“Benched!”

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During my many years of coaching various sports, I have had to bench a player or two. Usually, it was because of an attitude problem or some violation of a team rule or expectation…. But there were those times I would tell a player that I was sitting her on the bench for awhile so that she could get a feel for the game and the offense and/or defense we were running. “Now, I want you to observe number 10. Watch how she keeps her knees bent and her balance. She engages her opponent increasing the pressure and closing the distance the closer she gets to the goal.” …

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This same thing appears to have happened to me in the ministry. As I was wrapping up my college campus ministry  phrase, I approached my early mentor, Elmer Hiebert, with a friend and expressed how I felt that the Lord was pulling me out of the “game”. My friend felt the same way. I will never forget what Elmer told both of us: “Maybe it’s like a coach who pulls his players out of the first quarter so that they can be fresh when he puts them back in in the fourth quarter.” Does the Lord do such a thing?

It appears that He does, especially in light of our main text this morning. The young Saul (aka Paul, later to become an apostle) started out with a bang, witnessing to all that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long awaited Messiah, and though he had a measure of success, things also got a little hairy. So the church sent him back to his home town. He appears to be “benched” for almost 10 years. (Oh, he was most assuredly busy with the tasks at hand growing in the faith while making tents, but he clearly wasn’t on the radar of recorded church history.) Then his early mentor, Barnabas, seeks Saul out to join him with some small tasks (see Acts 11:28-36). Slowly, Saul, aka Paul (his Roman name), begins to fulfill the destiny the Lord presented to him on the Road to Damascus (see Acts 26:16ff)….

Brothers and sisters, you may be feeling like the Lord has pulled you out of the “game” and benched you for some silly mistake (aka sin), but is it possible that He is “benching” you for quite another reason? Maybe He wants you to watch that number 10, learning from them how they engage the opponent or how they are learning the offense and defense the He wants you to run? Quite possibly so? What do you think? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 13:1-3 (NIV84)  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.— Galatians 4:4–5 (NIV84)

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” Exodus 3:1–3 (NIV84)

 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. Genesis 39:1 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I put You on as my Slippers of Patience especially during this season of my life as I faithful receive Your training…. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

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“The Need to Not Stop Praying”

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How long has it been? You’ve been praying for that special loved one: five, ten, 15 years? Or maybe you’ve been praying for  your finances—it’s been months and still no turn around? Whatever you’ve been praying for—be it intensely personal or deeply spiritual, to me, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 coaches me: “Don’t give up on Prayer”

Don't Stop Praying

I hear Coach Paul, the Apostle, encouraging the church at Thessalonica: Do not stop praying, but instead “Pray without ceasing!”

I know even I myself have taken this verse to mean, “constantly live in a state of prayer.” As a matter of fact, I was just talking to someone a few days ago about this, but the more I thought about this verse (and this is not to say, being in a constant state of prayer is bad) the more I wondered: is it possible that this verse truly means: Don’t give up on prayer?

I’ve been there and maybe you’ve been there, too, that place where we feel our prayers are hitting a bronze sky and all we hear is the echo of our heart’s cry…

Coach Paul knows this. Remember, when he deeply desired to get rid of this nasty thorn in the flesh (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10), and he prayed three times for it to be so. Now, I’m sure these three times were not back to back, like minutes apart. No, but it could have been weeks or months: “Ah, Lord, I know You hear me. You usually answer my prayers pretty quickly, but, ah, what’s going on…?” Then after the third deeply intense prayer time, the release and the Word came: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 NIV84)

Brothers and sisters, I know I need to hear this Word today: “Pray without ceasing:” Do you? Do you and I need to hear: Don’t give up on the Lord and praying to Him? Pray unceasingly–with unflagging resolve! Don’t stop praying. Pray when the need is great and pray when the praise is great! Pray! Pray! Pray!

Or as the acronym suggests: P.U.S.H.—Pray Until Something Happens. If we stop praying, will it happen anyway? I find this a very good question indeed. What do you think? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV)—pray without ceasing.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.— Luke 6:12 (NIV84)

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.— 1 Thessalonians 3:10 (NIV84)

 But [Hannah’s] rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year. Every time she went to the sanctuary of God she could expect to be taunted. Hannah was reduced to tears and had no appetite.— 1 Samuel 1:6–7 (The Message)

Heavenly Father, in Your Mercy and Grace forgive me for giving up on prayer. Deep down I know You hear me, but I have grown weary of praying. Rekindle a passion for You as I quietly sit here in Your presence. I wait for Your Word of Grace and the Release of Hope…. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Suffering With Him”

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Today we begin our third week of prayer and fasting as we also journey into the Heartwork devotion. This morning’s Heartwork devotion is entitled, “Day 16: Co-suffering with Christ.” Intriguingly, suffering in some cultures is normal while in other cultures it is not. Suffering on any level is often met with a little whine and a little pill (or several). Many people are allergic to suffering; when it starts, they break out in hurt all over….

Suffering for Jesus 2 Peter 2~19

Every Christian must realize that at some point in their lives they are going to suffer for Jesus, but not in ways that we may think. For instance, when our brothers and sisters suffer, our suffering may be joining them in theirs. When we are suffering for them, we are actually suffering for Him.

At least this is how I read 1 Corinthians 12:26 (main text noted below).

Or perhaps I should be phrasing all this as questions?

Is it possible that my current pain is but a reflection of the vicarious suffering for a brother or sister who is right now suffering in a prison cell in some distant land? Are we that connected in the Body of Christ as v. 27 seems to imply?

If Jesus suffered vicariously (in the place of) me and my sins, and I want to be more like Jesus, does it not also follow that I, too, will suffer for others—be it their sins or their personal suffering?

What are your thoughts on this ?

Main Text: — 1 Corinthians 12:26 (NASB95)— And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

    Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.— Colossians 1:24 (NIV)

For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.— 2 Corinthians 1:5 (NIV84)

 I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.— Philippians 3:10–11 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, as You empower me by Your Holy Spirt to endure the sufferings that You have in advanced prepared for me to walk in, may I be faithful to carry this cross as the Lord Jesus Christ is honor in and through my Life…. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“He Chose Me!”

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Please bear with me, but I have often connected the physical deformities of others to my own spiritual deformity from sin. Much of my young religious training taught me that when I sinned, my soul received a black stain. The more I sinned the darker my soul got. Well, from one perspective, my soul must have been pretty black! (and that was my favorite color for some time).

Adoption as Sons

Even as a young Christian, I connected the deformities of other to the darkness and deformity of my soul. How could God Love me! I did so much evil….

At first, His Love began to leak into my life. Then the cracks of the shell of my deformed soul widened and His Love seeped in. The flood comes once in a while, in a quiet moment when I realize that He does truly Love me—in my ugliness and deformity (which I know is being transformed into the likeness of His Son, but even this blows my mind)….

Yes, He chose me. He adopted me to be His child. Truly, this thought blows my mind and the reality bursts my soul. The answer to the unspoken, “Why,” is a quietly whispered, “Simply because I Love you.”

What more can be said? What are your thoughts?

Main Text: — Ephesians 1:3-5 (NASB95)— 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”— Romans 8:15 (ESV)

So that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.— Galatians 4:5–7 (NASB95)

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? — Romans 8:31–32 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, what a sense of Holy awe I get every time I realize that You do Love me and have chosen me to be Your son!  No words can capture the overwhelming praise and gratitude that swells up in my soul. Baruch Ha Shem Y’shua.

Pastor Mike

“Different is Wrong?”

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As I grew in my relationship with my future wife, Kathy, and into the early years of our marriage, I struggled with “different”. If she did something different than I did, one of us must be wrong, or at least this is what I deeply believed. Then I started going to a pastor for some counseling. Early in the sessions, we discussed how different isn’t wrong. But I kept arguing: “But it is!… Etc., etc., etc.!” Finally after many intense exchanges (all from me, BTW), we came up with a compromise: “Difference isn’t necessarily wrong. It could be, but maybe not.”

Love One Another

I bring this up to say, that I have learned (or still am learning?) in the Body of Christ we are all different: uniquely and intentionally designed so. And this “different” is what the Lord Jesus uses to refine our divine design into looking more uniquely like Him. So, whereas, “Different” might be “wrong” in the Body of Christ, it is still used for the Good.

When I see someone who Loves Jesus in a vastly different way than I would, this is okay. Or if I see someone whose walk is a little different than mine, this, too, is okay. Some have said that difference is the spice of life, but I have found it is the test of Love. Can I Love (i.e. both agapé & philos) my brother, my sister in Christ even when they are different from me—even beyond looks, eh?

So when our Master told the tax collector, Levi, to “Love one another,” He was including Simon the Zealot—who in turn must Love the different Levi. This included the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James & John having to Love Thomas & Nathaniel…and the differences could be multiplied between us as well.

When the Lord brings someone different into my Life, it is not simply to spice it up, but more so it is to extend and expand my Love for Him and His Body. And I am learning I still hold to a little of that, “Different is wrong” plank in the platform of my belief system. Or is it in my eye? How about you? What are your thoughts?

Main Text: — John 15:12 (NIV84)—  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.— Romans 15:7 (NIV84)

No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.— 1 Corinthians 11:19 (NIV84)

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. — Philippians 3:15–16 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, forgive me for not recognizing the differences in the Body of Christ and for not embracing them as Your kaleidoscope of Love. Lord Jesus Christ, renew a fresh sense of the Holy Spirit in my Life so that I may Love Your Body, the Church, as much as I Love You, the Head! In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Filling is Essential”

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Okay, you and I have given some thought to our entanglements with our culture in and around us. We have poured it through the sieve of the Word and the Lord’s Holiness. Some of the gunk and garbage has been filtered out. Great! Good Job! (No sarcasm here.) And as we continue into our 9th day of our Heartwork prayer and fasting month, we discover that once we have been emptied of this gunk and garbage of our lives, filling is essential.

Filling of the Spirit

When I think of filling, two passages quickly come to my mind. The first is Ephesians 5:17-21 and the second is Matthew 12:43-45. I’d like to pause and look first at the Matthew passage.

This passage speaks to the need and urgency of filling. Yes, the house has been swept out, and cleaned. Junk, gunk and garbage have been removed. But notice our Master also says it was “unoccupied”: it was empty…, and if nothing fills or occupies this house, then the junk, gunk and garbage will only return, and in far greater garbage-ness! (If I may coin a word.)

Because of this emptiness (now that some of the world’s culture has been removed from my belief system and life), I find the crucial coupling of the second passage  with the first.

Ephesians 5:17-21 exhorts us to be continually filled with the Spirit, and I would suggest, especially after an emptying. Wouldn’t you agree? I have see this happen to some with whom I have helped in a deliverance setting. They have just been delivered from some very enslaving spirits, but sadly they did not follow this up with a heavy dosage of prayer, immersion in the Word and filling of the Spirit. It doesn’t take long for those “seven other spirits more wicked than itself” to return and create a worse mess….

As I have gone through a personal ruining, wrecking, emptying of my self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-dependence, I am learning the essential nature of this filling of the Spirit. I am learning that I negatively confess my weaknesses, needs, bad habits and sins first, and then I positively confess the Lord Jesus is my Strength, my Deliverer, and my Filler—as He fills me with His Holy Spirit. Have you discovered that we just don’t do this to start our day, but we need to be filling throughout the day? I guess I leak a little more than I’d like to. How about you? What are your thoughts?

Main Text: — Matthew 12:43–45 (NIV84)—“When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.— Acts 4:31 (NIV84)

So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”— Zechariah 4:6 (NIV84)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. — Ephesians 6:10–11 (NIV84)

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Pastor Mike