How Heavy is Your Burden?

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Whether it is a heavy purse, briefcase, backpack or grocery bag, we’ve all carried around something a wee bit too heavy for us. Oh, we seem to manage, but afterwards are shoulders and just below our neck are killing us. But we made it. We gently drop the purse, briefcase, backpack, or grocery bag where it belongs. Whew! Glad that’s done!

Ah, but a lot of times in life, we never put down, let alone drop, that heavy “purse,” “briefcase,” “backpack,” or “grocery bag.” Instead, we carry it for days, months—dare I say it, years? The burden? The heaviness that stoops our shoulder or aches our neck? Unforgiveness….

Yes, unforgiveness. Now, I am looking at this from two perspectives: (1) me not forgiving someone; AND (2) me not receiving forgiveness….

The first is often more readily identifiable. There is no floating anger; it is laser focused. I know the one I haven’t forgiven. Sadly, the thought may shoot through my mind, “I’ll never forgive…,” only to be stopped by the grace of the cross. But still, unlike Jesus, I am still carrying this cross—instead of laying down on it, and joining Him in saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV84).

Ah, the second perspective is rather more challenging, often floating in our being: I have refused to receive the forgiveness that is mine from Jesus. So what do I do? I continue to carry that heavy briefcase (or purse or backpack, etc.) And my whole body—physically, spiritually and emotionally is “groaning all day long” (Ps.32:3 see main text below).

What do I need to do? Fortunately, I kept reading: “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’” (v. 5). And what did the LORD do? The rest of verse 5: “You forgave the guilt of my sin!” My burden was removed from my briefcase. The freedom of release was overwhelming. Joy flooded my soul….

How Heavy is your burden? Probably no heavier than mine. And, guess, what? The LORD can forgive you, too. Yep, just acknowledge your burden and receive His forgiveness. Sounds too simple; too easy, huh? Which is easier? Carrying that heavy purse, briefcase, backpack or grocery bag or letting it drop?

Main Text— Psalm 32:3–5 (NIV84) 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

So I’m telling you that her sins, as many as they are, have been forgiven, and that’s why she has shown such great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.Luke 7:47 (ISV)

Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.—1 Timothy 1:13–14 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I confess my burden to You. Lift this burden of unforgiveness. I receive the release of my burden and the Joy of Your Salvation in my life. Empower me to let others know how much You Love them, too. Amen.

Pastor Mike

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“Faith For Someone Else”

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I have often asked myself, “Do I have the faith for someone else’s healing? Or forgiveness?” I see this faith in the friends that carried their paralyzed buddy. I see their faith in their determination to bring him to Jesus. I see their faith in digging a hole in the roof. I see their faith risking getting the Master a little dirty with the debris. I see their faith in lowering him down—together. …

And Jesus saw their faith, too (v. 5).

But do I see my faith in my determination to continue in prayer when the crowds seem to be ignoring my friend?  Do I see my faith in digging in, sacrificing, even willing to get my Master a little dirty with my efforts—for my friend’s sake? Do I team up with others who can be a fellow rope-holder with me, as we—together—carefully lower our friend before the Master?

There are some I can honestly say, “Yes, I have had enough faith.” But lately it seems I’m getting rather jaded, especially with the crowds who ignore my friend, selfishly pressing upon the Master for their needs. I do not have the energy to “make a way through the crowds.” Ah, but perhaps I can find the roof. Will you join me in finding a way to Jesus for our friend? What are your thoughts? Let us not give up in doing good, eh?

Main Text— Mark 2:1–5 (NIV84) 1A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2 So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3 Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4 Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5 When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

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)

 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.—John 6:37 (NIV84)

  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.— Ephesians 6:18 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, make me an instrument of Your Presence to bring healing and not harm. Where there is injury, be pardon in me; where there is offense be forgiveness in me. Where there is doubt be faith in me. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“The Awesome Responsibility to be Forgiveness Dispensers”

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Allow me to assume for sake of discussion that forgiveness is a divine act of God: Only God can forgive sins and the Lord Jesus Christ has “earned” this authority on the cross and out of the grave—since, indeed, He is God, the Son. From this assumption comes the understanding that we are dispensers of this forgiveness. So in the Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and through His blood we are able to forgive others; thus dispensing His forgiveness provided for on the cross.

With me so far?

Now comes my personal wrestling match with this morning’s main text below. It clearly says that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can forgive sins. (This is the forgiveness dispensing role, right?) But then our Master continues: “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Does this mean I have the prerogative not to forgive someone their sins? Or does it mean I have the awesome responsibility to dispense forgiveness to these “sinners” as well?

The former appears to be very unkind and unloving, but, in truth, in years past, I have actually been taught that, “I don’t have to forgive them because the Lord says so.” Oh? Would you agree? What are your thoughts on this wrestling match? Do we have the awesome responsibility to be a forgiveness dispenser? Or do we have the divine “right” to withhold forgiveness? How do you read it?

Main Text— John 20:21–23 (NIV84) 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.—Colossians 3:13–14 (NIV84)

 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.Matthew 6:12–15 (NIV84)

 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59–60 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, make me an instrument of Your Presence to bring healing and not harm. Where there is injury, be pardon in me; where there is offense be forgiveness in me. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Two Modes of Forgiveness”

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Repenting-before-the-Cross

There are two modes or ways to dispense forgiveness. One mode is what I call “Confrontational Forgiveness.” (Please don’t get lost in the word, “Confrontational”; it starts with a “c.”). Matthew 5:23-24 and 18:15-20 present this approach. Either the offender or the “offendee,” respectively, cares enough to confront the other. There is a face to face meeting, confessing, forgiving, and hugging (generally). More often than not, this is the wisest approach. The purpose is to reconcile a relationship: winning the brother (see Matt. 18:15).

The second mode is what I call, “Cross Forgiveness.” This is what our Lord Jesus demonstrated on the Cross. This approach to forgiveness is simple and yet extremely challenging. The simple aspect is this: We climb up on the cross with Jesus, so to speak, and say what He said, ‘Father, forgive ______, for s/he does not know what s/he is doing to me.” Yep, pretty simple, indeed….

But the extremely challenging aspect of this is the “want-to”. Do we want to forgive? Allow me to explain. First of all, only God can forgive sin (see Luke 5:21-26 & 17:3-6). Through confession we enter into the forgiveness spoken and demonstrated on the cross. We cannot forgive. We do not have the power to separate the sin from the sinner. Only the Lord can do this. So, when someone says, “I can’t forgive them,”  “they” are speaking the truth. It is impossible for them to forgive them because, once again, only the Lord can forgive sin….

So what remains it the will: Do we want to forgive them? Once a very dear friend, Jess Kellerman, said to me in regard to forgiving someone, “Michael, you have a broken ‘wanter’!” “A what?” I incredulously asked. “It’s not that you can’t forgive; it’s that you don’t want to forgive.” From this he went on to explain a simple fact: Of course, I cannot forgive them, but do I want to forgive them. If I do not want to forgive, I have a broken “wanter”! He then offered a simple prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, I confess I do not want to forgive _____. Forgive me for this. I ask You to give me the desire to forgive and then forgive ______ through me.”

As we observe Good Friday, and what Jesus did on the cross, let us also observe the “Cross Forgiveness.” Sometimes it is best that we climb up on the cross and humbly ask our Heavenly Father to forgive those who have no idea what they are doing to us. What are your thoughts? [For a brief discussion on forgiveness, see Endnote #12 p. 41 in my book, A Solemn Assembly: Gathering to seek the Lord’s Face.]

Main Text— Luke 23:32–34 (NIV84)— 32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him, along with the criminals—one on His right, the other on His left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.Matthew 18:35 (NIV84)

 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.—Matthew 6:12–15 (NIV84)

If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.— Psalm 130:3–4 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, by the shed blood of Your Son, Lord Jesus Christ, and through His power, I forgive _______ for _______. I ask You, Lord Jesus Christ, to bear the consequences of his/her actions. Lord Jesus Christ, remove the pain and shame s/he has caused Your Name and me. Be that part of my life that has been damaged by him/her. I release ______ into Your hands. [Rossmann, Michael L. A Solemn Assembly: Gathering to Seek the LORD’s Face. Orlando: Xulon Press, 2015. print p. 30]

Pastor Mike

“Common Union”

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Kneeling at the Cross

In my research and in my personal experience I have noted that one of the most common accusations against the church her divisions. Sadly, some divisions are rather vicious and cruel. The maturity to agree to disagree agreeably is wanting in many settings. And why? Because “we have God’s approval and I am here to let you know….”

Truly, there will be honest disagreements of how we baptize or celebrate the Lord’s Table, or what songs to sing or not sing. How long to preach, if at all, but I’m sure many of you would agree, especially those who know the Lord Jesus, that we do have a common union in the Lord Jesus. We all agree that He died for our sins in fulfillment of the Scriptures, was buried and rose again on the third day, in fulfillment of the Scriptures (see 1 Cor. 15:3, 4).

And in this common belief we have a common union. From there it seems if we follow Philippians 3:15-16, all will be well: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things [i.e. have the same mind as our Lord Jesus as explained earlier in chapter 2:5-8]. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” [NIV]. I understand “already attained” to mean “already agreed upon, what we already have in common.”

To me, this common union is seen very clearly in the Lord’s Table, the Last Supper, the fulfillment of Passover. All have sinned and need this Table. All who Love Lord Jesus know this all too well. And we come to the Table humble and yet grateful, knowing the Grace that has been offered to us in the act this Table: “In remembrance of Me”  (Luke 22:19b)

Maybe that’s why we call this Table, “Communion?” To express the Common Union we have in Jesus? Your thoughts?

Main Text— 1 Corinthians 11:19, 23-26 (NIV) No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. … For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.— John 17:11b (NIV)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all … will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.—John 13:34–35 (NIV84)

 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:7–8 (NKJV)

Heavenly Father, I put the Lord Jesus Christ on as my Belt of Love. May I see all who confess the Name of the Lord Jesus with the same eyes of Grace, Mercy, and Love You see me. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Really? God Loves Me?”

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Back in the early 70’s when I was in college, I first encountered what was known as the “Four Spiritual Laws,” which started with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” When this was first ‘pitched’ to me, I laughed incredulously. “Yeah, right!” My plan was to be a professional baseball player and a lawyer in the off-season, but I had just been rejected by the University’s baseball coach, even denied a walk-on. My baseball coach knew the then head coach, but my coach never got my tapes and stats to him. So I walked in blind…. “Sorry, son, but I already have my players picked for this year.” He may have said more, and I either didn’t hear it, but I definitely don’t remember it. God Loves me, huh?!?

This was immediately followed by my first love’s rejection—all on the same day! Needless to say, I tumbled quickly into the black vortex I was so familiar with. Despair evacuated hope. Abandonment rifled my community. The darkness was overwhelming…. Sparing the details, suffice it to say, I spiraled my way across campus to a religious meeting. It was towards the end of the meeting and I snuck in and sat way in the back.

The speaker was closing up his talk with a simple question: “Are you living or are you existing? You see living is…, and existing is…” Perhaps you can fill in the rest, but that night I began my journey out of the black vortex and into the Light of the Love that the Lord truly has for me. I committed my life then and there to follow Him as my Lord, but as far as the Love part, well, this came much lately….

Perhaps some of you know how that black vortex numbs your emotions. This is not to say that the Love God has for us is purely emotional, but the spiritual reality bleeds into the emotional receptors, and these were numbed by life’s concussions….

Slowly, I have come to realize that the Lord does Love me. When this reality finally resurrected in my soul, there were no fireworks or light shows, but a quite whisper, gently healing my wounded soul, “Yes, Michael, I truly do Love you.” He knew exactly how and when to communicate this truth to me. Any other way, and it would have closed my sore soul. But as Randy Stonehill sings, “I was lost in a fantasy that blinded me until your Love broke through….”

“Your Love Broke Through” Like to Randy’s song)

His Love broke through to me; how about you? In your journey with Jesus has His Love broke through yet? Your thoughts?

Main Text— 1 John 3:1-3 (NIV84) How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.— 1 Peter 3:18–21 (NIV84)

As He says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘My people’ who are not My people; and I will call her ‘My loved one’ who is not My loved one.”—Romans 9:25 (NIV84)

 Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else?— Romans 8:32 (NLT)

Heavenly Father, continue to open my heart and soul to the Love You have for me in and through Your Son, Christ Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“He Chose Me!”

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

Adoption as Sons

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

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

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

What more can be said? What are your thoughts?

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

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Pastor Mike