Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 25

“Infection”

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8-9

 

Yesterday, it was reported that currently, there are over 120 vaccines in different developmental stages to combat the coronavirus. 13 human trials have already begun. 5 trials in China, 3 in the U.S., 2 in the U.K., and 1 in each of Australia, Germany and Russia. The report acknowledged that there would need to be vaccinations made available for more than 7 billion people. They are preparing for the need to inoculate every person on the planet. It finally hit me. This virus is just like Sin. The coronavirus infection rate has the potential to have a universal effect. One way or another, every single person is going to have to deal with the reality of this contamination. The spread will occur by human to human contact or by inoculation methods, but at the end of the day, everyone will carry the virus with them.

It’s been amazing how all the world’s major powers are working to combat this virus. Every nation understands the implications of this disease. Death and destruction could reach every corner of the globe. Never in human history has there been such a worldwide concerted effort to solve an infectious disease crisis like this. Simultaneously, nations are working on multiple vaccines, knowing that there will need to be a multi-level attack to fight the virus.

In my mind, it’s raised the question; “Why has it been so difficult for nations to work together to fight other crises?” Climate change, pollution, drought, and famine, just to name a few, are also issues that arguably are stretching out across the globe. Yet the world does not earnestly unify against these threats. Why? Because nations, as a whole, do not feel the universal effect, at least not yet. And if an individual person or nation is not influenced or affected by a particular threat, the innate, natural response is to brush it aside. Self-interest and self-preservation take over. And the reason for this self-interest and self-preservation can be traced back through human history and discover its beginning in a Garden. From two human beings, who were created to be in complete communion with God, a universal spiritual infection entered into the world. Through disobedience and self-centeredness, the virus has spread across every continent and touched every corner. The name for this novel virus is called, Sin.

No one really likes to talk about this infectious disease. All the world suffers from a wide array of its symptoms, yet this virus flies under the radar. This Sin full contagious infection causes people to act and operate out of a purely selfish pursuit without regard to another individual or consequence. Sin keeps the world from working with one another and/or trusting each other. Sin, when fully infectious, will cause the complete destruction to anyone or anything that lies in its path. And in its diabolical way, in the end, will be the cause for the self-destruction of its host. But often this wiley virus appears asymptomatic. It hides under the breath of unknowing and unsuspecting carriers, waiting to express its vile effects later on.   

What would happen if the world acknowledged the universal infection of Sin across the human race? What if the nations recognized the recycled symptoms and signs of this virus throughout history and unilaterally declared war against this destroyer? Can you imagine a world that has conquered Sin? Literally, it would be heaven on earth! No more death, or mourning or crying or pain. The old order of things would pass away and EVERYTHING would be new. We would understand stewardship, dominion and rule in a completely new way. We would no longer be contaminated with solely selfish pursuits but our souls would pursue selfless Godly priorities. Unity, wholeness, community and shalom would be the common denominator and common experience in every household. Love, hope, peace and joy would be the strongholds in every single heart.

What if the world’s major powers concentrated every ounce of effort and focused every resource available, as they are with the coronavirus, to discover a vaccine for Sin? The unfortunate reality is that they will never do this. Sin has completely corrupted the human heart and mind. And Satan is working hard to distract the world from recognizing this true culprit. To the world, this effort would be absolute foolishness. Yet, in reality, a vaccine has already been provided. Even though the world will not receive it, the blood of Jesus Christ contains the antibodies that will inoculate the entire world. Sin has so corrupted the human heart that no one, in and of themselves, will call out for this vaccine. But still the vaccine remains available. And to all who receive him, who receive his blood and believe in his name, all are given the power, authority and right to be healed and given new life. If you have faith in Jesus Christ, consider yourself to be one of the fortunate ones. You did not come to this faith on your own. Your faith in Jesus Christ, means that by the grace of God, you have been inoculated and this is through no effort of your own. Faith is the result of being injected with the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace you have been injected and have been given the ability to receive and believe in the blood.

Even though nations will not join together. Let us continue to come together in earnest and confess our sickness to Sin. Let us confront Satan and acknowledge our helplessness in overcoming this virus. But with the same breath, let us also boldly confess that we are not looking to heal ourselves. Our healing is based upon another One’s blood that contains the ultimate antibodies. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and the power of the devil by his blood.  And what the world considers foolishness, we know to be our life, hope and salvation.

Now is the time for us to share the Good News of this vaccine that has already been provided. His name is Jesus. And He can save every sinner from Sin.

God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.” 1 Peter 1:2

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 2

“The Point of Pain”

“But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” 1 Cor. 1:9

In previous devotions, I touched on “The Power of Praise” and “The Purpose of Pause”. Today, I’d like to try to tackle, “The Point of Pain”.

People are experiencing an enormous amount of pain these days. They are feeling the physical pain of fevers, cough and in too many cases, the helplessness of respiratory failure. People are also feeling the emotional pain of isolation and separation, not to mention losing loved ones due to this virus. Doctors and health professionals are feeling the pain of patients passing away and the frustration of inadequate equipment. They are also feeling the painful fear of not being able to protect themselves. Non-essential workers are feeling the pain of unemployment. Parents are feeling the pain of trying to teach their children at home. The country is feeling the general pain of this new normal. And we have no idea how many people are feeling the spiritual pain of feeling forsaken by God. Extracting fact from feeling – while people might feel forsake of God – none of us are truly forsaken – Jesus solved that issue on the cross at Calvary. But in truth; pain remains.

This morning I watched Dr. Fauci respond to another litany of questions during another never-ending interview about this coronavirus. It was painful to watch! It is becoming more obvious the pain this pandemic is playing on him. Now there are even reports regarding threats to his personal welfare. More pain!

St. Paul experienced his own share of painful moments. He opens his second letter to the Corinthian church with these words, “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers (and sisters), about the painful hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” (1:8)

Guaranteed, there are hundreds of thousands of people all across our country who can relate to the pain Paul describes. We hear every night how health workers are beside themselves, not knowing how long they will be able to keep going or if help will come.

In chapter 11, Paul details many of his painful trials:

               “Five times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored today and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst; I have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak?”

It feels as if Paul has felt the pain of all our essential workers wrapped up into one person. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, no sleep, DAILY PRESSURE, constantly on the move, danger coming from every direction, and in general – beaten down. Summarized Into one word, OVERWHELMING!!  

Yet Paul, in the midst of all his suffering, he interprets the point of pain. He writes, “But this (all) happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” His words might sound trite to many today. What can these words mean to people who are flailing about, trying to tread water and simply keep their heads above the waves? But Paul’s declaration must mean more than simple cliché.  Paul, himself, suffered storms that broke him (he despaired of his very life!), yet he remained afloat.

Paul’s mantra remained the same through all the continued mayhem in his life. He captures his conclusions to pain in Philippians 4:19. He confesses, “And MY GOD will meet ALL YOUR NEEDS according to HIS GLORIOUS RICHES in CHRIST JESUS.” Paul found God to be faithful throughout all his painful crisis. In fact, in his book to the Roman Christians, Paul also points out the potential that pain can allow for perseverance, character building, and even in some paradoxical way, joy can be found.

Paul wants his people to understand that pain is not the end of the story. Rather, pain can open another chapter, pointing people to recognize and rely upon the power of God. In his own life, Paul concludes, God is faithful and He will do it!

We must also realize, that Paul was not alone. There are countless others in Scripture who experience pain and point us to the faithfulness of God!

King David, feeling deep emotional pain asks himself rhetorically, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” This man, who loves God with all of his heart, is struggling with the pain of depression. But in this moment, he answers his own question; “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (And let’s be clear: God has provided medication to help treat the nine known types of depression today. Praise God!) 

Another case in point, Hannah, the woman chosen to give birth to the prophet Samuel. She too felt deep emotional pain. Unable to conceive, the Scripture reports, “And because the LORD had closed her womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the LORD, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat.”        (1 Samuel 1:6-7)

Hannah felt the personal, emotional pain of feeling inadequate and belittled. Yet when God finally blessed her with a child, Hannah lifts a powerful prayer that points us in the same direction as the others. She prays, “My heart rejoices in the LORD; in the LORD my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in your deliverance. It is not by human strength that one prevails; There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.”                               (1 Samuel 2:1-2,9)

Is pain trying to point you in some direction today? Like Paul, David and Hannah, who have suffered before us, may it point us to God. He remains our Rock and our Redeemer, our fortress and refuge in our time of trial.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, March 29

Marathon Mindset”

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1

 

Yesterday, Seattle’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, said we need to have a “marathon mindset”. She said, “Fighting this Coronavirus will not be a sprint.” She maintained that we need to be in this for the long haul.

Dr. Thomas Inglesby, director of the John Hopkins Center for Healthy Security, warned that the U.S. is “still at the beginning” of the coronavirus outbreak. He outlined 5 conditions that he feels must be met before the country should consider relaxing social distancing practices.

He stated:

  1. When we see a state or region have numbers that go down over time,
  2. When we have diagnostics in place,
  3. When we have masks available for doctors and nurses who are putting their lives at risk to take care of sick patients,
  4. When hospitals are well prepared with equipment and resources,
  5. When the public heath systems are in place to start tracing or identifying individuals and their contacts like they do in Asia.

When all that is in place, Dr. Inglesby feels that it will be time to begin experimenting with lightening social distancing, one step at a time.

So, it continues to sound like we are all in this for the long haul. And we will continue to need to discover ways to persevere in a healthy manner. You might feel like you are doing fine. But if we are only in the second mile of a 26.2 mile journey, you had better make sure you find a pace, and a rhythm that is going to work for you. It’s at mile 20 that many people hit “the wall” and get in trouble. Are you beginning to feel signs of “cabin fever”? Time to look at your training regime.

Back in the day, I ran a couple, back to back, Marathons in Los Angeles. Another one of those bucket list items. I think there are a few lessons to be learned in preparing to run a long distance race that can be helpful in the long distance battle we are facing today.

In looking back, the most important reason I successfully completed those two races was because someone had my back! Dr. Don Drost was a member of my first congregation in San Bernardino. I knew him at church, but when we decided to run the marathon together, and train together, a deep, forever friendship developed. Without him, I never would have been consistent in my training. The camaraderie was invaluable. He lived across town. So, every morning, before sunrise, I drove to his house and we went for an hour run. On weekends, we went for extended runs and planted water bottles along the way. We developed a rhythm and pace with our bodies and in our friendship. We chatted about life, hopes, dreams and struggles along the way. When the day came that we finally crossed the finish line, there was an amazing celebration and a feeling of accomplishment that we shared together.

If we are going to persevere in the long run battle against Covid19, we will do well to have a partner. Who can you talk with, pray with, chat about ongoing developments, and share how the rest of your house is managing? If no one comes to mind, pray about it. Perhaps God will bring someone from memory that also needs a partner. No one ever does very well when they try to run the race alone.

The other elements in training for a long-distance run are fairly mundane but not to be overlooked. Get good sleep. HYDRATE! Eat well balanced meals and take in those carbs. Stretch before and after your runs. Have good running shoes. And remember to have fun!!

How can you translate those training essentials with the race you are in today? Perhaps it is as easy as tending to the four areas of our lives: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual. There is a scripture that speaks to the importance of those four areas; “Let us love God (and unselfishly, ourselves) with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength”. If we can touch these four areas each day, it will give us much needed strength and endurance to not only get to the finish line but finish in good shape!

When you train, some days you will feel great and some days you will feel lousy. Somedays you can see real progress and some days you feel like you are going backwards. Don’t beat yourself up. BE KIND! If you need a day off, take it. Trust the process. You continue to take care of the basics – and the basics will take care of you. And always remember that God is ever present running next to you whether you recognize him or not!

Today is the Sabbath. Take your rest IN HIM. Stretch out. Drink a tall glass of water. Eat your greens. Go for a walk and ask God who that special partner might be. And perhaps you are that special someone for someone else.

God Bless You!

Shalom!  Pastor Mark 



Pastor Mark’s Devotions March 25

“Thank You!”

“No matter what happens, always be thankful, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

Can we realistically be thankful today as the coronavirus is spreading exponentially? Can we be thankful when 30% of the value of our retirement funds have disappeared. Can we be thankful knowing that schools will be out for 6 months and families are searching for a way to survive. It truly depends upon our focus. We know we are to be thankful, for it is God’s will, but it’s still very hard to do. Maintaining a thankful heart through the ups and downs of these unprecedented times is extremely challenging. Does it help to understand that being thankful is a spiritual exercise. The Greek word for thanksgiving, “eucharist”, is related to the words, grace, joy, and character to name a few. To receive and retain these qualities is only by the power of God and the exercise of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that wakes us up to the gift of grace in Christ Jesus. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that brings forth greater joy in life dipped from a spiritual well. It is the Holy Spirit that hones, shapes, and prunes in order that we grow greater character and bear much fruit. And it is the Holy spirit that exercises in us a thankful heart in difficult times. Finally, it is God’s will for this to take place. Thank God!

I am thankful for the wonderful perogie and goulash Isaiah and I ate together at a Polish restaurant two weeks ago in La Conner. But the following story about the Polish railway worker, Jan Grzebski has much more food for the soul.  

Back in 1988, a Polish railway worker named Jan Grzebski was hit by a train. He lived … but only barely. For the next 19 years (until the year 2007), Grzebski was in a coma.

He awoke in 2007 to a whole new world. Nineteen years earlier, Poland was a communist state. Grzebski noted that back then meat was rationed and there were huge lines at nearly every gas station. And, “there was only tea and vinegar in the shops.”

But 19 years later, he awoke to a free nation where he said there were “people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin.”

But something puzzled him. “What amazes me is all these people who walk around with their mobile phones and yet they never stop moaning.”

These people had freedom, and food and wealth greater than Poland had had for decades … and yet Grzebski woke from his coma to find that ALL they seemed to want to do was grumble!

If the habit of thanking God is not firmly exercised by the Spirit for what we DO have, we soon we become soft and flabby and ungrateful for what we don’t have.

Holy Spirit, exercise in us your power to see all for which to be thankful!

I Thank God for ALL of You!

In Christ, Pastor Mark



Every Eight Seconds

 
I recently read this article in the Lutheran Core Newsletter. Pastor Hales points to the power behind our senior members. It’s a great article and leads to a great source of strength while also recognizing an ongoing need. I hope it sparks your curiosity and interest.
 
Every Eight Seconds…
by Pastor Brad Hales, Reformation Lutheran, Culpeper, VA
What can we do in eight seconds? Tie our shoes? Turn on the television? Use the microwave? Make a cup of coffee with a Keurig? Eight seconds is very quick, isn’t it? But there is one thing that is happening every eight seconds in our country, and it’s going to continue for the next thirty plus years. 
So, what is it?