Love Beyond Memory

Standard

I would like to honor two friends. They will remain nameless, but they know who they are. They are loving a family member beyond memory. One has a parent and the other a spouse. Both are Loving these dear family members with tenderness, devotion and deep sacrifice.

As many have come to know, Loving someone who does not remember you is deeply heart wrenching. The pain of being forgotten is hardly matched by any other experience, save betrayal. And yet they continue to care for their parent and spouse with such tenderness I am, too, am deeply touched.

As I continue to ponder this, the Lord brought to my attention how much this is like me sometimes with Him. He Loves me no matter what—tenderly caring for me, deeply devoted to me. And yet sometimes I forget Him. My memories fade, almost erasing those times we had intimate encounters. And yet He persists in Loving me….

How my two friends remain devoted, clearly demonstrating the Love of Jesus in these forgotten moments, can only be explained by their complete and total dependency on the Lord Jesus for His Strength and Love to fill and flow through them to their Loved one. How I admire them. And I pray that if this day ever comes for me, that I will be able to, in some small measure, demonstrate this Love they have shown so keenly and clearly.

Main Text— Ephesians 1:4d–8 (NIV84 & NKJV)In love 5He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— 6to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves.  7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:6–8 (NIV84)

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)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!1 John 3:1a (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, my heart is overwhelmed with a profound sense of awe, as I ponder the Love You have for me in the Lord Jesus Christ. Words cannot capture or express this feeling of humble gratitude. May the Holy Spirit intercede for me with groaning that cannot be utter. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

Advertisements

“Syrupy Love vs. Substantial Love”

Standard

Year’s ago when I used to get hurt a lot—usually in sports, but not always, I would look for that sympathy, you know, “You, poor baby,” kind of sympathy. I soon learned, however, that it vanished rather quickly. So I guess I kept getting hurt. A silly plan, right?

After a while, I started using the phrase, “Syrupy love,” to describe this kind of temporary concern that vanished in a few moments. Along the way, I added words like, “gushy” and “gooey,” too. Obviously, I was looking for something more lastly, more substantial. Maybe that’s why I really don’t like cotton candy? Hmmmm….

Sadly, I learned that this syrupy, gooey love says all the right things, but more often than not for the most selfish of reasons: to puff up the one giving the “love.” I found that the one being “loved” is more or less consumed to meet the needs, pleasures and desires of the one dispensing this ooey, gooey, syrupy love. Again, I would hear the “right” words, but like clouds that promise rain and move on, these promise, “I’ll always be there for you,” … yeah, right….

Like I said, I was looking for something far more meaningful, more lasting. I was look for Substantial Love. I was looking for the Love that is patient and kind. It is other-serving and not self-seeking, it does not demand its own way through intimidation, shout downs or skillful manipulation. It makes the other person the center of attention. It listens carefully, hearing the whole person. And this substantial Love is often inconvenienced, put out, put off, taken advantage of, and wounded. In and through all this, this Love never fails. It does not shift with moods, the wind or the seasons. It never gives up.

Sound familiar?

If you are familiar with the Bible or know Jesus, this Substantial Love will sound very familiar to you. This is the Love I found: This Substantial Love.  If you are not familiar with this Love, perhaps you would like to get to know it a little better? Check out the verses below….

Main Text— 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 (NIV)— 4  Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.John 13:34–35 (ESV)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?Matthew 5:43–46 (ESV)

 Your love must be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.—Romans 12:9 (ISV)

  But God demonstrates His love for us by the fact that the Messiah died for us while we were still sinners.—Romans 5:8 (ISV)

Lord Jesus Christ, continue to reduce me to Your Love, Substantial Love. Empower me to Love exceedingly above and beyond what I am capable of. Let others know I know You by the Love I have for them.

“Humble is Too Nice A Word”

Standard

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

Standard

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

Distracted too Easily from the Greater Standard?

Standard

I am fascinated with how easily distracted I am, especially when it comes to listening to our Lord Jesus. I will focus so intently on one particular verse or idea that the Lord seems to have impressed upon my heart, and I miss the very core of His teaching. Perhaps you’ve done this, too?

It seems that Peter did. It our main text noted below, our Great Shepherd is presenting some of the most intimate teaching of His ministry to His dearly Loved ones. He prefaces His core thought with a sad note of leaving them, but in His absence we are to Love one another as He has Loved us. Do you notice v. 36? In appears that Peter is more focused on Jesus going some where, and he, too, misses the core of Jesus’ teaching. (This distraction then launches a rather lengthy tangent that the Lord graciously follows—because He Loves them….)

He gently returns to His core later in this evenings discourse, but I wonder how long it takes for me to “return” to His core teaching? 

I am so intent on what I think is important that I miss His gentle voice teaching me the Core, “Love each other as I have Loved you.” Perhaps my distractions are somewhat by design. Is it that I don’t want to engage this teaching because it is too hard, perhaps even impossible? I may have to sacrifice too much? Or, indeed all, for this Love Commandment to be fulfilled? And the standard? “As I have loved you!” Up to this point in the eveing, Jesus has only washed their feet, leaving them an example, and they have no idea to the extent this standard is going to increase: No longer loving my neighbor as myself. No longer. Now it is as He has Loved me. …

 …Truly a greater standard, and when it comes to fulfilling it, in all honesty, I get too easily distracted by convenience or excuses. Do you find yourself in this same boat of distractions? What can we do to encourage one another to Love one another as He has Loved us?

Main Text— Jn 13:33–36 (ISV)— 33 “Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me, but what I told the Jewish leaders I now tell you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ 34 I am giving you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.36 Simon Peter asked him, “Lord, where are you going?”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.Romans 14:17–19 (NIV84)

  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.1 Peter 1:223 (NIV84)

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.1 Peter 4:8–9 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, remove the distractions from my life that I may truly Love with Your Love seeking my brothers and sisters good over my own. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

Being A Good Sheep

Standard

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

“The Awesome Responsibility to be Forgiveness Dispensers”

Standard

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