Mark This Down – some thoughts from Pastor Mark (The Right Question)

The Right Question


Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2–3)

On Sunday, August 25, 1861, a train ran into another train in a tunnel near Brighton on the south coast of England. Twenty-three were killed and one hundred seventy-six were injured. It was the worst accident yet on the British railways. Seven days later, another accident near London left sixteen people dead and three hundred seventeen injured. The Christian community was in turmoil over why these terrible things happened. Many made confident statements explaining the reason. Some said that it was the judgment of God for breaking the Sabbath command. Others said it was the sinful human invention of industrial terrors that brought down God’s intervention as had happened in the days of Noah.

C.H. Spurgeon, the pastor of the largest church in the world at that time, felt he must adress the ridiculous things people were saying, so, the following Sunday, he preached from Luke 13:2-3 and gave the sermon the title, “Accidents, Not Punishments.”

He rebuked the illogic of people who thought tragedies were something new and strange. “Now, men and brethren, such things as these have always happened in all ages of the world. … In taking up the old records, we find that the old stage coach yielded quite as heavy a booty to death as does the swiftly-rushing train.”

He rebuked the Phariseeism of those who looked at tragedies as the proof of the sins of others. Obviously if I did not suffer, then I must be better than someone who does.

He rebuked the arrogance of those who think they can figure out why a tragedy happened. This turns the providence of God, which is a mystery deep as the ocean, into a shallow pond which any child can understand.

And he directed attention to what was really important—our own sins. “Instead of thinking of their sins which would make me proud, I should think of my own which will make me humble. Instead of speculating upon their guilt, which is no business of mine, I should turn my eyes within and think upon my own transgression, for which I must personally answer before the Most High God.”

Because of a tragedy that took place in Jesus’ day, people wanted His take on why it happened. He refused to answer their unimportant question, and made them face the important one—“Have you repented?”

The connection to our own day is obvious. Jon Bloom connected this Scripture to the question of the reason for the corona virus. “The primary issue wasn’t how people died, but that people died, and death’s eternal ramifications.”

Now not many in this day are writing newspaper articles calling the virus a judgment from God because of people’s sins. Our society is far too secular for such thoughts. Some Christians are asking, “Do you think this means we are in the last days?” Meaning: Are things finally so bad that we can be sure Jesus will return very soon?” If that were so, why didn’t He come during the Spanish Influenza pandemic in 1918 which was far worse? Why didn’t He come during the Black Death pandemic in 1347 which was even worse than that?

Now don’t get me wrong. I firmly believe that Christians should look forward eagerly to Jesus, not just taking Christians to heaven at their death, but coming to the earth in power and great glory. And I don’t ignore what Paul said about a day when Jesus will snatch up Christians from the earth to meet Him in the air. Still, people have a habit of asking the wrong questions.

John Piper said it well. “What Is God Doing through the Coronavirus? God is giving the world in the coronavirus outbreak, as in all other calamities, a physical picture of the moral horror and spiritual ugliness of God-belittling sin.”

The right question is: “Have I repented?” Have I changed my mind about my need for rescue from the consequences of my sin? Have I turned to God through Jesus Christ who died in my place on the cross of Calvary that I might be freely forgiven and received as His child?

The responsibility of the Christian is not to pin down the date Jesus will come. It is to follow Christ who met people’s needs when they came to Him and told them the truth that would set them free. If you meet a neighbor’s need in a tough time, it may give you an opportunity one day to tell them of the day you repented and how everything changed for you.

Think about it! Just a brother, Pastor Mark

(John Piper’s book, Corona Virus and Christ, can be downloaded for free from

Mark This Down – some thoughts from Pastor Mark (Kindness in the Parking Lot)


Kindness in the Parking Lot


Ephesians 4:32 (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Walmart parking lot, masked and gloved, having finished my shopping for necessary items. I loaded my things into the van and I heard a voice behind me saying, “Let me take that cart for you.” Surprised, I said “Thank you!” hoping I showed my gratefulness through my mask.

A grocery store can be a difficult place to find kindness. If there’s any place in the world where you are focused on yourself, it’s at the grocery store. And when you are focused on yourself, others and their needs seem to carry no weight. In the early days of the toilet paper shortage, we saw news reports of violence in the store aisles.

Now, this is not going to be a moralistic appeal for everyone in our community to start being kind. Frankly, the capability is not really there. I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but philosophers have been teaching people to be kind for centuries. Listening to the radio, I have heard a blog called “The Kindness Revolution.” The author wrote a bestselling motivational book which large corporations like Chick-fil-A and L.L. Bean have used to improve their customer service and thereby, their bottom line. And it works. Treat people well, and, lo and behold, they come back to your store.

I think we saw an example of that when a restaurant opened in Fowlerville. For some time after they opened, the staff went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. It was a joy to get a burger there. We kept going back. But, after a few months, I went in on a Saturday night and a glum looking teenager handed me my bag with a gruff, “There you are.” I said to myself, “Ok, back to normal.”

My point is that what is needed is not a motivational book, or good management (though they can be very helpful as far as they go). What is needed is Christ. People without Christ need Him for far more than behavioral change. They need to be rescued from the eternal penalty of their sins. And when they experience that, they enter a new life.

However, entering that new life is not smooth sailing. Christians need to grasp fully the riches of what we are in Him. For the life we need to live—the life we can live—is His life. And the power to live that life is His power.

Where we fall down in matters of kindness is when we try to practice it in our own strength, much like the restaurant that, after a few months, had lost its customer service zeal. It just isn’t in human nature to practice it without constant supervision.

The power to practice kindness is not in outward controls, but the inward power of the Holy Spirit. Two sentences before verse 32, Paul says, And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. We look at that statement as if it is one of several projects to work on—like being kind. It’s not, it’s central to being kind. In fact, the power of the Holy Spirit is central to all the Christian life.

In Galatians 5, Paul’s subject is the true method of living out the Christian life. And the key statement is verse 16. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. J. I. Packer translates it, keep in step with the Spirit. It’s not a great mystery, it’s walking with God. It involves an open Bible, a praying heart, and a surrendered will. It’s day by day, moment by moment, step by step, growing in grace, growing in us the character of our new life—the character of Jesus Christ. What is He like? Galatians 5:22 … the fruit of the Spirit is (among other things) … kindness.

I said that this is not a moralistic appeal for everyone in our community to start being kind. It’s a call for Christians to put their best effort into keeping in step with the Spirit. For when we are like Christ, we can be kind, even in the pressure cooker of the grocery store.

I wondered later if the kind man in Walmart’s parking lot was a Christian, if he was simply doing what Christians do when Jesus is living His life out through them. That kindness is what a sick world needs.

Think about it!

Just a brother, Pastor Mark


Mark This Down – some thoughts from Pastor Mark (Appt. with a Ventilator)

Appointment with a Ventilator
Psalm 23:1-6 (KJV)
1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
I hope you will bear with me. I just can’t do a modern version with that psalm. What can I say, I’m old. (Velma would disagree.)
I remember once visiting a lady before her surgery. I pulled out my New Testament and Psalms and asked if I could read some Scripture. Her eyes got big, and she said fearfully, “Not the 23rd Psalm!” So I read another. I suppose she had watched old war movies where the chaplain read the 23rd over the dying solider and it created bad associations in her mind. Oh well, the psalm I read her was a good one too.
I think perhaps this psalm may be so familiar that it creates no associations at all. The beautiful words flow, and we know it so well that it doesn’t grab onto our thoughts. We may think, “That’s nice.” Maybe even, “That’s beautiful.” But not, “Wow! That’s so true!”
Picture a coffee mug with a nice rural scene on it with trees and grass and a flowing stream, maybe a sheep lying by the stream, with the words, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Somebody sees the mug and says, “I want a mug like that.” Before you know it, everybody’s got one. Somehow, I don’t think there would be great spiritual impact in the churches.
I’ll tell you one sure thing. Not many will have a coffee mug with a dark, scary valley on it. But the dark scary valley, the place where no sheep in its right mind would choose to go, is perhaps the main point of the psalm.
Why is the sheep there? Because the Shepherd led it there! Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. The sheep looks at the Shepherd and moves a little closer. It sees the weapons the Shepherds carries and heaves a sigh of relief. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
There are places we do not want to go. We say (perhaps only in the fearful back of our minds), “Not that, Lord!” And we don’t think through the fact that He leads us everywhere we go. And He has a good reason for every place He chooses to lead us. We need to think this through, if we are to get to, I will fear no evil.
There is a lot of talk of ventilators in the news. People want them on hand, but nobody wants to be on one. I have a fear of ventilators. It goes back to another hospital visit. I was visiting an elderly lady in the last hours of her life. She was on a ventilator and was struggling with having that thing down her throat. I went home thinking, “I never want that to happen to me.”
Famous last words! Six years ago, I was in the hospital struggling to breathe. Karen and the doctor told me we had to do this, I needed to be intubated. I was so tired; I just nodded my head in surrender. The next thing I knew. I woke up with my daughter sitting beside me. It was three days later. I was through the dark, scary valley.
Karen tells me that I struggled like Aunt Ella did, but I have no memory of that. It was like the Lord put a nice warm blanket around me and woke me in the morning. And the morning will come! That doesn’t mean Christians will escape the hospital or the ventilator—or even the funeral home.
It DOES mean that when the Lord brings us through the valley that He in His loving wisdom chose to lead us through, we will be home, and our loved ones will greet us.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Think about it!
Just a brother, Pastor Mark

Mark This Down – some thoughts from Pastor Mark (Cut Off)

Cut Off


“Stay home, stay safe, save lives.” Those are the words from our governor. Now she did say to go outside, take a walk and get some fresh air (as long as we stay six feet from anyone else out there). I confess I feel a little cut off—separated from everyone else. Recently I did a grocery run, and I didn’t feel cut off at all! In fact, I wished for a little more space. Also, I’m not alone at home—there are three of us (plus a grandchild at the time I began writing this).

Perhaps it’s resources I feel cut off from. Not that we are in need of anything, but we do like to have our ducks in a row, ready for anything, lacking nothing. I do not want to be asked, “Do we have this?”, and have to reply, “Nope.” Maybe that’s why I bought two heads of lettuce when we only needed one, even though the produce shelves are not empty.

I suppose I feel cut off from control. Nobody likes to feel like you are being dangled from a string that somebody else is pulling and made to dance to their tune. Even worse, perhaps, is dancing on the end of a string that no one is pulling, only those mindless forces we call circumstances. If there’s anything that defines human beings, it’s wanting to call our own shots. That’s really where this all started if we trace it back to the Garden of Eden in Genesis chapter 3.

So, how do I deal with this cut off feeling? The answer to uncertainty is always truth. …you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32) When you know what the truth is, you are certain. But you must know the truth. Verse 32, wonderful as it is, is only half of a sentence. When you read your Bibles—and I surely hope you are reading them—remember to read by sentences, not by verse numbers. So, let’s get the whole thought.

John 8:31-32 (ESV)
So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

To what extent they believed Him, I’m not sure, but it certainly wasn’t whole-hog! They didn’t deeply consider what He said, didn’t carefully think it through, didn’t logically act on it. They didn’t stake their lives on it. They didn’t grasp the truth and continue on the path to freedom.

How do I deal with this cut off feeling? I need to abide in His Word, then I will know the truth, and the truth will set me free.

Am I alone? No!

Hebrews 13:5b (ESV)
I will never leave you nor forsake you. (Check out the rest of that verse if you are struggling with money worries.)

Psalm 27:10 (ESV)
For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the LORD will take me in.

Am I without resources? No!

Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)
31  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
33  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

After all, The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

Am I not in control? NO, I’M NOT! And happy are those who grasp that fact IF they grasp it in the knowledge of who is.

Romans 8:28 (NASB)
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

And what a glorious purpose it is! Romans 8:29-30 (NASB)
For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30  and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

How will it all come out? Glory!

I can rest in that, after all, The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

Think about it!

Just a brother, Pastor Mark