02 April 2020

Unlikely Encouragement

There are so many voices we have to listen to these days, and I hope that as your pastor, I might guide you to listen more to the Lord’s voice as the storm rages.

Of all unlikely places to be in a disciple’s quiet time, I find myself in Jeremiah chapter 10 – the words of a prophet on the coming judgment of God’s people for their sin!  That doesn’t sound like an encouraging place to be when you want to have hope for your situation!

But quite the opposite!  Today, I found a message that not only gives me hope but refocuses my attention to where it should be.  I’m going to personalize the text a bit from verses 6-16 and adapt it as a prayer for us today.  Will you pray this along with me?

        “Lord, there is no one like You!  For You are great Your name is full of power!  Who would not fear You, O King of nations?  That title belongs to You alone!  Among all the wise people of the earth and in all the kingdoms of the world, there is no one like You!  You are the only true God, the Living God – You are the everlasting King!

        “You made the earth by Your power and You preserve it by Your wisdom.  You stretched out the heavens by Your understanding.  When You speak, there is thunder in the Heavens!  You cause clouds to rise over the earth.  You send the lightning with the rain and You release the wind from your storehouses.

        “Compared to You, all people are foolish and have no knowledge at all!  They make idols, but the idols will disgrace their makers, for they are frauds.  They have no life or power in them...worthless lies!  And the time is coming when they will all be destroyed.

        “But You, God of Israel, Jacob’s Portion, are no idol!  You are the Creator of everything that exists, including Israel, Your own special possession.  The Lord Almighty is Your name!

Oh family, what a thrill to sense the magnitude of our God this way!  Notice the truth about Him:

1. He is all-powerful.  There is nothing God cannot handle in Your life – from sickness, financial issues, loss, fear, and doubt – He is able and sovereign!  How will you place Your trust in Him more today?

2.  He created all things and is master over them.  I sense His beauty around me, the evidence of His creative hand crafting each thing with purpose and meaning.  And I rejoice in His creation of each of you – unique and special to Him!

But this one fact also makes me pause.  If that’s the case, what about viruses?  For me, I found a secret, as John Piper says, “Knowing that the same sovereignty that could stop the coronavirus and doesn’t, is the very sovereignty that sustains the soul in it. Indeed, more than sustains — sweetens with hope that, for those who trust him, his purposes are kind, even in death.” 

I am not disappointed in what God allows.  I want to find ways of magnifying Him through it.  Will that be your response today?  To pray this: “Lord, may I see You and serve You in Your purposes!”

3.  Wisdom and knowledge and truth come only from God.  This is how, to me, He is Almighty – not just in His power but in His depth – a vastness to Him that I cannot comprehend!  But in His grace, He reveals Himself to me through Jesus and daily by His Spirit indwelling me.  Will you thank Him for illuminating Scripture for you and guiding your steps?

I hope you might be comforted in a BIG God today – larger than your own concept of Him – and then be moved to worship Him right now!  Will you continue Jeremiah’s prayer?  “Lord, there is no one like You!”

Much love in Him,

Pastor Mike

08 September 2019

When I Know I'm Weak

Some seasons in life can seem, well... "off," don't they?  It's not that anything is going wrong necessarily, but life feels labored.  I know these times.  I know them in my flesh - it is weak.  And so, I wonder why...what makes me this way?

I woke up after five and a half hours of sleep from a horrible dream.  Mind you, in a pastor's mind, it indeed was horrible.  At a special service at church, I preached far too long, got lost several times in my notes while trying to cut the material on the fly, and then realized I'd printed the wrong notes!  I left the platform in disgrace, returning to my office defeated, near tears.  Yup, that's a terror to anyone who does public speaking!

I arose, scratching my noggin, and headed for 3 items...my Bible, my notebook, and a hot cup of coffee.  All three in hand, I sat and opened God's Word, praying to find Him in my semi-awake funk.  It was there, saddled next to my bookmark, where I left off from our previous time together... His encouragement for me.

"But what if we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then find out that we are still sinners?" (Gal. 2:17a NLT)  That was it!  I was drawn immediately to why I was "off."  Plain and simple, I am a sinner still.  Oh, yes...the Bible doesn't call me that anymore after coming to Christ.  I know I'm a "saint," according to the New Testament.

But here, I found the reason behind my feeling.  Mine was the sin of omission.  I looked down at my prayer journal and found four days had elapsed since I spent time with my Savior.  I had missed our intimacy together for far too long, and was deflated and defeated.  I try to keep our times together regularly, but I missed it lately.  Laziness, other activities, whatever.  And I began to sense guilt.  I had missed what He wanted to say to me.

Did He use my dream to somehow awaken me to that fact?  I cannot say for sure.  But I do know He spoke as clear as day to me in His Word.  I could almost hear His voice through the Apostle Paul whispering in my ear His truth:  "For when I tried to keep the law, I realized I could never earn God's appro
val.  So I died to the law so that I might live for God.  I have been crucified with Christ.  I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me." (Gal: 219-20a NLT)

And then came the encouragement: "So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal. 2:20b NLT, emphasis mine)  He loves me!  He knows I can never please Him by trying, only by being crucified to self with Him, Him in me!  

I sensed so much relief today!  I understood in my mind the truth, and that led to my guilt departing as my heart ran toward Him!  Oh, I am filled with joy this morning, and my coffee cup isn't even drained fully!  I am eager to start this adventure of life anew with Him!  I am blessed to know He lives with me, and that my only response is to trust Him!

This week, I gave a friend some counsel that I will be wise to heed myself this morning during our special church service: "I have found the further I am from hearing Him, the more I need to worship."  Yeah, that's for me!  And I pray it is for you.

Do you sense something "off" in your life?  Is there a weakness in your flesh?  Why don't you run to worship Him, even when you don't feel like it?  Trust in the Son of God who loves you and gave Himself for you!  Lift your hands toward heaven and rest in His amazing power and presence!  Amen and amen!

17 August 2017

Reflections on Living When Death Is Near

These past few days I've spent alongside my mother, who has been, quite abruptly, diagnosed with terminal cancer throughout her body.  We've spent time holding hands and sharing about life and memories of the past.  We've had conversations about streets of gold and seeing Jesus face to face.  We've sat in silence as the tears came to my eyes, despite her wishes for us to be joyful for her.  We've even planned her Celebration of Life with her admonition to not wear black but "happy colors!"

Yes, she is tired and her body weak.  But, Mom is an incredible optimist, looking for the best in every situation.  She desires no pain medication other than Tylenol.  She wants to be lucid at all times without the fog of narcotics to dull her senses.  I respect that immensely.  She has always been a woman who has wanted zero attention on her but looked after everyone else.  I honor that in her and thank God as I write.

Yet, it's all a bit surreal.  I regularly have the privilege of walking families through this season, but now when it comes to my own family, I am experiencing a different feeling altogether.  I lack the words of comfort I normally have.  My thoughts are cloudy, at best.  I have no idea how to support my sister who will be her primary caretaker with appropriate love and compassion.

The anguish of my soul at knowing my Mom will not live much longer fluctuates between a warm realization of the rest in store for her in Jesus' arms to a resigned acceptance of the truth that I will no longer have her here for her grandchildren.  Oh how many times I lack the right thing to say or think, but somehow this is completely foreign.  I am strangely...numb.

It is in days like these I turn to the only surety I know - God's own words for us.  Sunday morning, ironically, in my quiet time before God, I'm studying 1st Thessalonians.  If you've been a Christian for a while, you may know chapter 4.  Wouldn't you know it...I began at vs. 13.  It reads:

"And now brothers and sisters, I want you to know what will happen to the Christians who have died so you will not be full of sorrow like people who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus comes, God will bring back with Jesus all the Christians who have died." (4:13-14, NLT)

Let me tell you...this helped.  Vs. 18 says... "So comfort and encourage each other with these words."  Yes, it talks of death, but it provides me hope in the future life we have as followers of Christ!  And Mom knows this as a fact.  She is confident in her eternity...why?  She summed her whole life this way:  "I was once Saul, but now I am Paul."  She had a rough go of it early in life, living outside God's will for her, as Saul did.  But God changed him...and her!  And now she proclaims Good News to people, as Paul did in the Bible, with her life!

Today, I continued in 1st Thessalonians, and these words are so appropriate for us:  "For God decided to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us.  He died for us so that we can live with him forever, whether we are dead or alive at the time of his return.  So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing." (5:9-11, NLT)

These become words I now have when I possess none to say!  And they are yours, too.  Trust Jesus with your life, as Mom does, and receive that security that she has for her future...when death is near.

08 December 2015

Bringing Us Back

Last night, I visited our PD officer in the hospital recovering from surgery.  His accident could have claimed his life, but God is so good and spared him for unknown purposes that we can only be excited about!  I can't wait to see how God will use his life for His glory once he has recovered.

How interesting that my time in the Word today led me to such a relevant passage.  I'm working my way through the Old Testament, and some valuable words awaited me today in 2nd Samuel 14.  A wise woman from Tekoa is contending with King David to bring his estranged son home again.  In her speech before him, these words hit home for me:

"All of us must die eventually.  Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again.  That is why God tries to bring us back when we have been separated from him.  He does not sweep away the lives of those he cares about..." (2 Samuel 14:14)

We know our lives are limited in days (Heb. 9:27), yes.  But how thrilling to me that God isn't finished with us... He doesn't discard those he cares about!  What encouragement for my friend who was close to death's door!  God has a plan and purpose for his life, and I know He cares so deeply for him.

But this also has the more direct implication.  He also cares about us when we stray...when our thoughts are far from Him.  He tries to bring us back.  I think of those times when I don't want to be close to Him.  My eyes are fixed on myself or the sin dangling before me, and I distance myself.  How exciting that God continues to call after us, seek us, and find us.  I'm reminded of Jesus' words and why He came - to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  That's not just for those who don't know Him...it's for me , too.

Would you say you are lost today?  I know God wants to draw you close to Him and His fatherly affection.  The question is: will you let Him?

03 December 2015

In the Midst of Tragedy

It is easy to lose hope in the midst of tragedy.  Our city/region has taken a one-two punch with our officer in the collision Monday in surgery now and with the horror yesterday in San Bernardino.  But I will not give up.  Since God graciously allows us the gift of our lives today to do whatever we want - good or evil - I will not give up living for Him moment by moment. 

It's not about God "fixing" the problem.  He already did by coming to earth and entering humanity.  And He's not dead...He's alive and knows full well the results of His gracious gift of giving us a free will.  Following Jesus is the antidote to living a self-centered life.  There will always be those who deny God's existence and then point the finger at Him for all our troubles.  It will not be popular or easy to be like Jesus. 

That's why, in my prayers for the victims and families here locally, I take great comfort in these two Scriptures:

"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 Cor. 4:16-18 (NIV) 

"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ." - 2 Cor. 1:3-5 (NLT)

How might you today not lose heart?  How might you fix your eyes on the Source of all comfort and peace and then pass that on to someone else?