Pastor’s Devotions #115

“Three Men Standing Together”

“I want men (people) everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”                    1 Timothy 2:8

It was an interesting site, three men standing together. During President Biden’s Inauguration Day, at Arlington Cemetery, before the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, three former Commander-in Chief, stood side by side. Politically speaking, they would be categorized as fierce rivals. Personally, they have discovered fellowship, and found friendship. Shoulder to shoulder, they stood united in hope for a stronger, united America. Former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, can we learn something from their example? Certainly George H.W. Bush, if he were still alive, and Jimmy Carter, if he were still able, would have joined these three.

Why is it that these men of this mighty nation have laid down their swords?  Yet, while they have turned their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, those standing on the sidelines, and watching from the cheap seats, still hold grudge and wrestle over past impeachments, WMD’s, and Obamacare? There could be plenty of pointing fingers and placing blame – but these men have found a new way and left accusations behind. Yes, clearly, they hold different views regarding taxation and immigration, but now they view America from a different perspective. They view themselves from a different perspective. They have been lifted to a new plane. How can fierce rivals become future friends?

These past two weekends, I saw three other men standing together. Not at the same time, not on the same field, but standing together. They have been fierce competitors, they still are. But once they walk off the gridiron of the professional football field, as commanders and quarterbacks of their respective teams, Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are respected friends. Who knows, they might have even exchanged jerseys with one another. Tom was even caught throwing passes to Drew’s son after the game. They address each other with first names rather than football foes. All three have come to recognize a reality beyond football glory. But for fans sitting in the bleachers, the visceral hatred can be palpable toward opposing teams or players and even poured out (beer and soda) on opposing fans.  

These two pictures of these three men made me think of three men in the Bible that had their differences yet found an enduring friendship. At times they clearly opposed each other, yet were able to fix their eyes upon a greater purpose.

Peter, Paul and Barnabus stood together in their proclamation of the Gospel. But there were times in their ministry when they fiercely opposed each other.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:11, that when Peter came to Antioch, he opposed Peter to his face, because according to Paul, Peter was clearly in the wrong. Paul describes Peter having fellowship with Gentiles until men from James arrived. When Peter felt the peer pressure from the “circumcision” group, he then drew back and separated himself from the Gentiles. Paul declared that because of Jewish customs Peter was undermining the Gospel and even Barnabas was led astray by his example.

Tensions also arose between Paul and Barnabas as they discussed a second missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, his relative, along with them, but Paul would have nothing of it. Acts 15:38-39 describes the disagreement. Paul didn’t want to bring John Mark because, according to him, John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. So, Barnabas took John Mark and Paul chose Silas and they went their separate ways.

As time went on, a new relationship formed between Paul and John Mark. Paul states in 2 Timothy 4:11, “Only Luke is with me. Get (John) Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” Something happened between those two in which they found a new friendship and worked together for the sake of the Gospel. This reconciliation would have certainly endeared Barnabus toward Paul as well.

And while Peter was sent to bring the Gospel to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles, they remained united in their proclamation. You can hear the affection and respect in Peter’s words as he describes Paul in 2 Peter 4:15. He states, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.”  While disagreement arose, fellowship, friendship and respect won the day as these two leaders led the charge of proclaiming God’s Kingdom.

Peter, Paul and Barnabus lived in turbulent times. They faced opposition, disagreements and misunderstandings. They made mistakes. Yet through their ministry, they remained united in declaring salvation through Jesus Christ.

Listen to the words, Paul writes to another fellow minister and mentee as they stood together for the sake of the Gospel

To Timothy, Paul writes,

“I urge, then, first of all, that request, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings (President Biden) and all those in authority, (Congress, state, and local government) that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men (and women) to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all men – the testimony given in its proper time. And for this purpose, I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the truth faith to the Gentiles. I want men (and women) everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”

May we look and live beyond rivalries. May we stand together, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, being lifted upon a new plane, in unity and in our love for Jesus Christ!

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 Devotional March 20

 

“Grace and Space”

“…All of you share in God’s grace with me.” Philippians 1:7

St. Paul begins his letter to the church in Philippi by sharing his heart with his people. He expresses thanksgiving, gratitude and love for the joyful opportunity of their partnership in the gospel.

Listen to his words, “I thank my God every time I think of you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.    It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.” Phil. 1:3-7

Like Paul, my heart is full of love and gratitude for all of you as well. I thank God for our partnership in the gospel. And whether we feel chained in our homes or not, I give thanks. I am convinced that when this pandemic subsides, we will quickly return together and share the joy that will carry us forth in power and love.

We have a crucial message to share. The world needs to hear it. For you and I share in the grace of God.

Watching Channel 13 News this morning, I heard about grace from an unexpected source. It reminded me about extending undeserved favor. We all need to be reminded about grace in this time and space – for ourselves, for others.

The story was reported in the New York Times. The article was entitled, “I Am Not Turning My Home into a Coronavirus Home School.” A woman explained that she was unprepared and overwhelmed trying to set up a school schedule and routine so that her children would learn.  Lesson plans, packets and snack time was just not going to happen. So, in these unprecedented times, she was going to bake cookies with the kids, watch movies, play video games and allow generous access to the refrigerator.

The News 13 reporter went on to explain that he felt compelled to do a google search on this woman.  Turns out that she has been trained at Harvard University. She has a Phd. In Education. She is a woman who teaches teachers!  She is an educator, but the reality is, she is also a human being. She is trying to manage life’s stresses and because of this she is giving herself and her children some grace.

Is she a terrible mom? Will the kids grow up illiterate, uneducated and living in poverty? Probably not. What I heard is that she is taking a deep breath and extending love and favor to herself and to her children. Will the projects need to be completed? Probably. But right now, she is giving herself and her family some grace and space.

Today, let us acknowledge that we live under a canopy of grace. God’s grace! God has recklessly thrown out the lesson plans with all its deadlines and expectations and has lavishly loved us through his Son, Jesus Christ. WE ALL SHARE IN THIS GRACE TOGETHER! Whatever expectations you might have of yourself and/or of others, take a deep breath. Jesus arrives wanting to give us a breath of fresh air. And then for us to breathe that grace filled air upon others – just stay 6 feet away from them or I’ll have to throw you in jail – just kidding – are you smiling.

Let us smile. Let us laugh. Let us enjoy this beautiful sunny day God has given us. Let us eat that chocolate cake for breakfast. Do you need to take a break from your exercise routine? Do it. Do you really need to vacuum the house again? Don’t do it. Let us take a break from reading, writing, doing whatever it might be. Maybe we just need to “be” today. Receive the grace. It is granted. Let us receive it. Let us share it. Heck, even the government is giving us until July 15 to file our taxes. Can you feel it? GRACE ABOUNDS!

We are in the midst of serious times that require serious action. Let us temper this intensity and allow for some of the grace and space we all share.

It is right for me to feel this way. As you have given me a thick slab of chocolate cake, and extended much grace and favor to my family and I. So, I hope to share that same grace with you, and make it alamode. Thanks be to God that we all share in God’s grace together. So, go ahead. Have a second piece!

Grace and Space through our Savior, Jesus Christ,

Pastor Mark