Love Beyond Memory

I would like two honor to 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 5 He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— 6 to 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

 “No Plan B; Just Plan A with Scars”

 

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

“Being a Good Sheep”

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 the main text, You have made me acutely aware that 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? 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

“Syrupy vs. Substantial Love”

Repenting in Jesus' Arms

If you’ve ever had a dessert, or a cookie or a drink that is just too sweet, you know what I mean when I talk about syrupy “love”. It is gooey and shallow and often pretentious…, or at least one of these three.

The problem is not the word “love” in and of itself. The problem is the lack of deeper words for Love in the English language. (Many of you know that Greek has four words for love, and in one sense, this helps distinguish the various levels of commitment and emotion…but sadly not English.)

We use “love” for everything from the food we consume to cars we drive; to ideas and, yes, even relationships. And I have observed that to say, “I love you,” is still something rather profound and endearing in any stage of any relationship….

However, often what is meant is, “I’d really like to consume you for my own personal pleasure,” and not “I’m willing to sacrifice my hopes and dreams and, if necessary, even my life for you.” Obviously, syrupy love is the former. It’s the “I really ‘love’ how you make me feel and what you can do for me,” love. Substantial Love, however, is the Love that says, “I want the best for you” Love. “I am willing…”: This goes beyond feelings to a commitment of the will. Yes, as the old vows say, “in sickness and in health; for better, for worse; to death do us part” kind of commitment. Syrupy love evaporates when the hard times come, when it is inconvenient or no longer interesting.

But Substantial Love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes,” and “[It] never fails.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:7-8.)

So when someone says, “All we need is love,” ask them to define what they mean by the word “love”. Is it syrupy or substantial.

Oh, and while your at it, join me in asking ourselves, “Do I really Love with a substantial Love…as Jesus did?”

I know that the only way I can do this is to yield to the Lord Jesus in my Life as my Love  so I can truly Love as He did.

How about you? What is your source of strength to Love like this? Your thoughts?

Main Text— John 15:13 (NIV84)Love Substantial Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

No one takes [my life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.— John 10:18 (NIV84)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all … will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.—John 13:34–35 (NIV84)

   We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.— 2 Thessalonians 1:3–4 (NIV)

Husbands, love your wives as the Messiah loved the church and gave Himself for [her], so that He might make [her] holy by cleansing [her], washing [her] with water and the word.— Ephesians 5:25–26 (ISV)

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

“A Substantial Love”

 

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’m 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) 15 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

“Really? God Loves Me!?”

Prodigal Son's Father's Love
His Love broke through

Back in the early 70’s when I was in college, I first encountered what was known as the “Four Spiritual Laws,” which started with “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” When this was first ‘pitched’ to me, I laughed incredulously. “Yeah, right!” My plan was to be a professional baseball player and a lawyer in the off-season, but I had just been rejected by the University’s baseball coach, even denied a walk-on. My baseball coach knew the then head coach, but my coach never got my tapes and stats to him. So I walked in blind…. “Sorry, son, but I already have my players picked for this year.” He may have said more, and I either didn’t hear it, but I definitely don’t remember it. God Loves me, huh?!?

This was immediately followed by my first love’s rejection—all on the same day! Needless to say, I tumbled quickly into the black vortex I was so familiar with. Despair evacuated hope. Abandonment rifled my community. The darkness was overwhelming…. Sparing the details, suffice it to say, I spiraled my way across campus to a religious meeting. It was towards the end of the meeting and I snuck in and sat way in the back.

The speaker was closing up his talk with a simple question: “Are you living or are you existing? You see living is…, and existing is…” Perhaps you can fill in the rest, but that night I began my journey out of the black vortex and into the Light of the Love that the Lord truly has for me. I committed my life then and there to follow Him as my Lord, but as far as the Love part, well, this came much lately….

Perhaps some of you know how that black vortex numbs your emotions. This is not to say that the Love God has for us is purely emotional, but the spiritual reality bleeds into the emotional receptors, and these were numbed by life’s concussions….

Slowly, I have come to realize that the Lord does Love me. When this reality finally resurrected in my soul, there were no fireworks or light shows, but a quite whisper, gently healing my wounded soul, “Yes, Michael, I truly do Love you.” He knew exactly how and when to communicate this truth to me. Any other way, and it would have closed my sore soul. But as Randy Stonehill sings, “I was lost in a fantasy that blinded me until your Love broke through….”

His Love broke through to me; how about you? In your journey with Jesus has His Love broke through yet? Your thoughts?

Main Text— 1 John 3:1-3 (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.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.— 1 Peter 3:18–21 (NIV84)

As He says in Hosea: “I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people; and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one.”—Romans 9:25 (NIV84)

 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?— Romans 8:32 (NLT)

Heavenly Father, continue to open my heart and soul to the Love You have for in and through Your Son, Christ Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Righteous Judgment?” 

 

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Probably one of the most difficult things about a God, Who is Love, is to reconcile His Wrath and Judgment. It goes something like this: “How can a loving God send people to hell,” or the  like. And before we quickly dismiss this, we truly have to engage the challenge. How can a loving God do this?

Obviously, treatises and volumes of books have been written attempting to resolve this conflict. I cannot pretend to say I have read them all or even a near majority. But what I can offer in this brief blog, is a Both/And response to an Either/Or Dilemma.

God is either severely wrath-filled and vicious or He is completely Loving and forgiving: This is the general framing of the conundrum. But I want to submit that a Holy Love God can express both wrath against evil and Love toward Good at the same time. The problem comes when we reduce the LORD to a human parent, whose fickle punishment and discipline have scarred many for life.

Our God’s wrath is neither capricious nor reckless. The main verse notes that an essential element of His character is patience: He “is slow to anger.” But He is also “great in power”. His anger/wrath when executed is not out of control, thrashing about like a drowning swimmer. No, rather with pinpoint accuracy the LORD punishes the wicked, who refuse to repent, thus protecting His own, who have been cruel treated by the wicked. This is true justice; Holy Love….

How slow was He to anger? Well, with the people of Noah’s day, it appears He waited 120 years (not counting the many years before Noah) before He executed judgment. And when He did, His Holy-Love spared Noah’s family. (I hear the book, is better than the movie.) Another example of our LORD’s slow to anger is with Assyria. After they repented from their wickedness under Jonah’s reluctant preaching, the LORD spared them, on the low end, 120 years as well, before His Holy-Love destroyed the wicked nation for its sorcery, idolatry and violence , but yet protected His people, Judah….

Beyond the theological conundrum and the personal struggle with a God Who is Holy-Love, at least two questions need to  be addressed: (1) How does this change my view of disciplining my children? and (2) Where does the cross fit in here?

When discipling our children, let us never do it in anger or reckless temper tantrums. Have a plan. Have reasons. Clearly explain the expectations and consequences. The older the child, the more involved in the discipline process. But remember, they do need discipline…

When considering the cross, I see the welding of God’s Holy-Love with Grace. I’m reminded of a sandwich quarter: Holy and Love are the two precious metals on the outside, but welded in the middle is another precious metal: Grace. Beyond the mystery of God, the trinity, etc., I find this fascinating. It was on the cross where the Love of God was demonstrated (Romans 5:8) and, at the same time, I see God’s Holiness express in the sacrifice, the required payment for sin—all sin. And I see the Grace proffered all people, so they do not have to receive the pinpoint wrath of an unrepentant heart.

What are your thoughts on this rather heavy subject?

Main Text— Nahum 1:3 (NIV84)— The LORD is slow to anger and great in power; the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of His feet.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.1 Peter 3:18–21 (NIV84)

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God—John 3:17–18 (NASB95)

Whoever does not discipline his son hates him, but whoever loves him is diligent to correct him.— 1Proverbs 13:244 (ISV)

Lord Jesus Christ, fill my heart with Your Holy-Love so I may graciously discipline those under my care. In Your Name, Amen!

Pastor Mike

“Shepherd Like This”

What does it mean to “shepherd” a flock? Perhaps many think of the ultimate sacrifice: Laying down ones life for the sheep. And this is noble and good and best. However, what does it mean to shepherd the flock in the “in-between time”?

Before we answer this, I’d like to note: I do believe our main text directly applies to those who have been entrusted with the flock of the Church; to pastors (elders, leaders, bishops, overseers) who are to shepherd the Lord’s people with such devotion. However, I think you would agree that this can also apply to heads of families who have been entrusted with precious sheep to shepherd as well. With this in mind, let us look at what it means to shepherd such a flock….
We guard them from predators; feed and clothe them; provide a safe nurturing environment in which to grow and mature; dress their little bodies, their bumps and bruises and their hurt feelings. We are a hand when they need help up, an ear when they are confused or learning, and a heart when they are hurting. We are there for them….
Basically, we do all the “things” the Lord Jesus does for us as He shepherds us. But why does He do this? Why do you do this? Because He is madly in Love with us! Francis Chan calls this “Crazy Love,” and it is! It doesn’t make sense. Why would He Love us? Yet He does!

And when we emulate— model —this “crazy” Love, we pass it on to our flock. Why? Because we are “madly in Love with them.”

Your spouse, your children, your grandchildren will feel safe, nurtured, comforted when they are hugged with a “Crazy Love”!

What are some ways we can demonstrate that we are madly in Love with our flock?  Your thoughts….

Main Text— Acts 20:28 (NIV84)— Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts
  Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.— 1 Peter 5:2–3 (NIV84)
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.— John 10:11, 14 (NIV84)
This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.— Ezekiel 34:2b–4 (NIV84)
Lord Jesus Christ, be the shepherd in my Life so that I might demonstrate Your Love and Kindness to the flock You have entrusted to me. In Your Name, Amen!
Pastor Mike

“He Chose Me!”

Please bear with me, but I have often connected the physical deformities of others to my own spiritual deformity from sin. Much of my young religious training taught me that when I sinned, my soul received a black stain. The more I sinned the darker my soul got. Well, from one perspective, my soul must have been pretty black! (and that was my favorite color for some time).

Even as a young Christian, I connected the deformities of other to the darkness and deformity of my soul. How could God Love me! I did so much evil….

At first, His Love began to leak into my life. Then the cracks of the shell of my deformed soul widened and His Love seeped in. The flood comes once in a while, in a quiet moment when I realize that He does truly Love me—in my ugliness and deformity (which I know is being transformed into the likeness of His Son, but even this blows my mind)….

Yes, He chose me. He adopted me to be His child. Truly, this thought blows my mind and the reality bursts my soul. The answer to the unspoken, “Why,” is a quietly whispered, “Simply because I Love you.”

What more can be said? What are your thoughts?

Main Text: — Ephesians 1:3-5 (NASB95)— 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will,

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”— Romans 8:15 (ESV)

So that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.— Galatians 4:5–7 (NASB95)

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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 8:31–32 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, what a sense of Holy awe I get every time I realize that You do Love me and have chosen me to be Your son!  No words can capture the overwhelming praise and gratitude that swells up in my soul. Baruch Ha Shem Y’shua.

Pastor Mike