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

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I Remember When I Was Young

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As I am reading through the New Testament this year, it gave me pause when I arrived (catching up as it were) to the main text below. Yes, I remember when I was young. I remember reading this passage over and over again, spurring me on to “set an example.” …

Now that I am not so young and have fewer years ahead of me than behind me, I humorously thought: “Now that I’m not young, I don’t need to set an example any more…! I can be a crotchety old man, constantly complaining of the youth of today, etc., etc., etc….”

I pursued that fantasy for just a bit and thought of all the men in my life who had been this very person…. 

Then I thought of the dear men in my life who were truly an example of Jesus “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (v. 12). I thought of these men who continued well into their 80’s and 90’s who committed themselves “to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching” (v. 13). 

It is these men who were pleasant to be around. These men who had the fragrant aroma of a Loving Deliverer. It is these men who (paraphrasing v. 16) “watched their lives and doctrine closely; who persevered in them, … who saves both themselves and their hearers”—and me.

It is these men I desire to be like when I am gray and old and I am well on my way with the latter. Besides, I still feel pretty young from the waste up, hehe.

Main Text— 1 Timothy 4:12–16 (NIV) 12 Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. 14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. 15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. 16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.—2 Corinthians 6:4–10 (NIV84)

  Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.—Hebrews 12:3 (NIV84)

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.—2 Timothy 2:10 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, empower me to finish strong. Overwhelm me with a sense of Your Love as I sometimes limp to the “finish” line. Strengthen me to run and not grow weary; to walk and not faint; to mount up with renewed strength as the eagle. In Your Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

“The Awesome Responsibility to be Forgiveness Dispensers”

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Allow me to assume for sake of discussion that forgiveness is a divine act of God: Only God can forgive sins and the Lord Jesus Christ has “earned” this authority on the cross and out of the grave—since, indeed, He is God, the Son. From this assumption comes the understanding that we are dispensers of this forgiveness. So in the Authority of the Lord Jesus Christ and through His blood we are able to forgive others; thus dispensing His forgiveness provided for on the cross.

With me so far?

Now comes my personal wrestling match with this morning’s main text below. It clearly says that through the power of the Holy Spirit we can forgive sins. (This is the forgiveness dispensing role, right?) But then our Master continues: “if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” Does this mean I have the prerogative not to forgive someone their sins? Or does it mean I have the awesome responsibility to dispense forgiveness to these “sinners” as well?

The former appears to be very unkind and unloving, but, in truth, in years past, I have actually been taught that, “I don’t have to forgive them because the Lord says so.” Oh? Would you agree? What are your thoughts on this wrestling match? Do we have the awesome responsibility to be a forgiveness dispenser? Or do we have the divine “right” to withhold forgiveness? How do you read it?

Main Text— John 20:21–23 (NIV84) 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, Receive the Holy Spirit23 If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.—Colossians 3:13–14 (NIV84)

 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.Matthew 6:12–15 (NIV84)

 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7:59–60 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, make me an instrument of Your Presence to bring healing and not harm. Where there is injury, be pardon in me; where there is offense be forgiveness in me. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“Comparing the Degrees of Agapē Love”

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As I have been reading through the New Testament, I was jolted the other day by a series of “Love Statements” that our Teacher made. Throughout His ministry our Lord Jesus would state or be asked, “What is the greatest commandment.” His answer was simply, “Love the LORD your God…, and Love your neighbor as yourself.” In the Sermon on the Mount He addressed this and expanded this Love to our enemies. This is a difficult Love. And then in the Upper Room Discourse, our Master raises the bar from “self” to “as I have Loved you”—an even greater Love….

As I pondered these three different objects (or expressions) of Love, as I said, I was jolted. For some, Loving oneself is the most challenging, let alone Loving ones neighbor. And their self-loathing comes out in rather harsh tones as they interact with their “neighbors”—both near and far.

For others, Loving our neighbors is easier than Loving our enemies. To them, Loving their enemies is the ‘greater,’ more difficult Love.  Still for others the “greater Love” is laying down our lives, preferences, desires for a friend—literally as well as figuratively.

Why this did jolt me? It appears to me that our Lord is deepening our understanding of Love (before I continue let me say that I capitalize Love to = the Greek, agapē that unconditional, sacrificial Love) by raising the bar of the object of Love.

Let me see if I got this: Loving our neighbor as ourselves, even sometimes out of self-interests, is nonetheless a rather elementary form of Love. This bar is rather low. Then Jesus raises the bar by changing the object of this Love from neighbors to enemies. Though a much more challenging Love than the elementary Love of ones neighbor, it is still not the greatest Love. The greatest Love is laying down ones life for a friend—and not an enemy or a neighbor! Right?

And this is what jolted me. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b), and then a couple of verses later, St. Paul continues: “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life” (Romans 5:10 NIV84)!

Does our Master merge these latter two Loves? Are they distinct in degree or merely in the object of Love?

Forgive the apparent headiness of this, but I am coming to realize that my Love is rather shallow. Oh, yes, I can say I Love my neighbor, even beyond convenience and ease. I can even say I Love my friends with some mild delusion that I will indeed lay down my life for them, but what of my enemies? Oh, I tolerate them, but do I Love them—as Jesus Loved them—and me!?

Perhaps you are like me and rely on His gushes of Grace to do what we cannot do? Care to share?

Main Text— John 15:12–13 (NIV84)— 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (NIV84)

Let all that you do be done in love.1 Corinthians 16:14 (NASB95)

 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.— Ephesians 2:4–5 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, reduce me to Love. In Your Name, Amen. 

iu

Pastor Mike

“Common Union”

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In my research and in my personal experience I have noted that one of the most common accusations against the church her divisions. Sadly, some divisions are rather vicious and cruel. The maturity to agree to disagree agreeably is wanting in many settings. And why? Because “we have God’s approval and I am here to let you know….”

Truly, there will be honest disagreements of how we baptize or celebrate the Lord’s Table, or what songs to sing or not sing. How long to preach, if at all, but I’m sure many of you would agree, especially those who know the Lord Jesus, that we do have a common union in the Lord Jesus. We all agree that He died for our sins in fulfillment of the Scriptures, was buried and rose again on the third day, in fulfillment of the Scriptures (see 1 Cor. 15:3, 4).

And in this common belief we have a common union. From there it seems if we follow Philippians 3:15-16, all will be well: “All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things [i.e. have the same mind as our Lord Jesus as explained earlier in chapter 2:5-8]. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” [NIV]. I understand “already attained” to mean “already agreed upon, what we already have in common.”

To me, this common union is seen very clearly in the Lord’s Table, the Last Supper, the fulfillment of Passover. All have sinned and need this Table. All who Love Lord Jesus know this all too well. And we come to the Table humble and yet grateful, knowing the Grace that has been offered to us in the act this Table: “In remembrance of Me”  (Luke 22:19b)

Maybe that’s why we call this Table, “Communion?” To express the Common Union we have in Jesus? Your thoughts?

Main Text— 1 Corinthians 11:19, 23-26 (NIV) No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval. … For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way, after supper He took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.— John 17:11b (NIV)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all … will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.—John 13:34–35 (NIV84)

 But the end of all things is at hand; therefore be serious and watchful in your prayers. And above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”— 1 Peter 4:7–8 (NKJV)

Heavenly Father, I put the Lord Jesus Christ on as my Belt of Love. May I see all who confess the Name of the Lord Jesus with the same eyes of Grace, Mercy, and Love You see me. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Different is Wrong?”

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As I grew in my relationship with my future wife, Kathy, and into the early years of our marriage, I struggled with “different”. If she did something different than I did, one of us must be wrong, or at least this is what I deeply believed. Then I started going to a pastor for some counseling. Early in the sessions, we discussed how different isn’t wrong. But I kept arguing: “But it is!… Etc., etc., etc.!” Finally after many intense exchanges (all from me, BTW), we came up with a compromise: “Difference isn’t necessarily wrong. It could be, but maybe not.”

Love One Another

I bring this up to say, that I have learned (or still am learning?) in the Body of Christ we are all different: uniquely and intentionally designed so. And this “different” is what the Lord Jesus uses to refine our divine design into looking more uniquely like Him. So, whereas, “Different” might be “wrong” in the Body of Christ, it is still used for the Good.

When I see someone who Loves Jesus in a vastly different way than I would, this is okay. Or if I see someone whose walk is a little different than mine, this, too, is okay. Some have said that difference is the spice of life, but I have found it is the test of Love. Can I Love (i.e. both agapé & philos) my brother, my sister in Christ even when they are different from me—even beyond looks, eh?

So when our Master told the tax collector, Levi, to “Love one another,” He was including Simon the Zealot—who in turn must Love the different Levi. This included the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James & John having to Love Thomas & Nathaniel…and the differences could be multiplied between us as well.

When the Lord brings someone different into my Life, it is not simply to spice it up, but more so it is to extend and expand my Love for Him and His Body. And I am learning I still hold to a little of that, “Different is wrong” plank in the platform of my belief system. Or is it in my eye? How about you? What are your thoughts?

Main Text: — John 15:12 (NIV84)—  My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.— Romans 15:7 (NIV84)

No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.— 1 Corinthians 11:19 (NIV84)

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained. — Philippians 3:15–16 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, forgive me for not recognizing the differences in the Body of Christ and for not embracing them as Your kaleidoscope of Love. Lord Jesus Christ, renew a fresh sense of the Holy Spirit in my Life so that I may Love Your Body, the Church, as much as I Love You, the Head! In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Following Jesus is a Trust Issue”

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Text: John 13:36-38 —  Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replied, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.”  Peter asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.”  Then Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times![NIV84]

The Big Idea: Following Jesus has a lot to do with how much I trust Him.

My Thoughts: 

I have learned that following Jesus has a lot to do with how much I trust Him. And because I have had trust issues in my life, I have found it rather difficult  the longer I have walked with Him. Yes, this is hard for me to admit, but it is nonetheless true.

As a young Christian, my faith was fresh and innocent,and I followed Jesus closely. When I read in the Word about a particular action or task (e.g. from the Sermon on the Mount, see Matthew 5-7), I’d do it virtually without hesitation—from giving the coat on my back to some transient in need to a place to stay or walking that “second” mile. (Or driving as the case may be!)

Yes, at one time my faith was like Peter’s who courageously got out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the water. He so desperately wanted to follow Him, that Peter impulsively, but nonetheless, faith-filled, ‘followed’ his Master. If we freeze frame this moment, Peter had the innocent faith of a child who falls into his father’s loving arms. But the frame cannot be frozen, and Peter moved on and began to doubt. His childlike faith had become an adult faith, “What am I doing? Where am I going? The waves!? The water!? … Lord, save me! I’m sinking!”

(As an aside, any time I have tried to walk on water, I didn’t start sinking. Nope, I plummeted! I down right sunk. Immediately, with no hesitation. But from the account (see Mt. 14:30) it appears that as Peter’s faith evaporated, his feet followed suit and ‘began to sink’!. Fascinating, no?)

So is it possible that my trust issues are not with Jesus, but with me? In some small way, it appears I doubt my own ability to trust Him. Perhaps, this is what Jesus meant when He gently chided Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt” (Mt. 14:31, NASB95)? But as I pursue this thought, I wonder if it is a Both/And, a combination of my doubting His goodness & faithfulness coupled with my own brokenness, weakness and shortsightedness.

This brings me to the next trust issue: Do I trust Jesus when I cannot see where He is leading me? As I pondered this, a powerful thought came to me as I was searching for following passages. During the Last Supper, Peter pleads with the Lord to follow Him, but Jesus says, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (John 13:36 NIV84). Apparently, Jesus is saying that when we are following Him, there are some places we are not quite ready to go. Oh, one day we will get there, but not now! Hence, this comment.

And though Peter reiterates his desire to follow Jesus, the Lord gives him a cold shower: “Will you really lay down your life for me? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times” (John 13:38 NIV84). The Lord is basically telling Peter, “You will follow me ‘there’, but not now. You are just not ready.” This is made even clearer when Jesus reinstates Peter on the beach (see John 21:15-23). As Jesus presents Peter with three chances for reaffirmation (vis a vis ‘denial’), He accepts where Peter is at, even though he is ‘still not ready’ to go ‘there’ (i.e., to the cross), but his philëō Love for Jesus is more than enough to follow Jesus for now.

I have seen this in my own life. I think I am ready to follow Jesus to a particular destination or level in my walk with Him, and He gently notes, “you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” And sometimes with Peter, I say, “Lord, why can’t I follow now’!” (Can you hear the almost whiney voice? I can.) But I have to trust Him even when I do not see or understand where He is leading me.

The Lord has comforted me with a rather fascinating image. I picture Him weaving in and out of a crowd of people, like at a crowded outdoor festival. He has a tight grip on my hand and says, “Follow me.” I burp, “But where, Lord?” Not answering my question, He continues on, glancing back with a huge, endearing smile that shines His Love. Squeezing my hand to reaffirm that He is there, we continue weaving through the crowd. After some time, He scoops me up in His arms, and places me on His shoulders. Now, I can clearly see where He was leading me all along….

Yes, following Jesus is a trust issue. I am learning not to trust what I can see or cannot see. I am still learning to trust Him with that fresh, innocent childlike faith that follows no matter what. And as long as I can see His back through this crowd of doubts and fears, I’m okay. Ah, but then there are those times He glances back, and I see His warm smiling face; I am okay. I can trust His tight grip of my hand (and my Life), and I can trust He is leading me to a very wonderful place that will most definitely honor Him and bless me.

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.

— Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV84)

 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”  — John 14:1-4 (NIV84)

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 22:3 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, empower me to keep my eyes focused on You whether I know where I am going or not. As You enlarge my trust in You, let the Joy of the Spirit light my way on my journey with You.. In Your Holy Name. Amen.

Pastor Mike