“I Think I Can.”

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Many of us grew up with TheLittle Engine that Could” story, and then we’ve passed it on to our children and to their children. It is a great moral: Don’t give up; Give it your all and you can do it. And for much of life I would agree with this….

…but when it comes to living the Moral Kingdom Code presented by our Master in the Sermon on the Mount, I have a different feeling RE  “the little engine that could.”

Perhaps you are morally stronger than I, but I have not been able to keep my heart from burping out, “You fool”—either to the one who just cut me off or to my self for doing something utterly stupid…. Oops, I’m in “liable to the hell of fire” (v. 22 below).

Or how about the rest of the “You have heard that it was said to those of old…, But I say to you’s? I know our Master is giving us the ideal Kingdom Living Code, but I also think He is noting something far more profound right along with it: “unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20 ESV). I think He is telling us that we cannot achieve this Code on our own, by our own efforts. Wouldn’t you agree?

 Wouldn’t you also agree that St. Paul echoes this very sentiment in his letter to the Galatians, “I do not misapply God’s grace, for if righteousness comes about by doing what the Law requires, then the Messiah died for nothing” (Gal. 2:21 ISV)?

I know I need Jesus in the beginning of my salvation and at the end, but I also know I need Him in the middle as well. With each step I take in His steps, I need His strength, His Power, to “perform” His Kingdom Code. How else would I make it? I know of no other way. Do you?

Main Text— Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV) 21 You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Jesus answered, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”Jn 14:6–7 (NIV84 emphasis added)

 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.—James 2:10–11 (NIV84)

  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 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 3:8–11 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, when it comes to Your Kingdom Code, I am shaking like a leaf. I pray You are my Prince of Peace. Fulfill Your Holy Kingdom Code in my Life that I might be a pleasing child of Yours. In Your Holy Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

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“Dangerous Grace”

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Amazing Grace copy

Grace is dangerous and risky. It could lead to misuse and license: “Let us sin that grace may abound!” The Apostle Paul new of this danger and wrote extensively on it in several of his letters (e.g. see Romans 6:1-7:25 and Galatians 5:1-15), and we do not have space here to present a major treatise on this amazing subject of Grace (and there are many scholarly works available to peruse). But what I do want to present is the Hope of this dangerous Grace….

The hope? When we do fall, this dangerous Grace is all-sufficient for us to get back up and keep on walking in the Spirit in the steps of my Savior. We do not take this dangerous Grace lightly. We are fully aware of the price paid of the lavished Love flowing from such all-sufficient Grace. Yes, I could take it for granted, and continue wallowing in the muck and mire of my flesh—my sin, but the Love Lord Jesus has lavished on me somehow propels me to step out of the miry clay and have my feet firmly placed on the Rock that is higher than I. His dangerous Grace is faithful to forgive me when I confess my sin and cleanse me from all that muck & mire…. It is all-sufficient.

Charles Spurgeon, the 19th Century Prince of Preachers, shares a very personal moment regarding v. 9 of our main text:

The other evening I was riding home after a heavy day’s work. I felt very wearied and sore depressed, when swiftly and suddenly as a lightning flash, the text came to me, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” I reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came to me in this way. “MY grace is sufficient for thee”; and I said, “I should think it is, Lord,” and burst out laughing. … It was as though some little fish, being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking  the river dry…. Or, it seemed after the seven years of plenty, a mouse feared it might die of famine, and Joseph might say, “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for thee.” Again, I imagined a man away up yonder, in the lofty mountain, saying to himself, “I breathe so many cubic feet of air every year, I fear I shall exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere,” but the earth might say, “Breathe away, O man, and fill the lungs ever, my atmosphere is sufficient for  thee.” Oh brethren, be great believers! Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls. [Source: Streams in the Desert, February 26]

So I rest in the hope of this dangerous, all-sufficient Grace. The hope that gets me back up when I fall; the hope that a confessed sin is not only forgiven, but replaced with heaven’s righteousness; the  hope that my feeble steps behind my gracious Master are strengthened by His dangerous Grace. Does this hope spur you to get back up and drink in His never-ending all-sufficient Grace? Your thoughts?

Main Text— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (NIV) 7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;2 Corinthians 9:8 (NASB95)

  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)

  For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say, “No,” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.— Titus 2:11–14 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I am humbled by this amazing, dangerous Grace. I know I am not worthy to receive this, but Your Love for me has made me valuable. You Loved me even when I was Your enemy. Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your sacrifice of Love and Grace. No words can truly capture my heart’s gratitude. Baruch Ha Shem Y’shua! Amen.

Pastor Mike

“The Power to Live the Life”

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Plugging into Jesus

As we embark on this series developing the third component of our Vision Statement: “Living His Word” (the first two are : Building Families & Pursuing the Lord Jesus Christ), it would be very easy to slip into what I have called, “Behavioral Christianity,” that is, attempting to Live the Word in our own strength. This attempt to live the Christian Life in our own strength, on the one hand, produces hypocrites and legalists, who have no integrity, and who foolishly think they can fake living the Life or who foolishly think they can gut out the Word without the Life of Lord Jesus coursing through their spiritual veins, respectively. The Dangler, on the other hand, has integrity, but is caught between the is and the ought: They “ought” to live like the Word, but they “is” not like the Word. So they slip from one teacher to another; one church to another; one Bible study to another until they find the “secret.” But plugging into people, positions, power or possessions just doesn’t cut it….

The “secret,” as Gary Smalley has said, is: “We need to plug into the 220 outlet—the Lord Jesus!” (“220”comes from Galatians 2:20—see below.)

So as we plug into the Lord Jesus Christ by faith, He empowers us by His Holy Spirit to Live the Life the Word presents. For example, the Word teaches, “… Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34b NIV84). Now I can try to Love my brother and sister in Christ in my own strength and to some degree I may have some success. (And some may have even more success because they are more disciplined or stronger or whatever…) But if we are truly honest with ourselves, to Love as Jesus would have me Love is way beyond my ability (see Gal. 2:21). I offer a simple prayer of faith to resolve this conundrum: It goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, be Love in me toward _______.” Or “Lord Jesus Christ, be in me what my _____ needs right now.” And then He will not only prompt you, but empower you to “go do it”—whatever it is.

This is the Life of Faith when Living His Word. At times He will prompt us to do or say something, but at other times He may prompt us to remain quiet, or merely offer a healing, holy touch. Whatever He prompts us to do, I have found that listening to Him is crucial….

What are some ‘habits’ you use to practice listening for His promptings? Your thoughts?

Main Text— Galatians 2:20–21 (NIV84)— 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.Philippians 4:9 (NIV84)

I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from Me you can do nothing.—John 15:5 (NIV84)

  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”— John 14:6 (NIV84 emphasis added)

Lord Jesus Christ, I put You on as my Sword Wielder. Empower me to live Your Word as You continue to transform me by Your Holy Spirit. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“A Training Manual, of Sorts”

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Some people can put things together without looking at the instructions. Others of us need a picture. Still some need step by step instructions. Which are you? I’m kind of the last two depending on the project. Though there have been those few times I’ve been able to assembly something without an instruction manual, I prefer the pictures….

Lifestyle worshiper, when it comes to your walk with Jesus, do you like the pictures in the Training Manual, or do you try to assemble your life ‘intuitively’? Ironically, maybe you’ve discovered that the Life of Jesus is often counterintuitive. You know, “He who saves his life shall lose it and he who loses his life shall find it,” type of ‘huh’. This is why sometimes we need to give the Training Manual a closer look….

It has been suggested by some commentators that the Book of Acts was part of a training manual for new believers called, catechumens. These were they who came out of some rather dark traditions into the Light and required some more directed training. Ironically, the Book is not written as a typical training manual with charts and graphs and ABC’s and 1 2 3’s. Rather it is a collections of episodes in the early church’s life to give us a rather ‘theology in life’ training. And in our pursuit of the Lord Jesus Christ, I’m fascinated and intrigue at this perspective of the Book of Acts.

Perhaps spending more time in the Life “Training Manual” will make clearer some of the more counterintuitive aspects of my journey with Jesus. Would you agree? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 1:1-2 — 1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. — 1 Timothy 3:14-15 (NIV84)

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings. —2 Timothy 3:10-11 (NIV84)

  Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. — 1 Peter 2:11-12 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, ignite in me a passion for Your Son that will make Your Light in me reveal the Lord Jesus Christ. Keep my mind and thoughts laser focused on Him. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

The Right Place

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Devotion Title: “The Right Place”

Date: 03-31-15

The Big Idea: Now this may seem paradoxical—counterintuitive even, but I go back to the very person I betrayed: I flee to Jesus.

My Thoughts: Lifestyle worshiper, is it possible that you’ve done something horribly wrong? I’m not talking white lies or burps of profanity, but something much like Peter, who denied his Lord, not once, not twice but three time? Often what happens is we begin to isolate ourselves from others, especially if they call themselves “Christian”. Our shame and embarrassment is just too much to bear, eh? (Been there; done that; got the scars and T-shirt to prove it.)

But when I finally come to my senses (and this may take anywhere from a few moments to, ah, several years), I go to the right place. Now this may seem paradoxical—counterintuitive even, but I go back to the very person I betrayed: I flee to Jesus. Now why I do this, I’m not quite sure, especially when I see others who do not. But somehow Peter’s journey with Jesus has given me hope that I, too, can be forgiven.

Have you found this to be so, too? Have you discover that our Lord Jesus is “a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Neh. 9:17b)?

Maybe you haven’t done something as terrible as I or Peter, but even if you haven’t, maybe you can receive comfort and hope from the words recorded in Mark 16:6-7 the angel spoke to the women at the tomb of Jesus:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as he told you.’ ”

Did you read that? “… and Peter”?  This is where I get my hope. If the Lord Jesus can forgive the most horrible, terrible wrong done by Peter, He can forgive me, too. I can hear my name in Peter’s place: “and….” Can you?

This is our God! This is the Hope of the Resurrection He offers. This is the reason we praise Him: Father, Son and Holy Spirit! Hosanna in the Highest!

Main Text: — Mark 16:6-7— “Don’t be alarmed,” [the angel] said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. 7 But go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as he told you.’ ” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep — 1 Corinthians 15:3-6 (NIV84)

  I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.   —Revelation 1:18 (NIV84)

 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”  — John 11:25-26 (NIV84)

 Heavenly Father, by the shed blood of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and through His power, I ask You to forgive me for _____. I thank You, Lord Jesus Christ, for bearing the consequences of my actions. Remove the pain and shame I have cause Your name. Be that part of my life that has been disobedient to You. I release myself into Your hands. Empower me with Your Resurrected Life through the Holy Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to You. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“People of the Book’s First Response: Blindness, then Sight”

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Date: 03-15-15

The Big Idea: I need to be reminded once again of Neh. 8:10: “Do not grieve, for the Joy of the LORD is my strength!”

My Thoughts: Like coming out of a dark theater, when we frist encounter the Word, we are blinded, squinting and covering our eyes. It is almost too painful to even attempt to open them. And yet as we persevere, our eyes adjust and we see more. This is how the people in Nehemiah’s day initially responded to the Word (v. 9 below). They were overwhelmed with a sense of grief; they were undone and wrecked. Becoming a People of the Book, I often come away from the Word undone and wrecked. My point of view is often one of helplessness. I know I cannot fulfill the precepts of this Book; they are well beyond my capabilities. Oh, some I may be able to gut out with extreme effort and constant exertion, but in truth, I know my strength is far too inadequate to be like Jesus….

I need to be reminded once again of Neh. 8:10: “Do not grieve, for the Joy of the LORD is my strength!” The Lord Jesus Christ overcomes my weaknesses, and as my eyes become accustomed to the Light, I see Him more clearly.

Hannah Whital Smith writes to me a word of encouragement on this:

“I feel more and more utterly cast on Christ and more and more bereft of anything of my own. My wants are many and they are continual, but I know that His supply is far more mighty, and it is promised to me moment by moment, and therefore I can trust all to Him. All! I leave the whole battle to Him, because I must. Wisdom, courage, armor, strength, patience and victory all to be found only in the Lord. I have nothing, literally and truly nothing. But Christ has all, just as literally and truly all and He is mine. Oh, can I doubt that every need will be fully supplied? No a thousand times no! let me wait then patiently His own time, and commit everything to Him continually. “For they shall not be ashamed that wait for thee.” Isa. 49:23. I want to know that I am one with Jesus and to know that He is dwelling in me and working in me to will and to do His good pleasure.”—Journal, April 26, 1867 [Smith, Hannah Whitall, and Melvin Easterday Dieter. The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life: The Unpublished Personal Writings of Hannah Whitall Smith. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997. Print. March 15]

I pray that on your personal journey becoming a People of the Book, the Lord Jesus Christ becomes your strength more and more in the inner being as He empowers you to faithfully respond to His Word of Truth.

Main Text: — Nehemiah 8:9— Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 I love you, O LORD, my strength. — Psalm 18:1 (NIV84)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  —John 15:5 (NIV84)

But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion’s mouth. — 2 Timothy 4:17 (NASB95)

 Lord Jesus Christ, I confess You are my strength when I am weak. I humbly seek Your Face as I actively yield to Your presence in my Life to walk this journey with You. Transform me by Your Holy Spirit into a People of the Book. Amen.

Coach Mike

“The Start of My Journey becoming a ‘People of the Book’”

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Date: 03-11-15

The Big Idea: Early on my journey with Jesus, I had a deep hunger for the His Word, His People and His Person.

As I went off to college, I expected to be tempted with drugs, sex and partying. But instead, the Lord began to rock my world at its core. I was rather religious according to the Roman Tradition—indeed, very devoted, but I met someone who had a peace that was promised at then end of each mass that I did not have. He challenged my religion with a relationship with God.

In pursing an answer to this challenge, I began to study and read. I read  many, if not most, of the world’s great Holy Books, some to the point of memorizing them. I pursued eastern mysticism and western materialism and much in between. I was even so audacious as to attempt to create my own religion. But as I began to lay the foundational principles, I kept being drawn back to one particular Holy Book: the Bible.

Somehow its words spoke to a part of me none of the other books could reach.

I might say my pursuit ended on a Fall Friday night, but really it just began—just on a more focused path. That Friday night I ask and answer a simply question: “Lord, I don’t know if I am a Christian or not, but tonight I want to make sure; I would like to become one now.” And then and there I committed myself to the Lord Jesus Christ….

Almost immediately I had a hunger for the His Word, His People and His Person. One instance in my early walk with Him seems to typify this hunger. I had been studying intensely for a couple of hours reading a Political Science text book with very, very fine print. My eyes were sore and aching. “I think I’d better take a break,” I decided. So I set down my highlighters, bookmarked my place, and laid down on my dorm room bed. “Maybe I’ll read my Bible for a little bit.” What? Continue reading? It wasn’t until weeks later I realized the irony. And, in fact, I read for almost another hour. And the interesting thing is: My eyes appeared to be just fine and I was most definitely refreshed.

I am reminded of the time when Jesus was hungry and asked the woman at the well for some water. When His disciples came back offering Him some found that they had gather, He said,  “I have food to eat that you know nothing about…. My food … is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” To me, His Word was that food for my soul and rest for my weary eyes… Fascinating, no?

This was the beginning of my journey as a People of the Book. Do you have a story you’d like to share about becoming a People of the Book?

Main Text: — Nehemiah 8:2-3— 2 So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. 3 He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh accomplishes nothing. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.— John 6:63 (ISV)

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” —Matthew 4:4 (NIV84)

I arise before dawn and cry for help; I wait for Your words. My eyes anticipate the night watches, That I may meditate on Your word.— Psalm 119:147148 (NASB95)

Coach Mike