“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

“An Upside Down Walk with Jesus”

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If I have learned anything in my journey with Jesus and the Life He has infused in me, I have learned that it is an upside down walk with Him. In order to find, I must lose (Matt. 10:39); in order to get, I must give up (Acts 20:35); in order to live I must die (Gal. 2:20); and the way up is down (Phil 2:5-11).

Stones of Forgiveness

Truly, our walk with Jesus is upside down from the world around us.  So why should ‘a glorious victory’ be any different? It would appear it is no different. Stephen was going about doing good. Helping widows, orphans and strangers. The Lord used this humble vessel to do “great wonders and miraculous signs” (see main text below). And yet, “Opposition arose!” For doing good? Go figure….

In the denomination that I was raised, I took away the belief that martyrdom was the fast track to heaven. So I ask the Lord if I could die for Him before I was 30. Ironically, my first child was born 30 days before I turned 30! I have since learned that I ought not seek this, but if it does come, I am not to run or shrink from it. I do not find it strange that some in our world today seek martyrdom—physically or emotionally or spiritually. I understand why many do. They truly understand how sinful they are and realized that they won’t make it to heaven on their own. They see that martyrdom is the ‘easiest’ way to “make it”. But Stephen went about doing good, and martyrdom found him. It swiftly came upon him. He remained faithful to the point of death, and this is indeed a glorious victory.

I deeply honor my brothers and sisters who have, maybe even today, received this glorious victory—the crown of Life (Rev. 2:10). They have remained faithful even to this extreme point.

While many look at the many deliverances from prison and sickness and disease and bills and whatever we deem ‘bad’ as glorious victories, I see an upside down reality here. True, the Lord can and does deliver us from ills and evils, and these are indeed glorious victories, but we dare not discount, we dare not down play the glorious victory of not being released from prison, of not being healed, of not being delivered from the fire—or the blade or stone. These, too, are glorious victories, are they not?

As I walk with Jesus in this upside down way, I often find it curiously silly when I complain about something ‘bad’ like a silly red light when I’m late, or getting charged twice for item in the store. Or being rejected by my peers; Or being insulted or maligned. What are these? Perhaps these are small training opportunities for yet another quiet, but nonetheless, glorious victory? What do you think? Please feel free to share.

Main Text: — Acts 6:8–10 (NIV84)— 8 Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.— Ephesians 4:1–3 (NIV84)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.— 2 Corinthians 4:16–18 (NIV84)

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. — Philippians 1:18b-21 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I yield to the Lord Jesus Christ as He empowers me by His Holy Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to You, so that whether by my Lifestyle or in my death, I will bring You the Glory You alone are worthy of. In Jesus’ Name,  Amen.

“Enjoy the Ups; Endure the Downs”

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Romans 8-28

My Thoughts:

Years ago I was told, “When things are going well, watch out: the enemy is about to attack.” I appreciated the advice to remain vigilant, but I took it to an extreme so as not to enjoy the good times. So when times were good, I was preparing for them to fall apart. My focus was on the “what ifs” of life and not on the “what is’s”.

Truly, our walk with Jesus has its ups and downs. We are to enjoy the ups and endure the downs. But during the “ups” I am learning to live in the moment for Jesus and not live for the moment in myself. This has been a rather challenging journey. There are times, especially when the grandkids are over, that I have to consciously say to myself—sometimes out loud, “‘That can wait for later; I’m with my grandkids now.” Then the joy of the moment begins to seep into my soul.

As I search the Words of the Book for encouragement on this new perspective, I was brought back to a well-worn passage and a pointed verse I had memorized years ago, but never really applied in this manner. (It’s always that next verse, eh?) In Matthew 6:33 Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Yet, indeed, in the next verse He says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itselfEach day has enough trouble of its own.” In a very subtle way, it appears Jesus is saying, live only in the moment, for it has enough to deal with. When I am worrying about tomorrow, or the “what ifs” or “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” of life, then I miss the joy in the moment—the “ups”….

Now that I am beginning to enjoy the “up” moments the Master has blest me with, what about those “down” times, those incidents I deem “terrible, horrible, no good or very bad”? As I sledge through the wrecking of my current life (lower case “l”), I find that I have to rework such phrases as, “That’s not good,” or “that’s bad!”. Why? Because if I really believe the Lord works out all for the Good, then even those times—those incidents—that I deem “terrible, horrible, no good or very bad” He is using for the Good—even if my small perspective cannot see it at the moment and I burp out, “this isn’t good!”

Instead, I have been trying to say—again, I’m a rookie at this, “This, too, the Lord will use for the Good!” It has been a fascinating mind-bend. Indeed, the transformation has been slow, but the Holy Spirit is steadily renewing my mind. I have found I am less reactive in situations I have traditionally deemed “bad,” etc., especially when I ‘see’ by faith that, “this, too, the Lord will use.” Now I not only endure the “downs,” I do more than endure them: for I am more than a conquerer through Jesus Who Loves me. Through the “Ups” and the “Downs” His Love holds me….

Have you had a similar journey with Jesus on this? Or are you farther up the path? Care to share?

Main Text: — Acts 5:17-20— 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  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)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  — Romans 8:28 (NIV84)

Fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. — Psalm 34:9-10 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, continue Your transforming work in my Life as I realize in each passing moment that, “You are Good all the time, no matter what,” I may think about a given moment or incident, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

“A Father’s Fear Begins to Evaporate”

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Date: 06-17-15

My Thoughts:

Many parents have the fear that they will irreparably emotionally damage their children. More often than not this fear feels more at home with the father, though not too far from some mothers, eh? But since Father’s Day is neigh upon us, I thought we’d encourage the dads among us. Yes, encourage….

I have counseled, known and heard of many a ‘dead-beat’ dad, but underneath this ‘dead-beat’ dad syndrome (to capture a phrase) is a deeply seated fear that paralyzes the dad. He is so fearful that he’s so screwed up there’s no hope of repair. Well, he has ‘screwed up’; clearly a self-fulling prophecy of sorts, but not beyond repair….

Yesterday, I was leading games for our VBS, and we were talking about how much Jesus cares for us from Matthew 6:33. While I was speaking to the small tikes of the K-1st grade group, as if on cue, a sparrow started singing in a nearby tree. I told the little ones to get really quiet and “tell me what you hear?” “I hear a bird,” chirped one of the older ones. Yes, and the Lord takes care of the sparrows. They don’t work or make food… But our Heavenly Father takes care of them. “Oh, come here,” and we found a blooming dandelion. (Bare with me, now.) The Lord even takes care of dandelions—which are weeds. “Are you more valuable than a weed.” One little girl sighed deeply, “No…,” as her voice trailed off. “Oh, honey, you are more valuable than a sparrow and much, much more valuable than a weed. And the Lord will take care of you even more and provide everything you need….”

Lifestyle worshiper, as I was talking, I was actually listening to myself. Strange, I know, but I was realizing that even when I do mess up, the Lord will take care of my “weeds,” and still make them something beautiful and useful…. (Not sure how useful a dandelion is, but in the eyes of a child they are very beautiful.)

So, dads, let the Love the Lord Jesus Christ has for you dispel any fears you may have of screwing up as a dad. Confess those times you have and forgive yourself as He has forgiven you, and then yield to His presence to be the best dad He has designed you to be. I know my fears are beginning to evaporate. I pray yours are, too.

Main Text: — Matthew 6:33 — But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  — Colossians 3:13 (NIV84)

 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. —Ecclesiastics 3:11 (NIV84)

 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like Him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us. — 1 John 4:16-19 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, as I realize more and more how much You really do Love me, extinguish this fear of failing as a father. Replace it with the same Love You have more me as demonstrated by Your Son, my Lord, Jesus Christ. In His Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Relationships Can Be Rebuilt”

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Date: 02-24-15

The Big Idea: Relationships can be rebuilt but it will take a miracle.

We pray and pray and pray, praying to God for a miracle. Praying He will heal and restore this broken relationship, this estranged family member. And as we pray, we grow weary in the delay. Oh, we want it to be fixed—yesterday. We want things to be as they were: comfortable; innocent. And what I have found is: It is at this point many give up and quit praying because the miracle hasn’t come as quickly or as obviously as they would have liked….

Relationships can be rebuilt, but it will take a miracle. And what I have found is many are too impatience to wait for the miracle. Sadly, I have observed over the years of counseling and pastoring that many relationships stall in the second stage of a relationship: Innocence lost.  Perhaps you have noticed it, too, but I have discovered that every relationship goes through two stages, and, as I have noted, few make it to the third stage.

The first two stages are (1) innocence found and (2) innocence lost. We start out a romantic relationship or a friendship in the “innocence found” stage. It is new, refreshing, invigorating. There is a spring in our step and a lightness in our heart. But then something happens in the relationship to violate, ruin, disturb the innocence, and whoosh, innocence is lost–the second stage. It is here that everyone has a choice to make: (1) Leave the relationship and find a new, fresh one filled with that invigorating innocence; or (2) Work through the relationship until innocence is restore. Sadly, many choose the easier and, in truth, less fulfilling first option, leaving the landscape strewn with a profusion of “innocence lost” festering relationships. These continue cascading down the pinball machine of life bouncing from one frantic relationship to the next….

In choosing the second option, however, we give ourselves a chance to advance to the third stage of Innocent Restore. In this stage the relationship is rebuilt and restored and, in fact, is stronger than it was at the first. Now, at this point you might possibly be thinking, “Not in my broken relationships. It would take a miracle to repair this and restore the innocence that was deeply wounded and violated.”

And I would say you are right. It would take a miracle!

In the main text, noted below, we see Nehemiah’s servant leadership result in a miraculous rebuilding. And all those who witnessed this noted “that the work had been done by our God” (v.16). In all this, let us not miss the miracle. Period! Yes, this miracle was speed; building this wall in this short period of time is indeed miraculous. And when I note this miracle, I am not saying that your broken, fatigued or strained relationship will be fixed, repaired, or restored in 52 days—or two years, but what I am saying is: This passage gives us the hope of a miracle of rebuilding and restoring. And besides, it doesn’t depend on us. Remember the Miracle we pray for will ultimately be “done by our God.” Yes, we are co-laborers with Him in this outstanding miracle. But He does the ‘Work’!

So I have to ask myself as well as you: How’s my co-laboring going? Or have I given up? Let us pray for one another and spur one another on to complete the wall…,  and witness a Miracle!

Main Text: — Nehemiah 6:15-16 — 15 So the wall was completed on the twenty-fifth day of Elul in 52 days.16 When all of our enemies—including the surrounding nations—heard this, they became very discouraged, since they saw that the work had been done by our God.  [ISV]

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.

— Galatians 6:9 (NIV84)

Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.

— 1 Corinthians 15:58 (NIV84)

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. — Romans 12:19-21 (NIV84)

  Lord Jesus Christ,  I put You on as my Slippers of Patience: The Right Slipper of Forgiveness and the Left Slipper of Forbearance. Let me be a peacemaker who sows in peace in the confident hope that there will be a harvest of Righteousness. In Your Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

“God’s Will & Opposition”

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Date: 02-10–15

Text: — Nehemiah 4:1-3 — 1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?” 3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—if even a fox climbed up on it, he would break down their wall of stones!” [NIV84]

The Big Idea: Expecting opposition better prepares us for it; Expecting victory through the opposition fuels our resolve and doubles our joy.

My Thoughts: 

Finally, we act; we step out in bold faith and confident assurance because we are so convinced the Lord wants us to do something. We move in the direction we sense He is prompting us. Suddenly, almost without warning, “Slam!” We’re hit by some resistance; some terrible opposition to our direction. Questions flood our minds as doubt floods our souls. “Did I hear the Lord right? Why all this difficulty and struggle? Why this opposition?”

Lifestyle worshiper, does this describe you? Are you one that feels that any opposition demonstrates that you are out of God’s will? Allow me to suggest to you that, in fact, opposition is almost certain to come when you are doing the will of God. As the old WWII saying goes, “You know you’re close to the target when the flack starts flying!”

I was one who would whine and complain with each wave of opposition, but I am learning that through the passage of time and the presence of struggle the character of Christ is forged in me. So as I walk in obedience to the Lord; as I fulfill the dreams and destiny that He has designed for me, I will encounter strong opposition as Nehemiah did (noted in the above passage). And, as Nehemiah did not: I will not complain or whine to the Lord. Instead, I will follow his example and pray to the Lord Almighty: “Hear us, O our God, for we are despised” (4:4). And keep working….

Expecting opposition better prepares us for it; Expecting victory through the opposition fuels our resolve and doubles our joy.

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.

— 2 Timothy 3:12-14 (NIV84)

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. — Philippians 1:27-28 (NIV84)

Then [Paul & Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. — Acts 14:21b-22 (NIV84)

  Lord Jesus Christ,  forgive me for giving up when the slightest hint of opposition arises. Fuel my passion with the Power of Your Holy Spirit to overcome the opposition and persevere  in Your strength to accomplish Your bidding.  In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Grieving is not for Wimps”

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Date: 01-10-15

Text: — Nehemiah 1:4 — 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. [NIV84]

The Big Idea: We dare not minimize the loss—ours or someone else’s, but likewise, we dare not minimize the time it takes to grieve over it.

My Thoughts: 

In other cultures, when someone dies or is killed in a bombing, we wailing and funeral processions; but not in ours. Instead, “Weeping’s for Wimps” sports a bumper sticker philosopher. “We’re strong; we can make it.” And because of this cultural philosophy when tragedy strikes on any level, we do not allow others time to grieve—let alone ourselves. “I need to get right back to work.” Keeping busy somehow helps me cope. So we stuff our feelings of loss and move on, but the weight of the loss doesn’t dissipate. In fact, it seems to get heavier with the passage of time.

And if we are really honest with ourselves, getting an emotional kick in the stomach—no matter how washboarded the stomach—takes us down.

First of all, let me briefly define grief: Grieve is any change or sense of loss. The greater the sense of loss or change the greater the grief. Likewise, the lesser the sense of loss or change the lesser the sense of grief. So losing a paperclip does not generate as much grief as losing your wallet, etc….

If we define life as change or growth, and any sense of change as loss, life (lower case “ l”) is grief. Handling life in a healthy way leads us to the fact that we need to learn to deal with change & loss on many levels. I have found that allowing time for grief is one way to deal with it.

As I was reading the verse noted above, I observed what Nehemiah did: He gave himself time to grieve. In doing so, it appears to lessen the weight of the grief, and even give space for perspective. I know when the sense of loss or change overwhelms me, my vision is blurred through  the tears and the vertigo of change knocks me off balance. I have a deep and profound empathy for those who have lost a loved one, especially a child. I have seen that this grief seems to never pass, but in time perspective widens as the tears are less frequent. Perhaps, then we can see—but a glimpse—of how the Lord might use this tragedy for His glory….

Lifestyle worshipers, we dare not minimize the loss—ours or someone else’s, but likewise, we dare not minimize the time it takes to grieve over it. To me, it takes a very strong person to face the sense of loss and change. It is the wimp who runs; the strong stand firm—even when our knees buckle under the emotional weight of the grief.

What has gotten me through many a loss and change is clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have found that because He never changes, there is no grief in Him. And because He is Life (with a capital “L”), His Life is not grief, but a joy overcoming the sorrow of this life.

Yet I have discovered a rather fascinating irony in all this: Although in the Lord Jesus I have Joy & Peace, He Himself was described by the prophet Isaiah as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV). The Lord Jesus was no stranger to sorrow, grief and change. He experienced first hand many of the very losses and changes we encounter in our lives.

But Isaiah doesn’t stop there. Instead he continues in that passage to offer us Hope that our grief will be taken away someday: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The very one who offers us Life has Himself experienced life.

This is almost too much for words….

Below I have noted two places in the Gospels that record our Master grieving. There are many more. And to me, He is the strongest of us all. He endured the cross and scorned it shame making no threats or even whines. I’d rather have His Life coursing through my veins in my moments of loss and change than attempting to stuff the sorrow—only to explode later (been there and done that, too!)

When it comes to grieving and dealing with the sense of loss and changes in our lives, then, I am learning to be gracious to others allowing them “some days” to mourn (see verse 4 above). Oh, and I am learning to  be gracious to myself, as well, allowing myself some space and time to grieve. How about you? Are you a wimp and run when it comes to grieving? Or do you stand firm in the One Who has grieved and conquered it? Your thoughts.

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Jesus wept.  — John 11:35 (NIV)

   Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

— 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NIV)

   and [Herod] had John beheaded in the prison. …  John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place….

— Matthew 14:10, 12-13a (NIV)

Heavenly Father,  as I give myself time to grieve, open my eyes to the larger perspective. Though I may never fully understand what glory You are getting out of this, I trust that You are Good all the time no matter what.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.