“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

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“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

“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

“Benched!”

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During my many years of coaching various sports, I have had to bench a player or two. Usually, it was because of an attitude problem or some violation of a team rule or expectation…. But there were those times I would tell a player that I was sitting her on the bench for awhile so that she could get a feel for the game and the offense and/or defense we were running. “Now, I want you to observe number 10. Watch how she keeps her knees bent and her balance. She engages her opponent increasing the pressure and closing the distance the closer she gets to the goal.” …

Benched 02

This same thing appears to have happened to me in the ministry. As I was wrapping up my college campus ministry  phrase, I approached my early mentor, Elmer Hiebert, with a friend and expressed how I felt that the Lord was pulling me out of the “game”. My friend felt the same way. I will never forget what Elmer told both of us: “Maybe it’s like a coach who pulls his players out of the first quarter so that they can be fresh when he puts them back in in the fourth quarter.” Does the Lord do such a thing?

It appears that He does, especially in light of our main text this morning. The young Saul (aka Paul, later to become an apostle) started out with a bang, witnessing to all that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long awaited Messiah, and though he had a measure of success, things also got a little hairy. So the church sent him back to his home town. He appears to be “benched” for almost 10 years. (Oh, he was most assuredly busy with the tasks at hand growing in the faith while making tents, but he clearly wasn’t on the radar of recorded church history.) Then his early mentor, Barnabas, seeks Saul out to join him with some small tasks (see Acts 11:28-36). Slowly, Saul, aka Paul (his Roman name), begins to fulfill the destiny the Lord presented to him on the Road to Damascus (see Acts 26:16ff)….

Brothers and sisters, you may be feeling like the Lord has pulled you out of the “game” and benched you for some silly mistake (aka sin), but is it possible that He is “benching” you for quite another reason? Maybe He wants you to watch that number 10, learning from them how they engage the opponent or how they are learning the offense and defense the He wants you to run? Quite possibly so? What do you think? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 13:1-3 (NIV84)  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.— Galatians 4:4–5 (NIV84)

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” Exodus 3:1–3 (NIV84)

 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. Genesis 39:1 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I put You on as my Slippers of Patience especially during this season of my life as I faithful receive Your training…. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor 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

“Into A Corner”

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Charles Spurgeon writes in a devotion found in Morning and evening: Daily readings selected for today: “The Lord sometimes suffers his people to be driven into a corner that they may experimentally know how necessary he is to them. Ungodly children, when they show us our own powerlessness against the depravity of their hearts, drive us to flee to the strong for strength, and this is a great blessing to us. Whatever our morning’s need may be, let it like a strong current bear us to the ocean of divine love. Jesus can soon remove our sorrow, he delights to comfort us. Let us hasten to him while he waits to meet us.” (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

Shepherd-of-Psalm-23-232x300As we build families, I have discovered that some have been driven into a corner. There is no cause for celebration, but only sorrow. Their ‘prodigal’ has just begun his/her journey away from home. How can they celebrate family?

Indeed, the corner we’ve been driven into has a purpose: It is to show us our dependence on the One Who is All-Present, All-Powerful and All-Knowing. We cannot be present with our ‘prodigal’…

But instead of seeing a sea of the world, let us join Charles and see “the Ocean of Divine Love.” The Lord “Jesus can soon remove our sorrow, he delights to comfort us.” He will part the sea!

A song we sing at our church that has become a recent favorite of mine is, “Make A Way” by Jason Ingram and Jon Egan. My soul bursts with praise as I sing out with all my heart: “Where there is no way You make a way / Where no one else can reach us You find us / Where there is no way You make a way /Where no one else can reach us You find us.” But as I kept thinking about all the families I know who cannot celebrate Family because of a wayward son or a prodigal daughter, I thought of this song with different pronouns: “When cannot reach them, You reach them!” And then my soul settles down with a wisp of faith that soars into the heavenlies. I receive Charles’  spurring: “Let us hasten to [Jesus] while He waits to meet us” to comfort us. Join me as I come out of the corner, in a sprint or a crawl, but nonetheless join me fleeing to Jesus!

Main Text: — Mark 9:20–24 (NIV84)— So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  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 4:18 (NIV84)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.— 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV emphasis added)

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all — Psalm 34:17-19 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I patiently wait for Your deliverance of my loved one. Hear the cries of my heart. Give me songs in this night that I may yet praise You. Be still O my soul, and trust in the LORD. He will not fail you. Bless You, Jesus, for Your mercies and Your grace.  In Your Name,  Amen.

Coach Mike

Celebrating Family

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Brother & Sisters: Let us Celebrate two families. The first family we celebrate is our blood family. We may be adopted or disconnected from our blood family, but nonetheless celebrate! You are here. The second Family is the Blood Family, the Church, the Body of Christ. You are most definitely adopted as sons and daughters into this celestial Family, never ever to be disconnected. Celebrate this Family by praising our Heavenly Father Who Commissioned the Only Begotten Son Who bought this Family with His Blood, and sealed it with the Holy Spirit: Blessed Be the three in One!

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We who have a Both/And understanding do not pit one family against the other in order to celebrate these two families. Rather, we weave them together like a master craftsman, creating a beautiful tapestry of Family. Let us not favor one in exclusion to the other, for, in fact, one builds the other. There is a synergistic effect–yes, even through the dysfunctional spasms ever family goes through. But the key is sticking it out; enduring the hard times. In other words: enduring the cross!

It is on the other side of the cross–the Resurrection of the Relationship– that the Family (both blood & Blood) is stronger and ‘bigger’. So celebrate with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Wouldn’t you agree that these are to institutions, if you will, worth celebrating?

So let us bless the Family with the following prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.