Anaheim SDA Church

Mid-week Pastor’s Update

September 22nd, 2021

“[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

I remember when I was a kid, my mom’s usual pattern was to go grocery shopping on Sunday mornings. I often went with her, because if I did, I could pick my cereal for the week (as long as it wasn’t too sugary 😊 ). We would usually go to a “Lucky” store a couple of miles away from our house. It was fine, but, nothing special.

But then: they opened a NEW “Lucky” store a couple of miles away from our house in another direction, and this one was sparkling new and advanced! It had cool architecture and lighting, and I remember being awed in the produce section by seeing automatic mist sprayers for the first time: they would moisten the vegetables periodically.

The coolest thing for me, though, was that in the front left corner of the store, they also had a movie/video game rental area, you could rent these things in the store! My mom would let me rent one thing most weeks. So, for years of my youth, my time Sunday mornings was evenly spent in the cereal aisle, and the tech rental section, eagerly anticipating my week. 😊

Then I got older and went to college, and my mom kept shopping at the same store (without me). I remember I’d drive by it occasionally, but it didn’t seem new or exciting any more. In fact, it kind of got to looking run-down and dilapidated. My mom started going to a different store, because the neighborhood it was in didn’t seem so safe anymore.

Then, the grocery store closed-up entirely, and it became a big blank spot in a strip mall. For a while the spot was open again as a used book store, then as a seasonal Halloween store, then just boarded-up. Eventually, probably around 2010, they bulldozed the whole strip mall area and built something else there.

I still occasionally get called a “young man” (increasingly rarely :-p, but I am by no means old!). So it’s strange to me how I could see a shiny new grocery store and strip mall turn average, then old, then destroyed and gone, while still being relatively ‘young’ myself. It shows that our timeline is very different than it is for other things.

We live way longer than dogs or cats, and, indeed, longer than 99% of animal species. Upon doing a little bit of internet research, I found that only tortoises and a handful of sea creatures live longer than we do. And our time is short compared to lifespans in the Bible!

It’s strange: in our lifetimes, we see animals and buildings rise, age, and fall. We see societies boom and bust. We see forms of technology come and go. Yet we still want more: we say “life is short!”. We lament how people ‘died too young’ despite having decades under their belts.

To me this is all encompassed in that mysterious but brief phrase that King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes: “God has put eternity in the hearts of man. What does this mean? While some might think it an Old Testament hint to the (misguided) Christian belief in immediate and eternal life after death, I think it’s much more something along the lines of We never feel we’ve lived long enough. We always want more. We always aspire to do and see more things.

I firmly believe that the only resolution to this perpetual longing of feeling that life is short (despite its being long) is to put it in perspective of eternal life in the Heavenly Kingdom, which will be gifted us by Jesus Christ on Resurrection Day. Only then will our bodies and our heart desires line-up!

There’s a place in Isaiah where it says “their days will be like a tree” (65:22). This is, correctly this time, a glimpse into future eternal life with God from a finite standpoint. In the ancient world, trees’ lifespans must’ve seemed practically endless: though people were of course familiar with the sight of a dead tree due to drought or injury, an old man could go to a place he knew as a boy, and look up at the limbs of a perfectly healthy tree he used to climb on in his boyhood. “This is what life with me will be like” God is Saying through Isaiah.

I pray that we will truly appreciate the time God has given us: the days which accumulate into weeks, months, years, and decades. I pray we wouldn’t waste the time, because it is precious, and tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. But above all I pray that we would utilize the accumulation of time into worthy pursuits: investing in relationships, in knowledge, in beauty, in truth and purity. Truly a lot of good can be done over a lifetime, or a lot of pointless damage.

I close with the opening verses of Psalm chapter 1:

“Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.”

May God bless you all the remainder of this week and beyond.

Sincerely,

Pr. Mark Tatum

Pardon me for writing this update a day late! With other things on my plate, I clean forgot ‘till yesterday evening! By the way, there are great announcements down below. *Mwah!* Mouth-watering!

Anaheim SDA Church

Mid-week Pastor’s Update

September 16th 2021

“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, though she may forget, yet will I not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

As you well know, this past weekend we commemorated 20 years since the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania. Now, half a week later, can we remember the mental, emotional, and societal state we were in 20 years ago at this point?

Many of us were still in shock: we felt like zombies walking around, as our sense of security was shattered. Though the attacks happened thousands of miles away, yes, they also happened in our hearts a little bit. For a moment the terrorists had their moment of triumph, in that they got us to fear.

But somewhere in those ensuing days/weeks, the resolve built to, rather than respond with fear, to respond with determination, with steadfastness, and with bravery. The term “never forget” became a rallying cry to live up to our highest ideals of bravery, democracy, and patriotism.

So, twenty years later, how are we doing? How is our resilience? Our sense of national pride and unity?

In terms of bravery, that continued steadfastly in the form of military members who went to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, ousting Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and ending their capacity to execute terror attacks on foreign soil.

But how about in terms of our unity as Americans? That few/several year period after 9/11 seemed a world away than the divisive and vilifying social and political atmosphere we see today.

It is a shame that it took a terribly tragic, outside event to get us to emphasize our commonality rather than our differences. Its arguably even more of a shame that, given that the ‘shock’ has dissipated during these twenty years, we’ve fallen back into the same pits of arguing and vilifying our ‘opponents’. Need it be so?

Part of what I love about Christianity is that it’s fundamentally positive in nature. The tent is big enough for all to enter into. We don’t need a “them” to vilify in order to have an identity as an “us”. Jesus as the center of our vision: our example, our goal, our destiny, makes anything else pale in comparison.

Yes, we are against certain things, but only as a consequence of the much greater thing that we are for. We are against alcohol and drug use because it compromises the single greatest gift God bestowed us with: our minds. We are against sexual promiscuity and pornography because they devalue and debase the noble greatness of the human body and love into twisted forms. We are against vice and violence in person or in entertainment, because glorifying it replaces the only One who is worthy of exaltation: God and Jesus His Son.

Big things, good and bad, will continue to happen around us. But we are called to be steadfast. Jesus says “He who stands firm ‘till the end will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) but we don’t generate this steadfastness from within ourselves, we take it from our great example, who is fundamentally dependable. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

So friends, let’s, yes, learn the lessons that can be gleaned from the terrible event of 9/11. But let’s remember that they will never take us to the apex of development or of worthy aspirations: only Jesus belongs in that highest place. I hope you, like I do, long for the day when God will place everything under Jesus’ feet (see 1st Corinthians 15:25).

May God bless you all.

Sincerely,

Pastor Mark Tatum

 

“If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to remove our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:8

I’d been keeping pretty quiet about it, but over the past several months I’ve been keeping a secret, and was trying to ignore a continuing problem.

Since the beginning of my time at the Anaheim church, I’ve had a mini-fridge in my office, in which I’ve stored drinks and little food items for some time. Near the beginning of the pandemic, though, I stocked-up that fridge, thinking “I’m going to be spending a lot of time filming and editing videos in here, I’ll have makings for lunches and sandwiches here, some snacky stuff, etc.” But over time the reality was, as I’d be busy with whatever church work, whether sermon writing or meeting with people in-person or online, I hardly ever thought to use the stuff I’d stocked the fridge with. I’d eat either before coming, or after going, or skip a meal due to busyness.

Then, after a while, when I would occasionally open the fridge door, I noticed a stench coming out of it that would waft into the rest of my office. That filled me with a sense of dread: that stuff I’d bought weeks and months ago was rotting in that fridge. Did I fix it right away? No. I closed the door: that rubber seal would protect my nose from the reality of what was going on in there.

I bought spray fresheners to spray around the office to cover the stench if the fridge accidentally got opened. I sprayed half a bottle of freshener into the fridge through a gap in the door just wide enough to fit the nozzle, hoping it would neutralize the bad smell. It didn’t. But I went on working: ever aware of, but trying to ignore, that problem in the corner. When my kids would come to my office, I’d tell them sternly that that little fridge was off-limits to them (though they’d sometimes disobey or forget and open it anyway). Then I’d shout at them, spray the spray, and have to vacate the office for half-an-hour or so.

Then, last week, I saw an extension cord going from the 3rd office down the hall, out into the hallway outlet, and I followed it, thinking “I wonder who did that and why?”. I saw that someone was trying to revive the other mini fridge, which used to be in Maritza’s office, but lately had been stored over in the third office. When I saw it led to that secondary fridge, I figured someone had tried the sockets in that office, but to no avail. I opened that other fridge to see if it was cold, but it wasn’t.

I soon found out that someone was trying to revive that other mini fridge, because a church member’s home fridge had broken, and would be helped if they could borrow that mini fridge for a week or so ‘till theirs could either be fixed or replaced. When it was clear that fridge in the 3rd office wasn’t working, I was filled with dread: I had a working mini fridge I admittedly hadn’t been using, but it meant facing a dreadful reality: cleaning out the dreaded rot and sanitizing the fridge. While of course I’d be happy to loan it, I was loath to do that dire task.

But, the next morning, I came prepared: with gloves, sponges, paper towels, 2 types of disinfectants, and practically a hazmat suit, I faced my fears. At the last minute, I realized it would be better to empty and clean the fridge outside, so I went to the food bank to get a hand truck, and moved the still-closed fridge outdoors so the stench could dissipate into the open air. When I opened the fridge door, I think I saw a puff of green smoke emanate from it.

I of course threw all the rotten stuff into a trash can to take to a dumpster, then doused the inside with disinfectants and scrubbed the inside of that fridge. I took out the shelving and cleaned it too. I tried to beat back the enclosing frost in the little freezer section. I left the fridge door open to air out as I called the church member to tell them it was about ready. About 30 mins later, the brother of the church member came in his pickup truck to come pick it up. We loaded it in, tied it securely, and off he went. I hoped this would serve my church member, rather than curse them with stench.

About 90 mins later I texted the church member to ask: “I did all I could to clean out that fridge and get it presentable: I hope it works out fine for you.” A bit later, they replied “It is perfect, thank you.” I was relieved (on two levels): the practically unused fridge was helping serve someone, and I’d finally cleaned-out that dreaded filth I’d been avoiding.

As I sat back down in my fridge-less, stench-less office, I thought: how silly that I didn’t take care of that weeks or months ago? Here I’d been avoiding that for so long: yet in about 45 minutes the issue had been resolved.

And then I got to thinking: isn’t that like us with sin? We have this little cube in the corner of our hearts or minds, with rotten, putrid stuff in it. We allow people in: friendships, colleagues, the like, but we’re always thinking the mental equivalent of ‘don’t open the fridge! Don’t let them know that you’ve got that horrible, rotting stuff in there!’ Maybe even with Jesus, we’ll say “come into my heart”, but simultaneously be thinking ‘but don’t go over to that part – pay no attention to that over there!’ as if Jesus can be fooled.

Though it’s not easy, though it’s not pleasant, it’s so much easier to mentally clean house of our sins (or more accurately, let Jesus clean house). We’re so relieved once it’s done, we think ‘why did I wait so long to do that?’

The Bible makes it so clear that we have two options for what to do about that gunky stuff: the sin we hold in our lives. Chapter 1 of 1st John lays it out clearly: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” (vv. 8-10)

So, we have a clear choice presented before us. What will we do? Deny there’s a problem (as I did for months with my office fridge)? To do so never solves things: just makes it fester and worsen. Or confess? Sure, it’s not pleasant. Sure, part of our twisted hearts want to keep that junky stuff just where it is. But, come on! To come out into the openness of true freedom with Jesus? Far better, friends, so worth it. Living cleanly, openly, with no dread back in the back corner.

I want to invite you: if you haven’t done so recently: to clean house with God & Jesus. As Jesus instructs: go into your closet or a private room, close the door, kneel down, and tell God all about it. And the God who sees what is done in secret, will reward you openly (Matthew 6:6).

 

I pray that you will find a more relaxed, more open form of life with Jesus, free of the drama, free of the clutter, free of the stench and dread of sin. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” May we ever go forward walking in that pure light of His truth.

May God bless you all.

Sincerely,

Pr. Mark Tatum