“Spring–Renewal”

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Spring cleaning is a challenge, especially when we do not take the time, right? Too often we are too busy and spring cleaning becomes summer catch up or worse, nothing is done at all….

Perhaps this is indicative of our spiritual lives, too. We do not slow down—even a little— to enter into a spiritual renewal. The rush of the holiday season seems to ripple well passed January into February. And as we get to March, stopping to take a deep breath is near impossible when we can’t even catch our breath.

The solution? I’m trying to deliberately take time to pause, grab a text from the Word, and simple ruminate over it. Then let the text grab me. Maybe even seeing Psalm 49:3 come to fruition in my life:

My mouth will speak wisdom, And the meditation of my heart will be understanding.
[Psalm 49:3 NASB95]

Will you join me, then, in pausing for a spiritual spring renewal?

Peace,

Coach Mike

The Summer of Our Lives

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Could the Summer weather mirror our spiritual health? Many throughout the nation are experiencing a drought. This sparked a connection in my mind between our spiritual condition and our weather. In a song my son-in-law, Josh, wrote, one line appears, “All sunshine makes a desert, you know.” Every time I hear this, I am profoundly impacted by the truth of this line. When we have an activity, we pray it doesn’t rain. When we have a trip, we pray it won’t rain. Get the pattern?

Do you often pray that all “goes well,” that we have no “hardships”? If so, is it as if we are praying for desert to appear? Really? Maybe. Trials, challenges, difficulties are the rain storms in our lives. Thunder storms and hurricanes are greater in scope and degree. But if we do not have such times, then there will be no water for the seeds sown in our lives. (Can they grow without water?)

So in this summer of drought, let us not have a spiritual hiatus—a spiritual drought.

Another song that has often blessed me is by Laura Story, “Blessings”: “‘Cause, what if blessings come through raindrops? What if your healing comes through tears? What if a thousand sleepless nights is what it takes to know Your near? What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?” What if all these are the rain that ends our spiritual drought, encourages growth and brings a rainbow?

Let not this summer of your life continue in a drought. Welcome the rain.

Main Text— —Habakkuk  3:17-18 (ESV)17Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the LORD, is my strength.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.James 1:2–4 (NIV84)

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?(Psalm 42:1–2 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, Fill me with the Living Water, the Lord Jesus Christ. Forgive me for drinking from the water that can never quench my thirst for You. I welcome the rains that bring nourishment to my thirsty soul.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

How Powerless is a Prayerless Life?

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This morning’s focus in a devotion I regularly use sparked this thought in me: How powerless is a prayerless life? Then I started asking myself some other questions, like: “How long can I hold my breath?” (It’s been said that breathing to the physical life is like prayer to the spiritual life.) Or “How powerful is an unplugged power tool?” (Ah, but what if I have a cordless one? Then, “How long will the battery last without being recharged???”)

The short answer? “Not long,” to all three questions. And, “Not powerful at all.”

So then why do I think I can go for a while—any while—without praying? What in me thinks—ah, but perhaps this is the issue: I am not thinking. I am on automatic. I am coasting. Now, to be sure, there are some relationships that can coast for a bit, but at some point in the relationship a conversation has to start up; some interaction must take place. Otherwise the relationship (both human and divine) will ultimately shrivel up and ….

In this morning’s main text (below), Shepherd David (probably written before he became king), notes that, “The upright will see [the Holy One] face-to-face.” This may be in the ultimate physical sense, but can it also be in a moment by moment daily sense as well? And can this happen through prayer?

….and through this interaction of prayer—through this conversation with the Holy One, my strength is replenished; my battery recharged? I think so. And in this intimate exchange, I begin to see His face more clearly than I have before. The power of the Holy One’s presence in prayer definitely replenishes any draining or discharging I may have experienced prior to this prayerful exchange…don’t you think?

Care to share your thoughts on how powerless a prayerless life can be?

Main Text— Psalm 11:7 (ISV) 7 Indeed, the LORD is righteous; He loves righteousness; the upright will see Him face-to-face.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Now we see only a blurred reflection in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.1 Corinthians 13:12 (ISV)

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.Luke 6:12 (NIV2011)

Why are you sleeping?” [Jesus] asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”(Luke 22:46 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I put You on as my Breath of Prayer. Forgive me for those times I have held my breath way too long. In Your Grace & Mercy recharge my soul. In Your Name, Amen

Pastor Mike

The Paradox of Holy Contentment

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I have heard it taught before that we are to be content with our relationship with Jesus and discontent at the same time. Is this truly a Both/And? Or a misapplied text? Or a  Paradox of Holy Contentment?

As I read and re-read our main text this morning, I am more and more convinced that this is not a classic Both/And, but more so a misapplied text or a Holy Paradox. Let’s explore this very, very briefly.

In Phil. 3:10ff, the apostle Paul seems to express an honest, humble assessment of his Holy passion—a passion that is not content with what is, but yearning for what will be. Then he expresses his  contentment in this passage (Phil. 4:11-13). But is he not referring to his physical needs here and not so much his spiritual, Holy passion? And then, if this is referring to the physical, does v. 13 only apply to our physical needs (i.e., the Lord empowers me when I have a lot or and He empowers me when I have very little); or does this verse teach that the empowerment spills over into the spiritual?

Do we resolve this paradox by suggesting that we are to have a Holy passionate discontent for our current spiritual condition (including our relationship with Jesus), but a humble contentment with our physical accoutrements—since they come and go?

Your thoughts? How important is contentment to you? Can we ever be content? Ought we to be content? Ah, perhaps a paradox of Holy contentment?

Main Text— Philippians 4:11–13 (NIV) 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Then some soldiers asked [John the Baptizer], “And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” —Luke 3:14 (NIV84)

 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said,That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing.Lk 12:22–23 (NLT)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.1 Timothy 6:6–8 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, as You teach me the lessons of contentment, may I realize all the more that Jesus is more than enough. In His 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

“Dangerous Grace”

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Grace is dangerous and risky. It could lead to misuse and license: “Let us sin that grace may abound!” The Apostle Paul new of this danger and wrote extensively on it in several of his letters (e.g. see Romans 6:1-7:25 and Galatians 5:1-15), and we do not have space here to present a major treatise on this amazing subject of Grace (and there are many scholarly works available to peruse). But what I do want to present is the Hope of this dangerous Grace….

The hope? When we do fall, this dangerous Grace is all-sufficient for us to get back up and keep on walking in the Spirit in the steps of my Savior. We do not take this dangerous Grace lightly. We are fully aware of the price paid of the lavished Love flowing from such all-sufficient Grace. Yes, I could take it for granted, and continue wallowing in the muck and mire of my flesh—my sin, but the Love Lord Jesus has lavished on me somehow propels me to step out of the miry clay and have my feet firmly placed on the Rock that is higher than I. His dangerous Grace is faithful to forgive me when I confess my sin and cleanse me from all that muck & mire…. It is all-sufficient.

Charles Spurgeon, the 19th Century Prince of Preachers, shares a very personal moment regarding v. 9 of our main text:

The other evening I was riding home after a heavy day’s work. I felt very wearied and sore depressed, when swiftly and suddenly as a lightning flash, the text came to me, “My grace is sufficient for thee.” I reached home and looked it up in the original, and at last it came to me in this way. “MY grace is sufficient for thee”; and I said, “I should think it is, Lord,” and burst out laughing. … It was as though some little fish, being very thirsty, was troubled about drinking  the river dry…. Or, it seemed after the seven years of plenty, a mouse feared it might die of famine, and Joseph might say, “Cheer up, little mouse, my granaries are sufficient for thee.” Again, I imagined a man away up yonder, in the lofty mountain, saying to himself, “I breathe so many cubic feet of air every year, I fear I shall exhaust the oxygen in the atmosphere,” but the earth might say, “Breathe away, O man, and fill the lungs ever, my atmosphere is sufficient for  thee.” Oh brethren, be great believers! Little faith will bring your souls to heaven, but great faith will bring heaven to your souls. [Source: Streams in the Desert, February 26]

So I rest in the hope of this dangerous, all-sufficient Grace. The hope that gets me back up when I fall; the hope that a confessed sin is not only forgiven, but replaced with heaven’s righteousness; the  hope that my feeble steps behind my gracious Master are strengthened by His dangerous Grace. Does this hope spur you to get back up and drink in His never-ending all-sufficient Grace? Your thoughts?

Main Text— 2 Corinthians 12:7–10 (NIV) 7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 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

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;2 Corinthians 9:8 (NASB95)

  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 1:13–14 (NIV84)

  For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say, “No,” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.— Titus 2:11–14 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I am humbled by this amazing, dangerous Grace. I know I am not worthy to receive this, but Your Love for me has made me valuable. You Loved me even when I was Your enemy. Lord Jesus, I praise You for Your sacrifice of Love and Grace. No words can truly capture my heart’s gratitude. Baruch Ha Shem Y’shua! Amen.

Pastor Mike

Religious vs. Relationship: A Fuller View?

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If I may, I would like to suggest that most, if not all, believers in Jesus acknowledge we have a relationship and not a religion. We would define religion as a feeble, human attempt through rituals and sacrifices to obtain a relationship with the Almighty; whereas, in a relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, we have this relationship with the Almighty (YHWH, blessed be His Name) by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by any merit of our own.

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But what also seems to follow with many who boast of this relationship is a license not to “do” something religiously because it might smack of religion. Have you found this to be so, too? If we do something religiously, like read the Bible every morning or prayer daily, it might become ritualistic, “so I’d best do it intermittently to avoid such.” Have you heard of this?

As I ponder what the Apostle Paul meant in our main text RE the Athenians in v. 22, “You are very religious,” it became evident to me that this was something of value, something commendable—and a good place to start a conversation. 

But if I have nothing religious in my life, if I have no godly habits that lead to a deeper relationship with Jesus, how can I even relate to those who truly are religious in their religion

True, any godly discipline can become ritualist and an end it itself: vain religion. Indeed, I have found I need to refresh myself in my daily prayer times or my daily Bible readings or weekly fellowships by asking myself, “Why am I doing this? Is this an end it itself or am I drawing closer to Jesus through these endeavors?”

What place do you see religious practices have for sincere followers of the Risen Lord? Do they deepen our relationship with Him? Your thoughts….

Main Text: — Acts 17:22-23 (NIV84)— 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.— Philippians 4:8–9 (NIV84)

[Jesus] went to Nazareth, where He had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day He went into the synagogue, as was His custom. …— Luke 4:16 (NIV84)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”

Heavenly Father, refresh my soul with a gush of Grace and the Wind of Your Holy Spirit. Enliven my regular religious activities with Your Holy Spirit as the Lord Jesus Christ’s Life is manifested in both the seen and the unseen activities of my daily walk with You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike