“But, Lord, I Already Tried That!”

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I was trying for what seemed like hours to loosen the lug nuts on the rear tires of my 1971 Maverick. They would not budge. I squirted them with some liquid wrench. Waited. Tried again. Nothing! My dad finally came home and I asked him what to do; he suggested creating a “cheater bar”—adding a pipe to the wrench to give it more leverage. “Oh, and did you block the back axle?” he asked. Uh, no, I hadn’t. But I had been working so hard at it, would a “cheater bar” really work? So I blocked the rear axle and tried the “cheater bar.” Wow, the nuts moved so easily….

This isn’t quite what our Master did in the main text below, but it’s close. These fishermen had worked hard all night and caught nothing. Besides they had already started cleaning their nets. Oh, it was nice to have a little teaching while they did that, but go out again? In the heat of the day? He’s a carpenter. They are professional fishermen….

Have you ever worked hard at something and gotten little to no results? Then finally you decide it’s really bad, so you’d better pray and check in with your Heavenly Dad to see what He can do…. Then He tells you to do something that really doesn’t make much sense. You know that counterintuitive kind of advice that Jesus often gives: “Want to save your life you have to lose it.”

So maybe you’ve quit praying about a particular situation because, well, the answer doesn’t seem forthcoming. Or maybe you’ve stopped inviting that friend to the Bible study or church fellowship because they don’t seem quite interested. Or maybe all that “neighbor’s kid” needs is someone to listen to him and really care, instead of being yelled at every time he rides his bike over your lawn… or maybe…

Has the Master prompted you to do something so counterintuitive you’ve balked at it? Perhaps you and I need to join Peter in saying, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t [achieved] anything. But because You say so, I will [do as You say]”? Your thoughts.

Main Text— Luke 5:4–5 (NIV84) 4 When [Jesus] had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because You say so, I will let down the nets.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.Galatians 6:9–10 (NIV84)

 Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.—Matthew 7:7–8 (NLT)

  Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?— Isaiah 43:19a (ESV)

Heavenly Father, forgive me for not checking first with You, and then when I do, may I immediately obey Your promptings. Empower me, Lord Jesus Christ, to walk in obedient faith even when things just don’t make sense. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

Walking Right Through Rejection

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Jesus Rejected

It appears that our Lord Jesus handle rejection calmly and clearly. At least, this is what I see in our main text. But before this rejection, He graciously read the key text found in the scroll of Isaiah (61:1-2) regarding His life. He confidently presented its fulfillment. Then in response to the whispers of  “Isn’t this Joseph’s son,” He clearly says, (to paraphrase), “Just because I grew up here, doesn’t make this a special place nor you a special people.” Not sure why He felt the need to say this, but from observing the texts He used to present this thought, it is clear what He is saying….

…and it is clear from His neighbors’ response that this is exactly what they were thinking. Ouch! So instead of humbling themselves and pleading for mercy and grace, they decide to take matters into their own hands, and, well, execute the “Self-proclaimed Messiah,” you know, the One Who just did all those wonderful miraculous signs—go figure.

As they “drove” Him a couple of miles—according to some scholars, they obviously jostled and shoved Him along the way; and He let them—right up until the precipice. Then, and only then, did He calmly reject their rejection and “walked right through the crowd and went on His way” (v. 30). Why did He wait so long? Good question.

As you and I ponder this question, let me offer one possible answer: Is it to demonstrate that He was tempted in all ways like we are? Even if the precipice were merely 200 yards away, to be jostled and shoved for that distance would be rather painful and trying, wouldn’t you agree? And would you, like me, be tempted to hurl insults and shove back all along the way: “Hey, I was just telling you the truth and you’re doing this to me!? What gives!?”

It appears that our Lord was modeling for us how to handle rejection, even from neighbors and friends, and even the vicious kind that goes well beyond venomous words of ridicule.

You’ve been there. I’ve been there. From elementary school through High School—and even into college. I was in the middle of the ring of older boys as they shoved me around mocking and ridiculing me. I was the kid that the others conspired to ditch. I was the one they ignored once I became a Jesus Freak in college—abandoned and rejected. And I wish I could tell you I handled all these as calmly as our Shepherd did. But I didn’t.

As I have ponder this text, I am realizing as well that He actually has  been transforming me so that I no longer “see” rejection, in general, and in particular, I do not get as riled as I used to. I wish I could testify that I calmly “walked right through the crowd and went on [my] way,” but alas I do not, but I’m much, much closer to His likeness in this. The wounds are healing and the fear is evaporating. Love—His Love, which is beyond the rejection, is seeping into the crevices of my wounded heart and mending my wounded soul.

Have you experienced the sort of vicious rejections as our Master has?  Has He been transforming you to be more like Him as well? Care to share?

Main Text— Luke 4:27–30 (NIV84)— 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” 28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove [Jesus] out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But He walked right through the crowd and went on His way.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.Psalm 27:10 (NIV84)

Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.—Matthew 10:17–23 (NIV84)

 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)

Lord Jesus Christ, calm my heart as I focus on You in the face of rejection and ridicule. Be my confident assurance that I need not defend myself. In You I have nothing to lose and nothing to prove. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Comparing the Degrees of Agapē Love”

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As I have been reading through the New Testament, I was jolted the other day by a series of “Love Statements” that our Teacher made. Throughout His ministry our Lord Jesus would state or be asked, “What is the greatest commandment.” His answer was simply, “Love the LORD your God…, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Sermon on the Mount He addressed this and expanded this Love to our enemies. This is a difficult Love. And then in the Upper Room Discourse, our Master raises the bar from “self” to “as I have Loved you”—an even greater Love….

As I pondered these three different objects (or expressions) of Love, as I said, I was jolted. For some, Loving oneself is the most challenging, let alone Loving ones neighbor. And their self-loathing comes out in rather harsh tones as they interact with their “neighbors”—both near and far.

For others, Loving our neighbors is easier than Loving our enemies. To them, Loving their enemies is the ‘greater,’ more difficult Love.  Still for others the “greater Love” is laying down our lives, preferences, desires for a friend—literally as well as figuratively.

Why this did jolt me? It appears to me that our Lord is deepening our understanding of Love (before I continue let me say that I capitalize Love to = the Greek, agapē that unconditional, sacrificial Love) by raising the bar of the object of Love.

Let me see if I got this: Loving our neighbor as ourselves, even sometimes out of self-interests, is nonetheless a rather elementary form of Love. This bar is rather low. Then Jesus raises the bar by changing the object of this Love from neighbors to enemies. Though a much more challenging Love than the elementary Love of ones neighbor, it is still not the greatest Love. The greatest Love is laying down ones life for a friend—and not an enemy or a neighbor! Right?

And this is what jolted me. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b), and then a couple of verses later, St. Paul continues: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life” (Romans 5:10 NIV84)!

Does our Master merge these latter two Loves? Are they distinct in degree or merely in the object of Love?

Forgive the apparent headiness of this, but I am coming to realize that my Love is rather shallow. Oh, yes, I can say I Love my neighbor, even beyond convenience and ease. I can even say I Love my friends with some mild delusion that I will indeed lay down my life for them, but what of my enemies? Oh, I tolerate them, but do I Love them—as Jesus Loved them—and me!?

Perhaps you are like me and rely on His gushes of Grace to do what we cannot do? Care to share?

Main Text— John 15:12–13 (NIV84)— 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NIV84)

Let all that you do be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB95)

 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.— Ephesians 2:4–5 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, reduce me to Love. In Your Name, Amen. 

iu

Pastor Mike

“Whining Through the Detours of Life”

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Detours of Life

As we walk out the door, out goes our daily checklist. Our day-timer is off a few minutes—hours? Our plans suddenly are no longer our plans. Maybe you didn’t need to leave the house, just getting out of bed. Maybe you were planning on getting up an hour earlier, but the “snooze” spasm got the best of you? …

Then there are the bigger “detours of life”. You know the kind when the car breaks down, or a sick child was up all night. These are situations and circumstance that were not only not in your plans, they have disrupted whatever plans you had had….

One big detour, indeed.

We could whine our way through the detours of life or we can rejoice that, “This, too, the Lord will use for the Good.” Not sure how, but by faith I know He will….

And this is way easier said than lived. So how do you prevent that whiny burp from erupting through your tightly pursed lips? Do you mumble a 911 prayer? Do you call a friend and complain? Do you journal? Or do you start yelling? What do you do?

As noted in our main text, our Lord took a major detour. Any respectable Rabbi would have avoided the half-breeds, those dirty Samaritans, but v. 4 tells us, “Now He had to go through Samaria” (emphasis added). This may not have been the “normal” plan; nor was it the disciples’ plan; but it was the Lord’s plan. Just like the detours in our lives. The Lord desires us to take the “detour,” and whining about it only questions His plan and His wisdom. Ouch!

So what do you do? What do I do on a detour? Lately, I have been using the phrase I noted above: “This, too, You can use for the Good.” Mind you, “lately”. Before this I was the archetype of whiners, and I hid it well, but as I learn to trust the Lord’s Goodness and wisdom, and knowing “Father knows best,” I am relaxing more in the detours—even when they are expensive. Oh, a “whine” burps out every now and again, but far less frequent than before. So, yes, I mumble a 911 prayer, and, yes, I journal a lot, but now I also relax and enjoy the journey a little more, too.

Perhaps you have other coping mechanisms for the detours the Lord sends you on? Care to share?

Main Text— John 4:4-6 (NIV84) 4 Now He had to go through Samaria. 5 So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;  in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straightProverbs 3:5–6 (NIV84)

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.—Proverbs 16:9 (NIV84)

 But [Job] said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.— Job 2:10 (NKJV)

Lord Jesus Christ, allow me to see sooner than later that the detours of my life are not detours to You, but only to me. And may I receive them with joy and thanksgiving. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Hope for Today–And Beyond”

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As I prepare this message on hope, I’ve had to constantly ask myself: Do I have hope for today? To some it may seem like a strange question, and indeed it is. Oh, I have hope for the future. I know Jesus is coming back to rescue me. I know I’m going to get a newly transformed body—free of age, aches and pains. I know I will be filled to the bursting of my new body’s seams with Joy and Peace and Adulation, for I will be seeing my risen Lord face to face….

But do I have hope for today? In today’s turmoil and strife and mild aches and severe pains and disappointments? Of late, I have caught myself saying, “Lord, this is bad,” with a very new thought that follows: “And I can’t wait to see how You work this out for good!” Whoa! Where did this thought come from!!!!???? Yes, I believe He works all things out for the good, but do I believe, in this moment, that He is working even this current “bad” pain, or trial or disappointment for the Good—for my good?

As I have continued this small exercise in a very mustard seed-like faith, I have been experiencing a rather strange buoyancy—a rather confident assurance mixed with a swirl of joy. And it is not fleeting as such feelings have been in the past….

Yesterday, at a community meeting, the person I was sitting next to had commented on something I was saying to a third person: “Don’t we need to live in the moment?” I know I have often missed the current “moment” because I was obsessed with past hurts or future worries, but she struck a chord in me. I know I have been on a long journey to learn to not live for the moment but in the moment. And when I live in the moment for Jesus, He connects all the moments, giving them a larger purpose beyond the moment of “today.”

And it is in this connection a Hope springs for today and beyond.

Have you had a similar journey with Hope, trusting the Lord to turn the current “bad” into good—in the moment? Or perhaps you are farther down the path than I? Your thoughts about hope for today—and beyond?

Main Text— John 3:16–18 (NIV84) 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. 18 He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On Him we have set our hope that He will continue to deliver us,2 Corinthians 1:10 (NIV84)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints— the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel.—Colossians 1:3–5 (NIV84)

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.— 1 Timothy 1:1 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, be Hope in me this day so that I may see how You are connecting my moments for a larger purpose in You. 

Coach Mike

“Greater Things; Quiet Things”

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Is bigger always better? Or is greater always louder? Even noticed? Would you agree, if I were to suggest, that greater may be quiet, even subtle? The great oak starts out as a small sapling. It quietly grows in the forest. Yet it becomes a “mighty oak tree.” So, too, is it with the greater things of Jesus.

In our main text below, we see Nathanael amazed at Jesus’ simple ability to know Him from a distance, and our Master responds with a hint of playfulness—paraphrasing, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” …

… Then follows our Lord’s first miracle. It came in the normal flow of life. It came in respectful response to a concerned mother’s wishes. And it came quietly. Oh, the servants knew of the miracle. The disciples knew of the miracle. And, yes, His mother knew, but He did not flash an LED sign nor did He trumpet what He just did. He merely and quietly moved on to another city (see John 2:12).

Our Master did this a lot. The “greater things” He promised Nathanael often came quietly and unheralded. Or at least He tried to. But why?

May I offer one explanation? The “greater things” were never intended to draw attention to themselves, and definitely not intended to draw attention to our Master as a “Miracle Worker.” Yes, He did miracles, healing all sorts of maladies, and though those He raised to life died—again, and those who were sick got some other illness, the “greater thing” He did was in the most unassuming and quiet way: To quote from “El Shaddai” by Michael Card, “Your most awesome work was done by the frailty of Your Son.” And this “greater thing” lasts. Those who are raised from the death of sin and darkness, never die again. Those whose souls are healed from the sickness of sin’s cancer never get sick again.

And this quiet work often goes unnoticed like a quiet gentle breeze….

What do you think about the quietness of the “greater things” Jesus does? Your thoughts.

Main Text— John 1:48–51 (NIV84) 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.John 3:8 (NIV84)

Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man [with leprosy], “I am willing,” He said. Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. Then Jesus said to him, See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”—Matthew 8:3–4 (NIV84)

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself.— John 6:14–15 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, as You continue to reveal Your glory to me, may I cherish the quiet miracles of the soul. 

Pastor Mike