E Devotion 10.18.17

October 19, 2017

It is good to give thanks to the Lord… to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night… Psalm 92:1,2

Monday morning came and the routine walk with my dog was is darkness with a crisp chill in the air. The usual hustle and bustle of the day had yet to begin and even the vehicles that passed seemed somehow muted. As I walked I began to think through the coming week: a Bible study yet to write, staff meetings and an early community group with Wednesday evening as the symbolic apex for my activities.

My mind then turned back to the previous evening: a meal prepared and shared with a friend facing surgery, a dinner with newly formed friendships and a musical – and a safe return home… and I thought of this psalm.

The steadfast love of the Lord set the week before me like a road map of both duties and opportunities. The faithfulness of God crowned the night with purpose, enjoyment and sleep. God is the giver of yesterday’s joy and tomorrow’s hope. I will quietly give thanks to our God for both and rest securely in the Savior’s care.

Memory and anticipation bookend the life of faith. Both are gifts from the hand of our Heavenly Father. Both are opportunities for gratitude as we claim the blessings seen and yet-to-be- seen. Faith is the bridge between.

Thanks be to God!

Pastor Mike

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E Devotion 10.11.17

October 11, 2017

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled… Colossians 1:21

The Jericho Project is a ministry in the greater Des Moines area created out of the hearts of two women. The goal was simple: bring the love of Jesus Christ to the women who work at strip clubs. In order to do that they knew they would have to suspend judgment on these women and, instead, simply be the heart of Christ seeking reconciliation to God for them. They began simply: they drove past the clubs in our area, stopped and prayed, first on the streets bordering the clubs and then in their parking lots. These forays of prayer eventually led them through the doors where they shared cookies and simply loved these women – almost all of whom had been abused. Then, gently, they would listen and, when asked, pray for them. Now they provide a meal once a month.

Now almost ten strong, they are called “the church ladies.” This is a title of respect and appreciation. For these women who have known very little grace in their lives – let alone genuine love – these church ladies are living the reconciling grace of God that Paul speaks of in the above passage. One of their sayings is: God doesn’t call the equipped but He equips the called.

When I heard their stories and of the miracles of God’s love working through them, I was deeply moved. “Isn’t that just like God,” I thought to myself, “to sow the seed of compassion in the heart of one and then two women to do what had been previously unimagined. Then, through their availability, to shed the healing light of Jesus Christ into the darkness of abuse and manipulation to bring dignity and hope where there had been none before?”

Prayer is a dangerous thing. When we pray, we open ourselves to the call of the Holy Spirit. More than that, when we pray for others, God begins to move us toward them in the hope of bringing them grace. Prayer changes things – beginning with the “pray-or”. In prayer, as these women discovered, God’s heart touches ours in order to move us through the doorway of grace into the lives of others. Make no mistake about it: prayer in action changes the world! Amen

E Devotion 10.04.17

October 4, 2017

Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.
1 Peter 5:7

This past week Satan showed his fangs. In Las Vegas, Nevada, a gunman opened fire on innocent concert goers. Firing round after round with rapid fire enhanced rifles, 59 were killed and hundreds were wounded. In the end, he took his own life. The authorities are still unable to provide an explanation for his actions. He appeared to be a “normal” person with significant wealth. Something pushed him over the edge into barbaric atrocity.

The only word to describe such horror is evil. Evil somehow wormed its way into the soul of this man and began its insidious work silently, relentlessly and tragically. That’s when the inexplicable became reality. Evil exacted its price in blood and human life – devouring, as St. Peter reminds us, even the one possessed.

But evil has not had the last word – and it never does. The last word belongs to God who works even in the midst of such terror to bring good. And God brought good to bear in the selfless actions of dozens of ordinary people who acted to help and save others at the risk of their own lives. Then the good of God moved countless others to line up in lengthy cues to donate blood. The despicable proved to be the occasion of generosity and human kindness.

As Christians, we are not naïve. Such evil is always a possibility because the devil is not passive, as St. Peter reminds us. We are called to watch for it and, when identified, do all we can to stop it in ourselves and others. In the anguish of grieving loved ones we see the cost of evil. In the goodness and comfort from strangers we see what is life-giving and hopeful – and that is where we take our stand. For that is where the Lord of Life is. May his Spirit bring healing to all who have been so tragically affected by this horror… our prayers are with them.

Devotion for 09.27.2017

September 27, 2017

“Moreover, that whole generation was gathered to their ancestors, and another generation grew up after them, who did not know the Lord or the work he had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10

Once in a while we hear something in a sermon we never forget.  Years ago, a pastor I loved stepped into the pulpit and said this: “There is only one reason you are here today.  Someone who knew Jesus told someone else, who told someone else, they told someone else, and so on until they told you.”  Instantly I felt two things: first, I was thankful for all of those people, and second, I knew I had a job to do.

The story of Judges 2 is simple.  When Moses came to the end of his ministry in Deuteronomy, he brought in Joshua and shared with him the joy of knowing God and leading his people.  Pastor Mike and I have often discussed how much joy there is in sharing this season as I learn about St. Mark and its ministry.  I’m incredibly grateful for the gift of someone who can teach me as Moses taught Joshua.  But in Judges, Joshua has not shared these gifts, and the end of his leadership leaves the people not knowing God or God’s ways.

Members of the St. Mark team keep talking about how we strive to have “bench strength,” or expanding the group of those who can lead and serve in ministries.  I think this is what we wish Joshua would have done.  That is our goal.  We are seeking ways to involve more people in the ministry of St. Mark, and to share what we know with one another.

If we are going to have a generation (or two, or three) follow us who know the Lord and the work He has done for us, our job is clear: pour into others.  Share yourself, your life, and your gifts.  My challenge this week is to encourage you to find one person you can share your gifts with, that they too might know the Lord and the work He has done for you.

E Devotion 09.20.17

September 20, 2017

And Jesus took the little children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Mark 10:16

For months, we had looked forward to the birth of her baby. One of our worship leaders was pregnant and, as her time grew near, we began to anticipate and pray for the birth of her child. Then, when the child was born, they learned she had a heart defect and, as her conditioned changed, there was hope it wouldn’t require surgery. That proved a false hope. The doctor and parents have been very hopeful that the surgery will be successful and, with all our prayers, we share in that hope.

While their newborn remained in the hospital, the lives of the parents and their other children were obviously disrupted. That’s when members of the church began to deliver food and reach out to support our worship leader and her family. The church community responded and they experienced it all as grace.

One of the families that brought a meal to them was a couple who had lost a child at birth. I can only imagine the conversation and shared emotions of those two mothers when one brought a meal for the other. One having lost a child; the other having a child at risk. One for whom the promise of Jesus is that her child is now in the arms of our Savior in eternity; the other praying that her child will be healed by the embrace of those same arms. I heard of this great kindness and the grace with which it was received and I marveled at such care.

This is part of the healing touch of God: that the Holy Spirit takes our sorrows and struggles, turns them inside out and makes of them ministry. Who could better understand the hopes and fears of the parents for their infant daughter than one who went through that with a tragic outcome? Who could possibly pray with greater understanding or feel more deeply?

Once more, I saw the presence of God at work – and it was amazing.

E Devotion 09.13.17

September 13, 2017

Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling… Hebrews 3:1

Reading the book of Hebrews, I was struck by the words above. The Christian Church is in a transformative process in the United States. The congregations that are thriving are those who share ministry with everyone based upon their gifts and passions. The old division of the business of the church belonging to the laity and the ministry of the church to the clergy (or staff) is collapsing. That is not only good – but, as Hebrews reminds us – this is at the heart of our Lord’s vision of the church.

No one is more “holy” than anyone else. We are all holy partners with God in the ministry of the Christian Church. This is the heavenly calling which is given to any who confess the name of Jesus Christ. In reflecting on this emerging reality, other things became clear to me. For example, the deep desire of many of our members is to engage in ministry – not observe others doing it. Participation has replaced legislation – so fewer are interested in our annual meetings but more are willing to serve as they are able. Worship is less about the form of what we do than the experience of God’s presence so the style is not a source of conflict. When we agree that encountering Jesus is the purpose of worship, then the style that engages us (as those who meet, praise and adore God) is what is important – whatever style that may be.

Accessibility to God and the community of Christ is the desire that fuels our prayers and our songs. We meet God and God turns us towards one another and then outward in ministry and mission. In the few words above, Hebrews reminds us of this upward, inward and outward movement of God’s Spirit in the church.

So, this weekend, I will watch for the moment when the Holy Spirit comes near in worship – knowing that God’s nearness is a heavenly calling to change the world by living my faith from the church into the world! Then I will trust the Spirit to give me the energy and vision to do so.

Come Holy Spirit and inspire our hearts. Amen

E Devotion 09.06.17

September 6, 2017

I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness… Ephesians 4:1

I wish I hadn’t said it. I intended it to be an affirmation, but by her response it was clear that she didn’t hear it that way. So, stunned, I just let the words hang in the thin air between us. In that moment, I had only two options: to try and explain why I said what I did or to just let it go. I chose the latter.

I understand St. Paul, in the words above, to call us to reflection on the calling we have as children of God. This reflection is to be oriented towards humility and gentleness. That’s not always easy for me. My deepest desire, in circumstances like the one I found myself in just yesterday, is to justify myself and explain my intentions. But a life of humility and gentleness suggests otherwise. Humbling myself, I let the situation go and trusted that, eventually, I could develop a relationship with that woman that would provide the context for my comment and foster better understanding.

I don’t know if that was the wisest choice. I do know that my confidence is not found in an ability to justify speaking too quickly, joking a bit too sarcastically. Sometimes gentleness requires us to let it go, learn from it and trust that, ultimately, things will work for the good. Is that acting “in good faith”? I hope so.

Being human and being a person of faith is always a balancing act, isn’t it? This weighing of our actions is never about perfection but calls us to grace: the love of God that meets us when we have misspoken or acted in ways we wish we hadn’t. That grace alone makes our striving to live “a life worthy of the calling” possible, worthwhile.

So, the next time someone says something I don’t like, I’d like to meet it with grace… the grace I continually need myself.

E Devotion 08.30.17

August 30, 2017

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord… Psalm 77:11

I remember a professor of Church History telling me once that he was destined to be a historian because, as a lad, he road in his father’s horse-drawn wagon looking backward. He smiled and said that he’d been looking back ever since! He also taught that the social science of history was never just a chronicling of events. The events recalled were selected based on their perceived importance to the historian. History, he said, is never neutral.

The life of faith, the psalmist reminds us, is like that. As Christians, we are disposed to facing difficulties by recalling the past evidences of God’s good will in our lives. We can face with confidence the challenge of the present be looking back on those times of rescue and provision when our God acted on our behalf. This encourages us to persevere through the most difficult of circumstances.

This fits the concepts of “past” and “future” that are expressed in the Hebrew words for each of these experiences of time. I was taught that the Hebrew word for “past” was “in front of the face” because we can see it clearly.  On the other hand, I was told that the Hebrew word for “future” meant “behind the back of the head” – meaning that we cannot see it.

I like that! People of faith back into the unknown future confidently because can see clearly God’s involvement in our past. When I call to mind the generous love of God that I have experienced; when I count the blessings of my life; when I am reminded of the goodness of the Lord; then my faith is strengthened and I am confident in the Hand of God.

Today, no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, I choose to count my blessings. How about you?

E Devotion 08.23.17

August 23, 2017

“When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain”; and so it happens…” Luke 12:54

We knew it was coming. We had been told the times and locations for the solar eclipse that would make its way across the United States putting on an astrological show that many of us hadn’t seen before. Due to a previous commitment, I was not able to join the thousands that traveled to find the best places to witness the event. Tiny Madras, Oregon swelled to over 100,000 as people gathered for the light-to-darkness-to-light show. I watched the total eclipse as it happened there and heard the sound of 100,000 people or more collectively take their breath and then erupt in applause and cheers. Like those to whom Jesus addressed the above words, we saw the signs and knew what to expect – and this time it was truly dramatic.

But when the Son of God came, the earth was silent. Heaven erupted in song at the event but men and women and children slept through it. In all fairness, they didn’t know the day or the hour. Instead, the people of God waited through the years – hoping the Savior might come in their life-time.

The coming of Christ was a light-to-darkness-to-light event as well. The light of our Lord’s ministry led to the darkness of Golgotha that led to the emerging of the light of the empty tomb.

The solar eclipse will come again. The eclipse of love that occurred on Good Friday has happened once and for all and will never happen again. That is the promise of our God.

And in our lives, there will come a time when the light of life will be eclipsed by the darkness of death – only to be overwhelmed by the light of eternity. From now on, when I think of dying and death, I’ll think in terms of an eclipse because it is real but passing. Thanks be to God!

E Devotion 08.16.17

August 16, 2017

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right… Galatians 6:9

A number of years ago I attended a conference where one workshop was titled “Leading the Church.” The speaker was a successful businessman and a dedicated Christian. He began his talk with these words: “Leadership is hard work.” And he had my attention immediately with those simple words.

In the same way, Paul wants to remind us that doing the right thing is hard work. In fact, it is hardest when it is needed the most – and Paul wanted to remind the Christians in Galatia of that fact. The truth of the matter was that they had grown weary of doing good and had lapsed back into lethargy in serving their community and sharing the truth of the Gospel.

I understand that. It takes energy to follow through on the difficult tasks of doing what is right. On the other hand, Paul knew that it takes more energy on the other side of not doing what is right. On the other side of not doing what is right comes guilt, explanations and excuses. I suspect we’ve all been there.

I have come to believe that if we take God’s grace seriously, this is not about being perfect. Instead, it’s about learning from those times when we, for whatever reasons, did not do the right thing. Learning from our mistakes, however, means taking responsibility for them. When we “own our stuff” we can learn from it. That takes the courage of self-reflection and changing our decision making. St. Paul, the letter to the Galatians is asking them to do that very thing.

The outcomes of this spiritual courage are that, receiving God’s forgiveness, I can more easily forgive myself. And I’ve noticed that those who can forgive themselves are more likely to forgive others. When I can accept that our Lord does not expect me to be perfect, I can more easily overlook the imperfections in others – especially when they offend or harm me. So, grace is multiplied and my energy to do what is right, as Paul says, increases!

This is amazing grace indeed. Amen