Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 24

“70”

The land enjoyed it’s sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah.” 2 Chronicles 36:21

 

The southern tribes of Israel lived in exile for 70 years. Due to Israel’s idolatry, God allowed the Babylonian King, Nebuchadnezzar, and his army to destroy Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The remaining Jews were deported to Babylon. The prophet Jeremiah tried to warn the Jews of their impending doom, but they would not listen. Even though God’s people were unfaithful, God still remained faithful! Even though the Jewish captivity began in 597 B.C., God promised that they would return to the City of Zion in 70 years. God is faithful to his promises. When Cyrus, the King of Persia, conquered the Babylonians, in 538 B.C., he declared an edict allowing the Jews to begin their migration back to their homeland. Ezra 1:1 described this moment, “In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom.” King Cyrus would also oversee the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezra records, “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2)

The final verse of 2 Chronicles 36 mirrors the declaration found in the book of Ezra. King Cyrus says, “The LORD… has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you – may the LORD his God be with him, and let him go up.” (2 Chron. 36:23)

This Sabbath day is the 70th day of these devotions. It’s been 10 weeks since Governor Inslee declared the edict to “Stay at Home”. Inslee’s order, was in essence, sending us into exile to our homes. Today, all 50 states are being allowed to return from this captivity on a variety of mitigated levels, to resume a touch of normalcy.

In returning to this account of King Cyrus, 2 Chronicles 36:21 caught my attention. This verse begins, “The land enjoyed its sabbath rests…” For 70 years, the land remained quiet and at peace. Jerusalem remained in rubble for 70 years, but we are told that the land was at rest and found joy.

From all respective reports, it seems that today, this land, our land, has also enjoyed it’s sabbath rests. Not seventy years but in 70 days, global reports regarding air quality, seem to be sending us the message that mother earth has also been enjoying this 10-week respite. In fact, even animals in the wild, have been enjoying greater grazing and are flourishing while the national parks have remained at rest. 

But as human beings, how have we landed after 70 days? It’s definitely a mixed bag. If we have lost a loved one due to this pandemic, this rest has been devastating. If we have lost jobs, our small business, or our financial security, this rest can feel like a nightmare. But if our basic life needs have remained intact, I wonder if there is room to receive more. If not from the land, perhaps we can learn from our LORD. Both of them seem to understand the importance and meaning of rest. Sabbath rest is to be a time of renewal.  Most of the time, it seems that we don’t have time for that. This issue of time and renewal, some would say, is the most significant issue of our time. The pace of life continues to speed up and the temptation to not turn from pushing the pedal to the metal, is too strong.

We are returning from exile. Whether the President or the governor gives the declaration, my question is; what have we learned – as a nation, a community, a church or personally in these 70 days? I’m still trying to reason my way through this mosaic. I’m still trying to remain open to the Spirit of God to teach and remind and reveal to me what I need to know. Moving forward, I don’t like to be cooped up. Yet, looking back, I have found great joy and peace in the last week’s quiet pace. And it very well could be that we will have to move back in order to deal with something that got in front of us. I pray that will not be the case. But I also pray that I take new knowledge and understanding forward in this maze of reorientation. Can you synthesize your emotions, movements and marker moments in these past 70 days? For me, it’s still a work in progress.

If I take a rest and take a look at our LORD, I think I find the nugget I’m looking for. Whether Jesus was running or resting, the piece parts of his life always point back to relationships. Jesus would find himself removed from heaven and having to deal with the rubble in his own hometown. He would face disturbances in the synagogue, at the Temple and in front of the Roman governor on the stone Pavement. Amidst that rubble of rejection and rebuke, Jesus returned to a landing he recognized. He steadied himself and found rest in life renewing relationships. Relationships that centered first and foremost with his Father. But those relationships also extended to others with open hearts and open minds seeking for truth.

Looking ahead, we will continue to wrestle with the stops and starts of returning to life without restrictions. More edicts are sure to come. Let us not be quick to run back to our normal life as it was before. May we return a bit more cautious, ready to remove and uncover more from the rubble. We have much to learn from our Father’s fundamental edict: Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. May we rest and wait and find joy in this one most important declaration.

I’m glad to be piecing this together with all of you!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 4

“Jubilee”

That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you.” Leviticus 25:11

 

Today is devotion day 50. I thought I would highlight God’s plan to set apart year 50 for the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. God spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and gave instructions that each fiftieth year would be a year of “Jubilee” for the people. The LORD said, “You shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan.” God goes on to say, “That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you; in it you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.” (Leviticus 25:9-12)

In our culture, a fiftieth year is a landmark to be honored and recognized. A fiftieth wedding anniversary is considered golden. This anniversary is precious because it indicates love, commitment, endurance, faithfulness and much more. A fiftieth anniversary at a workplace might garner a gold watch or some other special symbol representing dedication, value and perseverance.

As the nation of Israel were about to lay claim to the land of Canaan, God earmarked a fiftieth year and deemed it to be holy. This anniversary year was not so much to focus on a past life of commitment, but rather a present life to be reset and restored.

In Exodus, God established a Sabbath Day and declared it holy. Each sabbath day, each week, was to be set apart from all other work days. The Sabbath was a day for families to rest, worship, and honor God. In a way, God initiated a “reset” opportunity for the heart and mind of his people every week. He wanted the importance of this Sabbath reset clear as crystal. Therefore, God stated in great detail, within the giving of the Ten Commandments,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

God went to great lengths to spell out his desire for Israel to honor the Sabbath Day. The Sabbath was meant as a gift to the people. Keep in mind, Israel had just spent 400 years in slavery, in Egypt, in which they worked seven days a week with no rest. Now that God’s people were liberated and set free, he was setting up conditions that would protect, provide and preserve a healthy, holy life. The Sabbath day would reset their spiritual lives. Their focus would be upon God’s faithfulness. The Sabbath day would also provide a reset for their emotional and physical lives. They would have time to strengthen family relationships and restore their physical strength.

God did not stop with a personal sabbath for families. God also highlighted the land of this agrarian society. The land would need a reset. Just like the people, the land could not work tirelessly without rest. Therefore, God declared a Sabbath for the land. The LORD spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai and said,

“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them. When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall keep a Sabbath to the LORD. For six years you shall sow your field, and for six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits, but in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a Sabbath to the LORD.” (Leviticus 25:1-4)

This practice of a land sabbath was to replenish the soil. But this rest was also to place attention upon God – the people’s provider and producer. God was the giver of all good things.

God provided a sabbath for individual families and individual partitions of land, but He went one step further. After seven cycles of seven years, God declared a year of Jubilee. He stated,

“You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you 49 years. Then you shall sound the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month. On the Day of Atonement, you shall sound the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall consecrate the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout the land to its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall neither sow nor reap what grows of itself nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you. You may eat the produce of the field.” (Leviticus 25:8-12)

The year of jubilee was not just one of rest but of restoration. Properties that were sold over the previous 49 years, and the people who became indentured, were returned to their clans. God provided this protection so that no clan would become too large or too poor in relationship to the other. The year of jubilee would not reset everything equally because cattle and money were not to be reallocated. But this periodic restoration would allow each family to earn a living and maintain value in the society no matter what circumstances took place.

In the Promised Land, God would not allow one clan to become a giant like Amazon. Nor would God allow a clan to live in generational poverty, relying upon others to provide for them. All were to work together in community and in unity with their attention toward God.

If the people of Israel followed God’s plan, they would live out lives of redemption. This redemptive nation would symbolize the redemptive nation that would rise up under Jesus Christ. The people, the land, and the nation would be known as a people well rested, well restored, and regularly reset in body, mind, and spirit. The question could be asked; Has this example ever been lived out among God’s people?

The truth is, Israel never adhered to God’s direction. They followed God’s weekly Sabbath command. But rather than restoring the people in body and spirit, the Sabbath became a ritual that enslaved the people to religion. And as far as the land sabbath and the year of jubilee, those directives were lost between the rolls of parchment and the roles of daily life. Sounds a bit familiar.

What can we glean from this agrarian society so long ago?  

These last seven weeks have forced us to be away from regular work and regular life. Are we headed toward a “new normal”? Most people think so. Since fear, panic, and anxiety were growing at epidemic levels before this pandemic, might this new normal include more rest, restoration and even a reset? Have we learned anything in these last seven weeks, or are we still rushing to Costco and stockpiling frozen steaks?

In our lifetime, we will probably never have another “reset” moment like this. The life that we are rushing to get back to, was it really that good?

Perhaps on this fiftieth day – we put down the obstacles before us and pray for God to open our eyes to the opportunities He’s given us. Can you see this time as a gift? Can you taste a tiny bit of redemption or is it all just a mouthful of restrictions? God is a giver of good gifts even in the midst of trying times. Think on this: Rest, restoration and redemption are God’s jam!

Finally, it was on the fiftieth day after Jesus’ resurrection when the promised Holy Spirit “rested” upon the disciples at Pentecost. Jesus provided redemption. The Spirit delivered transformation. Good Gifts!

Good things can happen on Day 50!

God Bless You!

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