By David Blasco
My parents are celebrating their 55 wedding anniversary this Friday September 30. 6 years ago, on September 30, we were bringing my mom home from OSF in Peoria after a fall and head injury where she spend a month in the nero unit. My father, two sisters, my brother ,and I were preparing ourselves that God was ready to take her home. I guess not!! She continues to struggle but we are blessed to have her still with us.
What does Family mean to you? I know that my family is my ALL! We are a close bunch, celebrating birthdays together and other family functions. I wouldn’t miss one for the world. I have been so blessed being raised by such wonderful parents.
In our world today there are so many broken families. Divorced, separated families that don’t sit down together as a family and talk. Don’t sit down together and pray. We need more of that.
Sometimes we take for granted what God has given us. We don’t realize that when our parents tell us something it just might be for our good. We need to listen to them more. We need to pray for our families, especially our parents that they will continue to love and support us through good times and bad.
As my parents celebrate this milestone anniversary I pray that God will give them good health, keep them safe and comfort them in their need.
“We Found Each Other!”
By Pr. Youngshim Pitcher
Almost month ago, I had a chance to visit homebound members of our congregation at Apostolic Home in Eureka. One of them was Ree Peterson. She is a long time member of St. Mark’s and the mother of Steve Peterson and Kristine Jacobson-Flex. Ree suffers with Alzheimer’s disease, but she is not like other people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease.
Whenever I have an encounter with Ree, she is always joyful and gives thanksgiving for God’s love and presence. It is very inspiring, so I asked God, “God, if I have to suffer from Alzheimer Disease, let me be like Ree.”
This particular day, she was different. I said, “Hi, Ree” She just looked at me. So I said, “How are you today?” She looked at me and finally said, “I am sad.” Her response surprised me. I looked in her eyes and they were deep with sadness. It took me off my guard.
Lately, I have experienced some sadness. I sat by her and held her hands and said, “I am sad too. Ree.” She looked at me with a twinkle in her eyes and said, “You do too?” I nodded. And she said with a smile, “We found each other.”
She told me that she feels her soul is lost, because she is very forgetful, and feels as if she is not useful and productive anymore. She said, “This is not me.” I listened and told her, “It’s ok. Do not worry, Ree. You are not lost. God knows everything, can I share Psalm 139? I read it whenever I feel down or feel lost. It reminds me who I am in God.”
While reading to her, Ree held every single living word of God in her heart. At that moment, we were reconnected with God and each other, surrounded by love, inspired by truth and sustained by God’s Spirit.
By Nancy Vogel
Director of Children and Family Ministries
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
Have you ever noticed how easy it is to slip into a foul mood? Life seems to give us countless opportunities to do so…a long line, an unexpected expense, an unpleasant customer, a difficult boss, a deadline. Too often, we find ourselves justifying our foul moods. We give ourselves permission to be angry, irritable, or negative by saying, “Look at what I’m dealing with. Don’t you see how unfair it is?” If our foul moods go unchecked, we run the risk of our negativity gaining momentum day after day, until we find ourselves facing an avalanche of bitterness, anxiety, hopelessness, or despair.
We have little or no control over circumstances in our lives, nor do we have control over the people we encounter. However, one thing we can control is how we react to those circumstances and people. We can choose to become negative or bitter or we can go against our human nature and societal norms and choose JOY.
The phrase, “Choose JOY,” is much more popular than I ever imagined. When deciding the graphic for this blog’s title, I searched google images and hundreds of images appeared! At first glance, the phrase seems to imply that we can choose JOY by our own strength. However, JOY, as it is described in Galatians, is a fruit of the Spirit. It is a quality we are able to exhibit in our lives as believers because of the gift of God’s Holy Spirit living and at work in us. When I choose to become negative or bitter, I am quenching the Spirit. However, when I choose JOY, I am allowing God’s power to produce good fruit in me.
Every morning when I’m preparing for my day, I think about this. When I encounter a stressful situation, I remind myself, “Choose JOY.” When I feel frustrated or discouraged or anxious, I say it out loud, “Choose JOY.” I’ve even started telling people around me, “Today I’m choosing JOY!” Do I always choose it? Sadly, no…but I’m working on it. I’ve been praying about it. I’ve been asking God to continually fill me with his Holy Spirit so that I have what I need to make this choice.
I challenge you to give it a try. The next time you start to feel irritable or frustrated about a situation or a person…pray. Ask God to give you the power to choose JOY. You are equipped with the Holy Spirit! You are equipped to choose JOY!
Week #8 Eggroll of Anger, Fruit of the Spirit
by Patrick Jenkins, Worship and Music Coordinator and Small Groups Leader
Lately, my patience is nonexistent. I find myself irritated by the smallest things. A noise. The volume of a conversation.
A guy belched at a restaurant earlier today…I just stared at my eggroll and let out a sigh.
These little things add up and keep me all too aware of the tension that exists between me and my neighbors. My frustrations and stress snowball. My relationships bubble over with rage or passive aggressive maneuvers that drain my energy and leave me ready to throw in the towel and head for the couch.
At the heart of the problem?: the heart. Human and fleshy. (the biblical kind of heart, καρδία, that means the center, soul, mind, seat of passions, desires, character) The witness of the scriptures show us time and again that the human heart is a danger zone, a source of sin and trouble that permeates who we are and separates us from God and one another. We hunger and strive for our own way. Our appetites and desires turn us inward upon ourselves and we become the center-of-our-universe, distorting our humanness and leaving a person seeking life and wholeness in all the wrong places. Using all of our creativity, intelligence, and resources to serve ourselves.
But God has created us to turn outward – toward God as the center and source of life and toward one another in interconnected relationships of love, service, and even sacrifice.
So we’ve found ourselves in a predicament:
1) we were created for and by God and we were created to live life in interconnected, loving relationships with one another
2) we are sinners, separated by God by a distorted nature bent on it’s own way and gratification.
What to do? What we need is justification, and this is exactly what we get in Jesus Christ who ‘gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age…” Gal. 1:4
By faith we are justified, made right with God who no longer counts our sins against us.
By faith we are adopted as God’s children with the ‘Spirit of the Son’ poured into our hearts crying “Abba, Father!”‘ Gal. 4:6
By faith we are sanctified by the Holy Spirit’s power in our lives which regenerates our hearts and lives, raises us from death to life, and turns us outward to be who God created us to be – creatures who love God and neighbor with pure hearts, free from the fear of sin and death.
People empowered to live in faith by the Holy Spirit who lives in us bearing fruit that nourishes us, our neighbors, and the world and brings forth God’s kingdom of love into all the places of our everyday lives.
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…. Gal. 5:22-23
By Patrick Jenkins, Music Director and Small Groups Ministry Coordinator
Each year I think Summer will come and usher in a season of rest and relaxation, as if my work and other responsibilities will demand less of me and I can just kick back and enjoy life. And while I certainly enjoy relaxing and being outdoors with my family, those ‘endless summer days’ seem to be something trapped in my childhood.
But, alas, maybe real freedom is something different, something better than a lighter schedule and less responsibility. Maybe real freedom is living life in the everyday adventure of faith, freed to live in joy and grace – even in the face of sin and death. Maybe freedom is about discovering who we are as God’s children with the Holy Spirit living and active in our lives, transforming us to be people whose hearts are full of ‘faith acting in love.’
Paul’s letter to the Galatians covers all of this and we will dive in together in a sermon series through June. Come and discover what it means to be truly ‘free in Christ!’
Go Tell Everyone
By Nancy Vogel, Director of Children and Family Ministries
St. Mark’s Sunday School program was recently the recipient of a Random Act of Kindness. A few weeks ago, I was shopping at Sam’s Club buying food for our upcoming Sunday School Picnic. As I stood in the checkout lane with my grocery cart filled to the brim, I struck up a casual conversation with a gentleman who was in line behind me. In fact, he initiated the conversation by asking me if I was preparing for a graduation party. I smiled and told him what all the food was for, and we visited a bit more. As I went to pay for the food, the gentleman came up beside me, put a $100 bill on the counter, and told the cashier to put the money towards my bill. I couldn’t believe it! I thanked him enthusiastically! I hugged him! I had the cashier take our picture! If the man didn’t want a lot of attention drawn to himself, he had chosen the wrong person to bless!
As I headed back home to Metamora, I couldn’t wait to tell people what happened to me! By the time I crossed the McCluggage Bridge, I had shared my story with the lady checking receipts at the Sam’s Club exit, the cashier at Bath and Body Works, my mom, two girlfriends, my daughter, and my husband. By the end of the day, I had shared my story with several more people through phone calls and emails. If I was a Facebooker, I’m sure I would have posted it! I laughed as I thought about how smart the angel was on Easter morning to share the news of Jesus’ resurrection with three women! The angel knew that the women wouldn’t be able to keep quiet about their experience! They had to go tell everyone what happened!
I had enthusiastically shared my story with countless people over this stranger’s kindness and generosity. Around noon the next day, however, a thought occurred to me which convicted me deeply. I was overflowing with joy from a gift of $100. Jesus carried my sins to the cross, suffered an excruciating crucifixion, and died to save my life. How often do I share that story with others? And when I muster up the courage to share the Good News, how enthusiastic am I when I tell it? Do I overflow with joy when I think about the gift of Jesus? How about you? Are you overflowing? Do you bubble up with joy until you feel like you’re going to explode if you don’t tell someone? I think that’s the kind of joy that the psalmist was feeling when he wrote, “Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” (Psalm 96:2-3)
If you’re like most people, you probably just skimmed over those two verses from Psalms. After all, you’ve probably read them or heard them spoken countless times before. Now I want to challenge you. Take a minute or two, close your eyes, and reflect on the amazing gift that’s been given to you by Jesus’ sacrifice. Forgiveness. Grace. Salvation. Eternal Life…
Now try again, but this time, read it out loud…with enthusiasm! “SING TO THE LORD, PRAISE HIS NAME; PROCLAIM HIS SALVATION DAY AFTER DAY. DECLARE HIS GLORY AMONG THE NATIONS, HIS MARVELOUS DEEDS AMONG ALL PEOPLES.”
Are you excited yet? What are you waiting for? You’ve got a great story to share! Go tell everyone!!!
Here We Stand
By Pr. Youngshim Pitcher
May 22 was confirmation Sunday at St. Mark’s. Ten of our youth affirmed their baptism, and stood before God and God’s people to proclaim their promise to love and serve God and neighbors as disciples of Jesus. A month ago, I spent time with each confirmand for their final interview.
They had to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Apostle’s Creed, the Ten Commandments, and answer my questions about the meanings, read their faith statement, talk about their confirmation memory verse, and share their summer and future plans.
One of questions, I asked them was, “do you think that your faith has grown during confirmation?” Most of the students said yes. However, the question I asked to my students unsettled me because I realized that growing faith is not because of our doing, but it is the gift of God. I should ask “Do you think confirmation helped you learn how to practice your faith?”
Our students’ confirmation verses show well that they have faith in God. God has the plan for each of us, and faith is the hope and belief in the promise of God. As Paul said, we are justified by grace and by the Lord, Jesus Christ alone, through him we have obtained access to God’s grace; where we stand. “Christ is the solid rock; where we stand. All other ground is sinking sand.”
 Romans 5:1-2a paraphrased.
 LBW #293 My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less
I enjoy the occasional shopping trip TJMaxx because I can find some cool stuff at some good prices. Sometimes the reason for the discount is that the garment or product has a “slight imperfection”. When that is the case, if you look at the price tag, it will give you the Maxx price and also the price “if perfect”. Most of the time I can’t even find the imperfection; or it might be so slight, that no one would ever notice! With the exception of the one pair of pants I bought where one leg was shorter than the other, I’ve had good shopping experiences!
The Maxx isn’t for everyone though. There are those who don’t want anything less than perfect. I can understand that. I also know that our culture has a fascination with perfection. Whether it be a perfect score on the college entrance exam, all “10’s” in an athletic competition, or a perfect game in baseball, we all marvel at the accomplishment and that becomes the standard to strive for. Being “perfect” though, is very rare. Very few of us ever live in that realm and if we are ever fortunate enough to experience it, we know that the moment is short-lived. Most of us live in a world where we are more often beaten up than we are victorious. Our lives are far from perfect.
I’m reminded of the story of the guy who bought a brand new car. When he got home, the first thing he did was to take his key and put a little scratch on the driver’s side door. When asked to explain his bizarre behavior, he said: “Well, it’s going to happen eventually so I might as well be the first one to do it. Now I won’t be as upset when the next ding or scratch happens.” Hmmph. Maybe this guy has the right attitude. Although we all want to live a perfect life and to be flawless, we know that is impossible.
Scripture tells us that one day all will be perfect. But it won’t be in this earthly life. The book of Revelation in the New Testament proclaims: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away. And the one who was seated on the throne said to me, ‘See, I am making all things new.’” – Revelation 21:4-5
There will be perfection, but it is in the life to come, in heaven with our Risen Lord. In the meantime, we take heart in knowing that we are loved by God despite all our imperfections. A great music video that communicates this very powerfully is “Flawless” by Mercy Me. Check it out below.
Pastor John Bates
An Unchanging God
By Nancy Vogel, Director of Children and Family Ministries
My husband and I recently went on the first of several college visits with our daughter, Ruth. She is a junior this year, and it’s time to start thinking about her transition from high school into higher education. I couldn’t help but think as we toured the campus that it seemed like just yesterday that we were faced with the decision of which preschool she should attend. Likewise, our fifteen year old son, Sam, recently received his driver’s permit. As I talked him through the steps of carefully backing the car out of our garage the other morning, I couldn’t help but think that it seemed like just yesterday that I was strapping him into his booster seat to go to a friend’s house for a play date.
Where has the time gone? A mom shared this quote with me a few years ago, “The days are long, but the years are short.” It resonated with me then, and it penetrates my thoughts now. I frequently share the same quote with the young moms I meet. Life moves quickly. Change is inevitable. Our babies take their first steps, and turn into toddlers almost overnight. We wave goodbye to our five year olds on their first day of kindergarten, and it occurs to us that we have just entered the world of school-aged children and activities. The next thing we know, we are sitting in the bleachers watching that same child walk down the aisle of the gymnasium in a cap and gown. Okay, I have to stop. I’m getting way too emotional!
You don’t have to be a parent to experience change. You just have to be human. Changes come in various shapes, sizes, and levels of intensity. A new job. A sick parent. Technology. A phone call. A new boss. A diagnosis. A new puppy. Foreclosure. Marriage. A relocation. Sometimes change is welcomed or even planned. Other times change hits us like a freight train, and it rocks our world. It’s often accompanied with emotion…excitement, fear, apprehension, stress, joy, bitterness, sadness, uncertainty, gratitude. It’s even possible to experience conflicting emotions at the same time.
I suppose you’re starting to think, “Where are you going with this, Nancy? We get it. Change happens. Sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s bad.” As I make my way through this ever changing world, I never want to lose sight that our God never changes. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” God’s love never changes. God’s word never changes. God’s faithfulness never changes. God’s grace never changes…never, ever, ever. Take heart, dear friends. Find comfort and hope and peace in our unchanging God.
Christ is risen!
During Easter the lectionary chose several passages from Revelation. I wondered is there any connection between Easter and Revelation? I think it is an intentional decision that we encounter the passages from Revelation on Easter because our Christian faith for everlasting life is that death is not the end of life, but it is a gate to eternal life. Since Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection shows that He is the Victor of death, and by faith in Christ, we also will be resurrected on the Last day of the world. The life everlasting is our hope, our faith and the promise from God which we relate to the Kingdom of God.
Revelation was written for the first century Asia Minor Christians whom were facing persecution because their faith in Jesus Christ. Back then they lived under the power of Roman Empire, and they were oppressed to worship the Roman emperor. They did not follow the main culture, so they were in danger of perishing. They wondered and were confused as to why God did not come down and make it clear who was in charge and what was the purpose of human life… That was the context that John was in.
Originally, Revelation was written for pastoral concern to address the suffering and persecution of Christian believers and to reassure and encourage their hope for God’s redemption and deliverance. Some biblical scholars claim that the early Christians knew how to read and to understand apocalyptic literature because Revelation is full of symbols, metaphors, and codes that for nowadays audiences it is almost impossible to comprehend what was originally John’s intention of his message.
Some Christian’s understand the whole book of Revelation as a prophetic vision of judgement of humans and the world on the Last day or predicting events taking place in the world today and the future. So, most Christians, including myself, are so curious about the book, but we are tiptoeing around Revelations because we are not sure how to approach Revelation. So I decided to study Revelation, and I will lead a seven weeks small group starting on Thursday, April 7 at 9 am in the conference room. If you are interested to explore more, please come and join with me.