“O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree”

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Have you ever noticed that the Christmas Tree is much different than the Easter “Tree”?  One is an evergreen, symbolizing Life, the other an instrument of torture, symbolizing death. And yet the one leads to the other. Two trees, two symbols, but One Lord and One Life—Life eternal and abundant because of what was done on the one Tree that gives us gifts under the other tree.

As you take time this season to ponder these two trees, perhaps the one will be a pleasant reminder of the other, and the gifts that are exchange from under the one will remind you of the Gift that was exchanged for you on the other?

Join me this December in being truly Merry People who sincerely wish others a Merry Christmas and a blessed and prosperous New Year.

13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:13–15 NIV2011)

A Blessed and Merry Christmas & a Peace-filled New Year,

Coach Mike

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Time for Questions?

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Have you ever noticed how often Jesus would ask questions? I did. And it is fascinating that He engages friend and foe alike with a question. He offers them a chance to answer. His questions at times seem innocent and innocuous enough, but other times like He has the “witness” on the stand and He is cross examining them.

Have you also noticed that when sharing Jesus with others, asking questions actually opens up the conversation? Have you found that in doing so, this establishes rapport as well as respect? I have.

I have also found that I need not be in a hurry to win the argument, if one should ensue, but rather take my time and build a relationship. To be sure, Jesus was an itinerant preacher of sorts. He would move from town to town and village to village. But who’s to say He wasn’t speaking to some of the same people? Even some of His adversaries may have been following Him, and in some strange sort of way, a relationship, though adversarial, was being developed. And out of respect for them, our Master would genuinely ask a question.

Oh, He may have asked a rhetorical question here or there, but more often than not His questions engaged His hearers, expecting sincere and honest answers….

Do you think its about time we become more skilled at asking sincere and deep questions that engage our relationships (friends and foes), rather than making harsh and dogmatic statements—even if true? What do you think?

Main Text— Mark 8:27–30 (NIV) 27 Jesus and His disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way He asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Mark 10:51 (NIV)

 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  “What is written in the Law?” He replied. How do you read it?”Luke 10:25–26 (NIV)

  “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’  ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.   Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. Which of the two did what his father wanted? “The first,” they answered.—Matthew 21:28–31 (NIV)

Lord Jesus Christ, empower me to discover the needs of others through the questions You prompt me to ask. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Humble is Too Nice A Word”

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It seems that “humble” is just too nice a word for what happened to Jesus. As I read the Gospels and review His passion—the whipping, beatings, and crucifixion, this was not “humbling,” but it is “humiliating.” Yes, the better word seems, at least to me, to be: “humiliation.”

This word keeps coming up in my life, especially in the last year and a half or so. Be it public or private, the “humbling” is often beyond unpleasant and nearly unbearable. I’m becoming more confident that the Lord is giving me a glimpse of what He went through in His coming down from heaven to earth: It is indeed a most profound humiliation. As our main text notes below, He was equal with Deity—He is God! And yet He didn’t grasp or cling to this privilege. Rather He chose to make Himself nothing. (One translation says, “made Himself of no reputation.” He did  not brag about His being God; didn’t flaunt it in our faces.)

Continuing in this humiliation from heaven to earth, He took on the form of servant in human form. He did not come to be served, but to serve…. And the humiliation continued: He allowed Himself to be humiliated in death, and not just any death but the humiliating, shameful death of a crucifixion…. (In the Jewish mind, “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree” Dt. 21:22-23 & Gal. 3:13).

This is humiliation and not a mere humbling; publicly shamed and scorned; naked and beaten. The great God of the universe nailed to a tree by puny humans…. True humiliation, wouldn’t you agree?

And, oh, have I failed to note that on the cross He also carried the sins of all the world covering all of time? He—the Holy, sinless One—was so humiliated to carry our disgusting garbage of evil?

What ever small humiliations I have been going through these last 20 years or so cannot compare to His humiliation, for sure. But it does give me a taste of what He went through for me. A taste, mind you….

Do you, too, feel your humiliations are but a taste of what Jesus went through for you? Do they give you a greater appreciation for His coming down from heaven to earth? Your thoughts?

Main Text— Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV84)— 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.   Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (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)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.—Romans 12:3-4 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I accept this grace of humiliation. I accept it knowing that You are conforming me to be more like Your Son, Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

Even My Weaknesses

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Samson has always fascinated me. This is especially true since I’ve learned that he was not some bulked up weight-lifting model, but rather a Regular Joe like me or you or Bruce Banner. (If he had a chiseled body, then the question of the source of his strength would be somewhat moot, eh?)

As we are reading through the Old  Testament this year, I paused for a long while on Samson, took a step back and noticed that the LORD still used him to lead Israel in spite of his foolishness with women and his caviler acceptance of his vow. (To be a Nazarite was a highly esteemed vowed, but he appeared to have violated every restriction from touching dead animals to possibly drinking wine at the feasts he attended.)

Then at the end of his life, scarred, blinded and humiliated, he takes down the Temple of Dagon and with it himself and many more than when he lived (Judges 16:23ff).

 Then the Book says, “He had led Israel twenty-years” (Judges 16:31b).

What? In spite of all of his weaknesses, he was allowed to led? Pretty crazy. But as I pondered this, I have come to understand that the LORD uses me, even my weaknesses, for His purposes and, yes, His glory.

It seems like in saying this I am giving license to sin that grace may abound (Roman 6:1) “because the LORD is using my weaknesses, I can go ahead and sin like Samson.” (I guess if I did this I could end up like Samson: blinded, scarred and humiliated, huh? Besides I remember Romans 6:2: “God forbid. How shall we live any longer therein” NKJV).

But I am giving myself freedom to make mistakes, to fumble the ball, to screw up, and then by faith trusting that beyond this the LORD will still work out His good pleasure and purposes. This freedom of understanding that He is using even my weaknesses then gets me off the couch and out into the “real world” to live for Him, instead of “hiding in my room; safe within my womb;” where I “touch no one and no one touches me.” 

Do you find freedom in Jesus knowing that He is even going to use your weaknesses for His purposes and glory? What do you think?

Main Text— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (NIV)— 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

   We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body.—2 Corinthians 4:8–11 (NIV84)

    Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.—Philippians 3:13–14 (NIV)

 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I accept this grace You offer me. You accept me as I am, including my weaknesses and shortcomings. I praise You for transforming me to become more like Your Son, Jesus, Who empowers me to live the Life that is pleasing to You. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Spoiling an Attitude of Gratitude: Crying over Sour Milk”

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Have you ever had those late night munches? You don’t want something huge; just a small bowl of some sweet breakfast cereal will do. You pour a bowlful as you mechanically grab the milk from the refrigerator, and pour just enough to get the right consistency of this precious snack. Raising the first spoonful to your mouth, you gag in utter horror! The milk is super sour!!! Ruining an entire bowl of your midnight delight….

As I was praying this morning and reviewing all the things and people and blessings I am thankful for, the Lord showed me my “sour milk”,  which was spoiling my attitude of gratitude: Resentments; regrets…. Apparently I had a lot more that I realized.

Yes, I want to be thankful. I want to devote myself to prayer in a humble spirit of thankfulness, but my sweet delight of prayer was being spoiled by some super sour “milk”. The confession flowed as the tears poured.

Many resentments were unmet personal expectations. Many regrets were unfulfilled dreams and desires and poor choices. Wow. ….

Lately, I have changed my prayers for mercy to a recognition that the Lord’s mercy is already granted. The same for His grace. Instead of praying, “Lord, be gracious to me,” or “Lord, be merciful to me,” I am praying, “Lord, thank You for Your Grace and Your Mercy. They are fresh and new every morning, indeed, every moment.”

This awareness—coupled with the release of those resentments and regrets—has truly moved my attitude to a more sincere place of gratitude. Perhaps you’ve had a similar journey? Let us spur each other on, and perhaps we can check our “milk” before pouring it first, eh?

Main Text— Colossians 4:2 (NIV84) 2 Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.—Philippians 2:14–16a (NIV)

  Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.1 Peter 4:9 (NIV84)

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.1 Timothy 1:5 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, forgive me for resenting ______, and forgive me for regretting ______. By Your shed blood cleanse me from this sin. Create in me a pure heart that I may be filled with sincere thankfulness. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

Even When I’m Wrong

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Lord, You have been deeply impressing me on one of my deepest fears: Being wrong. Being a recovering perfectionist, this should not surprise me, but it did what You reveal how deep in my soul this is. Though You have transformed me significantly, I still am hesitant to step too far out of my comfort zone for fear of being wrong….

Then, this week You showed me You can resurrect and transform even when I am wrong. As the Resurrection and the Life, You cannot only take the big things—the evil things—and transform them into something beautiful and good, You can take my little, insignificant wrong decisions, wrong choices, wrong whatever, and transform them into something beautiful. Yes, I understand that sometimes the path to this good and beautiful may be hard and difficult, even leaving a scar or two; You will still make the scars look beautiful. (And You should know, right?)

So I am learning to rest in this truth: Because Your resurrection power can transform any “wrong” decision, etc., I can trust You even if these have led me into the valley of the shadow of death. Your rod and staff will comfort me and I will walk in Your presence—forever!

I do believe this!

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

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.—Philippians 3:20–21 (NIV84)

  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of His mighty strength, which He exerted in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms.Ephesians 1:18–20 (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)

Lord Jesus Christ, I praise You that You are the Resurrection and the Life in my life. I yield to Your transforming power as You overcome this fear in my life of being wrong. In Your Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

Being A Good Sheep

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Lord, I truly desire to be a good sheep. I strive to do the things that please You. But You have convicted me this morning. Through Your voice in this morning’s text, You have made me acutely aware You desire me to be a good sheep well before I do good sheep things. I see in verse 3, that You desire me to be a good listener; to listen to Your voice.  In verse 4, I see You desire me to be a good follower; to follow You where You lead. And in v. 5, You desire me to be intimately attentive to Your voice; to know “it” so well I will not even recognize a stranger’s voice. …

But I struggle with putting the doing in front of the being. Pondering these three simple desires of Yours, I am sure You want me to focus on being in Your presence. I am to rest in the safety of the sheep pen as I enter the gate: You are the Gate. (I see this in v. 7.)

It is in You I find green pastures. It is in You I find still waters. It is in You my cup overflows.

Out of this overflowing of being in Your Presence—in You— the doing comes, but this doing is not out of duty or obligation. Not out of fear of disappointing You or fear of “doing it wrong.” Rather it is out of Love for You. When I Love You, I will do the “things” that please You, right? And the more I realize that I Love You because You first Loved me, this Love will drive out any fears of “doing it wrong.” All this because You are transforming me to be a good sheep.

Main Text— John 10:1–5 (NIV84) 1 I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.1 John 4:18 (NIV84)

  If you love Me, you will obey what I command. …  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.—John 14:15 & 15:12–13 (NIV84)

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)

Lord Jesus Christ, I praise You that You are the Good Shepherd. Empower me to be a good sheep. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike