Pastor Mike's thoughts

Thoughts on today's Christian world and how it fits into secular society.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Mordecai - Champion of The Oppressed

Esther 3 & 4

Haman told King Xerxes, "There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom, yet living in isolation. Their laws are different from everyone else's, so they defy the king's laws. It's not in the king's best interest to guarantee their security. If the king approves, let an order be drawn up authorizing their destruction. That being done, I will weigh out 375 tons of silver in the hands of the accountants to be deposited in the royal treasury."... When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried aloud bitterly.

If you want to find Mordecai in the story of Esther, look for him out in the street - with one ear on his people's concerns and the other on the rumors streaming from the palace - rumors of a plot to destroy them. With Mordecai, the Jewish people had a fighting chance.

Isaiah 58 is one of the Bible's most pinteresting elooks into the believer's heart. Speaking God's words, the prophet takes on the proud proponents of religious observance - those who are sure that God couldn't be more pleased with their rituals and righteousness. Isaiah reveals that going without food means little while the oppressed go hungry, that wearing sackcloth only makes you itchy if the naked remain unclothed. God's heart is for the helpless, and his people don't really know him if they aren't actively helping them.

Praying that we all remember the ones who need us,
Pastor Mike

Monday, October 30, 2006

Ephesians 4:17-32 "Be kind and compassionate to one another ..." (v.32)

Some Christians accept the word because it is used in Scripture, but have no real desire to acquire the virtue because, to them, it smacks of sentimentality and weakness. The world uses the word but, separated as it is from any thought of God, "kindness" comes out as a mild compensation for a lack of firmness and clear thinking. People say, rather patronizingly in some cases: "Oh, he's a kind fellow" -- and they leave it there. The word has come to wear thin in the currency of the world (and in some parts of the Church), so there is a great need to see it minted afresh and gleaming bright in the commerce of modern-day Christian life.

Think with me still further about what kindness, the fruit of the Spirit, is not. Kindness is not being a "do-gooder." In fact, the word in the original Greek does not imply active goodness but a disposition of goodwill, although active goodness may be one _expression of it. Many think of kindness as giving money to people who have a financial need, but just giving money to people who appear to need it, without being guided by the Spirit, can result in great harm. Giving to people at the wrong time can take away from them something more precious than is being given. There are few things in which we have more need of the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit than in our giving.

Praying that we all find the fruit of the Spirit,
Pastor Mike

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Think about this before you vote...

Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

When Americans go to the polls in November, their voting decisions will be based on many different factors: the war in Iraq, the economy, and, perhaps, some recent revelations about former Congressman Foley (R-Fla.).

But there's another issue that should weigh into the decision of voters, especially Christians: religious freedom, at home and abroad.

If what I just said is news to you, you're hardly alone. Religious freedom is something that nearly all Americans, including Christians, take for granted. Unfortunately, many of our brethren around the world know better.

A recent article in Time magazine described the precarious relationship of Chinese Christians to their government. As Time put it, "openly religious" Chinese, by which Time meant Christians, live under the "constant threat" of a "brutal government response" to the practice of their faith.

The situation is even worse in the Islamic world: From Indonesia to Nigeria, the rise of radical Islam has been accompanied by the end of any pretense of tolerance toward Christians.

A few months ago, Chuck told "BreakPoint" listeners about Abdul Rahman, the Afghan Christian convert who faced the death penalty for converting. While he was eventually freed, it was only because of U.S. pressure, resulting in the court deciding that he was mentally ill-hardly a ringing endorsement for religious freedom.

In Iraq, just about the only thing the Sunni, Shiites, and Kurds can agree on is their dislike for the Assyrians, Iraq's indigenous Christian population. As a result, many members of what is arguably the oldest Christian community in the world are leaving their ancient homeland. A similar exodus is underway among Christian Palestinians.

In Egypt, the Copts, while nominally allowed to practice their faith, must overcome legalized harassment almost every step of the way. Sometimes, the harassment turns to murder: Last year, three Copts were killed, and a nun was stabbed in anti-Copt riots.

It isn't only one-party states and Islamic countries that violate religious freedom: Earlier this month (October 4), Hindu extremists kidnapped and tortured a Christian convert. This is part of larger pattern that includes forced "re-conversions" to Hinduism. What's even more outrageous is that perpetrators include members of India's former ruling party, the BJP.

Here in the United States, infringement of religious freedom takes on many forms. We've told you about the attempt to remove the InnerChange Freedom Initiative(r) launched by Prison Fellowship from prisons because they are, in effect, "too Christian."

Other ministries are experiencing similar difficulties: For instance, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been banned from several campuses while other, shall we say, less wholesome groups are fully allowed to operate.

We will tell you more about these difficulties over the next few days. What you need to understand now is that we can no longer take religious freedom for granted, at home or abroad.

We must make the loss of religious freedom an issue in the upcoming elections. Public officials need to be informed and accountable on this issue, not just for our sake but for our brethren around the world. We need to let them know that they are hardly alone in their hour of trial.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The pain of truth

Philippians 2:1-11

How should we face the upsetting comments of other people? What is the right response to criticism?

First, when criticism arises, you should maintain a quiet spirit. Do not become loud and defensive, and restrain any outburst that “feels” right at the moment. Some people may argue, “Well, I just have a short fuse. That’s how God made me.” This is a poor argument; we cannot blame the Lord when we fail to control our own bad temper. Such responses are unhelpful, unhealthy, and unacceptable.

Second, we should not attempt to defend ourselves immediately. Pride—not genuine honesty and reflection—usually motivates this response. It is wise, whenever possible, to allow time for the initial shock and irritation to pass before offering any defenses or theories.

Third—and this is a tough one—we must ask the Holy Spirit to show us if the problem is our fault. Are the accusations true? Is it possible that a loving friend was led by God to reveal something unpleasant about us? We do not like to think that we are ever wrong; however, we know that as sinful men and women, we cannot be right all of the time. For this reason, there is always a chance that a conflict in our lives may actually be our fault. When people care enough about us to confront us in this way, we should be gracious in accepting their perspective.

The Lord often speaks to us through other people. If He is trying to communicate something to you through a brother or sister in Christ, challenge yourself to be open to His message—even if it hurts.

Praying that we take a better look at ourselves,
Pastor Mike

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Spirit of unity is gone.

Psalm 123:3 Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us: for we are exceedingly filled with contempt.

The Greens couldn't tolerate the Reds, because the Reds read their Bibles out loud. The Reds couldn't stand the Blues because they sang too many songs and they didn't always sing words the Reds knew. The Blues didn't like the Golds, because the Golds never did any mission work, and the Golds didn't like anybody else, because no one else took in a much money on a Sunday morning.

The things we let divide us! God shakes His head in disbelief at the contempt we hold for others who don't quite agree with us. We live a country where there are almost three hundred different denominations, all claiming to have a special understanding of the Christian Gospel. What is more important than any point of faith is that we love one another, and that we treat one another accordingly. We need to ask God's forgiveness for our bent toward judging others. Each of us has enough to keep us busy with his own faith. When we start pointing fingers at others, that's when we prove positively that our own faith is in serious need of help.

Praying that we come together for the advancement of the Lord,
Pastor Mike

Growing down

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.Matthew 18:2-4

Children are naturally curious about life. They look at everything, hear everything, want to know about everything. They are ready for growth and responsive to life. But, childhood dies for many people because of neglect, abuse and losses experienced during early vulnerable years. The eagerness and engagement are poisoned. The responsiveness to life yields to fear and shame.

It is possible, however, to reclaim a lost childhood. It is possible to change in ways that allow us to experience the wonder, the awe, the engagementin life that God intended for us in childhood.

God invites us to experience this kind of change. God invites us to become like little children. Children are humble - they have a straightforward honesty about their feelings and needs. This humility makes childlike awe and engagement in life possible. It is a vulnerable, humble thing to be a child. Children get tired and need naps. Children need other people. Children have more questions than answers.

Jesus invites us to change and become like little children. It is an invitation to true humility which leads to spontaneity, curiosity and engagement in life.

Lord, I want to reclaim
the wonder and delight of childhood.
I want to be eager to learn again.
I want to be ready to love and be loved again.
Give me, Lord, the security and safety I need
to be vulnerable and humble.
Help me to be ready for surprises.

The pain of truth

Philippians 2:1-11

How should we face the upsetting comments of other people? What is the right response to criticism?

First, when criticism arises, you should maintain a quiet spirit. Do not become loud and defensive, and restrain any outburst that “feels” right at the moment. Some people may argue, “Well, I just have a short fuse. That’s how God made me.” This is a poor argument; we cannot blame the Lord when we fail to control our own bad temper. Such responses are unhelpful, unhealthy, and unacceptable.

Second, we should not attempt to defend ourselves immediately. Pride—not genuine honesty and reflection—usually motivates this response. It is wise, whenever possible, to allow time for the initial shock and irritation to pass before offering any defenses or theories.

Third—and this is a tough one—we must ask the Holy Spirit to show us if the problem is our fault. Are the accusations true? Is it possible that a loving friend was led by God to reveal something unpleasant about us? We do not like to think that we are ever wrong; however, we know that as sinful men and women, we cannot be right all of the time. For this reason, there is always a chance that a conflict in our lives may actually be our fault. When people care enough about us to confront us in this way, we should be gracious in accepting their perspective.

The Lord often speaks to us through other people. If He is trying to communicate something to you through a brother or sister in Christ, challenge yourself to be open to His message—even if it hurts.

Praying that we take a better look at ourselves,
Pastor Mike

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Seeing the good in the bad.

Acts 16:28 But Paul shouted,"Don't harm yourself! We are all here!"

Paul and Silas had just been thrown into prison. An earthquake erupted and the jail cell was opened. It's Paul and Silas' opportunity. "Deliverance! Praise God!" might be the appropriate response. But this is not what Paul and Silas did. In fact, rather than leave, they sat quietly in their cell area. The guard, in fear of his life, knew that it would be automatic death if prisoners escaped. Paul and Silas did not leave because they saw a higher purpose for which they were in prison. They were not looking at their circumstance; they were much more concerned about the unsaved guard. The story goes on to explain how Paul and Silas went home with the guard and his family. Not only did the guard get saved, but his entire household as well.

What a lesson this is for us. How often we are so busy looking for deliverance from our circumstance that we miss God completely. God is looking to do miracles in our circumstances if we will only look for them. Sometimes as businesspeople we become so obsessed with our goals we miss the process that God involves us in, which may be where the miracle lies. What if that bill collector who has been hounding you is unsaved and he is there for you to speak to? What if a problem account has arisen due to something God is doing beyond what you might see at this time? Our adverse situations can often be the door of spiritual opportunity for those who need it.

I saw this personally when God allowed me to go through a number of adversities. It took some time, but I saw some great miracles as a result of those adversities. When God said that "all things work together for good for those who are called according to His purposes" (see Rom. 8:28), He meant all things. It is up to us to find the "work together for good" part by being faithful to the process. In the next adversity you face, tune your spiritual antennae and ask God for discernment to see the real purpose for the adversity.

Praying that we all see how to get out of trouble,
Pastor Mike

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Joy to the world

Nehemiah 8:1-12"the joy of the Lord is your strength." (v.10)

Joy is part of a Christian's armor. Jealousy, for example, can quickly find a lodging place in a heart which is unsatisfied. The joy of Jesus banishes all that. This particular fruit of the Spirit secures us from the sins which can so easily beset us. Brimming joy, for example, helps to cancel out any envy that may arise within us. Instead, our souls long to share the treasures that we ourselves have found.

Joy keeps us alert and alive spiritually. Disease germs, we are told, penetrate most easily into a body debilitated by despondency. So do the termites of the spirit. They enter without ceremony and eat away the health of the soul. Joy gives them no room. It immunizes the spirit against attack. Joy is not just the bloom of health; it is its protection also. Remember, you are made for joy and if there is not joy in your life, then there is something wrong: joy is being blocked. Clear away the blocks and joy comes automatically.

If you are conscious that you lack this deep abiding joy, then look within. Ask yourself: how close am I to God? What steps do I need to take to deepen my relationship with Him? Give yourself to Him fully. If He is to transfer to you His total joy, then He must have the total you. A garage has a sign: "Limp in -- leap out." That's what will happen to you when you surrender yourself fully to Him. You will limp in and leap out. God is not withholding Himself and you must not withhold yourself. Where the two meet, joy is inevitable.

Praying that we all know the joy of the Lord,
Pastor Mike

Hang in there, your reward will be in Heaven

1 Samuel 20:1"What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, tthat he is trying to take my life?"

The cost of being one of God's anointed can be great. Those whom God has anointed for service and influence in His Kingdom go through a special preparation. David was anointed to be the next king over Israel. Shortly after this, while still a young boy, he was brought into King Saul's service to play music in Saul's court. While there, the opportunity to stand up against Goliath elevated David for his next stage of development as future king. As his popularity grew so did Saul's jealousy. However, even Saul's jealousy was God's instrument for molding and shaping David.

Saul finally decided he could no longer tolerate David's success and popularity among the people, so he tried to kill David. The confused young shepherd boy spent many years hiding in wilderness caves before he was able to see the hand of God in all of this. No doubt David thought that when he was anointed by Samuel he would be conveniently raised up to be king with all the accompanying benefits of kingship. Not so. God's preparation of David involved much persecution, disloyalty, and hardship. These were the lessons necessary to be a godly king. God brought many tests in David's life, just as He did with Saul. David passed these tests. Saul did not.

When God anoints us, it often is accompanied by some severe tests. These tests are designed to prepare us for the calling God has on our life. Should we fail these tests God cannot elevate us to the next level. For a businessperson, these tests often involve money, relationships, and other issues of the heart.

What if God has chosen you for a specific purpose in His Kingdom? Are you passing the tests He is bringing about in your life? These tests are designed to bring about greater obedience. In most instances it will involve great adversity. The Bible tells us that the King of kings learned obedience through the things that He suffered (see Heb. 5:8). If this is true, why would it be any different for His children? Be aware of the tests God may be bringing before you in order to prepare you for His service.

Praying that we always serve,
Pastor Mike

Angels; fact or fiction?

Have You Ever Seen An Angel?

The angel of the LORD guards all who fear him, and he rescues them (Psalm 34:7, NLT).

Have you ever seen an angel? Dr. S.W. Mitchell thought he had. Dr. Mitchell was a well-known neurologist in Philadelphia.

After a very long day, he went to bed early. He was later woken up suddenly by a persistent knocking at the door. It was a little girl, dressed in rags and very upset. She told him that her mother was very sick and needed his help. Even though it was a extremely cold, snowy night, and he was bone tired, Mitchell dressed and followed the girl. He found the mother on her death-bed with pneumonia.

After treating her, Dr. Mitchell complimented the sick woman on her daughter's persistence and courage. The woman gave him a strange look and said, "My daughter died a month ago. Her shoes and coat are in the closet there." Dr. Mitchell went to the closet and opened the door. The coat was warm and dry and could not possibly have been out in the wintry night.

Have you ever seen an angel? John G. Paton also believes he has. While he was a missionary in the New Hebrides Islands, hostile natives surrounded his mission headquarters one night, intent on burning the Patons out and killing them. Paton and his wife prayed, terror-stricken, all that night. At dawn, they were amazed to see the attackers just turn and leave. A year later, the chief of that very tribe was converted to Christ. Paton then asked him what had kept him and his men from burning down the house and killing them that night.

The chief asked Paton a return question: "Who were all those men you had with you there?" Paton told him that just he and his wife were there, but the chief insisted they had seen hundreds of men standing guard -- big men in shining garments with drawn swords.

Have you ever seen an angel? We usually cannot see them, but God promises, "He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways" (Psalm 91:11, NIV).

God also promises: "The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and He delivers them" (Psalm 34:7, NIV).

We must not worship angels, and we must keep our attention on the Lord Jesus Christ, but it is comforting to know that that they are there!

Praying for our angels to guard us,
Pastor Mike

Do you gripe to much?

Philippians 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

Do you ever get annoyed with the People complaining? I do.

Like sulfuric acid, complaining can eat away at whatever it splashes on. Complaining corrodes joy and dissolves good attitudes. Spiritually, it's dangerous and deadly.

If you have a problem with grumbling, you're not alone. The Old Testament book of Numbers could easily be renamed "The Grumbler Chronicles." The people of Israel grumbled against Moses, Aaron and God. They didn't like manna, so they complained: "Manna for breakfast, lunch and dinner! Is this all we get, this manna?"

So God gave them quail instead. They had quail boiled and broiled until they were sick of it.

Can you empathize with them? A little complaining is understandable, isn't it?

But the complaining by the children of Israel wasn't a trivial matter, and God didn't view it lightly. He had delivered them from Egypt and was providing for them daily. They were just plain ungrateful.

I wonder what we would find if we performed open-heart surgery on a complainer. Exploratory surgery would reveal that grumbling can be a form of heart disease, rebellion against authority. It also shows a loss of perspective, a failure to remember Who is in control. It's an attitude that questions, "Does God really know what's best for me?"

Praying that we all learn to be happy with what we have,
Pastor Mike

Praying with passion

Matthew 6:7 When you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words

Jesus taught that Christian practices should be consistent with what's in our heart. Jesus railed against praying in vain repetitions and putting on a gloomy face while fasting. The Christian community searches for truth while the world searches for reality. These are large, overlapping circles, but I'm convinced that we must be real in order to be right. Change is most needed when Christians sit around praying the same thing over and over with nothing in their heart but the belief that God will answer it if they say it enough times.

Tragically, those who are coming to a church simply to fulfill a religious obligation are the most resistant to change. They have resisted the need to change under the instruction of the Word and are in need of spiritual change. They are not coming to the changeless Christ and saying, "Change me so I may be like You." Time-honored faith and long-established practices often become intertwined in their thinking. When you advocate a different practice, they think you are tinkering with their faith!

On the same token, the ones who have a real Christian experience are the ones who are free to change their Christian practices. They are committed to the substance of their faith, not the form. Form always follows function, but people have a tendency to fixate on the form.

Action renewal will not bring spiritual renewal. When the spiritual tide is out, every little tadpole wants his own little tide pool to swim in. When the spiritual tide is in, the fish swim in one big ocean where someone is synchronizing every move. When the Holy Spirit is leading, almost any organization will work. But when He isn't, it doesn't matter how good the program and organization is, it won't work.

Praying that we all learn to change for the good of Christ,
Pastor Mike

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The truth about our goverment

When the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us . . . self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT).

Founding Father and second U.S. President, John Adams, made an incredible statement that is so relevant today. He said, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other."

What is the basis of such an extreme statement?

America has been a great experiment in self-government. Self-government, of course, requires "government of self." Government of one's self requires control over one's selfish, carnal drives that can harm others. The early Americans knew this spiritual principle from the Bible -- that self-control is a fruit and outer working of the Holy Spirit in one's life, and that the indwelling and influence of the Holy Spirit comes when one receives, trusts and obeys Christ.

In 1852, statesman, Congressman and Senator Robert C. Winthrop said it this way: "All societies must be governed in some way or other. The less they may have stringent state government, the more they must have individual self-government ... Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them, or by a power without them... "

This is how America was born: (1) commitment to God, (2) commitment to one another, and (3) self-control. This is the fledgling nation birthed by our Founding Fathers in 1776. This is what caused them to lay their lives on the line, sacrificing everything, to declare our independence and form our first national government. It is what birthed the greatest missionary sending nation in history, enabling us in just the last few years alone to communicate the gospel to literally billions of people worldwide.

But back to President John Adam's statement about our Constitution made only for a moral and religious people. As America has abandoned our spiritual roots and has become increasingly morally degenerate, we can already see the truth of that statement. The wicked are taking advantage of our Constitution and with the help of the anti-Christian lawyers are using it against us and in their favor. Even foreign terrorists and drug dealers are trying to exploit our constitutional rights, provided by the sacrifices of our Founding Fathers.

America desperately needs a spiritual awakening and revival. Let us continue to fast and pray to that end.

Praying for a spiritual revival in this country,
Pastor Mike

Friday, October 13, 2006

A change of heart

I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of
flesh. Ezekiel 11:19

God promises us a heart transplant. God promises to change us. Our stone hearts will be removed and in their place will be put a heart of flesh.

A heart of stone is a dead heart. It is closed to honest, intimate relationships.

A heart of stone is unmerciful with itself and with others. But we do become attached to our hearts of stone. And we find ourselves fearing God's promised transplant.

Our stone hearts have one thing in their favor - they allow us to feel strong and to appear strong to others.

A stone heart is a protected heart. It seems invulnerable. You cannot wound a heart of stone.

God's offer of a heart transplant is a promise of life.

A heart of flesh is alive. Only a flesh heart can feel joy. Only a flesh heart can celebrate.
Only a heart of flesh can give and receive love. But, the vulnerability of a heart of flesh scares us. A flesh heart does not seem as well protected as a heart of stone. It can feel joy, but it can also feel pain.

You can wound a heart of flesh.

God promises to change us. God will remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh.

If you find yourself suffering froma hard heart, pray this prayer:

I like the safety of my stone heart, Lord.
But it is hard, cold, dead.
It is a heartless heart, bloodless, lifeless.
Remove it from me.
I want a heart of flesh, Lord.
I want life.
But I am afraid.
Give me the courage to say 'yes'
to your promise of life today.
Remove my heart of stone and
give me a heart of flesh.

Praying that we all become more loving,
Pastor Mike

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Alive and kickin'

2 Corinthians 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day

You are comprised of at least two major parts: your material self and your immaterial self. The outer man is your physical body, and the inner man is your soul/spirit which includes the ability to think, to feel, to choose (mind, emotions and will are often collectively identified as the soul), and to relate to God (spirit). Your body is in union with your soul/spirit, and that makes you physically alive. As a Christian, your soul/spirit is in union with God as a result of your conversion, and that makes you spiritually alive.

When God created Adam, he was totally alive--physically and spiritually. But because of Adam's sin and u;timate spiritual death, every person who comes into the world is born physically alive but spiritually dead. Being separated from God, you lacked the presence and wisdom of God in your life, so you learned to live independently of God, centering your interests on yourself. This learned independence from God is typical of the flesh or the old nature.

When you were born again, your soul/spirit was united with God and you came alive spiritually, as alive as Adam was in the garden before he sinned. As the epistle of Epheisans says over and over again, you are now in Christ, and Christ is in you. Since Christ who is in you is eternal, the spiritual life you have received from Him is eternal. You don't have to wait until you die to get eternal life; you have it in your grasp right now!

Our hope does not lie in the preservation of the outer man. It lies in the developing nature of the inner man. Our soul is in union with God and we are being renewed day by day. We will eventually lose our physical life, but not our spiritual life. Our emphasis should be on what is eternal, not on what is temporal.

Praying for your eternal life,
Pastor Mike

Monday, October 09, 2006

This is a MUST read.

Today I need to share an article with you. Please read the following article and give it some deep and deliberate thought. Who are we to judge?

Where do You See Jesus? Contrasting Responses to PA Shooting
Dave Burchett

I have had several people write to me and ask me to address the group of people in Kansas that pickets the funerals of fallen soldiers. I have hesitated to respond for two reasons. One, I do not wish to give this group any more exposure. Two, I always try to be gentle in my admonishment when I disagree with the views or actions of others. I cannot do that in this case.

The group reached a despicable new low this week when they threatened to picket the funerals of those precious children who were killed in Pennsylvania. Cybercast News Service reported their "reasoning" for picketing the funerals (see full story):

The Westboro group says the Amish school girls were "killed by a madman in punishment for Gov. Ed Rendell's blasphemous sins against Westboro Baptist Church.
"Gov. Ed Rendell -- speaking and acting in his official capacity to bind the State of Pennsylvania -- slandered and mocked and ridiculed and condemned Westboro Baptist Church on national Fox TV," the group says on its website. Later in the story the group is quoted as saying that they are "continuing to pray for even worse punishment upon Pennsylvania."

Their rhetoric and actions make me physically ill. Seriously. My stomach hurts as I read this stuff. Perhaps one clue about the group is that I have to pick up their quotes from news stories. My filtering software (developed for Christian parents) blocks their website as hate speech. I would be concerned if Christian software blocked my website. So I suppose the group will now pray for punishment on me for condemning them. Whatever.

It did cause me to examine what a more reliable source said about who is to blame when horrible things happen in life.

Jesus was asked about some tragedies that had occurred and it is interesting to note that He did not establish blame.

About this time Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were sacrificing at the Temple in Jerusalem. "Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than other people from Galilee?" he asked. "Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will also perish unless you turn from your evil ways and turn to God. And what about the eighteen men who died when the Tower of Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will also perish. (Luke 13, NLT)

If Jesus had a chance to establish blame and did not do it, then I am pretty sure that this Kansas group cannot decipher where His judgement might fall. Jesus did call for repentance as individuals. But He did not tie their spiritual condition to the tragedies that happen in life.

Jesus reserved His harshest condemnation for the religious. This group's ranking of one sin as being God's number one reason for retribution is unsettling. Would He be more likely to judge the Christians in my city of Dallas for their materialism and greed? How can I know? Perhaps a Holy God is more upset in how we (His followers) have squandered great wealth than in how some behave in their private lives. Is neglecting the widows and the poor less egregious to God than a parade in San Francisco? I am not smart enough to know. But Scripture seems pretty clear we should be taking care of those in need both physically and spiritually. And that we should love sinners as we show them grace and truth mixed together.

There was another time when Jesus could have let us know how judgment is dispensed here on earth:

Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. (John 9, The Message)

And that brings us to the rest of the story. The story that made me cry. The people who with broken hearts have looked instead at what God can do. I have always had respect for the commitment of the Amish people. To be honest, I have viewed their lives as being a bit odd. Now I wonder if they have it far more right than I do. I say that after reading their response to the senseless killing of these innocents in Pennsylvania. As I thought about my wonderful sons I don't know if I would have the capacity to respond like these servants of the Lord. The Dallas Morning News reported this reaction from the Amish community:

The Amish have been reaching out to the family of the gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, who committed suicide during the attack. Dwight Lefever, a Roberts family spokesman, said an Amish neighbor comforted the Roberts family hours after the shooting and extended forgiveness to them.

"I hope they stay around here and they'll have a lot of friends and a lot of support," Daniel Esh, a 57-year-old Amish artist and woodworker whose three grandnephews were inside the school during the attack, said of the Robertses. Huntington, the authority on the Amish, predicted they will be will be very supportive of the killer and his wife, "because judgment is in God's hands."

Could I do that? Would I even consider such a response? Later in the story I read this:

Enos Miller, the grandfather of the two Miller sisters, was with both of the girls when they died. He was out walking near the schoolhouse before dawn Wednesday, he said he couldn't sleep, when he was asked by a reporter for WGAL-TV whether he had forgiven the gunman. "In my heart, yes," he said, explaining it was "through God's help."

I have a hard time forgiving someone who says something negative about me. I am humbled by this display of Amish faith. Another story in the Dallas Morning News had this amazing demonstration of grace:

Donors from around the world are pledging money to help the families of the five dead and the five wounded in amounts ranging from $1 to $500,000. The families could face steep medical bills. Though the Amish generally do not seek help from outside their community, Kevin King, executive director of Mennonite Disaster services, an agency managing the donations, quoted an Amish bishop as saying: "We are not asking for funds. In fact, it's wrong for us to ask. But we will accept them with humility." At the behest of Amish leaders, a fund has also been set up for the killer's widow and three children.

Are you kidding me? Thinking of the financial needs of the killer's family? Incredible. No, make that supernatural. That is beyond the scope of human response. And then the final story that brought tears to my eyes this morning. This report comes from the New York Post:

Staring down the barrel of Charles Carl Roberts' gun, 13-year-old Marian Fisher and her 11-year-old sister, Barbie, bravely pleaded with the madman to shoot them and spare the eight other girls he was holding hostage. "Marian said, 'Shoot me first,' and Barbie said, 'Shoot me second,' " said midwife Rita Rhoads, who had helped deliver several of the victims. "They were really trying to save the younger girls. It is a real reflection of their faith."

So we have news stories about two very different groups - the group from Kansas and the Amish faithful from Pennsylvania. You tell me... where do you see Jesus?

What does obey really mean?

Exodus 5:23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in Your name, he has brought trouble upon this people, and You have not rescued Your people at all.

Have you ever felt that the more obedient you are to following God, the more adversity there is? Moses had been instructed to go to Pharaoh and tell him to release the people of Israel. God had said He was going to deliver the people through Moses. The only problem is that God did not tell Moses at what point they actually would be released. When Moses complained to God, the Lord told Moses that He had to harden Pharaoh's heart in order to perform greater miracles. God was behind hardening Pharaoh's heart. We forget that the king's heart is in God's hand. God had a specific reason for each plague and each delay. God said to Moses,

"I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his officials so that I may perform these miraculous signs of Mine among them that you may tell your children and grandchildren how I dealt harshly with the Egyptians and how I performed My signs among them, and that you may know that I am the Lord" (Exodus 10:1b-2).

God has a reason for everything He does. These delays were designed to bring greater glory to God and were to be a lasting legacy of God's miracle-working power for generations to come.

When the people were freed, God again hardened Pharaoh's heart to go after them. This action of God to harden Pharaoh's heart was to set the stage for an even greater miracle-the parting of the Red Sea. The people were angry with Moses for bringing them to the desert "to die." But God said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to Me? Tell the Israelites to move on" (Ex. 14:15b). There was only one place to go by this time-the Red Sea. God parted the Red Sea, and another greater miracle took place.

Moses learned several lessons that each of us must learn. God's promises are true, but His timing is not the same as ours. God always wants greater glory than what we might be willing to give Him. God puts obstacles and adversity into our lives in order to build perseverance and faith. Why has God put the mountain in your life at this time? To demonstrate His power through your life. To show His glory.

Praying that we all obey,
Pastor Mike

Thursday, October 05, 2006

God is always there

Yesterday was such a strange day. This Monday, I got in a car accident on the way to work. An uninsured motorist pulled out in front of me, and I hit him pretty hard. Long story short, he took off, and I never got his information. I took our car in yesterday to the insurance adjuster, thinking they would fix the front end (which was damaged pretty badly), but insted, they totalled the car. I went through such a huge range of emotions. The insurance company wasn't going to give me enough money to replace the vehicle, and we had no idea what to do, but pray.

We started looking for cars right away, and the Lord led us to a great dealership at Car Max (which I HIGHLY recommed), and a great salesperson who was a good solid Christian. Anyways, the salesman got us a great deal (1500 dollars below Blue book value) on a great car.

So, my point is this. Monday I thought the world was going to keep turning just like always, but things changed. I thought that we were at the bottom of the barrel, but the Lord lifted us up, and blessed us. Why? BECAUSE WE KNEW IN OUR HEARTS THAT HE WOULD. When things get really reough, allow yourself to question, but don't allow yourself to doubt the outcome. The Lord will always be there, no matter what the circumstances.

Praying that we don't have to go through trials, but when we do, we keep the faith.
Pastor Mike

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The ripple effect

God's Good News was spreading rapidly (Acts 12:24, NLT).

Have you ever noticed the ripple effects of a stone thrown into a lake or pond? The effects of that stone seem to just keep on going and going and going.

It is the same with our lives. The ripple effects of who we are and what we do and say also keep on going and going and going, in ways we could never imagine.

Several years ago I read an interesting example of this in a bulletin from Family Concern, J. Allan Peterson, Editor.

Max Jukes lived in New York. He did not believe in Christ or in Christian training. He refused to take his children to church, even when they asked to go. At last count, he has had 1,026 descendants; 300 were sent to prison for an average term of 13 years; 190 were public prostitutes; 680 were admitted alcoholics. When this story was written, his family had cost the state in excess of $420,000. They made no contribution to society.

By contrast, Jonathan Edwards lived in the same state, at the same time as Jukes. He loved the Lord and saw that his children were in church every Sunday, as he served the Lord to the best of his ability. He has had 929 descendants, of these 430 were ministers; 86 became university professors; 13 became university presidents; 75 authored good books; five were elected to the United States Congress and two to the Senate. One became Vice President of his nation. His family never cost the state one cent but has contributed immeasurably to the life of plenty in this land today.

There is one big difference between the ripple effects of a stone thrown into a lake and the ripple effects of our lives: The ripple effects of the stone thrown into a pond keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller, whereas the ripple effects of our lives can become bigger and bigger and bigger!

Consider the amazing and increasingly large ripple effects of Abraham's life. "God said, 'Abraham, through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed'" (Acts 3:25, NIV). Our own salvation and the explosion of the gospel throughout the world today can be traced to Abraham's decision to trust and obey the Lord.

Praying that we all make waves,
Pastor Mike

Monday, October 02, 2006

Your Smoke Signal

We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them (Romans 8:28, NLT).

The only survivor of a shipwreck washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming.

Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect him from the elements, and to store his few possessions.

But then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stung with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me?" he cried.

Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. With both excitement and amazement, he met them on the beach as they came ashore.

"How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers.

"We saw your smoke signal," they replied.

It is easy to get discouraged when things are going badly. But we shouldn't lose heart, because God is at work in our lives, even in the middle of pain and suffering. Paul wrote, "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" (Philippians 4:12, NIV)

Paul had confidence that God's good purposes would come out of everything, so he learned to be thankful, not bitter, even when he was suffering.

Who knows? The next time your little hut may be burning to the ground, it just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God! He knows every hair on our heads. He knows everything we are doing, and everything everyone else is doing. He guides the steps of His people with total love combined with total wisdom and power.

"Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight" (Proverbs 3:5-6, NIV).

Praying that we see the truth,
Pastor Mike