Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 18

“Bridge Building – Part 2”

“Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.” Acts 10:48

In my previous devotion (#85), I discussed the relational bridge built between two different sets of people. The first set involved a Roman solider named Cornelius and a Christ follower named Simon Peter. The second set involved an African American named Calvin and a police officer named Justin.  Only the first half of the encounter between Cornelius and Peter was included, so today, I will include the second part – from Acts 10:24-11:18. So also, I want to introduce a new set of characters, that built a bond of friendship during difficult days.

God used the encounter between Cornelius and Peter to break barriers. Jews were never to associate with gentiles. As the Good News about Jesus began to spread, the target audience of the early believers were fellow Jews. Jewish believers would never have considered sharing the Gospel with the gentiles because the Law directed them to never cross that line. But God, in His divine plan, had other ideas. God sent an angel to Cornelius, who we are told was a devout and God-fearing man. We are also told that he gave generously to those in need and prayed regularly. God revealed himself to this man of character and told him to send for Simon Peter who was staying in Joppa. The following day, around noon, servants arrived in search of Simon Peter. God has already prepared Peter for this encounter. God gave Peter a vision opening his eyes to the truth that nothing is impure which God has made clean. God showed him a sheet with countless animals in it and told Peter to, “Kill and eat.” Peter initially refused because the animals were considered, “unclean.” But after the third time, Peter began to understand the message. God was breaking down the barriers to Jewish dietary restrictions. Then God was about to lead Peter on a path to break an even greater barrier. Suddenly, three servants invite Peter to Caesarea, to the home of Cornelius, a Roman solder, but more than that – a Gentile!

Upon entering the house of Cornelius, Peter said to him, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. So, when I was sent for, I came without raising any objections.” (Acts 10:28-29)

Cornelius then told Peter the story about the visit from the angel and the directions to send for him. Peter then responded, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” (Acts 10:34-35)

As Peter shared the Good News about Jesus with Cornelius and the gathered crowd, suddenly the Holy Spirit came upon all who heard the message. The Jewish believers who accompanied Peter were absolutely astounded that the Spirit had been poured out – even on Gentiles! Peter then said, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)

God had just broken a barrier that had stood for centuries. As amazing a move of God as this is – it is even more amazing that Simon Peter could move with God, embrace his plan and welcome these new Gentile believers. When the word of what happened in Caesarea got back to the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, Peter was initially criticized for associating with Gentiles. But when Peter shared how the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon both Jews and Gentiles alike, they also celebrated God’s ground breaking action and declared, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”         (Acts 11:18)

There would be future battles between Gentile Christians and circumcised believers, but this moment between Cornelius and Peter would be a type of D-Day event. This would be a marker moment bringing down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile. And the message that would be pounded out and carried forth is found in Galatians 3:26-28. The Apostle Paul states, “You are all sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Today, I would also like to share another example of a significant and ground breaking, bridge-building relationship. This relationship was formed in 1930, in New York City. An unexpected bond was formed between a German born, European theologian and an African American theologian born in Alabama. Their names were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Albert Franklin “Frank” Fisher.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is considered one of the foremost Lutheran theologians and arguably the greatest theologian of the 20th century. His books entitled, “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together” have left a lasting impression upon future generations. Bonhoeffer was an anti-Nazi dissident and a founding member of the Confessing Church in Germany. He joined the Resistance during WWII and was a participant in the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. Eventually, he was tragically killed only a few weeks before the end of the war at the young age of 39.

Long before the war, Bonhoeffer left Germany to study in America. While at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City, he met another seminary student, Frank Fisher. He was disappointed and disheartened by what he found within the American seminary. He stated, “In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.” The one notable exception was that of the “negro churches.” It would be in the socially downtrodden African American community where Bonhoeffer would finally hear the gospel preached and see its power manifested. It changed his life. Eric Metaxas, in the book, “Bonhoeffer”, explains that Dietrich Bonhoeffer found, what he would call, a “theological feast” at Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Dr. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. brought the fire of a revivalist preacher with great intellect and social vision. Metaxas stated that Powell was active in combating racism and minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ. He goes on to say, “For the first time, Bonhoeffer saw the gospel preached and lived out in obedience to God’s commands – he was entirely captivated for the rest of the time in New York.”

During this time, Bonhoeffer traveled with Frank Fisher and was given a front row seat to African American life, culture and suffering. These experiences would leave a lasting impression upon him and influence his response, in the coming years, to the treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer did not learn much academically during his time in the United States, but he received more than his share of invaluable experience in what it meant to “be church” from the African American community. He learned what it meant to live in a Christ-centered community. For the first time, he experienced the power of music through “negro spiritual” songs. He also came to realize that the only real piety and power that he had seen in the American church seemed to be in the churches where there were a present reality and a past history of suffering.   

After returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer’s experiences within the African American community would be instrumental in formulating and articulating his views regarding discipleship and Christian community.

All this rich discovery came about from a friendship formed between two unlikely individuals. Two men who built a bridge of friendship in which barriers were brought low, and love grew deep. God knew what he was doing when Dietrich and Frank were introduced to each other. Just as he knew what he was doing when Simon Peter was introduced to Cornelius.

Perhaps there are people in our future, whom God knows, who will help us build bridges, bring barriers low and grow deep in Christian love. Holy Spirit, show us the way.

God Bless You All,

Pastor Mark

 

Cornelius Calls for Peter (continued) – Acts 10:23-11:18

 23 So Peter invited the men to stay for the night. The next day he went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Joppa.

24 They arrived in Caesarea the following day. Cornelius was waiting for them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him. 26 But Peter pulled him up and said, “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” 27 So they talked together and went inside, where many others were assembled.

28 Peter told them, “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you. But God has shown me that I should no longer think of anyone as impure or unclean. 29 So I came without objection as soon as I was sent for. Now tell me why you sent for me.”

30 Cornelius replied, “Four days ago I was praying in my house about this same time, three o’clock in the afternoon. Suddenly, a man in dazzling clothes was standing in front of me. 31 He told me, ‘Cornelius, your prayer has been heard, and your gifts to the poor have been noticed by God! 32 Now send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. He is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner who lives near the seashore.’ 33 So I sent for you at once, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here, waiting before God to hear the message the Lord has given you.”

The Gentiles Hear the Good News

34 Then Peter replied, “I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. 35 In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right. 36 This is the message of Good News for the people of Israel—that there is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee, after John began preaching his message of baptism. 38 And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

39 “And we apostles are witnesses of all he did throughout Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a cross,[a] 40 but God raised him to life on the third day. Then God allowed him to appear, 41 not to the general public,[b] but to us whom God had chosen in advance to be his witnesses. We were those who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he ordered us to preach everywhere and to testify that Jesus is the one appointed by God to be the judge of all—the living and the dead. 43 He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”

The Gentiles Receive the Holy Spirit

44 Even as Peter was saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message. 45 The Jewish believers[c] who came with Peter were amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too. 46 For they heard them speaking in other tongues[d] and praising God.

Then Peter asked, 47 “Can anyone object to their being baptized, now that they have received the Holy Spirit just as we did?” 48 So he gave orders for them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Afterward Cornelius asked him to stay with them for several days.

Peter Explains His Actions

11 Soon the news reached the apostles and other believers[e] in Judea that the Gentiles had received the word of God. But when Peter arrived back in Jerusalem, the Jewish believers[f] criticized him. “You entered the home of Gentiles[g] and even ate with them!” they said.

Then Peter told them exactly what had happened. “I was in the town of Joppa,” he said, “and while I was praying, I went into a trance and saw a vision. Something like a large sheet was let down by its four corners from the sky. And it came right down to me.

When I looked inside the sheet, I saw all sorts of tame and wild animals, reptiles, and birds. And I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat them.’

“‘No, Lord,’ I replied. ‘I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure or unclean.[h]

“But the voice from heaven spoke again: ‘Do not call something unclean if God has made it clean.’ 10 This happened three times before the sheet and all it contained was pulled back up to heaven.

11 “Just then three men who had been sent from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. 12 The Holy Spirit told me to go with them and not to worry that they were Gentiles. These six brothers here accompanied me, and we soon entered the home of the man who had sent for us. 13 He told us how an angel had appeared to him in his home and had told him, ‘Send messengers to Joppa, and summon a man named Simon Peter. 14 He will tell you how you and everyone in your household can be saved!’

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[i] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’

17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”

 

 



Pastor Mark’s 42nd Devotion, April 26

“42”

“But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”     Luke 10:42

(If you listen/watch my sermon today on our website, this devotion will make a little more sense.)

Since this is devotion day “42”, I want to give a shout out to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Early on a Sunday morning, just like this one, Jesus hit me with a spiritual wave. I was spending devotion time with the Lord at home in our loft when the importance of the number “42” was finally revealed.

“42” had been ringing in my ears for months. I didn’t know what it meant but I even reheated my coffee for 42 seconds in the microwave. That particular Sunday morning, my eyes hit upon Luke 10:42. The light bulb went on and I felt like I was hit by a Mac truck. Luke 10:42 reads, “But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Most of you are probably familiar with this story. I had read this encounter countless times, but hitting home personally was waiting for this particular morning.

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem with an appointment on a cross. Before reaching Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples stopped at his close friend’s house. Mary, Martha and Lazarus lived in Bethany. They opened their home to the large group. Mary took the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching. Martha was busy preparing the food for their visitors. Martha became frustrated with Mary because she was not helping with all the necessary preparations. Finally, Martha was so upset and heated that she unloaded on her sister. In fact, she even unloaded on Jesus, her special guest. She said, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work myself? Tell her to help me!”

Jesus responds, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, (42) but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

While reading this story, the verse number 42 virtually jumped off the page. As I mentioned in earlier devotions, this happened during the same time that God was healing and restoring my heart in the mornings during the week. In a moment, I felt God was giving me a warning and direction for my future. Jesus was clearly showing me that my strength will always be found sitting at his feet – and nothing will take it away from me. If and when I move away from him and get distracted with all other sorts of worries and obligations – church, family, house, community, nation – that is when my spiritual life will be in trouble. If I am to remain strong and healthy spiritually, I must always return to him and find regular, undistracted time with Jesus.

Some people have been amazed that I can write a devotion each day for the past six weeks. The reason I have been able to accomplish this points to the significance of 42. This “stay at home” order has allowed me extended undistracted time to sit at Jesus’ feet. Jesus has provided thoughts, ideas, pictures, dreams, scriptures, analogies, and insights that have emerged from a Spirit saturated soul. I have felt it. By your comments each week, I believe you have also. Jesus has provided every single day. This has confirmed his words to me – It is the one most important thing needed for me – and it will never be taken away.

Since that morning, there have been a number of other situations when number “42” has popped up.

If you watch Major League Baseball, you know that there is one day each year when all the professional players wear number “42” on their jerseys. So also, no individual players have their names printed on their backs. This one day is to honor the name and number of Jackie Robinson. Jackie was the first African American player to break the baseball racial barrier. On April 15, 1947, at age 28, Jackie Robinson broke the racial barrier as he went on the field playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Not only could Jackie hit for average and home runs, he hit the racial barrier out of the park. He faced incredible harassment and bigotry. But he endured all the trials and opened the door for all other African American baseball players to join him in the league. Yes, there were other players before him who knocked on the door. But at the right time, Jackie being the right person, broke down the door and others walked through behind him.

There was another one who broke down a dividing wall. This One knocked down the door of separation and has allowed all of us to walk through behind him. Thank you Jesus, for enduring the trials and opening the door to salvation!

Whether Luke 10:42 or jersey number “42”, God has used that number to break through some hard core divisions and some hard headed individuals.

Finally, did you know that the number “42” is on the perfect number list? According to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy, “42” is the quintessential number of the universe.

The first Sunday morning that I shared the importance of “42” with my church folks, Tom Catchpole caught me after the service. He said to me, “Pastor, did you know that “42” is the perfect number in the universe?” I responded to Tom with surprise and said, “No, Tom, I did not know that.” According to The Guide – 42 is, “The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything”. It was calculated by a supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years.

Wow! If that is the case, it sounds pretty important and something we should take a closer look at. Over the years, many people have made similar comments about both, Jackie Robinson and The Hitchhiker’s Guide.

I will close with a statement from a longtime friend, Lori Pape. She made a comment one day about her husband, John. I was hit by another spiritual wave. Lori said, “John might not be perfect – but he is perfect for ME!”

I’m not sure if the number “42” is the perfect number of the universe. But I do know that it is the perfect number for ME!

Thank you, Jesus, for a personal number that I can live by and always find my bearings.

I close this devotion the same way I began; “My shout out is to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!!

Day 42. Maybe you will get hit by a wave today. Maybe you’ll take a Peter Plunge today (a reference to my sermon today). In any case, Jesus loves YOU personally! And if the wave does not come today, there is a wave coming out upon the waters of grace, to wash over your heart and consume you with his love.

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 16

“Stay In”

Stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:49

As the weeks roll on, the mandate by Governor Inslee to “Stay In” becomes more and more difficult. The sun is shining and warmer temperatures are greeting us each day. The grass is growing, the weeds are flourishing and there are projects that need to be taken care of. You might not even have any grass to mow. But you have a growing itch to do something. It’s time to get outside and do anything!

After Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples faced a similar challenging mandate. Right before Jesus’ ascension to heaven, he directed his disciples to “stay in”. He tells them to stay in Jerusalem. Jesus states, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but STAY IN the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Looking at this mandate through a lens 2,000 years old, we might not think anything of it. We know the end of the story. We might tell the disciples, “Relax and let it come to you!” Pentecost was coming. The power of the Holy Spirit was going to be unleashed upon the people. People would speak in other languages declaring the glory of God. There would be tongues that looked like fire resting upon people’s heads. A mighty roaring wind would blow through the city. Pentecost would be an explosive moment. Peter would explain the situation to the crowds of people. Thousands of people would be baptized and come to Jesus. Over 3,000 people, in one single day, would accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. All this was going to take place, and all the disciples had to do was stay in – Jerusalem – and wait for 50 days. 50 DAYS!! Can you imagine having to wait 50 days? How difficult would it be not knowing the “Rest of the Story”? Weeks go by and you would be trying to recall some fairly vague instructions from Jesus? That wait could not have been easy for them.

We’ve been “staying in” for about 28 days.  We are told in Matthew’s Gospel, that when the disciples met the resurrected Lord in Galilee, even then, some of them doubted. You can imagine 28 days after Jesus left, some of them had to have doubted his directive to stay in. Some would have doubted that they heard Jesus’ instruction correctly. Some probably doubted that he even gave that directive at all. And some probably doubted that it would make any difference whether they stay in or not. Some of them were probably saying, “Let’s go, Let’s go, we’ve got to get on the move.”  I could envision Peter being tempted to say, “Fellas, it’s time to kick some _ _ _, and take some names, in the name of Jesus, of course.” The only problem was, Jesus told them to “stay”.  

Thank goodness the disciples were willing to wait. At times they must have felt like a dog on too short of a leash. But in the end, the disciples remained obedient to Jesus, and experienced a power unleashed that no one could imagine. They witnessed a second moment from heaven unlike any other in history. The power of God, that was prophesied by the prophet Joel, was unleashed on the people of Jerusalem. And that power propelled the early church to move with great energy and intention. And then they started taking names for the Kingdom.

Now, I’m not equating Governor Inslee’s mandate to be comparable to Jesus. There has been no promise that great power is waiting on the other of his order. But often, good things come to those who wait. Perhaps our waiting can fend off a further outbreak of the virus. Perhaps our waiting will allow our healthcare system to catch up. Perhaps our waiting will propel us further to trust God for our food, finances and our future. Perhaps this waiting will give us further opportunities to witness to others with the faith and hope we have in Christ Jesus. Perhaps this waiting will help us lay down our worries and anxieties and pick up, more fully, greater joy, hope and love found in Him.

I’m not sure about you but I really don’t like to wait. But I can clearly remember pivotal moments when I have waited, and I have seen God’s hand played out in mighty ways. There also have been times when I have rushed ahead and quickly crashed and burned. We have 18 days left to wait until our mandate is over. The reality is, we might be called upon to wait some more. Let’s wait and see. In the meantime, let us wait and watch for God to show his hand. He might have an ace in the hole. My hand? I think I’ll stay!

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” Psalm 37:7

God Bless You!

Pastor Mark

 



Pastor Mark’s March Blog

 

Pastor Mark’s March 2020 Blog . . .

 

 

5th SUNDAY WORSHIP

Sunday, March 29, 2020 – 9:45 a.m.

 

For the past few years, we have taken advantage of the 5th Sunday’s of the month and have worshipped as one body. Typically, we have gathered for a shortened worship service in the sanctuary and then eat breakfast together in the fellowship hall. 5th Sunday celebrations were halted during the remodel project because we had no place to eat together. Now that the fellowship hall is finished, we are planning a twist.  March 29    we will hold our worship service in the fellowship hall. Following the service, we will then share an extended coffee hour together.

For the past months, we have talked about the many and various ways we can use our new space for mission. I am going to talk more about that on the 29th. Not only will we talk about mission, but also experience worship together as mission in this new space.

As more groups have been using this space, positive feedback continues to pour in. People who have attended The Gathering Place meals, ConneXion events, Youth activities, and fellowship time have all been very pleased with the renovation. It’s an exciting time!

 

The Season of Lent is fast approaching.

Ash Wednesday will arrive next week, February 26, 2020.

We will be exploring a series by Adam Hamilton, entitled, “Simon Peter: Flawed yet Faithful Disciple”.

Peter was not rich or educated, but was familiar with hard work. He was quick-tempered and impetuous, but possessed a passion that would change the world. He left everything to follow his teacher, yet struggled with doubt and fear. We will follow and learn from Peter, through the highs and lows.  We can identify with much of Peter’s journey. And we have much to learn and be inspired by this full throttle follower of Jesus Christ.

Come, join the journey! Lenten ConneXion (Ash Wednesday) begins with dinner on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 6:00 p.m.