Is The Cross For All Believers?

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Is the cross for all believers or just a select few? Just for the “Seal Team Six” Christians?

I have pondered this question for some time, now, especially at this time of year. As the Resurrection Celebration approaches, I think of St. Paul’s comments in our main text below. I have heard it preached parsed out. …

For example, some have focused on the “I want to know Christ” part. This is good. We need to know Jesus, growing in our relationship with Him in intimacy and knowledge. But this is where the “preaching” stops.

Others have focused on “the Power of His Resurrection,” part. This, too, is good—very good. In Christ, we have this resurrection, overcoming, victorious power that conquers sin and death…. But this is where the “preaching” stops.

Now, if you will indulge me and allow me to share a few of my “ponderings”.

One thought I’ve had is this: V. 11 seems to explain this latter part of v. 10: “sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death” (v. 11). As I pondered this, I realized that inherent in the “resurrection” is the presupposition of death. (Death must precede resurrection, right?) This death appears to be a death to “self”. This death also may be painful at times, but it will most definitely be a struggle most of the time—because it will involve suffering of all sorts resulting in “becoming like Him in His death.”

But I ask again, is this “cross of death,” which precedes the resurrection, for all  believers or a select few?

Well, if “I want to know Christ,” is for all believers, and if “the Power of His Resurrection,” is for all believers, don’t you think it naturally follows that what precedes the resurrection—the suffering & death—is for all believers? What are your thoughts?

As we celebration the Joys, the Victories, the Overcoming Power that is found in Resurrection Sunday (aka Easter), join me in pondering “the Good” of Good Friday that precedes the explosion on Sunday: The Resurrection! And, again, please feel free to share your thoughts on this.

Main Text— Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV84)— 10 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, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Then [Jesus] said to them all: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will save itLuke 9:23–24) (NIV84)

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

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.—2 Timothy 3:12–13 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the Cross and its transforming work in my life. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14).

Pastor Mike

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What Good Can Come from her?

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What good can come from her? She was a prostitute; a lady of the night. She is still remembered as a prostitute…. So what can her life possibly teach me?

As I have ponder the life of Rahab, I have marveled at her tenacity and courage to choose right even in the midst of a cruel, corrupt culture. She grew up in a very corrupt culture in which good was evil and evil was good; where kings ruled with autocratic control, and true wickedness abounded. (To see how wicked check out Leviticus 18:2-30 and Deuteronomy 12:29-31.)

Rahab still chose right. (Now when I say, “right,” I am not referring to anything political, but rather of principle. You know,” right,” “wrong,”… To me, these still objectively exist.)

We would suppose that the “right” Rahab chose was to hide the spies, and, to some extent this is so, but notice the first phrase in the main verse: “By faith.” Her right choice came before she hid the spies. She first chose the Holy One (YHWH, bless the Name) , and out of this right choice she hid the spies….

I am very encouraged by my sister, Rahab: Though still “labeled” as a prostitute in the New Covenant, she chose to change her way of life by placing her faith in the only One who could truly change her way of Life. Brothers and Sisters, let us be infused with the courage of hope that our sister, a true woman of character, demonstrated even while living in the midst of a dark, cruel culture. While there is still breath, “There’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Are you encouraged? Care to share your thoughts?

Main Text— Hebrews 11:31 (NIV84) 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Who, then, are those who fear the LORD? He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.—Psalm 25:12 (NIV)

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,  who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.—Isaiah 5:20 (NIV)

 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.Psalm 34:14 (NIV)

Lord Jesus Christ, Empower me to be like You—choosing what is right no matter what the consequences may be. 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

Dealing with Issues of the Heart

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How do you deal with issues of the heart? What issues? Oh, the ones our Lord Jesus mentions in the Sermon on the Mount: Anger, lust, unfaithfulness, dishonesty, retaliation, and a closed heart. I don’t think He would have mentioned them if they weren’t common to the human condition. We all engage such issues, true. But do we entertain them?

I have found the best way to deal with these issues is to first confess my yearning to sin. “Yes, Lord Jesus Christ, You know I enjoy this _____. But I know it displeases You. Through Your Power I confess I want nothing more to do with _______.” (The blanks are filled with the specific sin.)

Now the next step is crucial. It times past I used to resolve never to do this sin again. I determined in my soul not to entertain the anger, lust, unfaithfulness, etc. And guess what? Oh, you know, too, don’t you? I would fail again. So I soon (like almost 15 years) realized that this simply just doesn’t work. But what does “work” is yielding to the Lord Jesus Christ—something like this:

“Lord Jesus Christ, be that part of my life that has been disobedient to You. I release myself into Your hands.” 

This is no magic formula or some easy peasy 1-2-3, A-B-C, for this prayer is also a matter of the heart. Once the heart (and the will) is (are) yielded to the Lord Jesus Christ, during the temptation a pause presents itself offering us a  moment to choose: Yield to the sin; or yield the Lord Jesus as my Righteousness. 

 For example, when it comes to lust, if my glance turns into a gaze, then I have yielded to sin.  But if my glance turns my eyes away (and my mind), then I have yielded to Righteousness—and all this by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Holy Spirit.

So in dealing with the issues of the heart, I must allow the Heart-Transformer to do His work. I am, indeed, a co-laborer, but my part is much like the farmer’s: I merely prepare the soil; the Lord Jesus produces the increase. Have you found this to be so, too?

Main Text— Matthew 5:21-22, 27–28 (ESV) 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment;27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.Luke 8:15 (NIV84)

  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.—Romans 6:12–14 (ESV)

  You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.— Galatians 5:13 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I yield to Your Holy Presence within me. Please Your Father in me that I may be a pleasing child of His. In Your Holy Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike

“A Substantial Love”

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Have you ever had a preacher ask you to substitute your name for the word, ‘love’ in the Love Chapter of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8? He asked this as a self-evaluation of substantial Love? It looks something like this (using my name, of course, wherever the word “love” appears).

Mike is patient, Mike is kind. Mike does not envy, Mike does not boast, Mike is not proud. Mike is not rude, Mike is not self-seeking, Mike is not easily angered, Mike keeps no record of wrongs. Mike does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Mike always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Mike never fails.

And if we are honest with ourselves, we do not score very high. Oh, I may be more patient than most, and I am chivalrous—ahem. I don’t turn too dark a shade of green; my stating facts are considered boasting, especially, when I don’t get my way…. Oh, and records of wrongs? With age I don’t remember many of my sports’ stats like I used to, but I can still remember how many times I had to tell…. You get the point. My score still isn’t that high. How’s yours?

It was a few years back as I was teaching on Jesus is our Life, that I realized He is also our Love. (I knew the Bible taught, “God is Love,” but somehow I kept thinking I had to manufacture this Love in my life, or at the very least—ahem—fake it (Ouch!).) So I did a little exercise in my quiet moments: I substituted Lord Jesus’ Name for “Love” and it looked a lot better….

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus is not rude, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.

So, since Jesus is my Life, He is also my Love. As I daily put Him on as my Belt of Love (from Colossians 3:14), He continues His transforming work in my life making me more like Him. Then it is not “Mike” who is becoming more patient, but the Lord Jesus in me…. The pressure of manufacturing this Love or even having to “fake it” is gone—or at least substantially lessened. Because the same Love He is in and through me is also to me: Jesus is patient with me. He is kind with me. He keeps no records of wrongs! …

… This is substantial Love!

Have you found this to be as mind-blowing an experience as I have? Your thoughts?

Main Text— Psalm 86:15 (NIV84) But you, O LORD, are a compassionate and gracious God.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?— Romans 8:32 (NIV84)

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.—1 John 3:1–3 (NIV84)

  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.— Col 3:3–4 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I put the Lord Jesus Christ on as my Belt of Love. Continue Your transforming work in my Life by the power of the Holy Spirit as He makes me more like Your Son, Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Hard Letting Them Change?”

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“How many times is so’n so going to say they’ve changed, but in reality, they never do?” Have you said this before about someone? Or even thought it? I have. And it is sad if I believe that the Lord Jesus, the Great Transformer, has changed me, but He can’t change someone else? Ouch! Do I really believe He can change lives? Is it really that hard to “let” them change?

In our main text this morning, we have a very real and similar situation about “letting” someone change. This someone is Saul! You know the one who was “still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1 NIV 84). And now he wants us to believe that he’s all good with Jesus and not an infiltrator!? Yeah, right?

If it wasn’t for Barnabas—and the dramatic change in Saul’s life and belief system, most of us today would not have been so readily available to accept him into our small group, especially if many of our brothers and sisters in other small groups have been turned in to the Powers that Be….

So you and I have to sincerely and honestly ask ourselves: Are we letting others change? Have we become so jaded and stopped believing that the Lord Jesus can still change lives? Oh, we know the right answer, but seriously, think about it. We still call Rahab “the Harlot” and Thomas “the Doubter,” don’t we? Do we still call Peter the Denier?

First of all, I am thankful for the Barnabases in my life who have stepped forward to testify that the changes in my life are genuine, even if questioned by many. Secondly, I, in turn, have become a Barnabas for many who have clearly demonstrated a transformed life. Yes, I still struggle with becoming jaded. Yes, often my first thought is skepticism bordering on cynicism, but one by-product of my current wrecking has been this very thought: “If I am changing so dramatically, surely the Lord is doing so with _____, as well.”

Yes, I understand that for some, you’ve heard it before, but when Jesus truly steps in and transforms a life, we dare not be one to ‘not let them change,’ don’t you think?

Your thoughts?

Main Text: — Acts 9:26-29 (NIV84)— 26 When [Saul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”— Luke 19:8–10 (NIV84)

I [Paul] thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.— 1 Timothy 1:12–14 (NIV84)

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. — Philemon 8–11 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, by the power of the Resurrected Life of the Lord Jesus Christ, make me into a Barnabas who wisely celebrates the transformed lives around me.  In Jesus’ Name,  Amen.

Pastor Mike