“The First Step Toward Freedom”

Standard

Date: 03-18-15

The Big Idea: Address our pray to the Holy One—and Only One, Who can actually give us freedom in forgiveness.

My Thoughts: Many of us seek freedom from the present. Others seek freedom from the past. Or even from themselves. But no matter what freedom we may be seeking, there is a first step in finding this hard sought after freedom.

The first step to freedom, as with many recovery programs, is to admit there is a problem/issue/concern. This admission/confession must get personalized. Yeah, your family has had a problem for years, true. But it is only when you own your role in & contribution to this problem/issue/concern, that you begin your journey toward freedom.

Unlike many sterilized recovery programs, this first step of admission is actually addressed to the more-than-personal higher power: It is addressed to the Holy One—and Only One, Who can actually give us freedom in forgiveness. He not only offers forgiveness, He alone can actually actuate such. As seen in our main text below, the Israelites began their journey to freedom by praising the Holy One. They full-well realized that only He can forgive their sins and bring them the true freedom they seek.

So, Lifestyle worshiper, as we journey on the pathway to Freedom and wholeness, let us take our first steps of confession and ownership of our problem/issue/concern by praising the Holy One Who is the Only One that can free us.

Main Text: — Nehemiah 9:5-6— Blessed be Your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise. You alone are the LORD. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you. [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

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

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.”  —Matthew 11:25 (NIV84)

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. — 1 John 1:8-9 (NIV84)

 Lord Jesus Christ, I  acknowledge that the enemy has come to steal, kill, and destroy, but I confess that You have come to bring Life abundantly. I cry to You, Who is greater in me than he that is in the world, to free me from the bondage of those things that hinder my walk with You and the sins that have so easily entangled me. Empower me to run this race marked out for me on the path of Freedom. In Your Name, Amen. 

Coach Mike

Advertisements

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

Standard

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’”

Standard

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

“Lists, Lists, Lists”

Standard

Date: 03-07-15

The Big Idea: Lists confirm status and standing.

My Thoughts: Lists, lists, lists. Clipboards, sign-up sheets, membership drives, waiting lists. There are all sorts of lists. Some are good like the No-Call lists and some are sad like blacklists. But when it comes to the Bible, almost all of us skip these lists, like the one in Nehemiah 7, especially because of the difficult to pronounce names. We feel it is like a required course in school, “Why do I need to take this? I’m not going to be using it in the ‘real world’!”

These lists, however, are very important, especially when they appear in the Bible. Not only do they present a sense of belonging and connectedness, they also confirm status and standing. Much like a waiting list or membership list, these lists establish where our standing is with the larger group (e.g. this family signed up before yours), and who has valid status, as demonstrated later in Chapter 7 of Nehemiah with several families who were not on the list, as it were (see vv. 61-65).

Lifestyle worshiper, do you balk at lists and sign-up sheets and clipboards? I understand. But don’t you think this passage is telling us that membership really does have its privileges? What are your thoughts?

Main Text: — Nehemiah 7:5-7— 5 So my God put it into my heart to assemble the nobles, the officials and the common people for registration by families. I found the genealogical record of those who had been the first to return. This is what I found written there: 6 These are the people of the province who came up from the captivity of the exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken captive (they returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town, 7 in company with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Azariah, Raamiah, Nahamani, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispereth, Bigvai, Nehum and Baanah): The list of the men of Israel: …”  [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam,— Genesis 25:13 (NIV84)

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in Your record? —Psalm 56:8 (NIV84)

A widow may be put on the widows’ list if she is at least sixty years old and has been the wife of one husband. She must be well known for her good actions as a woman who has raised children, welcomed strangers, washed the saints’ feet, helped the suffering, and devoted herself to doing good in every way. But do not include younger widows on your list. For whenever their natural desires cause them to lose their devotion to the Messiah, they want to remarry.— 1 Timothy 5:9-11 (ISV)

  Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” Amen. —Matthew 6:9b-12 [NKJV emphasis added]

Coach Mike

“Meaninglessness is Not Meaningless”

Standard

Date: 02-21-15

The Big Idea: The word, ‘meaningless,’ is not really meaningless.

My Thoughts: 

Recently in a men’s Bible study, I had a life wrecking epiphany. It arrived somewhat as a climax to a longer journey. This journey has taken me from meaninglessness to meaningfulness. I discovered that the word, ‘meaningless’ is not really meaningless. Let me explain.

In our men’s weekly Bible study, we have been going through the book of Ecclesiastes and throughout its pages I have been learning that I need to live in the moment but not for the moment. As we continued this excursion through Ecclesiastes, I kept struggling with this. To me, it appears that the former leads to Life when I’m living in the moment for Jesus, but somehow the latter leads to a disconnected life, at best—one I am all too familiar with. …

At some point in my earlier years, I slipped into a very nihilistic, fatalistic philosophical morass, and sadly, even when I became a believer in Jesus, I would often slip back into this black vortex. I would seek out the perverted comfort of darkness by reading the Book of Ecclesiastes and wallow in the meaninglessness of its pages….

Or so I thought.

This wrecking epiphany began when we saw that one translation in particular (noted below), used the word “fleeting,” while other translations used words like, “meaningless,” or “vanity,” or “futility,” or even “pointless”. What did the Hebrew word mean, and why was it translated so?

Through various study sources, we came to understand that the word translated ‘fleeting’ means “breath” or “wind”. It carries with it the idea of useless and transitory things. From here we understood that the ‘things’ of this world offer a fleeting, transitory measure of satisfaction, but in the long run they “whoosh” like the wind. This ‘whoosh’ leaves us with wanting more and more and ultimately never satisfies.

From here I reasoned that life (lower case) really wasn’t so much meaningless as it was fleeting and unsubstantial. In this way seeking this life and the ‘things’ it offers most definitely can lead to meaninglessness, though not immediately. If I place my hope in the temporal, fleeting things of this seen world, then, yes, it leads to meaninglessness. But if I live in the moment for Jesus, the Life in Him is true substance and significance. Then the ‘things’ of this world do indeed fade away, but prior to their ‘fleeing,’ they are used for that which is truly greater & more substantial: His Good & His Glory.

The things of this world then become a means to an end and not an end in and of themselves. Living for them moment makes them an end in themselves, and thus a disconnected ‘meaninglessness’ arrives, but when I live in the moment for the eternal Jesus, His Life infuses the moment’s meaning for a greater, more substantial Moment.

Now some may find this rather heady and disconnected, but for me it gives the moments I have dreaded meaning. This understanding moves me away from a nihilistic/fatalistic view of the moment, to a larger view of Life and Hope and Meaning. Instead of wishing away the day hoping to be with Jesus in the by-and-by, I can truly live in the moment with Jesus and for Jesus. His Life—His eternal Life—is here and now as well as to come! It is both a quality of Life and a quantity of life.

The wrecking? I am moving from a disconnected isolation of moments and relationships to more substantial feelings and Life. Ironically, I have to experience the pain & discomfort of the moment in order to experience the Life and Hope and Joy. Living the old way with its inevitable detached numbing was safer insofar as pain was concerned, but no joy, no hope…, and no meaning. But as I am being reformed out of the ashes of this recking, I am trusting the Lord Jesus to ‘rebuild’ the neuronetwork of my numbed feelings so that I may be more what He has designed me to be.

Clearly, this is but the beginning of the “moment” of the wrecking/rebuilding process, but for the first time in as long as I can remember, I am looking forward to the next “moment” with Hope and not dread.

Main Text: —Ecclesiastes 11:10  — So, remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body, because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting. [NASB95]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. — Philippians 1:6 (NIV84)

  May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. — Hebrews 13:20-21 (NIV84)

   The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.— Psalm 138:8 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father,  I humbly submit to the transforming work of Your Holy Spirit. I rest in the Peace that passes all understanding as I greet each moment and live in it for the glory of Your Son, Jesus.  In His Name, Amen.

“Which Star, Which Light?”

Standard

Date: 12-17-14

Text: — Matthew 2:1-2 — 1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.”  [NIV84]

The Big Idea: Take an honest inward look to answer these questions.

My Thoughts: 

There are many lights in the sky. There are many voices in the crowd. But which do we follow? To which do we listen? From local gurus to fellow bloggers, indeed, there are many to choose from. I get overwhelmed trying to follow all the voices out there. But which ones do I follow? How do I filter them? What metric do I use as a filter? These questions follow the former ones….

Lifestyle worshiper: we need to take an honest inward look to answer these questions. Why? Because an honest inventory (it’s that time of year) may reveal our stock is short in one area and long in another.

In my inward look, I have found that sometimes the voices I listen to are from the past—past failures, past guilt, all of which have been confessed and forgiven. Again, as I inventory my stock, I have found that some of the lights I have followed are bright enough to offer some guidance, dimly lighting my way, but when I  joined the magi in following His star (v. 2). I discovered a much brighter light. A light so bright it first blinded me and then revealed the Truth to me. I have discovered that the Light of this Star is faithful, leading me on paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake. It leads me to the Voice the calms the sea and forgives the adulteress. “This Voice that is calling you and me.”

And I find this Light and hear this Voice first and foremost in the Written Word: the Holy Bible. I have read other books—some considered Holy and some not, and these seem to offer some light, but I have found not the Light. Their brightness appears to pale in comparison to the True Light. Have you found this to be so, too?

So as I have asked myself, I now ask you: Is your light bright enough? Is it His Star? Your thoughts?

Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

— John 8:63 (NIV)

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

— John 8:12 (NIV84)

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

— Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

Heavenly Father,  I commit to follow the true Light that has come into the world, Your Son,  the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray I faithfully walk in the Light as He is in the Light. May I hear His voice alone and obey His promptings. Empower me by Your Holy Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to You.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

“Forgiveness Offers Hope”

Standard

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