“Pursuing Jesus for a Reward?”

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Crowns at Jesus Feet

Is it okay to pursue Jesus for a reward? Some would dismiss this question out of hand. “No,” they would say, “it would be selfish and narcissistic.” I suppose some may have this very self-absorbed intent. The same could be said for someone who is courting or pursuing a mate: “You fulfill me; you complete me…” etc. Me, me, me….

But, is it possible to pursue someone with the innocent desire of deepening the relationship and thereby win the “Prize”? Perhaps a Both/And experience?

In our main text, the Apostle Paul is writing his final words to his dear son-in-the-faith, Timothy. His purpose is to encourage and spur his young padawan on to persevere in Jesus. In his encouragement, Paul observes that a crown is waiting for him. But did he fight the good fight, run the race and keep the faith for this crown? Or for knowing the Lord Jesus more intimately (see Phil. 3:10ff)? Could this be a Both/And and not an Either/Or situation?

What spurs the soldier on to win the fight? Love for his general or self-preservation? What propels the runner to the finish line? Does he run to please his coach or win the laurel wreath? What reinforced Paul’s loyalty to his Master? Love for his Master or merely for the garner of praise?

Even our Lord Jesus endured the cross and scorned it shame for the joy set before Him (see Heb. 12:2f), and He was clearly not selfish….

Not sure how to resolve this, except to say, it must be a Both/And, but the pursuit of the crown is not the primary focus. Rather, we focus on Jesus and in Him we have this crown.

Intriguingly, Spurgeon’s devotion for today speaks to this:

In our Christian pilgrimage it is well, for the most part, to be looking forward. Forward lies the crown, and onward is the goal. Whether it be for hope, for joy, for consolation, or for the inspiring of our love, the future must, after all, be the grand object of the eye of faith. Looking into the future we see sin cast out, the body of sin and death destroyed, the soul made perfect, and fit to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. Looking further yet, the believer’s enlightened eye can see death’s river passed, the gloomy stream forded, and the hills of light attained on which standeth the celestial city; he seeth himself enter within the pearly gates, hailed as more than conqueror, crowned by the hand of Christ, embraced in the arms of Jesus, glorified with Him, and made to sit together with Him on His throne, even as He has overcome and has sat down with the Father on His throne.  (Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.)

So, what are your thoughts on receiving a crown from the very hand of Jesus? Is it a Both/And or merely an Either/Or exercise—vacillating between the extremes of selfishness and selfishness?

Main Text— 2 Timothy 4:6–8 (NIV84) 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.— 1 Corinthians 9:24–25 (NIV84)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Mt 5:11–12 (NIV84)

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.— 1 Peter 5:4 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, as I run toward You, keep my eyes fixed on You . Be my strength as I persevere to the finish line. You are my Crown and my Reward. In Your Name, Amen! 

Pastor Mike

“How tough are the “Tough”?

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going?” I heard it a lot at half-time or a time out. But I never understood how tough the ‘tough’ had to be to “get going”. Have you?

As a pastor I have never said this to anyone, but as I thought about this morning’s main text, I had to ask myself this very question: “How tough do the tough have to be to get going?” I have seen people concussioned by life: lost of child; a torturous losing battle with cancer; a pink slip suddenly arrives on the desk; and the list goes on. I have marveled how some rape victim become victors while others remain victims. Were the former “tough” enough and the latter “weaklings?”

In my own life’s concussions, I have not always been the victor, but rather wallowed in victim stew far too long. But one thing I have learned, the Lord is tougher still. As the Apostle Paul alludes to later in this harrowing episode late in his life, “Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island” (Acts 27:23-26). It was his faith in the Goodness of God through the tough times that kept him going.

Now to some, this may seem naive and pietistic, but to those who have walked through the tough times of life’s severe concussions—first without the Lord, and then finally yielding to His presence, we understand the truth: It is not my toughness, but the Lord’s faithfulness that gets me through those tough times.

Have you found this to be so, too? Whatever storms, or trials, or difficulties or tough times we may find ourselves in the midst of, join me in remembering, “When the going gets tough, remember the Lord is tougher.” And, if you are like me, we also need to remember what the father whose young son was severely out of sorts said to Jesus after He said, “Everything is possible for him who believes”… “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:23-24 NIV84)!

Main Text— Acts 27:9-12 (NIV84) 9 Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Fast. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.— 2 Timothy 4:16–18 (NIV84)

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”—John 16:33 (NIV84)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in hHis 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)

Lord Jesus Christ, be my Shield of Faith. Quench the fiery darts that are being hurled at me. Be my Shoes of  Peace that I may be calm when enduring tough times. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

“Defensive or A Strong Defender?”

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When you are misunderstood, how do you respond: Defensive or Calm? Being open, my response was a knee-jerk barrage of defensive self-inflating and other-demolishing “evidence”. But as I grew more confident in the Lord’s Love for me and His constant protection, a calmness would come upon me. “What did you hear me say? … I must have misspoken. Let me try again.” I had a near out-of-body experience the first time I was able to say this….
Over the years, I have grown more and more confident that the Lord is my Defense and my Shield. I do not need to be defensive because He is my Strong Defense.
This came poignantly home to me during my first viewing of the movie, “The Judge”. The judge had been a revered institution on the bench in a small mid-west community; his black sheep son went off to become a high-powered, highly sought after, big city defense attorney. As the plot unveils, the Judge is accused of murder and the black-sheep son offers his skills as a defense attorney. Needless to say, their rocky relationship adds to the plot thickening, but at one point the son says something to the effect, “Keep your mouth shut and let me defend you.”
The father’s refusal to heed his son’s counsel gets him in even more hot water. And then the Spirit’s lance lands. I need to keep my mouth shut and let the Lord defend me: He is my Defense Attorney.
Perhaps some of you are father down the path on your journey with Jesus than I am, but for those of us, like myself, who have acted as our own defense attorney, this is a welcomed transformation in my life. Besides, I’m sure you know the old saying about defending yourself, “… every man who is his own lawyer, has a fool for a client.”
Join me in letting Lord Jesus be our Defense Attorney.  Your thoughts….
Main Text— Acts 22:1-5 (NIV84)—  “Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.”  When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said:  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.  I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison,  as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.
Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts
My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate who pleads our case before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous.— 1 John 2:1 (NLT)
“When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”— Luke 12:11–12 (NASB95)
Awake, and rise to my defense! Contend for me, my God and Lord.Vindicate me in Your righteousness, O LORD my God; do not let them gloat over me.— Psalm 35:23–24 (NIV84)
Lord Jesus Christ, be my Shield of Faith. Quench the fiery darts that are being hurled at me. Be my Shoes of  Peace that I may be calm when misunderstood. In Your Name, Amen!Pastor Mike

“Shepherd Like this”

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What does it mean to “shepherd” a flock? Perhaps many think of the ultimate sacrifice: Laying down ones life for the sheep. And this is noble and good and best. However, what does it mean to shepherd the flock in the “in-between time”?

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Before we address this, I’d like to note: I do believe our main text directly applies to those who have been entrusted with the flock of the Church; to pastors (elders, leaders, bishops, overseers) who are to shepherd the Lord’s people with such devotion. However, I think you would agree that this can also apply to heads of families who have been entrusted with precious sheep to shepherd as well. With this in mind, let us look at what it means to shepherd such a flock….

We guard them from predators; feed and clothe them; provide a safe nurturing environment in which to grow and mature; dress their little bodies, their bumps and bruises and their hurt feelings. We are a hand when they need help up, an ear when they are confused or learning, and a heart when they are hurting. We are there for them….

Basically, we do all the “things” the Lord Jesus does for us as He shepherds us. But why does He do this? Why do you do this? Because He is madly in Love with us! Francis Chan calls this “Crazy Love,” and it is! It doesn’t make sense. Why would He Love us? Yet He does!

And when we emulate—model—this “crazy” Love, we pass it on to our flock. They may not get “it” at first, but keep it up. Why? Because we are “madly in Love with them.”

Your spouse, your children, your grandchildren will feel safe, nurtured, comforted when they are hugged with a “Crazy Love”!

What are some ways we can demonstrate that we are madly in Love with our flock?  Your thoughts….

Main Text— Acts 20:28 (NIV84)— 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.— 1 Peter 5:2–3 (NIV84)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.— John 10:11, 14 (NIV84)

This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.— Ezekiel 34:2b–4 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, be the shepherd in my Life so that I might demonstrate Your Crazy Love and Kindness to the flock You have entrusted to me. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

“Get It Mixed Up A Bit?”

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Have you noticed that some of Jesus’ followers get the Pharisees mixed up with the Woman at the well (see John 4)? They call the Woman at the well an adultery, a snake and yell at her that she must be born again; and the Pharisee? Well, they try to reason with him, giving a little latitude for his blindness in his religion.

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But, I am so glad our Master did not mixed us up. He gently offered Living Water (obviously His very Person) to the Woman who knew no better, even though she engaged Him in a mild theological discussion. Her questions were sincere & genuine and not a barbed  trap. Oh, He still addressed her sin (as He did with the woman caught in adultery; see John 8:10f), but He did so with the gentle kindness of the Loving Messiah.

Contrariwise, He sharply rebuked the Pharisees, crescendoing on the last week of His earthly ministry with the Matthew 23 “The Seven Woes”  confrontation. Here, the Loving Messiah, filled with deep sorrow for ones so close but so far, used the double-edged scalpel of a skilled surgeon, Who truly cares for His cancer-ridden patient. …

In our main text, we find that the Apostle Paul used the “Woman at the Well” approach: He gentle moved through his gospel presentation, starting out with a kind observation of their “religious” behavior. Oh, he could have used the “Pharisee Approach,” screaming, “You brood of idolatrous vipers. How can you bow down to wood and stone? Can they save you?” But they had no idea of this true, Living God, Who does not live in a temple man by human hands. They, like the Woman at the well, though able to discourse in some form a theological (albeit philosophical) dialogue, truly had no idea what Life was all about. …

Do you get mixed up, too? Do you judge with critical screams those who are ignorant of the LORD’s Word and Ways and yet gently dialogue with those who actually know better? (Now, I’m not advocating screaming at those who do know better, for our Master did not scream at them either. I hear a different voice of Jesus in Matthew 23 than most movies have portrayed. I hear a voice full of compassion and deep sorrow—expressed in the woes and noted in Luke 19:41.) I find it best to fight in my own spirit a critical and a judgmental attitude. Note: I said, “I fight it.” 

Just a few days ago, I had the opportunity to chat with someone who was the type of person I would normal go after in private conversation with others of “my” persuasion. But, the LORD afforded me a Gush of Grace, and I was able to peacefully sit and converse with them. At one point in our conversation, I had doubted the veracity of some of their statements; so I asked a few questions that only someone schooled in this particular area would know the answers to (since I myself have been trained in this particular area), and voila! I just caught them in a lie. And better yet, I did not call them out. Why? Because they truly didn’t know any better. So, I prayed the Lord to use my listening to them and following their agenda as a more powerful witness than winning any argument.

I, too, rely heavily on His Gushes of Grace not to get mixed up. How about you? Your thoughts….

Main Text— Acts 17:22-23 (NIV84) 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.Colossians 4:5–6 (NIV84)

And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.2 Timothy 2:24–26 (NIV84 emphasis added)

So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?Romans 2:3–4 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, be the Sword of the Spirit wielder in my Life so that I might demonstrate Your Love and Kindness to both those who do not know any better and to those who do. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

Religious vs. Relationship: A Fuller View?

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If I may, I would like to suggest that most, if not all, believers in Jesus acknowledge we have a relationship and not a religion. We would define religion as a feeble, human attempt through rituals and sacrifices to obtain a relationship with the Almighty; whereas, in a relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, we have this relationship with the Almighty (YHWH, blessed be His Name) by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by any merit of our own.

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But what also seems to follow with many who boast of this relationship is a license not to “do” something religiously because it might smack of religion. Have you found this to be so, too? If we do something religiously, like read the Bible every morning or prayer daily, it might become ritualistic, “so I’d best do it intermittently to avoid such.” Have you heard of this?

As I ponder what the Apostle Paul meant in our main text RE the Athenians in v. 22, “You are very religious,” it became evident to me that this was something of value, something commendable—and a good place to start a conversation. 

But if I have nothing religious in my life, if I have no godly habits that lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus, how can I even relate to those who truly are religious in their religion

True, any godly discipline can become ritualist and an end it itself: vain religion. Indeed, I have found I need to refresh myself in my daily prayer times or my daily Bible readings or weekly fellowships by asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Is this an end it itself or am I drawing closer to Jesus through these endeavors?”

What place do you see religious practices have for sincere followers of the Risen Lord? Do they deepen our relationship with Him? Your thoughts….

Main Text: — Acts 17:22-23 (NIV84)— 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.— Philippians 4:8–9 (NIV84)

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. …— Luke 4:16 (NIV84)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Heavenly Father, refresh my soul with a gush of Grace and the Wind of Your Holy Spirit. Enliven my regular religious activities with Your Holy Spirit as the Lord Jesus Christ’s Life is manifested in both the seen and the unseen activities of my daily walk with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

“One Essential Virtue of Nobility”

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As I have pondered nobility and pursued what it looks like in my life, I came upon many virtues that seem to flow from true noble character: humility, fair-mindedness, chivalry, and courtesy quickly came to mind. But of all these virtues, I yet found another virtue essential to nobility: active listening. As we deal with those who attempt to shout us down, I find that being an effective active listener an essential virtue of nobility.

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Active listening is more than merely giving comfortable eye contact  or being able to repeat back what someone has just said. It is—as one of my former college students defined: “Staying on the other person’s agenda.” I am going to pursue what my friend finds interesting, ask questions to clarify words and their meanings as s/he intended them.I must remind myself: Stay on their agenda. All this has a noble goal: Coming to a deeper understanding of my dear friend—beyond their words. And in order to do such active listening, I must also demonstrate humility, fair-mindedness, and the like, don’t you agree?

Then I applied this to the Bereans (of our main text), and, yes, to my own life, and discovered something rather intriguing: I cannot say I actively listen to the Lord, if I do not actively listen to my fellow sister or brother. Ouch! Would you agree that I demonstrate my Love for Jesus by being an effective active listener with fellow believers?

If I take nobility to this level, do you think it naturally follows that I not only demonstrate noble virtues with my brothers and sisters (as well as those outside the fold—since God still so loves them), but also to the very One Who manifests the noblest of virtues towards me: Gracious Love? (Perhaps, then, I could stay on His agenda, eh?)

As I begin this New Year off on the “right” foot, will you join me in being a better listener to the Lord’s Words—like the Bereans—as well as to those around me—whether they have an active relationship with Jesus or not? Your thoughts….

Main Text: — Acts 17:11-12 (NIV84)— 11 Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12 Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger— James 1:19 (NASB95)

Then Jesus said, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”— Mark 4:9 (NIV84)

let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance— Proverbs 1:5 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, as You fill me with Your Holy Spirit, open my ears to hear the wonders of Your Praise. Lord Jesus Christ, continue to transform me into an effective active listener, so that my Life may manifest Your Noble Character. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike