“Pursuing Jesus for a Reward?”

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Crowns at Jesus Feet

Is it okay to pursue Jesus for a reward? Some would dismiss this question out of hand. “No,” they would say, “it would be selfish and narcissistic.” I suppose some may have this very self-absorbed intent. The same could be said for someone who is courting or pursuing a mate: “You fulfill me; you complete me…” etc. Me, me, me….

But, is it possible to pursue someone with the innocent desire of deepening the relationship and thereby win the “Prize”? Perhaps a Both/And experience?

In our main text, the Apostle Paul is writing his final words to his dear son-in-the-faith, Timothy. His purpose is to encourage and spur his young padawan on to persevere in Jesus. In his encouragement, Paul observes that a crown is waiting for him. But did he fight the good fight, run the race and keep the faith for this crown? Or for knowing the Lord Jesus more intimately (see Phil. 3:10ff)? Could this be a Both/And and not an Either/Or situation?

What spurs the soldier on to win the fight? Love for his general or self-preservation? What propels the runner to the finish line? Does he run to please his coach or win the laurel wreath? What reinforced Paul’s loyalty to his Master? Love for his Master or merely for the garner of praise?

Even our Lord Jesus endured the cross and scorned it shame for the joy set before Him (see Heb. 12:2f), and He was clearly not selfish….

Not sure how to resolve this, except to say, it must be a Both/And, but the pursuit of the crown is not the primary focus. Rather, we focus on Jesus and in Him we have this crown.

Intriguingly, Spurgeon’s devotion for today speaks to this:

In our Christian pilgrimage it is well, for the most part, to be looking forward. Forward lies the crown, and onward is the goal. Whether it be for hope, for joy, for consolation, or for the inspiring of our love, the future must, after all, be the grand object of the eye of faith. Looking into the future we see sin cast out, the body of sin and death destroyed, the soul made perfect, and fit to be a partaker of the inheritance of the saints in light. Looking further yet, the believer’s enlightened eye can see death’s river passed, the gloomy stream forded, and the hills of light attained on which standeth the celestial city; he seeth himself enter within the pearly gates, hailed as more than conqueror, crowned by the hand of Christ, embraced in the arms of Jesus, glorified with Him, and made to sit together with Him on His throne, even as He has overcome and has sat down with the Father on His throne.  (Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.)

So, what are your thoughts on receiving a crown from the very hand of Jesus? Is it a Both/And or merely an Either/Or exercise—vacillating between the extremes of selfishness and selfishness?

Main Text— 2 Timothy 4:6–8 (NIV84) 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.— 1 Corinthians 9:24–25 (NIV84)

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”Mt 5:11–12 (NIV84)

And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.— 1 Peter 5:4 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, as I run toward You, keep my eyes fixed on You . Be my strength as I persevere to the finish line. You are my Crown and my Reward. In Your Name, Amen! 

Pastor Mike

“This is No Time”

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Terrorist attacks at the door. Inflation rearing its ugly head. Taxes at every turn—increasing the burden. Civil unrest; social and moral decay. This is no time to bring a child into the world, and yet our Heavenly Father deemed it “appropriate” to bring His Son into that climate of the world…. Oh, you thought I was describing our current situation? Nah, but it sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

More than a Conqueror

Yes, the world in which the baby Jesus was born was a very violent time. Israel was under the occupation of the Romans, and might truly made right. Yet, this is the time our Heavenly Father deemed “The fulness of time.” What better time than to show the vulnerability of the humility of His Son?

I’m reminded of a line in the Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” If memory serves, it was Judas who delivered the line: “If you’d come today, You could have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication—don’t you get me wrong.…” That hit me hard then when it came out. And for some time I agreed with it. But as I study the Word more & more and found the main text for today (Gal. 4:4), I changed my focus of study. With this change of focus, my doubts began to melt away. It was all part of His plan to show many, many characteristics of the Godhead, and one I’ve already mentioned: vulnerability of humility.

Unlike other kings of royalty, our King was born in an obscure village among poor peasants, in a borrowed manger—but all in the “fulness of time”! And He survived the heinous  slaughter of innocent children; He survived being a refugee in Egypt; He survived many bandits during family pilgrimages to and from the Holy City; He survived the teenage years; He survived the ridicule and unbelief of His family; He survived the popularity and misunderstandings of the mobs and the crowds; and He survived the tortuous death of crucifixion….

Yes, He survived. But in truth He did more than survive, didn’t He? He is more than a conqueror! He indeed grew up in those very unstable times to nonetheless fulfill the destiny the Father had designed for Him. He is more than a survivor; He is a conqueror!

So, as we look around at the difficult, unstable, even dangerous times we live in, do you receive any encouragement from our Lord Jesus’ journey? I do….

At this Christmas time when bills seem bigger than usual and suspicion reigns, remember that our Heavenly Father took care of His Son during His most vulnerable times, providing all He and His family needed…

… and the same will be so for us.

Main Text: — Galatians 4:4–5 (ISV)— 4 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent his Son, born by a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the Law, and thus to adopt them as his children.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.— Romans 8:35–37 (NIV84)

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.— Matthew 8:26 (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)

And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  (Philippians 4:19-20)

Coach Mike

“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.

“Prayer that Rocks this Place”

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My Thoughts:

I have been to a few rock concerts where the place was littler shaking. The base concussioned my chest as my body vibrated to the beat. Many times the lead singer would scream, “Let’s rock this place!” And they did…

Can the Holy Spirit do the same thing? Well, apparently we discover in today’s main text (noted below) He did. And He did this without any amplification, so to speak….

But what ‘caused’ this shaking? I’m sure you’d agree that it wasn’t the prayer of the believers—directly anyway, but somehow they had a part in this. V. 31 says pretty clearly, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken….” Now, I’m not saying we conjure up some magical prayer so as to recreate this ‘shaking,’ but I am suggesting we take a closer look at their prayer….

First of all, I see that they appealed to the Sovereign Lord to notice the threats made against them (v. 29). Then they requested enabling ability to “speak [His] Word with great boldness.” Lastly, they requested that the Lord perform even more miracles in Jesus’ Name (v. 30)!!! What surprises me as I review this again and again is: They made no counter threats! They did not request the Lord to send fire from heaven to devour their enemies. They did not request Him to tear down these evil high places…. Instead, they prayed for more good to be done: More healings and miraculous signs! Apparently, this is the kind of prayer that shakes this place, eh?

Are you as surprised as I am that prayer like this was a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to “shake this place?” Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 4:13 29 “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable Your servants to speak Your word with great boldness. 30 Stretch out Your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the Name of Your holy servant Jesus.” 31 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.  [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.  — Luke 21:12-15 (NKJV)

For it is a fine thing if, when moved by your conscience to please God, you suffer patiently when wronged. What good does it do if, when you sin, you patiently receive punishment for it? But if you suffer for doing good and receive it patiently, you have God’s approval. This is, in fact, what you were called to do, because: The Messiah also suffered for you and left an example for you to follow in His steps.  “He never sinned, and He never told a lie.” When He was insulted, He did not retaliate. When He suffered, He did not threaten. It was His habit to commit the matter to the One who judges fairly. — 1 Peter 2:19-23 (ISV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?” — Matthew 5:43-46 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I ask you to fill me with Your Holy Spirit, so I may pray for those who mistreat me, threaten me, or even harm me. May my life reflect the very nature of Your Messiah, Jesus, in His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike