Keep Running! September 2021

The Apostle Paul wrote a letter to encourage his young disciple Timothy. Paul is nearing the end of his time of ministry, while Timothy is just getting started. Paul wrote:

I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry…I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. 2 Timothy 4. 1-8

As I contemplate the crazy things that are going on in our world, and in my own life, the challenge is very timely. There is an inner hope that things will “get back to normal after covid.” But what will “normal” be? There is a 20 year war that our nation’s leaders have decided to pull out of. But, what about those innocent people who get left behind? There are people taking out their frustrations by getting a gun and shooting innocent victims. There are family trials and strife. The parenting decisions that mothers and fathers have to make regarding school, or behavior, or how to balance activities are often overwhelming. The death of a loved one can leave our lives empty, and our souls very fragile. And add on top of this, the battle that believers face when we battle a culture that seems to avoid any mention of God, or faith, or Jesus Christ.

Paul warned Timothy, that there would be times of spiritual drought. People will simply hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from the truth and listen to myths, and falsehood. It sure seems that Paul is speaking to believers in Jesus today!

So how do we deal with the hurts, and the disappointments. How do we make sense of the culture that we live in? How can we know what to believe and what is false? We know that “just because it is popular” doesn’t mean it is true. Just because it is on the internet, or on TV, doesn’t mean it is God’s will. Just because one pastor or minister says it’s ok, does not mean we just take his/her word for it!

As I read Paul’s message to Timothy, I think about my own life and ministry. I have lost so many wonderful people– some to death, some moved away, some have joined other churches, some have been disappointed in me, and I have been disappointed in others. I wonder sometimes, “What happened? And Why?” Why did they leave? Why did they fall away? Am I to blame for not going after the lost sheep? The losses hurt! There are the personal trials. Illnesses, frictions, family matters, aging parents, personal responsibilities. I’m sure Paul knew of these kinds of spiritual battles. No doubt Timothy would face them also. So Paul’s admonitions are still so apt for today. “Keep your head,” “discharge your duties,” “endure hardship.” He also told Timothy, “they will turn aside,” “they will gather around them …teachers who say what they want to hear.”

Is your Christian life feeling like a battle lately? Does the culture you live in make light of your spiritual convictions. Have you given up your commitment to worship on Sundays, or to read and pray and walk with the Lord daily? Are you backing off from telling your friend about Jesus, or about how the Lord has worked in you? Does your Christian faith cause you to say “no” to certain things, and to “stand up” for others? Paul’s message to us is to spur us on. “Keep running the race.!” “Fight the good fight” for the souls of men and women and children all around the world, and especially in our community. Don’t forget the “crown of righteousness” which will be awarded to you someday.

Sometimes it helps to have “running partners,” or “walking partners.” That’s why church, and worship, and being together in fellowship is so important. The souls of our families, and children, and friends are at stake! The battle for their eternities is crucial. So don’t give up the important things of your faith, for the trivial opportunities that abound. Keep on running! Don’t give up the battle! The afterglow of the well-run race will affirm that it is worth it all!

Blessing to you as you run your Christian race!

Pastor Mark

Everyday Miracles, August 2021

Have you experienced any miracles lately? Any miraculous healings, or perhaps an escape from some kind of storm or trial? When amazing things happen, we might sense God’s hand at work, or His power over life circumstances.

This week I read the story of Jesus as he fed 5,000 men (not counting women and children). He multiplied 5 loaves of bread, and 2 small fish into enough for all to be full, and have 12 basketfuls of left-overs. This miracle story is listed in all four gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all relate this amazing event. How did Jesus do this?

There are some interesting details. The small loaves were made of barley flour. This was the “poor man’s bread.” Wealthier folks ate bread made from wheat flour. The two small fish, were probably dried. One commentary suggested that they might have been sardines (or very similar). Do you like sardines? Whole grain bread is supposed to be good for our health, but my grandkids like white bread. Most of our bread, cake mixes, donuts, etc. are made with wheat flour. There are some who are allergic to gluten, so they have to learn what food items contain gluten, or wheat. We are probably pretty finicky about the fish we eat also.

As I read about this amazing miracle, I asked myself if I have ever seen such a miracle? I have seen some amazing things, and some divine encounters– but no multiplying of bread or fish. Then I heard a small voice ask me a question. “Mark, how many breads and fishes have you eaten in your lifetime? More than 5,000?”

So I did the math. 3 meals per day (average) x 365 days per year x 67 years of life = 73,365 meals so far in my lifetime. Not including snacks, and extra meals, or some missed. That astounding number seems pretty miraculous to me. How many miracles have I just “blown off and ignored?”

The gospel writers tells us that when Jesus’ disciples brought the young lad’s bread and fish to Jesus, He “GAVE THANKS,” and broke the bread…and did the same with the fish. Why did Jesus give thanks for poor man’s bread, and sardines? Jesus demonstrated then, and to us, the importance of thanking God for His blessings and His provision for us. DO YOU REMEMBER TO GIVE THANKS TO GOD FOR YOUR DAILY FOOD? Or do you take for granted the daily miracles that your are receiving?

Growing up, my parents reminded me of starving children in other lands. They often made me try things that I didn’t like. I still don’t care for liver and onions very much. They wanted me to learn to value God’s blessings and provision. Here in America, we are very blessed. Yes there are food shortages, and “food insecurity.” And those of us who have enough are called to give to those who don’t.

So I have been reminded lately of how blessed I am by God’s daily miracles. Over 70,000 meals, and food in the freezer. I am reminded that I have great reasons for giving thanks. I am reminded that very often I am eating “rich man’s bread, and meat.” And I am reminded that Jesus stopped what he was doing because he saw this multitude of people and cared for their stomachs as well as their souls. He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd.”

If he cares for my stomach, and sees me as one of his sheep, then that is an even greater miracle! There are other everyday miracles happening. Cancer treatments, heart surgeries, blood transfusions, and broken limbs healing. There are boxes of food being distributed to people all over the world. There are servants of Jesus traveling across the globe to give bread and love and blessings to Jesus’ sheep. Are there miracles happening today? YES INDEED!

God Bless,

Pastor Mark

Independence Day! July 2021

INDEPENDENCE DAY! We celebrate it every year. Last year was a little different– no fireworks (at least not the community ones).
Sometimes I wonder if people even remember what July 4th is all about? Do we celebrate the fireworks more than we do our independence and freedoms? Back in 1776, this event was the beginning of a war. The war for freedom, and for democracy was fought by men and women who valued freedom from an oppressive government even more than life. People died for the freedom we take for granted.

In recent weeks people in our church family have been involved in a number of battles. These have not been fought with guns, and cannons, but with spiritual weapons, and faith. How many have fallen and broken a bone? My 2 year old grandson broke his leg. Several folks in their 80’s and 90’s have suffered from broken bones, and injuries. Others have lost loved ones to battles with cancer, or aging, or other accidents. There have been the battles of change. People are moving and thus, people we have relied on are gone. There are changes in homes as young persons go off to college. We are happy for peoples’ new opportunities, but there are big life-changes for families too. I have noticed for myself a kind of “battle fatigue” that has come as I have tried to help others through their losses and battles. I have sensed my own feelings of heaviness, and grief. I am sure some of you have felt the same way.

I believe in “spiritual warfare.” There is an real enemy who is seeking to defeat us, and discourage us, and to cause us to give up our faith,. Paul the Apostle wrote to the Ephesians, “Our battle is not against flesh and blood…but against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6.22)

King David faced similar battles and fatigue. This week I have been reading Psalm 31. Here, King David is sharing his prayers, and his struggles with the Lord. O Lord, I come to You for protection…” (v, 1). He lists some other struggles… “Pull me from the trap of my enemies (v.4)… Lead me out of danger (v. 3)… I am in distress; my body and soul are withering away…(v. 9).

We all face similar battles. Physical battles, contain emotional battles (and visa versa). So how can we cope? How do we deal

with life’s hard things? David shows us several strategies here in Psalm 31. He has learned to trust in God’s goodness, and sovereignty. “How great is your goodness…” (v. 19). He has learned to find shelter in God alone. “You hide them in the shelter of your presence…” (v. 20). God is available to be our shelter also. David finds some strength in praising God, and remembering His past blessings. ‘Praise the Lord, for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love…(v. 21).

David has discovered God’s strength and blessings, and the help that comes from worshipping Him. Discovering his source of hope and strength is a blessing to us, because we are reminded that the same God of hope and courage is available to us.

So when you’re watching those fireworks this July 4th, remember the battles and wars of the past. But also remember how God provides for us during our tough times, in the present! The end of Psalm 31, gives a word of encouragement. So be strong and courageous, all you who put your hope in the Lord.” (Ps. 31.24).

I Pray that you will sense God’s help as you seek to be strong and courageous. May you also notice how He has already been working in your life, and in others!

Blessings to you,

Pastor Mark

Changes Ahead, June 2021

As I write it’s 87 degrees outside. Weather has been changing a lot this year. But, hopefully it will finally be safe to plant flowers, and plan outings. It seems like life has been pretty volatile lately too! We have dealt with Covid, and with lots of violence in the news, and politics. Peo- ple are desperate to live in America, or places where their children can be safe, and provided for.

Church has been challenging as well. I have read many articles which wonder what will be the same, and what will be different going forward. Will people come back to church? Will people stop coming? What programs and activities will be the same, and what needs to change?

I recently read an article that mentioned things that may not be needed in the future. The list included printed bulletins (we’re still not that virtual– and probably will keep printing them), the “greet your neighbor” time, the passing of the offering plate, obsession over attendance, in-person only services, and others.

The article mentioned several things that we need to keep doing. Meeting together– most of us need this, even if we need to keep doing online church also. Singing, eating together, sharing communion, praying together, and baptism were things we also need to keep doing.

I have to admit that there have been a lot of uncertainties for me about church things. I have wondered about our attendance– it is significantly smaller than before Covid, but then that’s not counting the people who are able to join virtually. Many are able to join who would not be able to because of illness, or being away, or fear.

There are some other things we need to consider as we move forward. Have we represented Jesus well during the lockdown, and the past year? I think we have continued to do so. Are we representing Jesus well as we move ahead? What are we learning? What doesn’t need to be restarted? These are valid questions to consider.

I have noticed that the pandemic, and all of the changes have not prevented people from suffering. Cancer, divorce, financial issues, evictions, loneliness, suicide, mental illness, and substance abuse are still part of people’s lives. These are happening to people all around us, and to people in our churches. They need Jesus. They need our prayers. They need hope, and God’s love, and our encouragement. We need to help them with these!

So what’s ahead for church and for us? More ups and downs I suspect. But also, more opportunities to love, and care, and share Jesus with our friends and our families, and with those who are needing Him most! Jesus is still our hope for the world, and for our future as well! From everlasting to everlasting, Thou art God! (Psalm 90)


Pastor Mark