Saturday, April 28, 2012


Now that Easter is over, I have gotten away for awhile for some rest and relaxation.  Cindy and I took a cruise, and it was hard to wind down from the pace of Holy Week to the pace of sitting on a ship watching the water go by.  When I finally calmed down, I thought back on the events of the week after the first Easter for one of Jesus' disciples whose name was Thomas (better known as "Doubting Thomas").

First of all, how would you like being known for the last 2,000 years as "Doubting Thomas"? The poor guy has one bad week and gets stuck with that stigma forever.  I have made a personal  vow, and I encourage you to do the same,  that when I get to heaven and see Thomas, I resist the temptation  to run up to him a say, "Aren't you Doubting Thomas?"  Let's show the brother a little respect.

The disciples had to be traumatized by the events of Good Friday. They were far from home, and they witnessed  the  brutal execution of Jesus. They were fearful that the authorities might come for them to do the same. They all scattered to their hiding places. Over the next few days, the disciples began to come back together.  Peter may have been thinking about the reunion when he wrote these words: 

I Peter 2:25For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Well, as we all know, some sheep are faster than others, and in this case, Thomas was slower that the rest.  Most of the disciples were together on Easter evening when Jesus appeared in their midst. Thomas, however, missed it. When he finally did arrive, he was greeted by a bunch of "giddy sheep” telling him that they had see the resurrected Christ.  Thomas, who was still devastated by Jesus' crucifixion  that not only killed his friend but killed his faith, said he would have to see Jesus for himself and inspect the nail and spear wounds before he could have his own faith healed. Thus, why he will be forever known as Doubting Thomas. While the others were recovering, Thomas would suffer another week. Oh, how many might be lost only because they won't receive the good news from another?

One week later, Thomas was with his fellow disciples when Jesus appeared again.  This time, Jesus speaks directly to Thomas and tells him to examine the wounds on His body. Thomas falls to his knees and proclaims that Jesus is his Lord and God. Jesus, however, insists that Thomas place his hand in the wound in His side caused by the spear of the soldier at the cross. Remember: Thomas had already professed Jesus was his Lord and God, and his faith was restored, but Jesus was insistent that Thomas touch the spear wound in his side. If the story of Thomas' life ended in 20th chapter of John, then the title of "Doubting Thomas" may be appropriate. But Thomas lived another 39 years and was used by God to take the Gospel eastward all the way to the plains of India.
The tradition among Christians in India is that Thomas was speared to death near Madras. Did Jesus insist Thomas embrace the spear wound that night so Thomas could know he, too, would be pierced as the price for bringing the Good News to the lost?  The Gospel is free to those who receive it, but it is not free to those who declare it. 
There was blood on the tip of the spear when Jesus died on the cross. The result was redemption for all who will receive Him. There also was blood on the tip of the spear when Thomas died bringing Christianity to India. Think of the other men and women who have deeply changed their world with blood on the tip of the spear, people like Martin Luther King and Gandhi. Second-century church father Tertullian wrote that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church."
I was once told that it isn't important how you start, but how you finish. This certainly is evident in Thomas' life and in ours as well.  We need to embrace the risen Lord Jesus Christ.  His wounds will heal us (I Peter 2:24) and then empower us to change our world. The blood on the tip of the spear reminds us that there still are things worth living and dying for. 

En  agape,

Fr. Mark

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dig a Ditch

On March 31, 1973, an event took place in my life that has influenced every other event thereafter.  It determined who I would marry, where I would work and friends I would make. This event would take me to the heart of Africa and to the Philippines. This event also would teach me not to lose my faith in poverty, nor to lose my soul in prosperity.  Actually, this turning point in my life is responsible for this blog: It was the day I reponded to an invitation to receive Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
It’s been 37 years since I took my first step in faith, and looking back, I see that each step in faith has prepared me for the next step in faith.  In Romans 1:17, Paul says that “the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith.  As it is written, the just shall live by faith.”
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is found in 2 Chronicles 20.  It is a story of a military victory under King Jehoshaphat (no one names their kid Jehoshaphat anymore!). King Jehoshaphat learns there was a coalition of three armies a day’s march from Jerusalem.  He knew he could not defeat them, so he called for the people to fast and pray.  God heard their prayers and, speaking by a prophet, said the battle belonged to Him alone. The king’s army was told to follow the choir to the battlefield and watch what God is able to do.  What they saw was a battlefield littered with the bodies of their enemies.  It seemed that the coalition wasn’t that strong, because they fought each other to the death.
My question about this story is why did King Jehoshapat not panic when he heard about the enemy that was going to attack?  He seemed to have the ability to put his faith in the words of the prophet so easy, but there was a lot riding on those words.  If he were wrong, it would mean the destruction of Jerusalem, the fall of Judah and the end of his life.  Yet, he calmly replaced his frontline warriors with a choir. How did he learn such faith?  Was there something in his life that prepared him for that day?  I think the answer is found in 2 Kings 3.
When Jehoshaphat came to the throne, he honored a treaty with King Jehoram (the son of Ahab and Jezebel) to help defend each other’s kingdoms if enemies surrounding them attacked.  Jehoram convinced Jehoshaphat to bring his army north and join him in a battle with the Moabites.  Jehoshaphat’s army had to march north through the desert, so by the time they arrived, they were weakened by the march.
Things were not looking good.  Jehoshaphat feared he had missed God’s will, so he asked if there was a prophet in the area.  He was told that Elisha was dwelling nearby. When the two kings arrived at Elisha’s house, they found that Elisha was surprised to see Jehoshaphat hanging out with the likes of Jehoram. Before Elisha tells Jehoshaphat what to do, he called for a musician to lead in worship (sound famliar?).  Then Elisha told Jehoshaphat he would win the battle by returning to the camp and digging some shallow ditches. God would do the rest.
That night, a rain filled the ditches.  When the sun came up, the Moabites looked down on Jehoshapat’s camp and saw the sun reflecting off the ditches.  They believed the pools in the red clay were puddles of blood caused by a fight among the soldiers.  Thinking that all were dead, the Moabites entered the camp unarmed.  The army of Judah woke up, drew their swords and defeated the enemy.
What Jehoshaphat learned from his victory through worship and digging ditches prepared him to obey, in faith, the next time God’s prophet told him, You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”
The Bible is filled with stories of battles, and our lifes are as well. Life’s challenges will not end until we are called into God’s presence.  What is your battle today?  God has prepared you for the challenge through your victories and defeats of the past.  The strategy of each battle may be different, but the battle cry is always the same:
“And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who should sing to the Lord, and who should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army and were saying: ‘Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever.’ ”  II Chronicles 20:21
En agape,
Fr Mark

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Snake In The Garden

In 1977, I was a youth minister at a church in Central Florida.  The priest at the church arranged for me to take five teenagers to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but I was willing to suffer for Jesus.
Anyway, our purpose was to conduct a vacation Bible school for the kids and to preach at the churches on the island. When we arrived, we were met by the priest from the Anglican church. He helped us get settled and told us about the island, which is where Christopher Columbus discovered America. During the conversation, he said that there were no snakes on the island. It seems that natives of the island had killed all the snakes because they were connected to Satan in the Genesis story.
Now, I’m not a big snake fan, but I kinda felt bad that there was a snake holocaust based on the belief that all snakes were the devil. Satan was the one who was tempting Adam and Eve, but he was not the snake. He was the “snake behind the snake,” much like Mel Gibson’s portrayal of Satan in “The Passion.” Gibson portrayed Satan as one just behind the scenes making sure that his evil would be manifested in the actions of those who were judging and carrying out the sentencing of Jesus. In other words, “the evil behind the evil.”
Remember, Jesus spoke from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” His words remind us that there was something else influencing and fueling the hatred that day.
I have a dear friend who is very interested in the subject of the end times. We talk a lot about the significance of the nation of Israel, the political environment of our times and all the stuff that goes along with the return of Christ.
In our conversations, it doesn’t take long before the subject of the antichrist comes up. Many believe the antichrist will be the incarnation of Satan. He will rise to power as a type of world dictator and make the children of God public enemy No. 1. We also know he will be defeated when Jesus returns.
So many believe Jesus is coming soon and seem to be on a kind of antichrist watch. Unfortunately, over the last 2,000 years, many have jumped the gun and called popes, kings, fuehrer, emperors and even presidents the antichrist. This, in turn, has caused spiritual confusion in the body of Christ.
With all that said, I don’t want to discourage anyone from looking forward to the Jesus’ glorious return.
So when will the snake in the garden appear? In John 4:3, we read: “And the spirit of antichrist, which you heard was coming, is now already in the world.” This was written in the first century. Evil has been ever present throughout mankind’s history. But sometimes, it is so evil that it can’t be explained as just bad behavior.
When 11 million Jews and Christians were murdered in Europe between 1917 and 1945, that phenomenon cannot be explained by political or ethnic differences. There’s an evil behind the evil.
When men fly aircrafts into buildings filled with innocent people, don’t tell me that was not a snake behind the snake. And don’t tell me that there is not a voice behind the voices that brainwash a 17-year-old kid to strap a vest of explosives on his chest then go into a Jewish day care and kill children and himself.
We don’t have to wait on the manifestation of Satan in the flesh to know there is still a snake in the garden.  Jesus says Satan comes to kill, steal and destroy. But he has never pulled a trigger, lit a fuse or thrown a punch. His weapon is influence — but so is ours.
Within the spirit of the great commission is our call to influence the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  He has given us the Holy Spirit as our word behind our words, the power behind our power, the love behind our love.
The natives on San Salvador Island may have been confused about snakes, but they weren’t confused about God’s love for them. The priest on the island also said the only people there who didn’t go to church were the visitors (like us). Someone had been used by God to influence the people of the island. I pray that Jesus will be the voice behind my voice, and you may be blessed.

En agape,
Fr. Mark

Friday, September 23, 2011

Scars That Speak

Scars that Speak

A few weeks ago, I watched the start of one of the Republician debates which took place in the Ronald Reagan Library.  I was impressed that Air Force One was inside the building!  Every president raises money to build his library to serve as a reminder of his presidency.  In the 23rd chapter in 1st Samuel, we see an aging King David looking back on his time on the throne, and making a list of men who have served him over the years.  He wanted people always to remember their contribution to Israel.  The list included 37 men who were called “the Mighty Men of David.”  I want to talk about No. 3 on the list.  His name was Benaiah, and he was the captain of the guards that protected the king.

Benaiah’s resume is found in verses 20-23.  Benaiah once found himself alone and face to face with two great Moabite champions.  They are described as being like fierce lions.  It was a fight to the death, and Benaiah was battered yet victorious.  Next, we are told the Benaiah fell into a pit that had a lion in it, on a snowy day.  Now that’s a bad day in anyone’s book!.  My unsanctified imagination can just see a hungry and trapped lion praying to God for food to eat when through the darkness crashes Benaiah to the floor of the pit.  Now in a cold dark pit, Benaiah prevails over the king of the beasts.  The Bible tells us that Satan can come as a roaring lion or an angel of light.  Benaiah’s next challenge wasn’t with lions but with a smooth-talking, good-looking Egyptian who is carrying a concealed weapon behind his back.  He comes to Benaiah as a friend to embrace him, and then he pulls a sword out for the kill. Benaiah servives this sneak attack and kills the Egyptian.

Now, let’s try to imagine the moment that David made his decision to make Benaiah the captain of the guard.  Let’s say that David interviewed many men who were well-trained, intelligent and of high pedigree.  Yet David could not find any peace about whom to choose.   The next man who walks through the door is Benaiah.  David looks at a man who didn’t need to say a word in order to get the job.  The scars of his battles on his body told David everything he needed to know.   This man would lay down his life to save the king.  You see, the scars were Benaiah’s resume.

In the  20th chapter of the gospel of John, it was the evening of the day Jesus had risen from the dead.  The disciples were in the upper room with the doors locked in fear of the authorities.  They had not seen Jesus. They had only heard Mary’s story of seeing Him.  Suddenly, Jesus appears to them.  Two important things take place.  First, Jesus says “peace be with you” and second, He shows them His scars. The scars convinced them it was Jesus, and peace was possible.  David was at peace knowing Benaiah would lay down his life for him.  We can be at peace knowing Jesus (“the captain of our salvation” Heb. 2:10) has laid down His life for us.  The scars say it all.

En  agape,

Father Mark

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lepers at the Gate

Lepers at the Gates

 How many times have you heard this phrase in the past three years:  “This is the worst economy since the Great Depression.”   I’m sure you have heard it many times.   The problems with our nation’s economy touch everyone, some more painfully than others.  I live in Central Florida where the construction industry has been affected severely.  Many of my friends who work in construction can’t find work.  In the Bible, there is a story of a country that was in serious distress, and everyone was suffering.  However, there were four men whose situtation was so bad that they were starving to death.  We find their story in 2 Kings Chapter 7.
The Syrian empire had invaded Israel and would eventually conquer all the northern kingdom.  It was a time of siege warfare where armies would surround a walled city and starve the city into surrender.  A siege could last for years.  People would die of stavation, thirst and disease.  It was so bad in this city that people had resorted to canabalism.  Yet there were four men whose situtation was even worse because they had the disease of leprosy.  They were not allowed to enter the city because they were considered “unclean” and since a famine was raging inside the city walls, there were no acts of charity being offered to those who were hungry outside the gates.   In verse 6, they say to one another, “If we try to get into the city, we will stave there.  If we stay outside the gates, we will also starve to death.”  They decided they would go to the Syrian army’s camp and surrender to them.  They hoped the Syrians would not kill them and, instead, take them as prisoners and feed them something.
As they approached the camp, it seemed to be strangely quiet.  They reached the perimeter of the camp to find it abandoned.  The Bible says that during the night God caused the sound of chariots to rumble toward the camp.  The Syrians throught it was the armies of the Egyptians coming to the aid of Israel, so they left in haste, leaving everything behind.  The four lepers soon realized that the camp was filled with food and the loot the Syrians had plundered from their conquests.  They ate until they were full, and began to lay claim to all the treasure.  Truly, God has done a great thing for Israel, but only four men knew it.  These men could have kept all these blessings to themselves, but they knew they were obligated to let those who were starving and locked behind the walls of death that God had made a way to set them free.  They returned to the city gates not as beggars, but as men who had something to give: THE GOOD NEWS that God has won the victory for us.
This is the story of our personal salvation.  God has defeated the enemy for us through the cross of Jesus Christ.  He has brought us from death to life. And in Matthew 28:19-20, He tells us to go into all the world with the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.  We are to stand at the gate and let the captives know Jesus has emptied the tents of the enemy, and we can feast in his victory.

En  agape,
Fr Mark

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The God of the House of God

One of the traditions that has been passed down through our church history is the confession of sins in the worship service.  At our church, this prayer takes place early in the service.   At times, I wish that I wouldn’t need to confess my sins because I hadn’t commited any since the last service, but I have never had that kind of week in my life!  Sunday morning is a “worship service,” so how does a prayer for the confession of our sins contribute to the worship experince? And why is it the “doorway” to intimancy with the Father?
In Gen. 28:10-19, we find Jacob on the run from his own family.  He had deceived his father Issac into giving him the blessing and inheriance of his brother Esau.  One night, Jacob had a dream in which he heard God identify Himself as “the Lord God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants.”  This is the first personal religious moment that the Bible records in Jacob’s life.  Jacob awakes from his sleep, and proclaims this is a place where God dwells.  He named the place Bethel, which means “The House of God.”  The years that followed were not easy for Jacob.  Even after Bethel, Jacob’s sinful traits of deception and manipulation were still present.  Finally, in Genesis chapter 32, God breaks the stronghold in Jacob’s life, and restores his relationship with his brother.  Jacob begins his journey back to Bethel.  On the way, Jacob has the experience of seeing his sins duplicated in his sons.  The result was the slaughter of all the men in a nearby village.  In Chapter 35, Jacob declares to his family, “Let us arise and go up to Bethel,” but first, he had everything pagan in his family posessions removed and buried under the terebinth tree.  In other words, Jacob was saying, “Before we come into God’s presence, we need to remove those things that aren’t of God from our lives.  In a way, this action is much like our confession of sins at the beginning of the service.  Each Sunday, we return to Bethel (the House of God) with the knowledge we need to get rid of the stuff that is not fitting of such a holy place.
But there is more to the story of Jacob’s visit to Bethel.  After he builds an altar, he renamed the place as El Bethel, which means the God of the House of God.  Jacob was saying that his spiritual jouney went beyond just going to a house dedicated to God; it is a journy to draw near to the God of the house.  In our vocabuary, it’s not about just going to church, but rather going to church to draw near to God.  It is in the act of confessing our sins and seeking the Father’s forgiveness that we draw near to El Bethel!  Receiving the Father’s mercy and grace gives us the basic motivation to enter into worship of the “God of the House of God.”

En agape,

Fr. Mark

Monday, August 22, 2011

Welcome to the Pastor's Blog

Welcome to the Church of the Upper Room's Pastor's Blog.  We'll be adding more content soon!