“The Empty Tomb Response”

When emotions run high and logic is empty, let the empty tomb respond. When a relationship slips & falls and leaves you empty, let the empty tomb respond. When the bills mount up and the bank account runs empty, let the empty tomb respond.

The empty tomb is after death. The empty tomb shouts of After-Life. The empty tomb is full of hope and reassurance: Jesus has conquered death—and sin, and has given us Full Life, Abundant Life.

The empty tomb response to empty logic may be silence, or a well-crafted answer prompted by the After-Life in this life. The empty tomb response to an empty relationship may be to terminate the relationship or to let the Resurrected Life revitalize and fill the emptiness. The empty tomb response to financial short falls may be to cut back on extras, and even if there is nothing left to cut, the After-Life response is full of hope and Abundant Life: “The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing” (Psalm 23:1 NIV2011), and “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Psalm 37:25 NIV84). The empty tomb response says, “He will provide; You will make it!”

As we celebrate the Resurrection this year, let us proclaim the emptiness of the tomb and the Fullness of the Resurrection. Let us rest in the confident Hope that the Resurrected One has secured for us Fullness in our emptiness. He is Risen! He is Risen Indeed!!!

Peace,

Pastor Mike

“Hope For the Future”

There is a promise in Jeremiah that a lot of us quote without realizing the context. It is a great promise no matter what, but the context gives us a deeper understanding of the promise. Here’s the promise:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV84).

Ah, but the context? The prophet Jeremiah is “promising” in a letter that the people of Jerusalem are about to go into exile into Babylon for 70 years! Sadly, dark days are ahead, and yet the spotlight of hope in v. 11 shines in this darkness: The LORD has great plans for us, too, to “give you a hope and a future.” Yes, even in this exile, even in this very darkest of times. …

So whether COVID or lockdowns or elections or weather or life appear to not be going “your way,” or whether it is but an encroaching darkness, know this: the LORD has plans for you, for us, to give us a hope and a future…, but do not stop at verse 11; we need to keep reading as we secure this hope and future:

Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:12–14 NIV84).

Is it as clear to you as it is to me? In this encroaching darkness, we are to “call upon” the Lord, pray to Him, seek Him—with all our heart, and then He will be found by us! This is my hope in any darkness: I need to keep seeking the Lord Jesus with all my heart as He uses this “Dark night of the soul” to cleanse my heart from what is not seeking Him. Is He your hope for the future?

Peace,

Pastor Mike

“Smell the Roses?”

When my roses begin to blossom, I take an early morning walk stopping at each bush to capture their fragrance. And, yes, I do think to “stop and smell the roses.”

Now you may not have roses or flowers to stop and smell, and you may not even be a morning person, but let this not deter you from stopping and smelling the moment. In the midst of all that we have been through these past few weeks, it is all the more imperative to do this.

Step out of the slipstream of panic and hysteria and worry and ultra-concern and take time to rest in the presence of Jesus. Let the Prince of Peace be your Peace:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He is our peace … . [Ephesians 2:13-14a]

Will you join me, then, in stopping to smell the Flower, the Rose of Sharon?

Peace,

Pastor Mike

“Syrupy Love Vs. Substantial Love”

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

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

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

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

Sound familiar?

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

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

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Mike

How Heavy is Your Burden?

 

Whether it is a heavy purse, briefcase, backpack or grocery bag, we’ve all carried around something a wee bit too heavy for us. Oh, we seem to manage, but afterwards are shoulders and just below the neck are killing us. But we made it. We gently drop the purse, briefcase, backpack, or grocery bag where it belongs. Whew! Glad that’s done!

Ah, but a lot of times in life, we never put down, let alone drop, that heavy “purse,” “briefcase,” “backpack,” or “grocery bag.” Instead, we carry it for days, months—dare I say it, years? The burden? The heaviness that stoops our shoulder or aches our neck? Unforgiveness….

Yes, unforgiveness. Now, I am looking at this from two perspectives: (1) me not forgiving someone; AND (2) me not receiving forgiveness….

The first is often more readily identifiable. There is no floating anger; it is laser focused. I know the one I haven’t forgiven. Sadly, the thought may shoot through my mind, “I’ll never forgive…,” only to be stopped by the grace of the cross. But still, unlike Jesus, I am still carrying this cross—instead of laying down on it, and joining Him in saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV84).

Ah, the second perspective is rather more challenging, often floating in our being: I have refused to receive the forgiveness that is mine from Jesus. So what do I do? I continue to carry that heavy briefcase (or purse or backpack, etc.) And my whole body—physically, spiritually and emotionally is “groaning all day long” (Ps.32:3 below).

What do I need to do? Fortunately, I kept reading: “Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’” (v. 5). And what did the LORD do? The rest of verse 5: “You forgave the guilt of my sin!” My burden was removed from my briefcase. The freedom of release was overwhelming. Joy flooded my soul….

How Heavy is your burden? Probably no heavier than mine. And, guess, what? The LORD can forgive you, too. Yep, just acknowledge your burden and receive His forgiveness. Sounds too simple; too easy, huh? Which is easier? Carrying that heavy purse, briefcase, backpack or grocery bag or letting it drop?

Main Text— Psalm 32:3–5 (NIV84) 3 When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

So I’m telling you that her sins, as many as they are, have been forgiven, and that’s why she has shown such great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven loves little.Luke 7:47 (ISV)

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)

Lord Jesus Christ, I confess my burden to You. Lift this burden of unforgiveness. I receive the release of my burden and the Joy of Your Salvation in my life. Empower me to let others know how much You Love them, too. Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Content with Relationships”

 

We all have relationships that are indeed like ships. They come; and they go. Some pass in the night; others after but a few short years. But there are those relationships that endure and are dear. All these can impact our lives

I yearn for the latter: For those relationships that last a life time. But in this morning’s main text, the Apostle Paul is showing me two simple protectors that can prevent my joy from being sapped. One is, I rejoice in the Lord for relationships that come and go because they show a timely concern. They may not have opportunity to develop the relationship to the degree I’d desire, but we had a very dear relationship all the same—even if for a short time. And this is okay.

The second protector of my joy is to learn contentment in those circumstances where a relationship is cut short, for whatever reason. There is a phrase I have employed with volunteers over the years when it comes to their commitment to a particular task or position: “Expect no less; demand no more.” Expect them to do no less than what they agreed to volunteer for; but demand no more of them, least I chase them away or burn them out.

Perhaps this can be applied to relationships, too? What do you think? What are the implications of not being content with the level/degree of a particular relationship? What results from discontent? Or even malcontent?

Main Text— Philippians 4:11–13 (NIV) 10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls. —1 Peter 1:3–9 (NIV84)

 [Jesus said,] In a little while you will see Me no more, and then after a little while you will see Me.”John 16:16 (NIV84

Lord Jesus Christ, guard my heart as the Prince of Peace as You teach me these lessons of contentment in relationships. May I realize all the more that rejoicing in You is more than enough. In Your Name. Amen

Pastor Mike

How Important is the Resurrection?

 

As Believers in the Lord Jesus perhaps we have never really asked ourselves: “How important is His Resurrection?” Oh, we believe in it, and we understand that it is an essential component of our salvation, but, really, how important is it?

From the Apostle Paul’s perspective, it is sine qua non: Absolutely essential. In our main text, noted below, St. Paul’s bottom line is, If Christ is not raised from the dead, then “we are of all people most to be pitied.” 

Beyond our misplaced zeal and faith, if we believe in something that has not or cannot happen, don’t you think this goes beyond any virtual reality we can create?

But from another perspective, I’d like to suggest to you the resurrection must be very important. That perspective: the lack of attention nonbelievers give it. Let me explain. At Christmas, at least there is a general mention of the baby Jesus, and as one “famous” character is noted for saying as he was praying to “Baby Jesus” for grace, “I like the Christmas Jesus best….” Why? Could it be as long as we picture Jesus as a tiny baby, we can more easily discount the rest of His Life?

Or what about the plethora of Easter Bunny coverage? Books line the shelves, videos dot the internet, and dare we fail to mention the shelves and shelves of chocolate bunnies? Why? Could it be that if we focus on the soft furry bunnies, we can more easily discount any reason to engage in the importance of the resurrection?  Talk about media black out, huh?

Your thoughts? How important is the resurrection to you? Is it worth discounting?

Main Text— 1 Corinthians 15:14–19 (NIV)— 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But He did not raise Him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. 

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.1 Corinthians 15:20) (NIV)

   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)

You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.  Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that You are the Holy One of God.”—John 6:67–69 (NIV)

Heavenly Father, I thank You for the Resurrection. I confess the Lord Jesus Christ as the Resurrection and the Life. I praise You for His transforming work in my life. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Pastor Mike

Is The Cross For All Believers

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

“What Good Can Come from Her”

 

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 evil 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 chose the Holy One (YHWH, bless the Name) first, 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

A Damaged Impulse to Protect Life

Yesterday on a media outlet, I read about the tragic murder/suicide of a 9-year old daughter at her mothers’s hand. Given the speed of today’s digital “news,” the crime is still under investigation, but sadly, we are hearing more and more of this. According to one study done in 2007, mothers make up only 31% of parents killing their children under five (with fathers, step-fathers, and step-mothers completing the statistic).

What is heart retching is that this is a statistic at all, wouldn’t you agree? Generally, we’ve all seen it: the gentleness of a mother with her new born, tenderly caring for this precious life. This is the norm. But somehow some have had their impulse to protect life damaged.

Beyond all the deep wounds of the whys and wherefores, I’d like to look in our main text today at the woman whose life impulse was not damaged.

Some would not expect a prostitute (aka “harlot” or “whore”) to have an undamaged impulse. We would expect her to be like the other prostitute who said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two” (v. 26b)! But her impulse to protect life was undamaged.

Perhaps you have found, as I have, that women of character have an undamaged impulse to protect life. This is not to say they do not have struggles, often to the point of breaking. But somehow the impulse to protect life overwhelms any other impulses—even to literally murder their own child. 

For years as a young boy, I would hurl at my mother, “You hate me! You hate me! You hate me!” And with a deep mournful, broken heart she would weep back, “Michael, how can I hate you? You are my own flesh and blood.” Sadly, it took me years to really understand the depth of the truth of this statement. But I have learned that my dear mother had an undamaged impulse to protect life, too—even mine….

Do you have any suggestions for those who may have a damaged impulse? What are your thoughts?

Main Text— 1 Kings 3:16–27 (NIV84) 16 Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17 One of them said, “My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me. 18 The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.  19 “During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. 20 So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. 21 The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”  22 The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”  But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.“And so they argued before the king. 23 The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’ ” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. 25 He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.” 26 The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!”  But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”  27 Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

   But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the LORD has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne. Though she may forget, I will not forget you! [says the LORD].Isaiah 49:14–15 (NIV84)

  As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children.—1 Thessalonians 2:6b–7 (NIV84)

Create in me a pure heart, O God,  and renew a steadfast spirit within me.—Psalm 51:10 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, heal my wounded heart. Restore my passion and impulse to protect Life. Empower me to be like You—the Great Life Protector. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike