Do Not be Distracted

Another lesson that the Lord exposed to me on my sabbatical was: “Do not be distracted”.  It was consolidated at a friend’s church as he was speaking from Nehemiah.

Sanballat and Geshem sent me this message: “Come, let us meet together in one of the villages on the plain of Ono.” But they were scheming to harm me; so I sent messengers to them with this reply: “I am carrying on a great project and cannot go down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and go down to you?” Four times they sent me the same message, and each time I gave them the same answer. (Nehemiah 6:2–4 NIV84)

 Many people will distract us. Some will do this intentionally, but the majority will innocently “interrupt” us. But I have found the greater battle is internal. I get so distracted between a good “task,” “project, or “activity” and the best. I must pause and seek the Lord’s face prior to engaging in any activity. A simple, “Lord, what do You want me to do now?” prayer should be sufficient for most times, but the larger projects, do you think these would require a more deliberate special seeking of the Lord’s face?

Join me on this journey to stay focused and “not be distracted”?

“Prayer Warning”

 

Prayer Warning. Prayer Needed. But not just any kind of prayer; Prayer filled with Thanksgiving and Hope is needed!”

Have you ever had this warning scrolling across the prayer screen of your life? I have. Yep, although I was diligently praying, my Whine-O-Meter was pegging the Red Zone! Then the above warning scrolled across my prayer screen. Ouch!

I stopped and discovered: “Thanklessness sours prayer!”

If I am not praying with thank-fullness, then my prayers are sour and probably stink a wee bit…. So the Lord, in His Mercy & Grace, redirected my attitude (after some confession) and thus redirected my prayers. Now they are filling with Hope as well as Thanksgiving.

Oh, I’m still waiting on some “urgent” answers, but at least the  waiting room is far more peaceful and calm—and hopeful, too!

Main Text— Ephesians 1:15–16 (NIV84)15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ ….2 Corinthians 2:14–15a (NIV84)

May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.Psalm 141:2 (NIV84)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Philippians 4:6–7 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, forgive me for my anxious, whiny thoughts which sour my prayers. Fill me with the Holy Spirit of thankfulness and hope. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Too Rushed”

I am fascinated at how the Lord never appears to hurry or rush, but when He acts, it is timely: never too late, but also never too early. And definitely never rushed! 

As I ponder the prophecies of the cross, I am learning that many were hundreds of years in the waiting. But in the “fullness of time” they were all fulfilled: one by one by one. Though to some these could have appeared in a rush or an avalanche (because tens were literally fulfilled on, around, and at the cross), but, in fact, they were precisely “completed” with pinpoint accuracy.

Why do I note all this? Because when I rush, I inevitably forget something, misplace something else or just overlook an instruction or two, and sadly, in the rush I often cause more work and even sometimes more pain…. 

For instance, I was baking a cheese cake the other day (my grandmother’s recipe and my favorite—with which nothing can compare, I must say). In my rush and hurry to get to the finished product, I overlooked a simple note on our stove to check the oven before turning it on. About two-thirds of the way through the preheat cycle, I noted a rather strange smell. “Aggh!” I remember the note and the pans in the oven. Carefully donning oven mittens, I slowly removed the—by now—super-heated pans. I placed them in a safe location and took off my mittens. But something strange happened next. I noted one was too close to the other, so I reached out and…you guessed it: I burnt my hand…. Yikes!

Being too rushed not only extending my cooking time, but caused a wee bit of pain. 

Have you found this to be the case, too? Have you noticed that when we rush, we only make more work for us and sometimes even cause ourselves and others pain? Oh, how I wish I’d be more like the Lord in these moments when I’m tempted to hurry and rush and bustle and there is no reason for it. “It” will get done in a timely fashion. No hurry or rush necessary, eh?

Your thoughts?

Main Text— Isaiah 61:1-2a (NIV) 1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,  because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,  to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor….

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end  and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.Habakkuk 2:3 (NIV84)

But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons—Galatians 4:4–5 (NIV84)

The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.2 Peter 3:9 (NIV)

Lord Jesus Christ, may I rest in Your promises and in Your perfect timing to fulfill them. In Your Name, Amen.

 “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

“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

“Provision in the Wilderness”

 

Ironically, as I was preparing for this week’s message, I caught myself complaining about how long I’ve been in the wilderness. This was in light of the main text below. “Lord, if I’m to make my days count, how can I do so in the wilderness? Besides, how long can this wilderness be…?” And just as I said this, a light, “40 years!?” floated through my mind…. Ah, I’ll be grateful for the brief time I’m having in this wilderness…

But what hammered home the point was v. 7, the Psalmist, David says, “My hope is in You.” As he counted the fleeting moments whisking by, as he  noted the brevity of life, his hope in this desert—this wilderness—is the LORD. As I paused on this thought, the heaviness of the reality that the LORD provided for the Israelites in their wilderness for 40 years, and for Moses in his wilderness for 40 years, and even HIS Son, the Lord Jesus, for 40 days—will He not also provide for me in my brief wilderness for however long it is?

Then I returned to those little ones praying before they go to bed: “Thank You, Lord, for my mommy & daddy. For Grandma & Grandpa. For Nana & Papa; for my dolls & my toys; for my bed; & my clothes, and ….” The innocent childlike wonderment of their awareness of the Lord’s provision was truly humbling. So I began to pray as they reminded me: “Thank You, LORD, for all these provisions. Thank You for my house and my car; for the hot water and the refrigerated air; Thank You for my wife and daughters and sons-in-law and grandchildren….”

The Lord is truly my Hope in the wilderness and He is clearly blessing me with many provisions in whatever I may consider is my wilderness. How about you? Do you see His provisions in your wilderness?

Main Text— Psalm 39:4–7 (NIV84)—  Show me, O LORD, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.  5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Selah 6 Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. 7 But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in You.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? Matthew 6:26–27 (NIV84)

nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You.2 Chron. 20:12b (NASB95

I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  [Ephesians 3:16–21 NIV84]

Pastor Mike

“Confessing Christ in the Hard Times”

 

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

“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

The Paradox of Holy Contentment

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 with 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 physcial, does v. 13 only apply to physical realities (i.e., the Lord empowers me when I have a lot or have very little); or does this spill 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

“Humble is Too Nice a Word”

It seems that “humble” is just too nice a word for what happened to Jesus. As I read the Gospels and review His passion—the whipping, beatings, and crucifixion, this was not “humbling,” but it is “humiliation.” Yes, the better word seems, at least to me, to be: “humiliation.”

This word keeps coming up in my life, especially in the last year and a half or so. Be it public or private, the “humbling” is often beyond unpleasant and nearly unbearable. I’m becoming more confident that the Lord is giving me a glimpse of what He went through in His coming down from heaven to earth: It is indeed a most profound humiliation. As our main text notes below, He was equal with Deity—He is God! And yet He didn’t grasp or cling to this privilege. Rather He chose to make Himself nothing. (One translation says, “made Himself of no reputation.” He did  not brag about His being God; didn’t flaunt it in our faces.)

Continuing in this humiliation from heaven to earth, He took on the form of servant in human form. He did not come to be served, but to serve…. And the humiliation continued: He allowed Himself to be humiliated in death, and not just any death but the humiliating, shameful death of a crucifixion…. (In the Jewish mind, “Cursed is he who hangs on a tree” Dt. 21:22-23 & Gal. 3:13).

This is humiliation and not a mere humbling; publicly shamed and scorned; naked and beaten. The great God of the universe nailed to a tree by puny humans…. True humiliation, wouldn’t you agree?

And, oh, have I failed to note that He also carried the sins of all the world for all time? He—the Holy, sinless One—was so humiliated to carry our disgusting garbage of evil?

What ever small humiliations I have been going through these last 20 years or so cannot compare to His humiliation, for sure. But it does give me a taste of what He went through for me. A taste, mind you….

Do you, too, feel your humiliations are but a taste of what Jesus went through for you? Do they give you a greater appreciation for His coming down from heaven to earth? Your thoughts?

Main Text— Philippians 2:5-8 (NIV84)— 5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.   Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?2 Corinthians 11:23-29 (NIV84)

    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, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV)

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.—Romans 12:3-4 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I accept this grace of humiliation. I accept it knowing that You are conforming me to be more like Your Son, Jesus. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike