Pastor Mark’s Devotions, July 28

“A New Creation”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”                      2 Corinthians 5:17

Summer has arrived. Yesterday, the temperature ticked up into the 90’s. With the hot weather, I thought it would be a good time to refinish my deck. I brought out the power sprayer to wash off the dirt and grime from the boards. After stretching out the hoses, I realized a couple of bushes that had to be trimmed back away from the deck. Frustrated at the delay, I went to the garage to locate my trimmer and spent the next hour cutting back the bushes. Finally, I was able to return to the power sprayer and go after the weathered boards. When finished, I had to wait a few days for the deck to dry. Yesterday, being so hot, it was the perfect day to apply a fresh coat of stain. The deck was so dry, it soaked up the stain like a sponge. When the last board was stained, it was satisfying knowing that the job was done for another year.

While I watched the stain seep and soak deeply into the fibers of the boards, I remembered previous decks that I had refinished with paint. While the deck looked nice when finished, the pain didn’t seep into the wood. The paint remained on the surface and through the winter, eventually it peeled off. In some cases, the paint encapsulated the moisture in the boards and caused excessive rotting while it was invisible to the eye. Eventually, some boards rotted all the way through.

Somewhere in the process, I thought about Jesus’ words to Nicodemus. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.” (John 3:5) Jesus says that if one is to gain access to God’s Kingdom, they are going to have to be washed off and sealed. It seems that Jesus needs to break out his power sprayer and wash off our boards – spiritually speaking. In the waters of baptism, the dirt and grim of sin is washed off and we are declared children of God. But, more than that, Jesus says that we also need to be born of the Spirit. The Spirit is what seals us, guaranteeing God’s salvation which will surely come. The Spirit of God is to seep into the fibers of our heart and mind, like stain upon a dry and thirsty deck. Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:21-22, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” It is of critical importance that we surrender ourselves to “The Refinisher”, and open ourselves to the soaking and saturation process of the Spirit. And the reality is that we will need the washing and soaking many times over in a continual fashion. Some folks are resistant to the concept of a full surrender and simply want a surface coat. It seems to be a bit easier and less intrusive in the beginning but in the end it will be much more costly. The problem with only wanting a paint job, it simply will not hold. Without the soaking in of the Spirit, when bad weather arrives, the surface coat will be stripped away. So also, parts of the human soul will be left encapsulated, left to soften and decay, unseen by the naked eye, and will break down over time.

The only issue with this metaphor of re-staining is that it doesn’t go far enough. For Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Yes, we are to be washed clean in baptism and sealed by the Spirit, but Paul clearly points to becoming something completely new. We are to experience a metamorphosis. We are to go through a transformation. Paul would say that it is not enough to wash off a caterpillar and brush on some fresh stain. The point of following Christ is to emerge as a beautiful butterfly, transformed, with an ability to see life from a completely new perspective – God’s perspective.

So, I’m not ready to give up the deck metaphor. Below my cedar deck rests a concrete slab. Another deck, if you will. It too, needs to be power sprayed and sealed. But the make-up of the materials is completely different. The exposed aggregate will not give way to the eventual decay of the wood nor does it need the same annual care. The rock will remain steadfast and only a fool would want to paint over the top of it. But one could argue that the concrete while more stable, is more susceptible to cracking, and in the end, it is still a deck and not something “new”.

This train of thought is absolutely true. Therefore, we must leave my backyard in search for deeper truth. Perhaps we must consider a different deck altogether. A deck that needs to be power sprayed and sealed yet brings perspective from a completely new vantage point. Then may I suggest we move to the deck of a Boeing 737 airplane, or an Amtrak Cascade locomotive or a Navy Aircraft Carrier. Let us dismiss the Boeing 737Max for obvious internal reasons. Here we have the same needs of these vehicles to be washed and sealed yet brings a metamorphosis to the meaning of a backyard deck. Perhaps now we are getting close to imagining the Call in becoming a new creation in Christ.

This morning, I finished reading C.S. Lewis’, Mere Christianity. Coincidentally, the final chapter is entitled, “New Men” (I would add – and New Women). The only problem is that I don’t believe in coincidence. I will conclude with his powerful, penetrating thoughts concerning one becoming a new creation in Christ. I hope you are blessed by his words as I was.  

C.S. Lewis writes,

“Already the new men/women are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognizable: but others can be recognized. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognizable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of “religious people” which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognized one of them, you will recognize the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognize one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of color, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

But you must not imagine that the new man/woman are, in the ordinary sense, all alike. A good deal of what I have been saying in this last book might make you suppose that that was bound to be so. To become new men/women means losing what we now call ‘ourselves’. Out of our ‘selves’, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be “in” us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact, it is not so.

It is difficult here to get a good illustration; because of course, no other two things related to each other just as the Creator is related to one of His creatures. But I will try two very imperfect illustrations which may give a hint of truth. Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way, they would all look like? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are. Or again, suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of an egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt. (Of course, as I warned you, this is not really a very good illustration, because you can, after all, kill the other tastes by putting in too much salt, whereas you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ. I am doing the best I can.”

It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented – as an author invents characters in a novel – all different men/women that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to be ‘myself’ without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact, what I so proudly call ‘Myself’ becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop…

It is when I turn to Christ, when I give myself up to His Personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own. At the beginning I said there were Personalities in God (the Trinity). I will go further now. There are no real personalities anywhere else. Until you have given up your ‘self’ to Him you will not have a real self…Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

(C.S. Lewis – Mere Christianity – pages 223-227)

“You are the salt of the earth.” “You are the light of the world.”  (Matthew 5:13, 14)

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 13

“The Path to Reopening”

“The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘These are my appointed feasts, the appointed feasts of the Lord, which you are to proclaim as sacred assemblies.” Leviticus 23:1-2

Governor Inslee has appointed four phases as a pathway to reopen our economy and allow people to assemble. Interestingly enough, God appointed four feasts in the Old Testament, as a pathway to acknowledge him and assemble his people together. Not only that, but within these four feasts, Jesus also points to understanding how God is using this pathway to open up his eternal Kingdom and assemble his people forever.

God directed Moses to establish four feasts: (Leviticus 23)

  1. The Feast of Unleavened Bread – Passover
  2. The Feast of Weeks – Pentecost
  3. The Feast Trumpets – Day of Atonement
  4. The Feast of Tabernacles – Ingathering

The first feast: The Feast of Unleavened Bread began with the celebration of Passover. Passover was the celebration to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. During this Passover meal, the Israelites ate roasted lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and drank wine to recollect God’s strong arm setting them free. It is during this Passover meal that Jesus celebrated his Last Supper with his disciples. It is at this meal that Jesus brought new meaning to this gathering. He identified himself as the Passover lamb. In the breaking of the bread and drinking of the third cup of wine, Jesus established himself as the one who’s body would be broken and blood would be shed for the redemption of all people.

The Feast of Unleavened Bread was to follow the Passover celebration. For seven days, the people of Israel were to eat bread made without yeast. Bread made without yeast represented both “bread of haste” – for when the Israelites left Egypt – they had to leave in a hurry and did not have time to allow bread to rise. Yeast also represents sin. In preparation for the Feast of Unleavened bread, the Israelites were to remove all items containing yeast from their households, representing the removal of sin from their lives. This first of four feasts was focused upon God’s salvation. Passover was to point to God who opened a pathway for the Israelites to be free from slavery. Jesus followed the pattern of this feast but pointed to himself as the pathway for all people to be free from sin.

The second feast: The Feast of Weeks is also called the Feast of First Fruits. This feast began with the first grain of harvest. After seven weeks, counting off 50 days, Israel presented an offering of new grain to the LORD. This feast was also called “Pentecost”, as the feast was celebrated 50 days after the beginning of harvest. It is during this Jewish festival that God sent the Holy Spirit as a sort of first fruits, beginning the harvest of God’s Kingdom. Pentecost is the day that power was bestowed upon the disciples. The early church formally assembled after this event and they began to spread the Gospel message to the world. Paul points to the evidence of the “first fruits” in the hearts of believers through the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5. He says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

Through the Holy Spirit, God opened up phase 2 of his path into his Kingdom. In phase 1, salvation was made secure through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In phase 2, the power to live out that salvation is provided through the empowerment of God’s Spirit. Phase 2 begins the move of God’s message out into the world, and that his salvation is open to both Jews and gentiles. The first fruits of God’s Spirit, lived out among his people, is to be the witness to the world, that they would join in this pathway to God. 

The third feast: The Feast Trumpets was to be a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. This feast would mark the end of one year and the beginning of the next. Postexilic Judaism would celebrate this day as Rosh Hashanah, i.e. New Year’s Day. The Feast of Trumpets was to prepare for the most holy month of the year. During this month, the nation was to celebrate the Day of Atonement. This was the one day of the year in which atonement for the sins of the nation would be made. The High Priest would make sacrifice for the sins of the nation. It is on this day of Atonement, that Jesus was crucified upon the cross at Calvary. This was the final sacrifice and atonement made for all nations, for all sin, once and for all.

When Jesus returns at his Second Coming, his appearance will be preceded by a trumpet blast. Jesus said, “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Many coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other.” (Matthew 24:30-31)

The fourth feast: The Feast of Tabernacles is the final assembly at the end of the harvest. The nation of Israel was to gather together, and live in tents (booths) for seven days as a reminder of their being brought out of Egypt. This end of the harvest was to celebrate God’s faithfulness and provision for his people. This feast is also called the “Feast of Ingathering”. It was to be a feast after all the crops had been gathered in from the fields. Within this fourth feast, it is believed that God will gather in his people on earth and open the ultimate pathway home. No one knows the exact time or date of the opening of phase 4. But as God has opened up each of the previous feasts as pathways to draw the people closer to him, and as Jesus has used these feasts as a template for the pathway he’s opened up to the world, it would seem consistent that Jesus’ Second Coming would arrive during the timing of the fourth feast and gather in his people to return home.

Our state governor is trying to work four phases to open up our economy. God has been working since the Fall to sin, to fully reopen his path into his Kingdom. He has given us four feasts to track his movement. We are closer today, to this reopening, than yesterday. Let us keep our lamps burning. Let us stay alert, awake, and watchful.

He has come. He will come again!

God is certainly working His path toward reopening!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark    



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, April 25

“Even the Dandelions Know!”

“The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8

 

Why do the weeds know more than the flowers? This morning I was looking forward to mowing down the flowering herbaceous perennial plant of the family Asteraceae. In other words, I was ready to destroy all of those bright yellow dandelion plants peppering my yard. But as I looked out my kitchen window, there were no yellow flowers to be seen. Those pesky weeds were hunkering down due to the strong winds and pelting rain. Why would the weeds know to protect themselves more than my flowers? The few tulips I have in the yard, stand up through whatever weather comes. In the process, those beautiful flowers get painted and battered beyond belief?

The sun is supposed to shine this afternoon. You know, as well as I, that once a few rays of sunshine fall, those perennial weeds will rise up and bloom in all their glory. To make matters worse, their blooms are a precursor to the seeds that will rise and spread throughout the yard. The flowers, on the other hand, have been so beaten down by the weather, that they are left in shreds. It doesn’t matter how much sun shines down on them, they are toast and ready for the burn pile.  

Yesterday, I watched reports of people who hunkered down in their basements while the raging tornado tore apart their houses. Entire neighborhoods, a day earlier, that were once beautiful, now were left in shreds. Yet from the rubble, as the sun returned, reports shot out about neighbors reaching out to help fellow neighbors. People all over town were experiencing beauty rise from the ashes.

Sometimes, it seems like weeds know more than we. Somehow, they can inherently read the signs. When a storm is coming, they stay put. When the sun is shining, the weeds send forth their flowers. Sometimes, when storms blow into our lives, we try to face them head on, taking on the full torrential force. And when we do face the rage on our own, we are often left in shreds. We must be careful to protect the Spirit within. Some people have been so beaten down that it has wiped out their faith – beyond belief.

Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.”

Solomon reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:1, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”

We must know to read the signs. We must know when to guard our heart from outside threats. We must also know when it is time to come out from hiding and share our heart with those around us. The key is the SON!

We have been facing an unprecedented storm. When you feel the winds blowing and the sting of pelting rain on your face, guard your heart. There are times that we simply need to hunker down and protect our soul. Then when the storms blow over, and we begin to feel the Son on our face, that is the time to come out from hiding. The Son is always with us! The Son will be the indicator when we rise and spread our flowering herbaceous in love to all the world.

I could take this analogy a bit further and discuss Jesus’ parable about wheat and weeds. I could write about how the wheat is stored in barns and the weeds are burned and destroyed. But I think I’d rather stop right here. I’d rather just wait for the sun to appear and then mow those suckers down!

Enjoy a wonderful Saturday. Let the feel of the Son indicate when you guard yourself and when you spread the seed and let them fly!

Remember you are not a weed. You are more precious to God than the lilies of the field!

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, March 27

                                                                                    “PPE”

“Put on the Full Armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Eph. 6:11

During the Covid19 crisis, we are learning new terms and their meanings. There is no question that people, while they might not comply, understand the meaning of “Safe Distancing”. Also, the phrase, “flatten the curve” will bring a picture to mind not quickly forgotten. Before this pandemic, I could not tell you if I had ever heard the acronym, “PPE”. Now those letters are thrown around regularly and everyone knows what it means; “Personal Protective Equipment”. We are also very aware of the lack of personal gear for our health care providers. When I first heard this term repeated on the news, it seemed a concern that was a healthy distance away. I know that I wasn’t alone. But then I quickly realized the concern is much closer to home. Dawn and my niece, Grace, are on the medical front lines. Grace, my niece, who is an EMT serving the downtown Seattle area, is given one mask per day no matter how many calls. So also, Dawn’s clinic had one box of masks that had to last the entire week for all employees.  

All our health professionals and those serving the public are in great need of greater Personal Protective Equipment. It is no more clear than watching the news and witnessing nurses wrapped in black plastic garbage bags. Prayerfully the Federal Government and private companies will begin flooding the states with the equipment that is needed.

The reality is, we all need Personal Protective Equipment. As Christians, we are called to recognize our need for spiritual protective gear. St. Paul, in chapter 6 of Ephesians, says that we need this equipment in order to protect ourselves from Satan’s scheming. The Bible tells us that Satan is the Father of all lies, who wants to steal, kill and destroy. He wants to destroy our hearts, trample on our faith, and trip up our trust in God. Earlier in chapter 4, Paul states that it is the leadership in the church to help “equip God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining the full measure of Christ. (Eph. 4:12-13) The people of God will not be equipped for works of service nor grow in maturity, if we do not put on the proper personal protective gear. In truth, people are being cut down by our enemy every day! Paul points out that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but similar to Covid19, he is an invisible enemy. We cannot see him coming, but we can clearly see his effects. If the world can acknowledge the effects of this virus and take global action, why is the world so blind to the effects of the spiritual virus, our enemy, Satan?

To protect ourselves against this hidden enemy, Paul says, “Put on the FULL ARMOR of God so that you can take your stand.” We could not conceive of sending our soldiers out on to the battle field without a weapon and proper battle gear. It seems like we are sending our health workers out to the front lines wearing rags like the militia of the Revolutionary War. And the country is up in arms about this tragedy.  So too, we cannot send our fellow believers out into the world without armor and expect them to stand.

Paul states, “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”

Paul identified the personal equipment we need to protect ourselves. Now what? Consider today you are entering bootcamp. Bootcamp is a place where you are broken down, built up, and learn how to become proficient with your armor. Yes, one could argue that it is time we storm the beaches of Normandy. I’m not sure it’s time for a frontal attack. Basic training lasts between 8-12 weeks. It looks like a lot of us could be sheltering in place for 8-12 weeks. Let us use this time to become more mature in the faith. You might have your sights on hoping this crisis disappears as quickly as possible. Friends, another crisis is around the corner. Somehow, somewhere, sometime. A fire, a flood, an earthquake; a cancer diagnosis, a heart attack, a child’s addiction. This time can be training so that no storm nor trial will toss us to and fro. And when we are released, we will move with greater power and purpose. Let our goal drive us to graduate from this basic training with greater faith, deeper trust, broader hope and a convincing confidence in God.

There was a time, and still is in certain countries, where people have to share a Bible. People have to guard the scriptures like they are N95 masks because they are in such short supply. We do not face this crisis. More than likely, you have a Bible sitting on a shelf somewhere. If it has been collecting dust, brush it off and begin reading the Gospel of Matthew. If you’ve already been picking up your weapon – “HOORAH!!” – keep going! Take this time and make this commitment to yourself to read through the entire New Testament. If you can picture me sitting in my home writing this devotion to you, read the Bible like you can picture God dictating something he wants to share from his heart to yours. Bootcamp Christianity begins with being handed the Word of God and gaining a greater familiarity with the character and nature of God – for yourself!  The Word of God is the foundation of our Personal Protective Equipment. Miss this one, and any of us will be fully exposed to our enemy’s schemes. Battle tested by God’s Word with prayer and the Holy Spirit – and bound together – we will be a tough out!

God Bless You All!  Chow is at 0600 hours. See you there!

In Christ, Pastor Mark