“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

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“How Bright is Your Light?”

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Here it is the day before another Christmas, and I’m asking a rather personal question: “How Bright is Your Light.” To some this would seem rather intrusive; to others out of place; but to those who see the seasonal times as a good opportunity to let our light shine, they think it is an honest and necessary question.

Light of the World

As we put lights up on our houses, lights on our trees, and even light a candle at a Christmas Eve Candlelight services, we must ponder the question: How bright is our light, especially in light of our Lord’s words: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Mt. 5:14).

What does it mean to  be “the light of the world”? Surely, one answer that pops to mind is our character. We are to bear the fruit of the Spirit, perhaps is another answer, and as we continue reading in our main text, it is also our “good deeds.”

In a culture that shouts down the opposition, perhaps all we have left is the Light of good deeds, don’t you think? As “they” are shouting to stop Christmas carols and praying at school functions; as they shout to forbid even the whisper of the name of the very person whose birthday Christmas celebrates, what would be the best thing to do? We don’t want to join them in a shouting match. No, this is unwise and ill-advised (see 2 Tim. 2:24-26). But our Light can out shine them, right? As we bend down and help a homeless man get up on his feet; or tend to a widow who needs her faucet fixed; or become a “big ear” to a lost teen, then our light will shine so bright it could possible drowned out their shouting. What do you think?  I don’t like asking myself this question either, but I know I must. How about you? How bright is your light? Bright enough to quiet the shouting?

Join me on our journey with Jesus at this Christmas in letting our light shine so bright—even as a small candle light, that they will glorify our Father in heaven.

…  making this Christmas especially merry, indeed.

Main Text: — Matthew 5:14–16 (NIV84)— 14 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 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 2:23-26 (NIV84)

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.— John 15:8 (NIV84)

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.—1 Peter 3:15–16 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, let the Light of Your Son, my Lord Jesus Christ, shine so bright that others are blinded to my foolishness and folly, and yet they clearly see You in and through my feeble good deeds. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

“Tracing the Rainbow Through the Rain”

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In his poem (which later became a hymn) “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” George Matheson writes, “O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee, I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain.” What specific pain George was experience we do not know, but in his own words, out of “the most severe mental suffering,” the words poured forth as if “dictated to me by some inward voice.” We know this pain superseded any of his physical limitations of blindness or other maladies he endured. But in all of these he could trace the rainbow of promise through the rain.

Rainbow in the Rain

Ironically, I haven’t been this sick in years, and I am coming up a total hip replacement in a few weeks. I have not had many dark days, though not a few cloudy ones have accompanied me. But what made them cloudy were not my own issues or concerns, per se, but the concerns for others, and the complete inability of helping relieve these concerns. In short, I am being made fully aware that I am not their rescuer. Worse yet, I have to stand by and watch matters become more complicated and entangle well before the Lord steps in and ‘fixes’ them. “Oh, if only I….” Ha, not even if….

In today’s main text, I see Paul and Silas in a rather dark place—literally. They knew nothing of earthquakes and loosed chains, but they did know a God who could deliver from the fire, through the fire or in the fire. So to this God, the Holy One, they sang and prayed and praised as they traced the rainbow through the rain.

They were imprisoned, limited to what they could do; feet in stocks but voices unfettered. So, too, you and I need to do what we can do in our cramped, limited situations where we can no longer “do” what we once did to help, relieve, or ‘fix’ or ….

Singing and praying and praising seems to be a great place to start tracing the rainbow in the rain knowing with full assurance that the Promise of His Presence is indeed not vain! Brothers and sisters, many of whom are in darker storms with heavier rains, lift high your finger of faith and trace with me His Rainbow in the rain! …

Main Text: — Acts 16:22-26 (NIV)— 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  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 4:17–18 (NIV84)

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.— Ps 42:11 (NIV84)

 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld his compassion?”— Psalm 77:6–9 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I wait on You. You are my Hope. Expose the rainbow of promise, the Hope of my salvation. So I shall see Your Face. Lord Jesus, be my comfort and my Peace. 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

“Rethinking Our Culture”

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Very few of us seem to inventory how much we are like the world’s culture. Somehow we have baptized the current culture we are in as ‘sacrosanct’—as if in some way we have captured the Kingdom of Heaven’s culture. …

Conform Transformed Butterfly

As we enter Day 6 in this month of corporate fasting coupled with our Solemn Assembly and Heartwork, we are encouraged in the Heartwork Devotion for today to “Unlearn Our Culture.” The way I see it before I am able to learn something new, I need to unlearn something “old.” And before I can unlearn something “old,” I need to identify the old as being out of sync with the Word and Jesus’ Heavenly Culture—no matter how much I have baptized it or relabeled it or PC’ed it, eh?

This rethinking actually requires that I stop and think. Ouch! Then I ask the Lord Jesus Christ to reveal to me by His Spirit those ‘things’ (such as, habits, thoughts, attitudes, passions, etc.) that are displeasing to Him. We may be surprised to learn that some of these “things” may be rather “good” things. But because I have been infected by the culture around me, I have made them an ‘idol’ or have engaged ‘them’ in my own strength. In this way I have tarnished a ‘good’ thing….

But, we may also find that we have been deceived or even deceived ourselves into thinking that this habit, thought, attitude, passion, etc. is, in fact, justified, warranted, and simply Okay. “I have a right to….” You can finish this sentence. But as the Light of His Word and Holiness concussion us, we are first blinded to the Truth of our deception, maybe even to the point of being defensive. But once our spiritual eyes become adjusted to the Holy Light, we see clearly the distinction between Truth and Deceit.

This can definitely lead us to a ruining, a wrecking, an emptying, an undone state of life. Some times I fall into verbal self-flagellation where I bemoan the fact that I have been so naive, so stupid, to have been deceived so. Once I snap out of this, I am able to thank the Lord Jesus for being merciful to me to end this deception. Here then begins the transforming process of unlearning the culture! And it all started by rethinking…. Are you courageous enough to join me. I wasn’t—not at first, and without the Lord Jesus being my courage, I would not have gotten this far. How about you?

Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Romans 12:2 (NIV84)— Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you— Romans 12:2 (The Message)

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.— James 1:22 (NIV84)

For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. — 1 Peter 4:3–4 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, strengthen my feeble arms and weak knees. Empower me by the Lord Jesus Christ’s Presence thorough His Holy Spirit to reject those cultural ‘bad’ habits, attitudes, thoughts, & _____. Lord Jesus Christ, be my courage as I turn from these ‘things’ that so displease You and pursue You along with those who call upon You out of a pure heart.  In Your Love and Great Mercy,  Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Are Comfort Zones So Bad?”

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Maybe you’ve heard many a success-trainer or life coach tell you to “Get out of your comfort zone.” “Stretch your legs and move out.” “Without risk there can be no growth” (Bear Grylls). “Face your fears and do what you fear most” (Priya Deelchand).  “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”(Neale Donald Walsch). And the like….

Comfort Zone

But are comfort zones really so bad? Let’s face it: there are some good things about comforts zones. And the first one I can think of is, well, they are comfortable. I know what to expect. No surprises. Another is they are safe. I am protected in my comfort zone from the wiles of the world. Really, a comfort zone can also be a “no danger zone,” eh?

What else is good about a comfort zone? I’m sure you can think of many, many more ‘good things’ about a comfort zone. So, then why leave the comfort and security and safety of a comfort zone? Is the risk worth the growth?

In our main text this morning (see below), we find Philip moving out of his comfort zone. Or shall we say, “shoved?” His comfort zone composed of a cushy job delivering food to widows and attending to the needs of the poor. But suddenly life caved it. His friend and fellow helper, Stephen, gets stoned (Acts 7:57-60), and a persecution of those who believe in Jesus  “broke out”. His comfort zone collapsed! Oh, he probably had a choice to stay and attempt to protect it—rebuild it, but instead Philip did something counterintuitive: Instead of looking for another cushy job and rebuilding another comfort zone, he went to Samaria and proclaimed there the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. …

Now, for the average first century Jewish inhabitant of Judea, Samaria was anything but a “comfort zone” (see John 4:9 for a brief explanation). Nevertheless, Philip continued outside his comfort zone. And it doing so he encountered great success. Why? Because his answer to the question, “Is the risk worth the growth” was “Yes!” And it wasn’t so much his personal growth that Philip was focused on, but rather—and more importantly—the growth of His Master’s Kingdom through the church.

Maybe now you may have some different answers to the other question: “Are comfort zones bad?” Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 8:1–5 (NIV84)—  On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.  Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.  But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. Philip in Samaria  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.— Luke 14:26–27 (NIV84)

I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”— Luke 18:29–30 (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)

Heavenly Father, sometimes I need a gentle shove to get me out of my comfort zone. In Your Grace and Mercy, open my eyes to the greater glory that is in You. As You empower me by the Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen each step out of my comfort zone and into for Your pleasing and perfect will.  In Jesus’ Name,  Amen.

Coach Mike

“Feel Unlearned & Unschooled?”

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My Thoughts:

I am most frustrated when I don’t know something and can’t figure it out. Beyond my schooling, personal study, etc., there is still a lot I don’t know, and this frustrates me. There are some things, circumstances or issues I just can’t figure out….

Educated Elites

If you feel like I feel or if you even feel you are unlearned and unschooled, then maybe we can both learn the lesson that: This is exactly where the Lord wants us to be.

Huh?

Let me explain what I am learning from Peter and John’s experience….

There they stood before the educated elite of their day. These were they who were deeply studied in Torah. The could not just quote extended passages, more than likely they could quote the entire Torah, and much, if not all, of the Nevi’im (the Prophets) and the Kethuvim (the Writings). These priests and Sadducees were the crème de la crème of their society, of society, in general; the envy of anyone who desired to live a religious life that pleased their God—at least this is how they viewed it….

But before these educated elite stood two “uneducated and untrained men” (from Acts 4:13 NASD95), who had just performed an incontrovertible miracle: They were amazed! Well, amazed as any educated elitist could get, since there is little they do not know or cannot explain, eh?

These educated elitists were so astute that they noted (my paraphrase), “Oh, this explains it, ‘they were with Jesus’!” Though they cannot dismiss the miracle, they can easily dismiss and discredit the ones who ‘did it’. Sound familiar?

Yet this is exactly right where the Lord wants us. This is the lesson I am learning: He wants others to see that we’ve been with Jesus and not that we are super educated or formally trained. (Now, I do not dismiss formal education or studying to show ourselves approved, but I’ve learned these both—and more—need to be “with Jesus.”) The focus needs to be on Jesus. Now you and I both know this, but somehow we have disqualified ourselves because we don’t know enough or get tongue tied. But this is when the Lord shines brightest. Through His Spirit He will give us words and thoughts and ideas and phrases that even the educated elites can refute (though they can dispute, deny or ignore them, eh).

Now if you are still like me, you feel a little strange being so vulnerable, but this is where I’m learning to trust the Lord all the more. I still must study to show myself approved, a workman who need not be ashamed (see 2 Tim. 2:15), but I do not “lean on my own understanding, [but] in all [my] ways acknowledge Him and He will make [my] paths straight” (Pro. 3:5-6 NIV84, emphasis added), even when I’m talking with educated elites.

So whenever I get a chance to share Jesus with others, especially these educated elite types, I can relax & rest in Him and let the Spirit do the talking. Pretty exciting, eh?

Main Text: — Acts 4:13— When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.  [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. — 1 Corinthians 2:2-5 (NIV84)

But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of My name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.  — Luke 21:12-15 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, let me rest in Your Son’s promise to provide words and reasoning to present Him to others. Dispel any reluctance or fears. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Power, Love and a Sound Mind. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike