No Plan B; Just Plan A with Scars

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I have been thinking about this for a while now. It seems that with the Lord there is no Plan B. When He tells us to do something, we’d best do it or we will encounters some scars. So it seems to me that there is no Plan B; just Plan A with scars.

Samson tried  his Plan B, but ended up having Plan A with Scars: He lost his eyes. Moses had the scarring of 40 years in the wilderness. David had the soul scarring of losing a baby because of his sin with Bathsheba.

Wouldn’t you agree that obedience is the best first choice? But have you discovered that sometimes Plan A actually includes the scars? I know I have. And the more I study the Life of my Lord Jesus, I discover that the scars were always in the plan. There was never a Plan B. Even as He wrestled in the Garden of Gethsemane, Plan A was never at issue ….

Now I am discovering a bit more of what He meant when He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24 NIV). The cross is a part of Plan A, and, apparently, so are the scars….

Poor Jonah had to learn this the hard way. Too often, I do, too. I’m learning that it is best to respond to the Lord the first time He directs, even if the directions involves scars. Have you found that the scars of  trying to implement a “Plan B” seem to hurt more than the intended scars of Plan A? I have….

Your thoughts.

Main Text— Jonah 1:3a, 17 (ESV)— 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. … 17 And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

You became imitators of us and of the Lord. In spite of a great deal of suffering, you welcomed the word with the joy that the Holy Spirit produces.—1 Thessalonians 1:6 (ISV)

 Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.—2 Timothy 3:12 (NKJV)

  Let no one make any more trouble for me, because I carry the scars of Jesus on my own body.—Galatians 6:17 (ISV)

Lord Jesus Christ, as I walk by faith and not by sight, empower me through Your Holy Spirit respond to Your Plan A—straightaway. “Make my hands like Your hands / If they must be wounded / Let all the pain that I will feel / Make me merciful and kind.”* In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

* from “Saviour of the World” by Bob Bennett & Michael Aguilar

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Confessing Christ In The Hard Times

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Perhaps you will be encouraged as I was after reading the following from Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Holy Life:

Again today I have tried to witness a good confession to the work the Lord hath wrought in my soul. But it is hard to testify where there is so little feeling, and Satan tries to hinder me by every possible suggestion he can bring forward. He tells me it is all a lie, and that I had better have had my tongue cut out before I ever presumed to say such a thing of myself, and tries to induce me to stay away from the meetings and from every place where confession could be made. But my indwelling Saviour keeps me from yielding to these suggestions or from entertaining them for a moment, and enables me to set my face like a flint that I will hold fast the confession of my faith without wavering, because faithful is He that hath promised.

Yes, I will believe, I will trust; even though the Lord should never again show me the light of His countenance, nor manifest Himself to my soul! My Jesus is dwelling in me, and has established His Kingdom there, and I am altogether and only His! Oh praise His holy Name!

One blessed result I do find, and that is that I love His will now with a genuine love that makes a cross borne for His dear sake filled with an untold sweetness.—Journal, June 15, 1869 ( from 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.)

Main Text— 2 Timothy 1:8–9 (NIV84) 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me His prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 Who has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time..

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD,  I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights. Habakkuk 3:17–19 (NIV84)

Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us.—Romans 5:3–5 (NIV84)

 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. 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.2 Corinthians 12:9–10 (NIV)

Lord Jesus Christ, be my strength as I endure hardships and insults. Let my weakness manifest Your strength. 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

Stretched in All Directions

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It has been a little over a year since my hip surgery. The hip pain is gone, and for this I am most grateful. Oh, I’ve had many bouts with “common” and “not-so-common” colds throughout this past year; some say, perhaps due to the weakening of my immune system from the surgery, but for the most part I have been recovering quite well….

Ah, yes, the lingering “but”: But I have learned something that I need to do quite regularly, daily if possible: I need to stretch—especially the hip region. I walk better, sit better, and feel all-around better when I do. Fitting this into my schedule has been quite difficult for sure.

One would think that stretching would be a snap: just a few minutes and back at “it”, but it is not. (For some reason, getting down and back up off the floor is still rather difficult for  me. I’m sure this is a rather large de-motivator, huh?)

As I was pondering this dilemma this morning, the Lord seemed to quietly and very softly open up a spiritual truth to me: I need to stretch my faith regularly, daily whenever “possible”. (I guess for starters merely getting on the floor in faith that I can get back up again with little to no difficulty, huh?) But I truly began to expand where my faith had truncated and in this place I needed a good incremental stretching.

Perhaps many of you have been struggling— as I have—with faith in the Lord providing financially. Bills seem to be pilling up as car problems, house “honey dos,” and sometimes those little extras seem to be forming a distant tsunami.

Streeetttcchhh! And, yes, I have sometimes pulled a faith-muscle during these stretches. The Lord is good all the time no matter what!!! I know this. I know He is more than faithful, so I press through the pulled muscles of faith and continue my stretching. And while I am at it, I not only need to get down on the floor to stretch my hip, etc., but also my knees—you know, in prayer. What do you think?

Main Text— Philippians 3:13-14 (NIV)— 13 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, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.—1 Corinthians 1:9 (NIV84)

  The One who calls you is faithful and He will do it.1 Thessalonians 5:24 (NIV84)

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I put You on as my Shield of Faith. Quench the fiery darts being hurled at my the enemy. You are the True and Faithful Witness. Empower me to be like You In Your Name, Amen.

Coach Mike

I Remember When I Was Young

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Coach Mike

Continue On

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Too often we may foreclose on the “Parable of the Sower.” “Oh, I know this already.” Or “I’ve heard this before.” But perhaps a “second” look with child-like wonderment will yield fresh insights for us. Sadly, though, still another foreclosure is our determination as to which soil our soul is. We often assume we are one or the other…you know, that Ol’ “Either/Or” mindset. But, if we look more closely with a Both/And understanding, we will discover that we can be the rocky soil in one instant and at that same instant good soil. (Yes, and this soil is being amended by the Spirit daily.)

 Sadly, once I foreclose on the soil test, I seem to stop. I stop growing. Stop weeding. Stop searching. Stop maturing. Stop. And the numbness of stopping creeps into my soul. But if I stop and rethink the soil test; if I stop and re-listen to the Lord’s words; if I stop merely as a rest stop prior to continuing on, then maybe, just maybe I will see more clearly the produce—the victory—the good soil has for me.

Let the spurs of Charles Spurgeon dig deep into your flanks—and continue on:

“Whatever foes may be before the Christian, they are all overcome. There are lions, but their teeth are broken; there are serpents, but their fangs are extracted; there are rivers, but they are bridged or fordable; there are flames, but we wear that matchless garment which renders us invulnerable to fire. The sword that has been forged against us is already blunted; the instruments of war which the enemy is preparing have already lost their point. God has taken away in the person of Christ all the power that anything can have to hurt us. Well then, the army may safely march on, and you may go joyously along your journey, for all your enemies are conquered beforehand. What shall you do but march on to take the prey? They are beaten, they are vanquished; all you have to do is to divide the spoil. You shall, it is true, often engage in combat; but your fight shall be with a vanquished foe. His head is broken; he may attempt to injure you, but his strength shall not be sufficient for his malicious design. Your victory shall be easy, and your treasure shall be beyond all count.” [Source:  Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening: Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.]

Main Text— Matthew 13:19–23 (NIV84) 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. 22 The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. 23 But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.  

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him.Matthew 7:7–11 (NLT)

  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.—2 Corinthians 4:17–18 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I fix my eyes on You. Continue to remove the rocks, thorns and thistles from the soil of my soul as I continue to seek Your Face. 

Pastor Mike

Avoiding People Pleasing

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This Sunday’s message is indirectly addressing people pleasers. Ironically, I know I have constantly been tempted to be one. I want everyone to like me. Why? Oh, my expressed “reason” (read, “excuse”) is so that I will not dishonor the name of Jesus, but I think the deeper reason is so that I will have other’s approval and not be embarrassed and shamed. Pretty self-centered, huh? But here’s what I discovered in our main text: Jesus doesn’t seem to care about this, or the crowd’s view of Him—even when they call Him some severe, shameful names: “glutton and drunkard”! He trusted His Heavenly Father to take care of His reputation and deal with any potential shame factor…. How? Our Lord was more concerned about pleasing His Father than pleasing the people. Something I really need to capture. How about you?

 Below is a devotion for today found in Christians Secrets of a Holy Life by Hannah Whitall Smith. My heart has been profoundly touched by it, and I pray it touches yours, too.

July 20

“Don’t be discouraged at any form of temptation which threatens you, but always look to Jesus, and ask Him to meet and overcome it by His own wisdom and power. I think I am learning more and more of what utter trust means. Having naturally some feeling of personal ability and good sense, it has always been a temptation for me to rely on these and to feel that I wouldn’t be likely to lose my balance whatever happened. But I have seen recently that even my natural abilities must be laid aside in this life of death to self, and that I must really and practically have all my resources in the Lord only.

“I do not know whether I am making myself clear, but in my experience this has been very real. It has cost me something to lay aside my old dependence upon my own judgment and good sense, and to let myself be a helpless in the Lord’s hands. But it is unspeakably sweet when it is done. And I believe it is to me the opening up of a life of conscious union with my Lord such as I have never know before. I seem to have sunk into unfathomed depths of littleness and nothingness, and to have found the Lord there in a more real and actual consciousness than ever before.

“Only, dear friend, ask the Lord to fulfil [sic] John 14:16, 21, 23 in you, and open up your whole being to receive His manifestations.”—To Friend, December 17, 1874.

 [Source:  Smith, H. W., & Dieter, M. E. (1997). The Christian’s secret of a holy life: the unpublished personal writings of Hannah Whitall Smith. Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]

Main Text— Luke 7:31–35 (NIV84)— 31 “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:  “ ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not cry.’ 33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ’ 35 But wisdom is proved right by all her children.”  

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 The one who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do what pleases Him.John 8:29 (NIV84)

  So we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.—2 Corinthians 5:9 (NIV84)

  We proclaim Him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all His energy, which so powerfully works in me.— Colossians 1:28–29 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, all that You do pleases Your Father; please the Father in me. In Your Name, Amen. 

Pastor Mike