Pastor Mark’s Devotions, June 6

“The Protestant Church”

“For by Grace you have been Saved through Faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is a gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8

 

Did you know that protesting is in our DNA? This is not meant to make anyone nervous. But last night, it dawned on me that our Lutheran church, and actually our salvation, emerged from a march in protest.

Every night, over these past two weeks, we have watched crowds march in protest throughout the cities in America. Have you given any thought to consider that the pillars of our faith came in the midst of protest? Until last night, my eyes never saw that angle. To begin with, Jesus marched into Jerusalem and marched up to the cross in protest to sin, death and the devil. Through his march, he stomped on death and destruction and thus enacted an eternal change that would offer salvation to anyone who would call upon his name.

1500 years later, Martin Luther stomped up the steps of the imposing powers of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was witness to the abuses of power. He recognized the exploitation that the church forced upon people theologically, politically, economically and socially. Luther was by no means the first to protest and attempt to publicly address these abuses, but because of advances in technology, his protest caught fire. Luther and his cohorts would become known as the “protestants” – they were the “protesters.” The rebel church that would emerge after Martin Luther’s death would come to be known as the Lutheran church – the first, formal “protesting” church of its kind.

This protesting church would be grounded upon five foundational pillars of faith; Christ Alone, Word Alone, Grace Alone, and Faith Alone, and Glory to God Alone. Establishing these theological pillars required great commitment, cost and sacrifice. Martin Luther was threatened and deemed an outlaw by the religious authorities. He was kidnapped and had to go into hiding for nine months. Two years later, unrest boiled over and violence erupted so much so that it grew into what would be known as the German Peasants War (1524-1525). Up to 300,000 lives were lost in this revolt – of that, 100,000 peasants lost their lives. Luther vehemently voiced opposition to this radical violence and carnage, but the rebellion took on a life of its own. After the radical behavior finally died down, the reformers continued to formulate and articulate the specific theological truths from Scripture. Unfortunately, the protesters were unable to find common ground in all areas deemed essential; Baptism, Holy Communion, and Election, to name a few. Thus, the leaders of the protesting movement, namely, Luther, Calvin and Zwingli – would eventually become the identified leaders of the newly established “protesting” churches – Lutheran, Presbyterian, and Baptist.

Today, as members belonging to a protestant church, we owe a debt of deep gratitude to those willing to march for the sake of the Gospel. Because of these protesting efforts, we have been recipients of knowing about God’s greatest gift. We have grown up under the banner of truth declaring salvation is not based upon individual effort but by the effort of Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9 has been the banner scripture that has waved over the Lutheran Church for the last 500 years. It states, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”

Because Martin Luther was engaged in such a mighty battle against an opposing opponent, he fought to protect the purity of God’s grace. He was committed to leave no trace or residue of individual work’s righteousness that would undermine the truth regarding one’s salvation. Thus, Ephesians 2:10 was not emphasized like the light that was placed upon “Grace” and “Faith” in the previous 2 verses.

But being that we are 500 years removed from the intense collision between individual works and the work of Christ, light must shine upon the third verse, Ephesians 2:10. These three verses fit together as if in trinitarian nature. These three verses are to be seen as one. For 2:10 states, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This verse does not threaten the truth about salvation, but rather explains that God has work to be done out of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Therefore, because God has saved us by His grace through his Son, Jesus Christ; we are also told that God has good work for us to carry out upon this earth. We are even directed that he has prepared these good works, in advance, for us to do. The one question left to ask is; what exactly are those good works that God has in place for us to do? This is the call of the disciple – to listen, receive and obey.

During tomorrow’s sermon – I will be speaking about what makes for a disciple. Jesus gives three basic directives to be one of his followers. Those directives can be found in John 13:34-35, John 8:31, and Luke 9:23.

In simple terms – a follower of Jesus is:

  1. One who Loves
  2. One who Learns
  3. One who Lives sacrificially

So, if God has works prepared in advance for us to do; we then must ask –

               Who are we to love?

               What are we to learn?

               How are we to live sacrificially?

Protesting will continue. During this time, let us give thanks to our Lord, Jesus Christ who marched to the cross. Let us also give thanks to Martin Luther, and all the protesters of the reformation who marched for the truth of the Gospel.  And if protesting is in our DNA, what message of Christ will He ask us to march for and lift up? You need not worry–He has already prepared it in advance for us to do.

God Bless You All   

 Pastor Mark



Pastor Mark’s Devotions, May 9

“Isaiah 55”

So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return to me void, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11

 

Devotion day 55 has led me to Isaiah 55. The prophet records powerful words that we need to hear today. I’m going to include the entire chapter below so that you can breathe in this Word of God for yourselves.

In Isaiah 55:8, I love the reminder that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and His ways are not my ways. This word means that I must re-orient my thinking and re-evaluate my actions. Left to my own thoughts and decision making, my conclusions will not align with God’s will. This word demands that I  listen for God’s Word and understand the language of the Spirit in which He speaks. This is not a natural response. It requires a determination of my will to surrender to Him and open my heart to follow his lead. God needs to initiate and we are to obey in order to walk within His will.

Jesus knew this word. In John 8:28, Jesus said, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” He goes on, “The One who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Jesus demonstrated his greatest love for his Father as he walked in obedience to his will. Jesus’ human thoughts led him to consider walking away from the cross. But it was his sacrificial love and obedience to his Father’s word that would guide him as a suffering servant and become the Way of salvation for all.

I also love Isaiah 55:11. “So is my word that goes out from my mouth; it will not return void, but will accomplish what I desire.” If God’s Word is spoken, it will enact change! The one thing that God’s Word will not do is leave conditions status quo. If our church or our personal lives remain status quo, it means we have not received his Word – spoken from his mouth. Sometimes Christians make the mistake believing it is enough to put the words of the Bible in their brains. If the words of Scripture are not combined with the Spirit, the word can easily return empty. It is the power of the Spirit that enacts change. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day, believed that the Law was God. So also, some Christians mistakenly believe the Bible to be God. This belief will quickly turn Christians into Pharisees. Jesus speaks to the Pharisees, “You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” (John 5:37-38) He continues, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5:39)

God spoke His Word into the writers of Scriptures. They recorded his Word for us and the world. But His Word must also be written upon our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings God’s Word alive to us today. When the Spirit is moving, the Scriptures explode with wisdom, revelation and truth! If we do not have a relationship with Christ, the Gospel truth can quickly be converted into legalism and Law. Without knowing it, we can find ourselves to simply be a new version of a New Testament Pharisee. How do we guard against “Phariseeism”? We check our hearts and determine whether we are living in LOVE or living in JUDGMENT of others. A Pharisee stands in the place of God to judge others. A Follower of Christ stands in the gap to love others and surrenders judgment to God.

Most of Jesus’ words bounced off the hearts of the Pharisees. But the Bible records Jesus speaking many words that exploded with power, revealing Him to be the Son of God. In Matthew 8:1, Jesus spoke to a leper, “Be Clean!”, and he was cleansed. In Mark 4:39, Jesus spoke to the waves, “Quiet, Be Still!” and they died down. In Mark 5:8, Jesus spoke to demons in a possessed man, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!”, and they fled. In Matthew 9:6, Jesus spoke to a paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home!”, and he went home. In Luke 8:54, Jesus spoke to a 12-year old child who had died, “My child, get up!”, and she arose. In Matthew 21:19, Jesus spoke to a fig tree, “May you never bear fruit again!”, and it never did.

In John 11:43, Jesus spoke to Lazarus, who had been dead for four days, “Lazarus, come out!”, and he walked out of the tomb. In John 20:16, Jesus spoke to Mary on the morning of his resurrection. He spoke her name, “Mary!”, and her life would never be the same.

Do you think God’s Word speaks today? Do you think God’s Word speaks TO YOU today?

As Peter confessed the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead and that they were witnesses of that fact. Today, I confess to you today, that I am a witness to the fact that Jesus still speaks! If you have not heard his voice in your heart, something wonderful is awaiting you. It is not an audible voice. But our hearts need to be tuned into his frequency. He is speaking; often we just are not tuned in. Ask him to speak. Invite him to reveal His Word to you. Jesus promised in John 10:2-3, “The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”

Jesus speaks in, with, and under the Scriptures. Just as Jesus is in, with, and under the elements of Holy Communion, so too in His Word. More than that, He can speak at any moment. His Word will always confirm the words of Scripture.

Years ago, I remember a young adult standing at the altar of our church. He was waiting to receive communion. He was the son of a member in the congregation. As is typical of young people, he had drifted away from the faith. Little did I know, in that moment, the Spirit of God would speak to Matt and leave him changed. In coming years, he felt the call to overseas missions. He packed up his family, moved to Africa, and has never felt more fulfilled.

God is not going to call all of us to Africa. But the Spirit of God is going to call us in ways that are not our own ways, nor will they be our thoughts. But his Word will leave us changed, knowing that He still speaks today.

Let us surrender our thoughts and ways to the Lord. Let us go forth, listening, learning, receiving, waiting, looking, anticipating God to speak – and then wait for him to speak again.

On this beautiful, 80 degree day – Let the full force of God’s Word wash over you and speak:

Invitation to the Thirsty

55 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
    my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
    a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
    and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

 

God Bless You All!

Pastor Mark

 

 



Pastor’s Devotions March 23

 

Milk and Honey -10 weeks away”

“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it DOES flow with milk and honey!” Numbers 13:27

Yesterday, I talked about Israel subsisting on manna in the wilderness for 40 years. Not exactly the full menu that we would find at the Cheese Cake Factory – but then again, by God’s grace, he saved Israel from starvation. The bummer is, little did they know, as they started their grumbling against Moses, that milk and honey was waiting for them 10 weeks away. Yahweh led his people around enemy territory to keep them safe. Yahweh brought them to Mt. Sinai to give them life-saving laws and protect them from further mayhem. Then Yahweh guided them to the edge of the Promised Land – to the land of Canaan. Yahweh was faithful to his promise to Abraham 400 years earlier. The people of promise were about to step into their future. There was only one last step. Yahweh told Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites.” Perhaps after the debacle at Sinai, when the people turned their hearts from God and worshipped a golden calf, Yahweh wanted to test the hearts of his people once more – would they trust him?

The explorers were sent out and canvased all throughout the land of Canaan. They returned and reported to the whole community of Israel the glorious news, “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it DOES flow with milk and honey! HERE IS THE FRUIT.”

But that wasn’t all the news. The spies also delivered some sobering details. They declared, “But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large.”

Caleb, one of the explorers, silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are! And they spread a bad report about the land they had explored.”  And I would add, fear spread like a raging wild fire throughout the community.

The children of Israel were at a crossroads. Would they listen to Caleb and step into Canaan with faith and trust? Or would they step back in cowering fear and paralyzing panic? This was a critical time and one to not be taken lightly.  For as archeology would confirm, the Canaanites indeed had mighty strong fortified cities. It would take an immense effort and great faith from a wandering band of former slaves to take on these Canaanites.

Caleb tried to inspire faith and direct their focus to Yahweh. But once again, scripture tells us of a people resistant to the word. Once again, they rose up against Moses and this time they also wanted to stone Caleb, the messenger. And once again, fear can cause crowds to do crazy things.

Milk and honey were moments away. Another one of God’s mighty miracles was about to be put on display. The people of Israel were going to have a land of their own and life in safety. But fear caused the crowds to riot and respond in a frenzy.

Yahweh intervened in the midst of the chaos. He gave them the community their test score.  Their grade was circled at the top of the page. It was written in red. And it meant that God’s chosen people would return to the wilderness and try to relearn to trust in their deliverer. Most would not make it back to Canaan. Caleb and Joshua would eventually lead the next generation of Israelites to step into Canaan and experience the land of milk and honey that was always meant for them. It would take 40 years.

Today is Monday, March 23, 2020. How far away is the milk and honey? No one knows – 10 weeks or 10 days? Let us pray that it will not take 40 years! Without a doubt, giants are out there, and the fortified walls look awfully high. But we, ourselves are at a crossroads. Do we look at the giants or do we look to Yahweh God? Do we cower in the face of the invisible giant Covid19? Or do we face the One who has delivered us countless times before. Will we trust his Word? Our whole life boils down to this one, fundamental question. Will we trust in God’s Word? Adam and Eve didn’t do it. Israel couldn’t do it. The whole community except for Joshua and Caleb rejected it. The truth is, the whole world resists it. But the Word has been spoken. And Jesus has said, “Have courage, for I have overcome the world.” Have no fear little flock, trust in Him and don’t worry about the test. The Good Shepherd has the test in hand and the score has already been circled in red by his blood poured out on the cross at Calvary! You are safe in the hands of the Beloved.

So, today, let us receive the words Caleb spoke many millennia ago. Let his words bring silence to our fears. Let us take that step of faith toward our Heavenly Father and toward our future. “For we should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.’ By the power of Almighty God, this shall certainly be so! Covid19 WILL BE conquered and the land of milk and honey, promised by our Father will lie before us.

In Christ,

Pastor Mark