“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

“The Source of Our Strength”

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Date: 04-29-15

The Big Idea A sense of light airiness comes upon me, sometimes even in some rather dire situations, and an inner strength appears, so that somehow, in my spirit, I know He is working all things out for the Good.

My Thoughts: In five places found in most common English translations of the Bible, strength and joy are connected. None is as direct as our main text noted below. In Nehemiah’s declaration, he basically equates the LORD’s joy with our strength. Thus, when we are infused with the LORD’s joy, then we are strengthened to live His Life more fully….

The intriguing aspect of Joy is we cannot conjure it up or manufacture it. Nope! It is clearly the LORD’s joy and the Fruit of the Spirit…. So no matter how hard I try to be joy-filled, I cannot in and of myself….

I have found that when the Spirit fills me with joy and thanksgiving, a delight floods my being. A sense of light airiness comes upon me, sometimes even in some rather dire situations, and an inner strength appears, so that somehow, in my spirit, I know He is working all things out for the Good.

Other times, however, I need to wait on Him for this manifestation of Joy. Sadly, however, I have found as with  myself, many do not wait on the LORD for a renewal of joy—of strength. Instead they attempt to go around gleefully acting as if they are filled with His joy, when in fact they are not. It is, at best, manufactured glee. Ah, but if we wait on the LORD, He will renew our strength AND—remember—the Joy of the LORD is our strength!

Fellow lifestyle worshipers, have you discovered this connection of joy and strength as well? Have you learned that at times we need to wait on Him to renew our Joy (strength)? What are your thoughts on joy and strength being connect like this?

Main Text: — Nehemiah 8:10 — Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our LORD. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 But those who keep waiting for the LORD will renew their strength. Then they’ll soar on wings like eagles; they’ll run and not grow weary; they’ll walk and not grow tired. — Isaiah 40:31 (ISV)

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to Him in song.  —Psalm 28:7 (NIV84)

Sing for joy to God our strength; shout aloud to the God of Jacob! Begin the music, strike the tambourine, play the melodious harp and lyre. — Psalm 81:1-2 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, I wait on You to refresh my strength as You flood my very being with the Joy of the Holy Spirit, in Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Can We Give Joy Away?”

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Date: 04-28-15

The Big Idea: This joy is growing in ways I truly cannot capture in words because of its uniqueness to my experience.

My Thoughts: For many, possessing (let alone expressing) joy in a world so familiar with loss, and sorrow and grief is more than a formidable challenge. There are those, however, who can express the joy they possess in a sincere and infectious manner that lightens the load of many fellow travelers….

But in light of what Jesus says (noted below in John 16), can we give our joy away? He says that no one will be able to take it from us, but does this leave open the option of giving our joy away, much like letting go of an untied balloon?

The reason I ask this is because I have known many throughout my life and in my ministry who are somewhat, shall we say, joyless—this often includes me. Most recently on my journey with Jesus I am  coming to experience the joy He promises and this joy is growing in ways I truly cannot capture in words because of its uniqueness to my experience.

But as I look back on my journey, I have seen myself giving joy away, releasing balloon after balloon of joy only to see it fizzle and quite frankly ppffffftt (or however the onomatopoeia is spelled for this).

So my answer to my question is a mumbled, “yes.” I can give my joy away, but if Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, am I truly giving it away, or merely stifling it?

So, lifestyle worshipers, what are your thoughts on ‘giving joy away’?

Main Text: — John 16:22-24 — 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24 Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. [NIV]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness. — Galatians 5:22 (NIV)

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  —John 10:10 (NIV)

Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ Jesus will overflow on account of me.  — Philippians 1:25-26 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, I confess I have a deep desire to experience the substantial Joy of the Holy Spirit. Create in me a pure heart so that I may be a vessel of Your Joy, in Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Joy & Solemnity Side by Side”

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Date: 04-17-15

The Big Idea: But what if, lifestyle worshiper, both of these can be seen and experience together, in one service, in one ceremony, in one setting?

My Thoughts: Can both joy and solemnity both be found in a ceremony that honors the Lord? Many struggle with striking this balance. Some believe you need to be very, very somber & serious—especially when you attended a ‘worship service’. These are they who require quiet to enter His presence. But there are others who believe these gatherings can be filled with effusive joy. These feel the liberty to jump and rejoice, hug each other and express a variety of emotions. Sadly, often each of these two expressions sits in judgment of the other.

But what if, lifestyle worshiper, both of these can be seen and experience together, in one service, in one ceremony, in one setting? Would not this be the “best” of both worlds?

I believe this is more than possible. Consider this: If joy is an element of the Fruit of the Spirit and if the Holy Spirit dwells in us to both convict us of sin and to seal us in salvation, then is it not possible that He is more than capable of allowing us the awesome privilege of  bowing before the Holy One in reverential fear and perhaps at the very same time rising to explode with Joy and thanksgiving? What do you think? Your thoughts….

Main Text: — Nehemiah 12:27 — At the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem, the Levites were sought out from where they lived and were brought to Jerusalem to celebrate joyfully the dedication with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

     Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. — Hebrews 4:16 (NIV84)

    Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.   —Hebrews 10:19-22 (NKJV)

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.   — Romans 5:1-2 (NIV84)

 Lord Jesus Christ, give me a proper perspective of the place ceremonies have in Your Kingdom. In Your Name, Amen. 

Coach Mike

“Overcoming Fear to Step Toward the Father”

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Date: 03-21-15

The Big Idea: As I come to realize that our Heavenly Father is a most forgiving God, these fears I had had melt away with each step toward HIM in this freedom of forgiveness. .

My Thoughts: I vividly recall Sister Mary Eloise teaching us that when we sin, God the Father is just waiting there to hurl a lightening bolt at us, but Jesus, God the Son is at His side saying, “But Father, I died to forgive this sin, too.” As she spoke that last sentence, she would do the sign language for Jesus. (I didn’t learn this until much, much later!) What she was teaching was very true, but my little mind was fearing a rather simple action: “What if Jesus didn’t get there it time to stop the lightening bolt?” Pretty silly, huh?

But sadly this fear kept me from approaching our Heavenly Father for years. I lived in a constant low-grade fear that at any moment a lightening bolt would slip past Jesus as a puck would slide past Tony Esposito—rare, but possible….

Perhaps you have come to learn this a lot sooner than I had in your journey with Jesus, Lifestyle worshiper, but on my pathway to freedom and wholeness it has taken me a while to understand this morning’s main text from Nehemiah: “But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (v. 17b). I began to discover this through the birth of my daughters. As each daughter’s birth approached, I feared a very malformed child. This fear was fueled by the very evil things I had done as a young person and by the doubts that Jesus could indeed stop those lightening bolts.

But the LORD is indeed gracious and merciful. By my third daughter’s birth, I was finally starting to get it: The Lord Jesus does stop those lightening bolts—ever time! (His shut out record is perfect!) I expressed this realization by giving my third daughter a very meaningful middle name: Joy. Not only was she named after one of her aunts, this name also captures my journey with Jesus overcoming my fears. I was finally beginning to approach the Father and experience His joy…. (and, BTW I have three beautiful daughters, two wonderful sons-in-law, and 5½ sparkling grandchildren–one’s due in August.)

In all this, as I come to realize that our Heavenly Father is a most forgiving God, these fears I had had melt away with each step toward HIM in this freedom of forgiveness.  And best yet, not only does our Lord Jesus stop ever lightening bolt, He will never leave the net! This is the rest of v. 17: He will not desert me.

As I enjoy this freedom in forgiven, I have come to rely on the LORD’s compassion and abounding Love more and more.  Do you have a story of joy on your pathway to freedom in forgiveness?

Main Text: — Nehemiah 9:16-18— 16 But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands. 17 They refused to listen and failed to remember the miracles you performed among them. They became stiff-necked and in their rebellion appointed a leader in order to return to their slavery. But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them, 18 even when they cast for themselves an image of a calf and said, ‘This is your god, who brought you up out of Egypt,’ or when they committed awful blasphemies. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. — Psalm 103:8-12 (NIV84)

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins….” He said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”   —Luke 5:22-25 (NIV84)

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. — 1 John 2:1-2 (NIV84)

 Lord Jesus Christ, I  embrace Your grace that forgives my sins. I approach the Heavenly Father full of confident assurance because of the price You paid for me. Enlighten me by Your Holy Spirit to  understand these wonderful and precious promises You have for me in forgiveness. In Your Name, Amen. 

Coach Mike