“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

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“Hard Letting Them Change?”

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“How many times is so’n so going to say they’ve changed, but in reality, they never do?” Have you said this before about someone? Or even thought it? I have. And it is sad if I believe that the Lord Jesus, the Great Transformer, has changed me, but He can’t change someone else? Ouch! Do I really believe He can change lives? Is it really that hard to “let” them change?

In our main text this morning, we have a very real and similar situation about “letting” someone change. This someone is Saul! You know the one who was “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1 NIV 84). And now he wants us to believe that he’s all good with Jesus and not an infiltrator!? Yeah, right?

If it wasn’t for Barnabas—and the dramatic change in Saul’s life and belief system, most of us today would not have been so readily available to accept him into our small group, especially if many of our brothers and sisters in other small groups have been turned in to the Powers that Be….

So you and I have to sincerely and honestly ask ourselves: Are we letting others change? Have we become so jaded and stopped believing that the Lord Jesus can still change lives? Oh, we know the right answer, but seriously, think about it. We still call Rahab “the Harlot” and Thomas “the Doubter,” don’t we? Do we still call Peter the Denier?

First of all, I am thankful for the Barnabases in my life who have stepped forward to testify that the changes in my life are genuine, even if questioned by many. Secondly, I, in turn, have become a Barnabas for many who have clearly demonstrated a transformed life. Yes, I still struggle with becoming jaded. Yes, often my first thought is skepticism bordering on cynicism, but one by-product of my current wrecking has been this very thought: “If I am changing so dramatically, surely the Lord is doing so with _____, as well.”

Yes, I understand that for some, you’ve heard it before, but when Jesus truly steps in and transforms a life, we dare not be one to ‘not let them change,’ don’t you think?

Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 9:26-29 (NIV84)— 26 When [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”— Luke 19:8–10 (NIV84)

I [Paul] thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 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 1:12–14 (NIV84)

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. — Philemon 8–11 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, by the power of the Resurrected Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, make me into a Barnabas who wisely celebrates the transformed lives around me.  In Jesus’ Name,  Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Two Types of Forgiveness”

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Date: 05-20-15

Perhaps you are aware of one type of “forgiveness”. This is known as “Confront Forgiveness” (see Matthew 5:23-24 & James 5:13-16). This is when you confront someone with their ‘sin’, “they” confess their guilt and you forgive “them”. This is a very powerful and effective way of building strong, healthy Christian families. Forgiveness is an essential element. And bringing an issue out in the open is very healthy, too.

But there are some issues and some circumstances that require the second type of forgiveness: “Hanging on the Cross” Forgiveness (aka “Cross Forgiveness;” although all forgiveness flows from the cross, this just makes it easier to communicate the two). With this “Cross Forgiveness” we join our Lord Jesus on the cross and say—regarding a particular person with a particular offense: “Father, Forgiven them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV84 emphasis added). (I have discovered that this “Cross forgiveness” must be specific. If I just do a general “forgive them for ‘whatever'”, I have found I still stew and flinch when “it” happens again.)

I’m not sure which is harder. Perhaps you can share your thoughts on this. But I do know that sometimes I need to do this “Cross Forgiveness” and then walk in grace towards this person. I have witnessed literal miracles too personal too share, but I know this “Cross Forgiveness” is just as effective and essential in any healthy family—any healthy relationship with Jesus. And as I decrease and the Life of Jesus in me increases, I am becoming more and more “Forgiveness Ready”….

Lifestyle worshiper, have you found this to be so, to? Do you have any experiences with either of these two types of forgive? Any thing safe to share?

Main Text: — Ephesians 4:32 — Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.  [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense — Proverbs 19:11 (NIV84)

 “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” —Jeremiah 31:34c (NIV84)

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”. — John 5:14 (NIV84)

 “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to His glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col. 1:9-14). Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Grieving is not for Wimps”

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Date: 01-10-15

Text: — Nehemiah 1:4 — 4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven. [NIV84]

The Big Idea: We dare not minimize the loss—ours or someone else’s, but likewise, we dare not minimize the time it takes to grieve over it.

My Thoughts: 

In other cultures, when someone dies or is killed in a bombing, we wailing and funeral processions; but not in ours. Instead, “Weeping’s for Wimps” sports a bumper sticker philosopher. “We’re strong; we can make it.” And because of this cultural philosophy when tragedy strikes on any level, we do not allow others time to grieve—let alone ourselves. “I need to get right back to work.” Keeping busy somehow helps me cope. So we stuff our feelings of loss and move on, but the weight of the loss doesn’t dissipate. In fact, it seems to get heavier with the passage of time.

And if we are really honest with ourselves, getting an emotional kick in the stomach—no matter how washboarded the stomach—takes us down.

First of all, let me briefly define grief: Grieve is any change or sense of loss. The greater the sense of loss or change the greater the grief. Likewise, the lesser the sense of loss or change the lesser the sense of grief. So losing a paperclip does not generate as much grief as losing your wallet, etc….

If we define life as change or growth, and any sense of change as loss, life (lower case “ l”) is grief. Handling life in a healthy way leads us to the fact that we need to learn to deal with change & loss on many levels. I have found that allowing time for grief is one way to deal with it.

As I was reading the verse noted above, I observed what Nehemiah did: He gave himself time to grieve. In doing so, it appears to lessen the weight of the grief, and even give space for perspective. I know when the sense of loss or change overwhelms me, my vision is blurred through  the tears and the vertigo of change knocks me off balance. I have a deep and profound empathy for those who have lost a loved one, especially a child. I have seen that this grief seems to never pass, but in time perspective widens as the tears are less frequent. Perhaps, then we can see—but a glimpse—of how the Lord might use this tragedy for His glory….

Lifestyle worshipers, we dare not minimize the loss—ours or someone else’s, but likewise, we dare not minimize the time it takes to grieve over it. To me, it takes a very strong person to face the sense of loss and change. It is the wimp who runs; the strong stand firm—even when our knees buckle under the emotional weight of the grief.

What has gotten me through many a loss and change is clinging to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have found that because He never changes, there is no grief in Him. And because He is Life (with a capital “L”), His Life is not grief, but a joy overcoming the sorrow of this life.

Yet I have discovered a rather fascinating irony in all this: Although in the Lord Jesus I have Joy & Peace, He Himself was described by the prophet Isaiah as “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3 ESV). The Lord Jesus was no stranger to sorrow, grief and change. He experienced first hand many of the very losses and changes we encounter in our lives.

But Isaiah doesn’t stop there. Instead he continues in that passage to offer us Hope that our grief will be taken away someday: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4 ESV). The very one who offers us Life has Himself experienced life.

This is almost too much for words….

Below I have noted two places in the Gospels that record our Master grieving. There are many more. And to me, He is the strongest of us all. He endured the cross and scorned it shame making no threats or even whines. I’d rather have His Life coursing through my veins in my moments of loss and change than attempting to stuff the sorrow—only to explode later (been there and done that, too!)

When it comes to grieving and dealing with the sense of loss and changes in our lives, then, I am learning to be gracious to others allowing them “some days” to mourn (see verse 4 above). Oh, and I am learning to  be gracious to myself, as well, allowing myself some space and time to grieve. How about you? Are you a wimp and run when it comes to grieving? Or do you stand firm in the One Who has grieved and conquered it? Your thoughts.

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Jesus wept.  — John 11:35 (NIV)

   Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.

— 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 (NIV)

   and [Herod] had John beheaded in the prison. …  John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus. When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place….

— Matthew 14:10, 12-13a (NIV)

Heavenly Father,  as I give myself time to grieve, open my eyes to the larger perspective. Though I may never fully understand what glory You are getting out of this, I trust that You are Good all the time no matter what.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

“Forgiveness Offers Hope”

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Date: 12-04-14

Text: — Jeremiah 31:34 — 34 No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord.“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”  [NIV84]

The Big Idea: Lifestyle worshipers, I understand that forgiveness is truly and solely a divine act, that is, only God can forgive sins.

My Thoughts: 

Have you heard statements like this: “God may forgive you, but I never will,” “Even God won’t forgive me,” and “God’s punishing me for my sin?” It is statements like these that shout to me there is no hope in a given situation, and often in a given relationship. I hear the oft said, “You’ll never change,” echo in my soul, and wonder: Is there any hope?

When it comes to forgiveness, I know many struggle with the many nuances and inflections of it and how each individual defines it or demonstrates it—or not. But for me, this is a very dear and profound reality. I have pursued it and studied it for some time, and I have discovered that the best place to go is the Word of God. I believe He can give us a more consistent and accurate definition of forgiveness.

Of the many nuances and components of forgiveness, I would like to focus on two in this blog. The first is expressed in the text from Jeremiah noted above: “To forgive is to forget.” To me, if we honestly look at the above passage with fresh eyes, we will see the clear connection between forgiveness and forgetfulness, at least from a divine perspective. For if the Lord forgets our sins when He forgives us, then forgivingness is necessarily connected to forgetfulness. (There are other passages that express this very component of divine forgiveness: Psalm 10311-12; Jeremiah 50:20; Isaiah 43:25, for instance.) Some may say, “I cannot forget what they did to me. It would be wise, let alone dangerous.” I understand, and this naturally leads to the second component that I want to focus on in this blog.

The second component of forgiveness is perhaps a debatable one, though I think the evidence is rather overwhelming: Forgiveness is a divine act. Lifestyle worshipers, as I understand it, forgiveness is truly— dare I say—and solely an act only God can perform. Only He can forgive sins. I believe this because of the standard He set for forgiveness: He will forget our sins. This is clearly beyond our feeble human ability; at least, I know it is well beyond mine.

Bare with me a wee bit longer, please. I am saying that we cannot forgive anyone per se, but we can enter into the forgiveness that the Lord Jesus offers, especially that on the cross….

So, when someone says, “I cannot forgive them,” they speak rightly,  for indeed they cannot forgive ‘them’. They do not have enough will power or chutzpah to do so. But when they say, “I will not forgive them,” we have an entirely different issue. This is a hard, bitter heart, (and I have had one of these all too frequently. A dear friend once put it to me years ago, “Michael, you have a broken wanter.”) In order to forgive someone, anyone, including myself, I must ‘want’ to forgive them. Once I come to the place where Jesus’s Life in me overcomes the hurt and sparks a desire to forgive them, I enter into the power of forgiveness the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated and offered on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV 84).  (Thus, I frame a pray for forgiveness as expressed in the prayer below.)

Again, forgiveness is a very, very big subject, and I am barely scratching the surface here. And in answer to the question I posed in the introduction, “Yes, there is hope!” Forgiveness, to me, offers hope, a hope on all levels: hope of a new life, a fresh start, a new day, a new beginning, a second chance. Does this offer of forgiveness in the New Covenant that Jesus sealed in His Blood do the same for you?

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 Then He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, because this is My blood of the new covenant that is being poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins.”

— Matthew 26:27-28 (ISV)

  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

— Colossians 3:13 (NIV84)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

— Ephesians 4:32 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, by the shed blood of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and through His power, I forgive ________ for ________. I ask You Lord Jesus Christ, to bear the consequences of their actions. Remove the pain and shame they have caused me. Be that part of my Life that has been damaged by _______. I release ________ into your hands. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike