has spilled over from animal to human. The Gospels report a host of miracles that Jesus performed beyond human understanding. It is interesting to consider, once again, the power of the Son of God, who has the power and ability to initiate a spiritual zoonosis between spiritual demons and a human being. Some people may consider this conversation nonsense because they believe there is no such thing as real-life spiritual demons. Yet Jesus consistently acknowledges the presence of Satan. As Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, one primary petition is to “deliver us from evil”. Not only that, but if we want to be most accurate, the translation is, “deliver us from the Evil One.” Jesus also tells Peter that Satan has asked to sift him like wheat during their Last Supper. Jesus tells Peter that he is praying for him. Then St. Paul acknowledges in Ephesians 6:12, that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Paul encourages the believers put on the full armor of God so that they can, “take their stand against the devil’s schemes.”

Virologists tell us that a virus needs an available host, overcome a number of variables and spread among other members of the species. I believe the spread of a spiritual virus can be seen in a variety of contexts in Scripture. One fundamental symptom of spiritual sickness is fear. Is this why the most common command from the messengers of God is, “Do not be afraid”? Could this command be to calm an individual but also to command the spirit of fear to flee? Do you suffer from fear? One treats the symptom of fear with faith – it is a faith which is administered by the Spirit of God. Fear has to flee when faith is confessed in the living God!

The spread of a spiritual virus showing symptoms of fear can be seen with the nation of Israel recorded in Numbers chapter 13. The nation of Israel was preparing to enter the Promised Land. At God’s direction, Moses, commanded a number of spies to explore the land of Canaan. When the explorers returned they gave their report to the nation. They initially might have looked asymptomatic but they were already carriers of the virus. They brought back this infection of fear and spread it to all the others. The virus had spread to all the explorers except Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb had antibodies that fought off the infection – they had faith in God. The hosts who carried the infection quickly infected the rest of the nation. They reported that the nations in Canaan were filled with giants and large cities that were fortified and powerful. The infection spread like wildfire. The whole community, consumed with fear, wept out loud and threatened to kill their leaders – Moses and Aaron. The consequence of this epidemic was tragic. Thousands of lives were lost. Eventually an entire generation died off. The entire nation was called to turn around and were led into quarantine for 40 years in the wilderness. The older, high risk, generation never made it back. The younger generation would be given another opportunity to combat the virus and enter into the Promised Land. Would this new generation fight off the fear and hold on to the faith? Joshua and Caleb, the ones who had immunity during the first wave, joined the second wave, and made their homes in the land God had promised them. Faith brought them into the land of milk and honey.

That same stubborn virus of fear can be seen among Jesus’ disciples. They battled a storm on the Sea of Galilee. They also battled the fear that made its presence known. Fear infected the disciples and it quickly spread throughout the boat. Peter seemed to be somewhat immune. He had enough faith to call out to Jesus and he begged him to walk on the water. Peter stepped out onto the sea and began to walk on the water. He felt the wind and saw the waves and the virus pulled him down. He began to sink with the illness. Peter cried out to be saved. His Savior immediately caught him and injected him with the antidote. Faith swelled. Jesus called to the storm, “Be Still!”. He turned to his other disciples and calmed their fears. And Just like the demoniac, the virus was drowned.

As believers, over and above the worrying about a virus that might spill over from one species to another, consider the “spill over” of the Spirit. Without God, we are empty vessels. Left to ourselves, all sorts of things can fill our jars of clay. But God has promised his Holy Spirit to be spilled into us. Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, “Be filled with the Spirit”. He also says in 2 Corinthians 4:7 that we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The vaccine and antibodies that will defend us against the virus and infections of fear and any other demonic virus is found in the person of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit.

The Spirit of God fills our weakened jars of clay. As his Spirt continues to fill its host, the remaining infection of sin and contamination of fear spills out. The Spirit fills us with love, joy, peace, patience and a host of other wonderful spiritual fruits. And because our vessels contain cracks, it is key that the antidote of the Spirit continues to be spilled into us -not just for a two-week time but for a lifetime.

Yes, there are a nonillioin number of viruses in the world. We only need 1 vaccine that will protect us from every existing spiritual virus – Jesus Christ. He is our vaccine and it is administered to us through the Holy Spirit. Your shot is waiting for you. All you have to do is ask. I guarantee that unlike Covid19 tests at your local hospital – you will not be denied!

I pray that His spillover, may spill over in to all the lives around you!

God Bless You All!    

Pastor Mark

 

 

 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 5

“Father Forgive Me”

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34

Today is Palm Sunday. I find myself a bit annoyed that we are not together in church. Recently, we have been told to remain at home for another four weeks. I need a new perspective. Father, forgive me!

The Lord heard my cry, and He answered my prayer!  

Many of our government leaders have told us that this will be the hardest week of our lives. I have received my orders. My great sacrifice is to “stay at home”. Really? Remaining in the comfort of my own home is the great sacrifice that my nation is calling me to? Yes, that is the call and I gained some helpful perspective this morning- maybe you can relate.

While I am restrained from running around as I normally do, is that really a significant sacrifice? What about the person stocking shelves each night so people have food on their table? What about the checker who stands toe to toe with people all day long not knowing who might be a carrier of the virus? What about the bus driver who could be coughed on at any moment by any passenger? What about the delivery drivers who transport products to customers who never have enough? What about the police officers, firefighters and EMT’s, whose jobs will not allow for safe distancing? What about the people handling the logistical nightmares for government agencies? What about those serving food and supplies for the poorest of the poor? What about the restaurant owners who are packaging meals “To go” to keep afloat, or the distilleries making hand sanitizer and passing it out for free? Dare I mention the doctors, nurses, medical staff and health care professionals who are on the front lines, picking up their crosses DAILY and sacrificing for their deathly ill patients?

What cross am I being asked to pick up? Stay at home!

We have been told that we are in a war. Yet unlike World War 2, where people were called out to work in factories and do whatever is necessary for the war effort, I’m asked by our government to remain at home. I am not asked to recycle rubber, glass or nylons. I am not asked to ration butter, sugar or canned milk. No, my great sacrifice is to stay at home. I have to take a hot shower and eat a warm meal. I have to snuggle under warm blankets and listen to the birds in the morning. I have to eat breakfast in bed if I want to and drink that fourth cup of coffee. I have to sip a glass of wine and watch the sunset reflect off of Mount Baker. I have to decide whether I will bake brownies or cookies at 10:00 p.m.  I have to take a walk, feel the breeze on my face and look at the beautiful tulips emerge from the ground. I have to sit in front of a warm fire and watch the rain fall. Are gray clouds really that bad? I have to choose from thousands of television shows to watch and hundreds of good books to read. I have to play my guitar and sing songs to the Lord. I have to read the Bible and receive a Word for the day and then write about it. I have to Facetime a friend, or a small group or my children. I have to clean up the garage or clean out my closet, or not clean at all. I have to mow, weed or trim – or not. I have been told that I am free to eat from any tree in the garden, just stay at home. And do I consider this challenging duty? Father, forgive me!

Interesting timing, for this week to hit and be considered the hardest week of any – it certainly was the hardest week in Jesus’ life. Jesus’ travels from Palm Sunday to Easter incurred great sacrifice and cost. Jesus lived on the front lines and paid the price. It was as if he was one of those soldiers taking the beaches at hard hit Normandy on D Day, June 6, 1944. But Jesus’ frontal attack on the enemy of sin was without reinforcements. Jesus was alone. He faced the battle and the fierce enemy, Satan, by himself. He had to maneuver around the myriad of troops and plans on both sides of the line and still end up on the proper beach, in the proper place – at the proper time – which he did – on the cross – at great sacrifice.

Jesus accomplished his mission. He took that beach!!

Jesus entered Palm Sunday to the cheers of the Passover crowd. He knew he would soon feel the jeers of the crowd screaming, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”; he went anyway. Jesus knew the religious leaders would try to trap him and plot to kill him; he went anyway. Jesus knew a friend would betray him and others would deny him; he went anyway. He knew soldiers would scourge him and beat him; he went anyway. He knew a criminal would taunt him and passersby would ridicule him; he went anyway. He knew he would be flogged and a crown of thorns would be pressed upon his head; he went anyway. He knew the religious leaders would cast disparaging lies about him; he went anyway. He knew Pilate would wash his hands of him; he went anyway. He knew his hands and feet would be pounded to a cross and a spear would pierce his side; he went anyway. He knew he would hear the ignorant words, “He saved others, he cannot even save himself”; he went anyway.

This week, between Palm Sunday and Easter, sin gave Jesus its best shot. He shed his blood and breathed his last. But thank God we don’t need Paul Harvey to tell us the “Rest of the Story”.

This week is going to call on many throughout our land to make great sacrifices. Me, my sacrifice; stay at home. If you are like me, let us make a pact to not dwell on minor inconveniences. May God give us a fresh perspective. Let us honor ALL those in our nation and in our communities who are paying such a great price to provide hope, healing and a harvest for those in need! Let us pray for those who are serving on the front lines. And let us proclaim the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who willingly sacrificed his life on our behalf, and on Easter, arose to give us a hope and a future.

Father, forgive me!

Pastor Mark