“This is No Time”

 

Terrorist attacks at the door. Inflation rearing its ugly head. Taxes at every turn—increasing the burden. Civil unrest; social and moral decay. This is no time to bring a child into the world, and yet our Heavenly Father deemed it “appropriate” to bring His Son into that climate of the world…. Oh, you thought I was describing our current situation? Nah, but it sure sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Yes, the world in which the baby Jesus was born was a very violent time. Israel was under the occupation of the Romans, and might truly made right. Yet, this is the time our Heavenly Father deemed “The fulness of time.” What better time than to show the vulnerability of the humility of His Son?

I’m reminded of a line in the Rock Opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” If memory serves, it was Judas who delivered the line: “If you’d come today, You could have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication—don’t you get me wrong.…” That hit me hard then when it came out. And for some time I agreed with it. But as I study the Word more & more and found the main text for today (Gal. 4:4), I changed my focus of study. With this change of focus, my doubts began to melt away. It was all part of His plan to show many, many characteristics of the Godhead, and one I’ve already mentioned: vulnerability of humility.

Unlike other kings of royalty, our King was born in an obscure village among poor peasants, in a borrowed manger—but all in the “fulness of time”! And He survived the heinous  slaughter of innocent children; He survived being a refugee in Egypt; He survived many bandits during family pilgrimages to and from the Holy City; He survived the teenage years; He survived the ridicule and unbelief of His family; He survived the popularity and misunderstandings of the mobs and the crowds; and He survived the tortuous death of crucifixion….

Yes, He survived. But in truth He did more than survive, didn’t He? He is more than a conqueror! He indeed grew up in those very unstable times to nonetheless fulfill the destiny the Father had designed for Him. He is more than a survivor; He is a conqueror!

So, as we look around at the difficult, unstable, even dangerous times we live in, do you receive any encouragement from our Lord Jesus’ journey? I do….

At this Christmas time when bills seem bigger than usual and suspicion reigns, remember that our Heavenly Father took care of His Son during His most vulnerable times, providing all He and His family needed…

… and the same will be so for us.

Main Text: — Galatians 4:4–5 (ISV)— But when the appropriate time had come, God sent his Son, born by a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order to redeem those who were under the Law, and thus to adopt them as his children.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.— Romans 8:35–37 (NIV84)

He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.— Matthew 8:26 (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)

And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.  (Philippians 4:19-20)

Pastor Mike

“Keep the Word Central”

 

As I lay here recovering from a total hip replacement surgery, I have had a lot of time to think. Now, to be completely open, much of the time my thinking hasn’t been too clear or coherent. I’m sure many of you know the effects of pain, pain pills and surgery: Really hard to put a couple of coherent sentences together. I’ve been told that even some of my texts were rather humorous, with one even ending in the middle of a sentence….

But as my mind began to clear up and my thought coalesce a bit more, I  took some time to really ponder some books and passages in the Word. I read and re-read Philippians several times, and it provided me much comfort. Then I felt the Lord’s prompting to read and re-read 2 Timothy. So I moved to that book…

I had been evaluating my role as a preacher, pastor, and teacher—bringing these before the Lord. (More for a revitalization and refreshment than in a mid-life crisis.) The main text noted below, 2 Tim. 4:1-5, continually kept jumping out at me: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season…:” V. 2 especially impacted me. This was the passage read and preached from at my first ordination, and ever since the phrase, “in season and out of season,” has perplexed me.

Over the years I have heard many interpret this as “when it’s convenient and when it is not.” “Preachers, pastors and teachers should be ready to  preach, shepherd and teach at a moments notice.” And this is all well and good, but the phrases in the Greek seem to take on a deeper, more profound meaning, especially in the context of v. 3.

Without getting lost or bogged down in the Greek, suffice it to say, the Greek word for “time” in v. 3 (NIV84), is the root of the two words translated “in season” and “out of season” of v. 2. And a possible translation of these words in v. 2 could easily be “in the good times and in the not so good times.” When I saw this, the context and the meaning cut me deeply: “Preach the Word in the good times when people are eager to hear and in the ‘not-so’ good times when people are chasing after teachers to tickle their ears.” (This adds the forewarning of v. 3.)

Are you getting what I’m getting? I’m getting: Keep the Word central in my teaching and preaching and pastoring. And the Greek word for “Word”? It’s Logos: the very same word used of Jesus in John 1:1-14! So I not only preach the Bible—the Living Word of God, I preach Jesus: the Incarnate Word of God!

My thoughts become very, very clear: Whether we are in a good season where people are desiring to hear the sincere milk of the Word or in a “not-so-good” season where people are looking only to have their ears tickled, I must keep the Word center: Both the Written and Incarnate Word!

For all who Love the Lord Jesus Christ, do you think that this charge is for you as well, beyond ordinations and positions and gifts? Do you, too, have a burning desire to feast on the Written Word and to fellowship with the Incarnate Word? What better time of year do we have to be able to focus on the Incarnate Word: Keeping Jesus central—In Christmas and in our lives? Share your thoughts?

Main Text: — 2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NIV84)— In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.— 1 Peter 2:1–3 (NIV84)

From this time many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. “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 believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.” — Jn 6:66–69 (NIV84)

Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.—Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, burn in my a Holy Spirit fire desiring fellowship with You and Your Word and Your People. As you fill me with the Holy Spirit of power, Love and a sound mind, may I pour out this Grace and Love and power onto all I meet this Holy Season. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Tracing the Rainbow Through the Rain”

 

In his poem (which later became a hymn) “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” George Matheson writes, “O Joy that seekest me through pain, I cannot close my heart to Thee, I trace the rainbow through the rain and feel the promise is not vain.” What specific pain George was experience we do not know, but in his own words, out of “the most severe mental suffering,” the words poured forth as if “dictated to me by some inward voice.” We know this pain superseded any of his physical limitations of blindness or other maladies he endured. But in all of these he could trace the rainbow of promise through the rain.

Ironically, I haven’t been this sick in years, and I am coming up a total hip replacement in a few weeks. I have not had many dark days, though not a few cloudy ones have accompanied me. But what made them cloudy were not my own issues or concerns, per se, but the concerns for others, and the complete inability of helping relieve these concerns. In short, I am being made fully aware that I am not their rescuer. Worse yet, I have to stand by and watch matters become more complicated and entangle well before the Lord steps in and ‘fixes’ them. “Oh, if only I….” Ha, not even if….

In today’s main text, I see Paul and Silas in a rather dark place—literally. They knew nothing of earthquakes and loosed chains, but they did know a God who could deliver from the fire, through the fire or in the fire. So to this God, the Holy One, they sang and prayed and praised as they traced the rainbow through the rain.

They were imprisoned, limited to what they could do; feet in stocks but voices unfettered. So, too, you and I need to do what we can do in our cramped, limited situations where we can no longer “do” what we once did to help, relieve, or ‘fix’ or ….

Singing and praying and praising seems to be a great place to start tracing the rainbow in the rain knowing with full assurance that the Promise of His Presence is indeed not vain! Brothers and sisters, many of whom are in darker storms with heavier rains, lift high your finger of faith and trace with me His Rainbow in the rain! …

Main Text: — Acts 16:22-26 (NIV)— 22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks. 25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  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)

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.— Ps 42:11 (NIV84)

 I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will He never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld his compassion?”— Psalm 77:6–9 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I wait on You. You are my Hope. Expose the rainbow of promise, the Hope of my salvation. So I shall see Your Face. Lord Jesus, be my comfort and my Peace. In Your Name. Amen

Pastor Mike

“Benched!”

 

During my many years of coaching various sports, I have had to bench a player or two. Usually, it was because of an attitude problem or some violation of a team rule or expectation…. But there were those times I would tell a player that I was sitting her on the bench for awhile so that she could get a feel for the game and the offense and/or defense we were running. “Now, I want you to observe number 10. Watch how she keeps her knees bent and her balance. She engages her opponent increasing the pressure and closing the distance the closer she gets to the goal.” …

This same thing appears to have happened to me in the ministry. As I was wrapping up my college campus ministry  phrase, I approached my early mentor, Elmer Hiebert, with a friend and expressed how I felt that the Lord was pulling me out of the “game”. My friend felt the same way. I will never forget what Elmer told both of us: “Maybe it’s like a coach who pulls his players out of the first quarter so that they can be fresh when he puts them back in in the fourth quarter.” Does the Lord do such a thing?

It appears that He does, especially in light of our main text this morning. The young Saul (aka Paul, later to become an apostle) started out with a bang, witnessing to all that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long awaited Messiah, and though he had a measure of success, things also got a little hairy. So the church sent him back to his home town. He appears to be “benched” for almost 10 years. (Oh, he was most assuredly busy with the tasks at hand growing in the faith while making tents, but he clearly wasn’t on the radar of recorded church history.) Then his early mentor, Barnabas, seeks Saul out to join him with some small tasks (see Acts 11:28-36). Slowly, Saul, aka Paul (his Roman name), begins to fulfill the destiny the Lord presented to him on the Road to Damascus (see Acts 26:16ff)….

Brothers and sisters, you may be feeling like the Lord has pulled you out of the “game” benched you for some silly mistake (aka sin), but is it possible that He is “benching” you for quite another reason? Maybe He wants you to watch that number 10, learning from them how they engage the opponent or how they are learning the offense and defense the He wants you to run? Quite possibly so? What do you think? Your thoughts?

Main Text:Acts 13:1-3 (NIV84)  In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  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)

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” Exodus 3:1–3 (NIV84)

 Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there. Genesis 39:1 (NIV84)

Lord Jesus Christ, I put You on as my Slippers of Patience especially during this season of my life as I faithful receive Your training…. In Your Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“The Need to Not Stop Praying”

 

How long has it been? You’ve been praying for that special loved one: five, ten, 15 years? Or maybe you’ve been praying for  your finances—it’s been months and still no turn around? Whatever you’ve been praying for—be it intensely personal or deeply spiritual, to me, 1 Thessalonians 5:17 coaches me: “Don’t give up on Prayer”

I hear Coach Paul, the Apostle, encouraging the church at Thessalonica: Do not stop praying, but instead “Pray without ceasing!”

I know even I myself have taken this verse to mean, “constantly live in a state of prayer.” As a matter of fact, I was just talking to someone a few days ago about this, but the more I thought about this verse (and this is not to say, being in a constant state of prayer is bad) the more I wondered: is it possible that this verse truly means: Don’t give up on prayer?

I’ve been there and maybe you’ve been there, too, that place where we feel our prayers are hitting a bronze sky and all we hear is the echo of our heart’s cry…

Coach Paul knows this. Remember, when he deeply desired to get rid of this nasty thorn in the flesh (see 2 Cor. 12:7-10), and he prayed three times for it to be so. Now, I’m sure these three times were not back to back, like minutes apart. No, but it could have been weeks or months: “Ah, Lord, I know You hear me. You usually answer my prayers pretty quickly, but, ah, what’s going on…?” Then after the third deeply intense prayer time, the release and the Word came: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9 NIV84)

Brothers and sisters, I know I need to hear this Word today: “Pray without ceasing:” Do you? Do you and I need to hear: Don’t give up on the Lord and praying to Him? Pray unceasingly–with unflagging resolve! Don’t stop praying. Pray when the need is great and pray when the praise is great! Pray! Pray! Pray!

Or as the acronym suggests: P.U.S.H.—Pray Until Something Happens. If we stop praying, will it happen anyway? I find this a very good question indeed. What do you think? Your thoughts?

Main Text: — 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (NKJV)—pray without ceasing.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

 One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.— Luke 6:12 (NIV84)

Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.— 1 Thessalonians 3:10 (NIV84)

 But [Hannah’s] rival wife taunted her cruelly, rubbing it in and never letting her forget that God had not given her children. This went on year after year. Every time she went to the sanctuary of God she could expect to be taunted. Hannah was reduced to tears and had no appetite.— 1 Samuel 1:6–7 (The Message)

Heavenly Father, in Your Mercy and Grace forgive me for giving up on prayer. Deep down I know You hear me, but I have grown weary of praying. Rekindle a passion for You as I quietly sit here in Your presence. I wait for Your Word of Grace and the Release of Hope…. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Suffering with Him”

 

Today we begin our third week of prayer and fasting as we also journey into the Heartwork devotion. This morning’s Heartwork devotion is entitled, “Day 16: Co-suffering with Christ.” Intriguingly, suffering in some cultures is normal while in other cultures it is not. Suffering on any level is often met with a little whine and a little pill (or several). Many people are allergic to suffering; when it starts, they break out in hurt all over….

Every Christian must realize that at some point in their lives they are going to suffer for Jesus, but not in ways that we may think. For instance, when our brothers and sisters suffer, our suffering may be joining them in theirs. When we are suffering for them, we are actually suffering for Him.

At least this is how I read 1 Corinthians 12:26 (main text noted below).

Or perhaps I should be phrasing all this as questions? Is it possible that my current pain is but a reflection of the vicarious suffering for a brother or sister who is right now suffering in a prison cell in some distant land? Are we that connected in the Body of Christ as v. 27 seems to imply?

If Jesus suffered vicariously (in the place of) me and my sins, and I want to be more like Jesus, does it not also follow that I, too, will suffer for others—be it their sins or their personal suffering?

What are your thoughts on this ?

Main Text: — 1 Corinthians 12:26 (NASB95)— 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

    Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church.— Colossians 1:24 (NIV)

For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.— 2 Corinthians 1:5 (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 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, as You empower me by Your Holy Spirt to endure the sufferings that You have in advanced prepared for me to walk in, may I be faithful to carry this cross as the Lord Jesus Christ is honor in and through my Life…. In His Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike

“Into A Corner”

 

Charles Spurgeon writes in a devotion found in Morning and evening: Daily readings selected for today: “The Lord sometimes suffers his people to be driven into a corner that they may experimentally know how necessary he is to them. Ungodly children, when they show us our own powerlessness against the depravity of their hearts, drive us to flee to the strong for strength, and this is a great blessing to us. Whatever our morning’s need may be, let it like a strong current bear us to the ocean of divine love. Jesus can soon remove our sorrow, he delights to comfort us. Let us hasten to him while he waits to meet us.” (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

As we build families, I have discovered that some have been driven into a corner. There is no cause for celebration, but only sorrow. Their ‘prodigal’ has just begun his/her journey away from home. How can they celebrate family?

Indeed, the corner we’ve been driven into has a purpose: It is to show us our dependence on the One Who is All-Present, All-Powerful and All-Knowing. We cannot be present with our ‘prodigal’. No, we’ve been driven into corner, our backs against the wall of mountains with the Sea of the World before us as the enemy’s armies close us in. Despair gnaws at our soul as our faith begins to evaporate….

But instead of seeing a sea of the world, let us join Charles and see “the Ocean of Divine Love.” The Lord “Jesus can soon remove our sorrow, he delights to comfort us.” He will part the sea!

A song we sing at our church that has become a recent favorite of mine is, “Make A Way” by Jason Ingram and Jon Egan. My soul bursts with praise as I sing out with all my heart: “Where there is no way You make a way / Where no one else can reach us You find us / Where there is no way You make a way /Where no one else can reach us You find us.” But as I kept thinking about all the families I know who cannot celebrate Family because of a wayward son or a prodigal daughter, I thought of this song with different pronouns: “When cannot reach them, You reach them!” And then my soul settles down with a wisp of faith that soars into the heavenlies. I receive Charles’  spurring: “Let us hasten to [Jesus] while He waits to meet us” to comfort us. Join me as I come out of the corner, in a sprint or a crawl, but nonetheless join me fleeing to Jesus!

Main Text: — Mark 9:20–24 (NIV84)— 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”  23 “ ‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.— 2 Timothy 4:18 (NIV84)

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.— 1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV emphasis added)

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. A righteous man may have many troubles, but the LORD delivers him from them all — Psalm 34:17-19 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I patiently wait for Your deliverance of my loved one. Hear the cries of my heart. Give me songs in this night that I may yet praise You. Be still O my soul, and trust in the LORD. He will not fail you. Bless You, Jesus, for Your mercies and Your grace.  In Your Name,  Amen.

Pastor Mike

Celebrating Family

Brother & Sisters: Let us Celebrate two families this week. The first family we celebrate is our blood family. We may be adopted or disconnected from our blood family, but nonetheless celebrate! You are here. The second Family is the Blood Family, the Church, the Body of Christ. You are most definitely adopted as sons and daughters into this celestial Family, never ever to be disconnected. Celebrate this Family by praising our Heavenly Father Who Commissioned the Only Begotten Son Who bought this family with His Blood, and sealed it with the Holy Spirit: Blessed Be the three in One!

We who have a Both/And understanding do not pit one family against the other, but we weave them like a master craftsman, creating a beautiful tapestry of Family. Let us not favor one in exclusion to the other, for, in fact, one builds the other. There is a synergistic effect. Yes, even through the dysfunctional spasms ever family goes through. But the key is sticking it out enduring the hard times. In other words: enduring the cross!

It is on the other side of the cross–the Resurrection of the Relationship– that the Family (both blood & Blood) is stronger and ‘bigger’. So celebrate with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. Wouldn’t you agree that these are to institutions, if you will, worth celebrating?

So let us bless the Family with the following prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 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, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

“An Upside Down Walk with Jesus”

If I have learned anything in my journey with Jesus and the Life He has infused in me, I have learned that it is an upside down walk with Him. In order to find, I must lose (Matt. 10:39); in order to get, I must give up (Acts 20:35); in order to live I must die (Gal. 2:20); and the way up is down (Phil 2:5-11).

Truly, our walk with Jesus is upside down from the world around us.  So why should ‘a glorious victory’ be any different? It would appear it is no different. Stephen was going about doing good. Helping widows, orphans and strangers. The Lord used this humble vessel to do “great wonders and miraculous signs” (see main text below). And yet, “Opposition arose!” For doing good? Go figure….

In the denomination that I was raised, I took away the belief that martyrdom was the fast track to heaven. So I ask the Lord if I could die for Him before I was 30. Ironically, my first child was born 30 days before I turned 30! I have since learned that I ought not seek this, but if it does come to this, not to run or shrink from it. I do not find it strange that some in our world today seek martyrdom—physically or emotionally or spiritually. I understand why many do. They truly understand how sinful they are and realized that they won’t make it to heaven on their own. They see that martyrdom is the ‘easiest’ way to “make it”. But Stephen went about doing good, and martyrdom found him. It swiftly came upon him. He remained faithful to the point of death, and this is indeed a glorious victory.

I deeply honor my brothers and sisters who have, maybe even today, received this glorious victory—the crown of Life (Rev. 2:10). They have remained faithful even to this extreme point.

While many look at the many deliverances from prison and sickness and disease and bills and whatever we deem ‘bad’ as glorious victories, I see an upside down reality here. True, the Lord can and does deliver us from ills and evils, and these are indeed glorious victories, but we dare not discount, we dare not down play the glorious victory of not being released from prison, of not being healed, of not being delivered from the fire—or the blade or stone. These, too, are glorious victories.

As I walk with Jesus in this upside down way, I often find it curiously silly when I complain about something ‘bad’ like a silly red light when I’m late, or getting charged twice for item in the store. Or being rejected by my peers; Or being insulted or maligned. What are these? Perhaps these are small training opportunities for yet another quiet, but nonetheless, glorious victory? What do you think? Please feel free to share.

Main Text: — Acts 6:8–10 (NIV84)— Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)—Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, 10 but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.— Ephesians 4:1–3 (NIV84)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 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 4:16–18 (NIV84)

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. — Philippians 1:18b-21 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, I yield to the Lord Jesus Christ as He empowers me by His Holy Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to You, so that whether by my Lifestyle or in my death, I will bring You the Glory You alone are worthy of. In Jesus’ Name,  Amen.

“Enjoy the Ups; Endure the Downs”

 

My Thoughts:

Years ago I was told, “When things are going well, watch out: the enemy is about to attack.” I appreciated the advice to remain vigilant, but I took it to an extreme so as not to enjoy the good times. So when times were good, I was preparing for them to fall apart. My focus was on the “what ifs” of life and not on the “what is’s”.

Truly, our walk with Jesus has its ups and downs. We are to enjoy the ups and endure the downs. But during the “ups” I am learning to live in the moment for Jesus and not live for the moment in myself. This has been a rather challenging journey. There are times, especially when the grandkids are over, that I have to consciously say to myself—sometimes out loud, “‘That can wait for later; I’m with my grandkids now.” Then the joy of the moment begins to seep into my soul.

As I search the Words of the Book for encouragement on this new perspective, I was brought back to a well-worn passage and a pointed verse I had memorized years ago, but never really applied in this manner. (It’s always that next verse, eh?) In Matthew 6:33 Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Yet, indeed, in the next verse He says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itselfEach day has enough trouble of its own.” In a very subtle way, it appears Jesus is saying, live only in the moment, for it has enough to deal with. When I am worrying about tomorrow, or the “what ifs” or “shoulda, coulda, wouldas” of life, then I miss the joy in the moment—the “ups”….

Now that I am beginning to enjoy the “up” moments the Master has blest me with, what about those “down” times, those incidents I deem “terrible, horrible, no good or very bad”? As I sledge through the wrecking of my current life (lower case “l”), I find that I have to rework such phrases as, “That’s not good,” or “that’s bad!”. Why? Because if I really believe the Lord works out all for the Good, then even those times—those incidents—that I deem “terrible, horrible, no good or very bad” He is using for the Good—even if my small perspective cannot see it at the moment and I burp out, “this isn’t good!”

Instead, I have been trying to say—again, I’m a rookie at this, “This, too, the Lord will use for the Good!” It has been a fascinating mind-bend. Indeed, the transformation has been slow, but the Holy Spirit is steadily renewing my mind. I have found I am less reactive in situations I have traditionally deemed “bad,” etc., especially when I ‘see’ by faith that, “this, too, the Lord will use.” Now I not only endure the “downs,” I do more than endure them: for I am more than a conquerer through Jesus Who Loves me. Through the “Ups” and the “Downs” His Love holds me….

Have you had a similar journey with Jesus on this? Or are you farther up the path? Care to share?

Main Text: — Acts 5:17-20— 17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.” [NIV84]

Additional Scriptures to Renew Your Thoughts

  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)

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  — Romans 8:28 (NIV84)

Fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing. The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. — Psalm 34:9-10 (NIV84)

Heavenly Father, continue Your transforming work in my Life as I realize in each passing moment that, “You are Good all the time, no matter what,” I may think about a given moment or incident, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Pastor Mike