Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A House of Desolation

It has been a whole month since the last post -- sorry to those who are faithful at checking the open mike! I have been reading through the gospel of Luke at a snail's pace, just stopping and sniffing at each flower. Sometimes, I might think through a passage for days before moving on to the next one. This meditative meandering has proven very refreshing to me. In a world that demands that I run full-tilt for six days out of seven, I love the slower, more deliberate pace.

Today's rumination on the Word brought me to the spot where Jesus is lamenting about Jerusalem and its not so stellar track record with the prophets. Jesus is bummed (is that a Biblical word?) about how Jerusalem has ignored His frequent attempts to bring them close and into his protective custody. Instead of being embraced by God, they have stiff-armed Him and killed His loved ones. Jesus must now proclaim over them "desolate house". The emptiness of those who are without Christ ought to sadden us too. To continually reject and ignore the advances of a loving Christ is spiritually arrogant.

1. Do you have friends who have constantly, and sometimes violently, refused to hear truth about Jesus? Does it break your heart? Weep with Jesus over the lost ones who refuse to be found.
2. Have you made the offer of refuge under the protection of Jesus to people this week? Have you made the offer known? Or is it a secret?
3. Can we make a practice of praying over our city for Christ? Is this a passage that suggests such an action for today?

I rejoice in the fact that God has the planning all worked out for us. We must trust Him to leave us here as long as the goal is unfulfilled. We journey here today and tomorrow and the next day! After that, only God knows.

in Wyoming, working the work,
Mike

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The unforgivevable sin

Is there a sin that you are dealing with today? Part of the Word of Life Quiet Time Manual suggests that this is one the possible applications that may be had from any passage.

S-sin that I need to confess, repent of
P-promise that I can embrace today
E-example that I need to follow or not follow
C-command that I need to obey
T-thanksgiving or praise that I need to give to God

Today in my QT, I read Luke 11, where Jesus tells the disciples, "You can say some pretty nasty stuff against the Son of Man (Jesus), and you will be forgiven for that; but don't talk bad about the Spirit -- that's blasphemy! because that will never be forgiven." (this is a Parisphrase)
The unforgiveable sin is blasphemy against the Spirit. That is the only one! Blasphemy against the Spirit is a rejection of His power or a disregard for His work. Part of Hs work is conviction of sin. Therefore, the only unforgiveable sin is to reject the promptings of the Holy Spirit in your life. I believe Jesus is also not talking about all of the times that we blow through HS stop signs. He is talking about the future before the angels in this passage. I believe Jesus is saying that a rejection of the HS here sets you up for judgment there. SO, do not blaspheme and if you do, confess it quickly!

Listening to the HS,
Mike

Monday, October 20, 2008

City of Refuge


Here are the review notes from the message that I preached yesterday morning from Joshua 20:


Five statements that define a "city of refuge":

1. A place established according to the Word of God. (20:1-2; cf. Num. 35:6-34)

* Our goals, purposes and agendas must be Biblical and aligned to the Word.

* Ministry to people must be our priority.

2. A place to come when there is trouble in your life. (20:3-4)

* Our church must be accessible and open to all who need to come.

* Our reputation “on the street” should be positive.

3. A place where someone will listen and give Biblical advice. (20:4-6)

* Our counsel must be Biblical.

* All sin must end with us.

* Godly resolution, reconciliation and restoration must be part of our vocabulary.

4. A place filled with people who have a “rescue” story. (20:6)

* The miracle of escape from the avenger must be proclaimed often.

* Our own rescue should make us more willing to be “bound” to this ministry.

5. A place networked with others built on the same principles. (20:7-9)

* Our congregation should be strategically located.

* Our congregation should be well named and true to its calling.

Conclusion:
Wyoming Baptist Church must be a place where broken people can find refuge and rescue from their life of running.

So,

1. What are we willing to pay to be this kind of church? It will cost us to minister to hurting people! (Think beyond finances)

2. What might happen (positively) if we gave all to this kind of position in the community?

3. How does Luke 11:41 (from the Sunday PM service) fit with this concept of "city of refuge"?

4. Are we willing to do whatever God calls us to do even if we are criticized by others? by brothers? Are we ready to embrace the socially active aspects of the faith that we claim/proclaim?

5. If you could rename our church, what would the name to live by be? Would you include the name Baptist?

I want to offer a place of refuge to a running world,

Mike

Monday, October 13, 2008

Harvest Sunday 08

We just participated in "Harvest Sunday" last night. At the invitation of my friend Jim and Central Baptist Church, I was able to bring the Biblical challenge from the book of Ezra. It was a great joy to see people respond to the truth of God's Word and to be responsive to the call of God on their lives. Many of the people that came forward last night are simply saying I am here and available. This decision is a huge step in the process. To be willing to do "whatever" for the glory of God is incredibly freeing!

Here is the outline of the message that I shared last night:

Any great spiritual awakening results from God’s initiative:
1. He is revealing His character
trustworthiness (1:1)
sovereignty (1:2)
presence/immanence (1:3)
patience, longsuffering (1:4)
2. He is building our character (the backdrop of the exile)
3. He is equipping us to do His will (1:4-7)
4. He is stirring our spirit, inviting us to respond (1:1, 5)

All great spiritual harvests are the result of a response to God’s initiative:
1. Discover and delight in His character
a. worshiping Him
i. re-establishing the sacrificial system (3:1-7) and festivals (6:19)
ii. rejoicing over successes (3:11; 6:22)
b. proclaiming that knowledge to others –
i. Ezra made it his “job” to tell others about God (7:10)
ii. How does Cyrus know what he does about God? Perhaps by Ezra’s ministry to him? (7:27-28)
2. Appreciate His ongoing, intentional work in our lives
a. acknowledging His righteousness and justice (9:5-15)
b. growing through it (6:19-22; 10:1-3)
3. Move forward in His revealed will (both general and specific)
what He has shown us and equipped us to do (2:1; 3:8; 6:15; 7:21, 23)
4. Invite others to do the same (7:28)

So ....
  1. Is God stirring your spirit today?
  2. Are you awake now? How will you stay spiritually awake?
  3. Will you respond to His gracious initiatives?
  4. What has God uniquely outfitted and called you to do today?
  5. Will you go make a difference in His field?

I am ready, here I am,

Mike

Saturday, October 11, 2008

A Word from Tozer

To celebrate the dawning of the 3rd century of posts (this is #201), I went to AW Tozer's classic The Pursuit of God and thumbed through some of my underlinings. As I prepare for services tomorrow, this one is a true nugget:

"Sound Bible exposition is an imperative must in the Church of the Living God. Without it no church can be a New Testament church in any strict meaning of that term. But exposition may be carried on in such a way as to leave the hearers devoid of any true spiritual nourishment whatever. For it is not mere words that nourish the soul, but God himself, and unless and until the hearers find God in a personal experience they are not better for having heard the truth. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a means to bring men to an intimate and satisfying knowledge fo God, that they may enter into Him, that they may delight in His presence, may taste and know the inner sweetness of the very God Himself in the core and center of their hearts."
AW Tozer, Pursuit of God, p. 10
Enjoy your day at worship tomorrow, but not more than your enjoyment of a personal intimacy that is growing in a healthy, relevant manner with the focus of your worship, God Himself.
Pursuing God,
Mike

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Changes: A potential sermon outline


This is the 200th post at the Open Mike. There is really no need to send cards of congratulations -- just post a comment! :) I trust that this short and sweet post will remind you to always be listening for great ideas and to always read for application (supported of course by good observation and interpretation).


I was listening as one of our leaders taught during the Sr Hi YG last Wednesday. It struck me that she had shared some pretty fascinating insights about the Holy Spirit and His involvement in us to bring about change. Here is the rough outline boullion for a sermon or at least a devotional:


Spiritual changes (individual or corporate) are...

a. part of God's training program --> Trust Him!

b. perfected by God's power and in His perfect timing --> Wait for it!

c. perfect God's people and "team" --> Embrace it!


These thoughts come rather roughly through the verses of Acts 1:1-8. They surround a much more major milestone than 200 blog posts; they are connected to the birth of the church. I hope that God is catching your attention through His Word, His Spirit, His people/church, and His world.


Changing, or rather being changed,

Mike

Monday, October 06, 2008

Your Lights Are On


Have you ever said this to a fellow shopper as they head off for the market: "Hey your lights are on!" You expect that they will turn and thank you for this courtesy and thoughtfulness. After all, you have just saved them the embarrassment of coming out to a dead battery and a car that is useless. However, the modern auto-maker has turned this common guesture of good will to wards your fellow man into a reverse embarrassment. They have designed cars to turn off their own lights. This causes the more sophisticated car owner to snort in reply (without so much as a glance towards you) "They turn themselves off". This slight leaves you stammering some incoherent apology and an internal promise to never warn anyone of their impending doom again!

Jesus told a parable in Luke 11 about a lamp. Not the car kind -- the house kind. I imagine that either the lamps were being lit nearby or that this was so common an illustration that everyone got the points He was stressing. These lamps were the kind used for lighting the houses of the neighborhood. They were not electric switched kind; they were oil burning match lit kind. Jesus made these points about leaving the lights on:

  1. If the lights were lit, you wouldn't think of hiding them or their radiance. Instead you would elevate them in a prominent location so that they would help people to see as they entered your house. (v.33)
  2. If your eyes are messed up, it really doesn't matter whether there is good light or not. The solution is not to curse the darkness or ignore the fact that you can't see. the solution is to cure the eye and allow the light to penetrate your body. (v.34)
  3. If the lights are not on, or if you haven't allowed them inside the house, it's no use pretending that they are. (v.35)
  4. If the lights are on inside, every nook and cranny of the room will be lit up for all to see. Anyone coming inside will immediately be bathed in the light. (v.36)
I believe that Jesus is picking up the illustration of the body being like a house that he employed in vv.21-26. His analogy was that the eye (I believe the spiritual eye) that allowed the light to come into the life of the everyman. Certainly Jesus had demonstrated that spiritual blindness was just as crippling as physical blindness and that He could cure both! Jesus was challenging the crowd that wanted more light (ie a sign or a signal). Jesus was contending that more light was not the issue -- their lamps were clouded, broken, and "bad". They couldn't see who Jesus was because they were blind. Some were even "blind" beacuse they had their eyes shut tightly against the truth. Jesus was not hiding the light from them -- that wouldn't make any sense. Instead He was putting the gospel on a lampstand so that everyone could see better as they entered into His sphere of influence. Here's what I think he was saying to me (and every believer):

  1. Hide it under a basket? NO! "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." (v.33)
  2. Ask for cured, restored, renewed, or focused eyesight spiritually. Ask the Spirit to illuminate you as to the understanding of the text and truth. Allow it to penetrate your life. (v.34)
  3. Forget about pretending to have spiritual insight and illumination. Go back to #2 above! (v.35)
  4. Invite friends into your life (inside your house) so that they will immediately be bathed in the light. (v.36)
So, if the lights are on inside, somebody is home! Therefore, when someone says "your lights are on", turn to them and say with a smile, "yes they are, would like to come inside?" That ought to get a good response and start a very cool conversation with them about Jesus and His parable of lamps. How great would that be if a common courtesy for your negligence in the parking lot could turn into an introduction to your Lord! :)

The lights are on!
Mike




Tuesday, September 30, 2008

How long?: Curing the Spiritual Blues and Blahs

This question comes off of my lips too quickly, "How long do I have to go through this discomfort?" It is a bit like spiritual whining! The psalmist takes up the cry in Psalm 13:

"How long, O LORD? Will You forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long will I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart
all the day?

How long will my enemy be exalted over me?"


There is trouble anytime we think that the only counsel that we can find is in our own soul! (v.2)And in case we try to get out of this spiritual funk, there is the enemy "rejoicing when I am shaken". (v.4) Talk about insult to injury! The psalmist realizes that his only hope lies with God. Only He can cure my misery and depression! So the psalmist concludes:
"I have trusted in Your longkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me."

He either a) anticipates the rescue of God is at hand or b) realizes that the misery will last but a moment in comparison to the joy of an eternity with God. Either way, the antidote is a focus on the character and activity of God. He is able to deliver me!
  1. What are you going through today? Does it seem overwhelming? Has it been going on for some time now, with no hope of rescue in sight?
  2. Have you cried out to God or to your friends? Have you slumped into the "slough of despond" and given up ever getting out?
  3. Have you sought to remember God's goodness to you in the past and his promises of future resurrection and salvation? Have you worshipped God in the depths of the dungeon at midnight? (see Acts 16 for this story!)
  4. Have you chosen to forget about your struggles (drop them) in exchange for remembering God's hand of bounty (pick them up)?

God will make a way where there seems to be no way,
Mike

Some Good Antidote to Leadership Idolatry

Jesus was speaking to a crowd, teaching them about the power by which he was doing exorcisms. He clarified the danger involved when a man is set free from a demon but leaves the front door open for further, even worse possession. Wow! Amazing stuff of angelology/demonology! What a great authoritative teacher.

As I read this episode in the life of Jesus, I am thinking, "You are amazing Jesus" will be the next words spoken about Him. Instead, Luke records the voice of a woman from the crowd.

"Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed."

What?!! Where did that come from? I wrestled with the thoughts that maybe this was supposed to be a prop to his mom. We would say, "Your momma must be so proud of you". A woman would have insight into that proud feeling that a mom gets from seeing her son fulfill his life calling. There is a satisfaction that comes with his success. But then I wondered, is the enemy using this woman and her sentiments to draw attention away from the topic at hand -- Jesus' power over demons. That would be just like the enemy to twist a well-intentioned thought to fit his own agenda. This could be a well disguised demonic attack.

Jesus quickly puts his own spin on the statement to make sure that the crowd understands what is more important here. He crushes the enemy's attack by refocusing on the real blessings -- obedience to the Word of God. In his response he moves away from the womb that bore him (Mary's) and to the spiritual rebirth that occurs as a man or woman hears the good news and recieves the gift of new life. Nicodemus understood that analogy after his conversation one noght with Jesus! Jesus's response moved away from the breasts that nursed him to the milk of the Word that nurses the new spiritual infant and helps him to change and grow. Paul understood that analogy and rebuked the Corinthians for staying in the nursery. In Jesus' way of thinking, the true blessing was spiritual, not physical.

(Please note: I do not believe that Jesus' disliked his mother, Mary. He was simply drawing this well-intentioned woman to the real meat of the conversation -- it's all about the real, personal, life-changing God!)

We need to be careful to do as the Master did in this scenario. When we finish the sermon that moves people to conviction and confession. We may be greeted with "Great sermon, pastor" or "You are a gifted communicator". Warning! This is distraction warfare! The enemy wants to focus the attention on the messenger or the servant, not the message or the Master! Revering Mary because of her service to God is the beginning of idolatry. Focusing all of our attention on the leader is idolatry. That kinid of misdirected praise is what started the factions in Corinth! Our focus must be on the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit; their work and their power make the service powerful and effective.

Refocus people's attention away from you and on to the Lord. Make sure that we ask "What have you heard? What will you be observing as a result of this message?" so that we can be blessed to be a blessing. God never intended to focus everyone's attention on Mary, she was simply the "handmaiden of the Lord". God never intends to focus everyone's attention on me, I am simply the undershepherd. When I lead by hearing and doing the Word of God, I am establishing the proper focus for blessing and growth.

Keep me humbly serving you with power,
Mike

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Community of Disciples

As I may have mentioned to some of you, I have been working through the book of Luke this summer. It has been very refreshing to wander slowly and thoughtfully through some of those familiar passages. The gospels are some of my favorite spots to think Biblically about ministry. I really do want to do ministry the way that Jesus did.

As I thought through Luke 11:1-4, I wondered if this passage that we have been so familiar with (the Lord's Prayer) held another message about discipleship. Here are some things that I have been thinking about in regard to the community of disciples called the church, specifically at Wyoming.
  1. A community of disciples has a praying leader (11:1); Jesus was praying ( I assume that he prayed for the disciples and their ministry, for his own strength to lead and minister, the decisions involving the next steps for his ministry) and they notice the difference.
  2. A community of disciples has a hungry spirit to learn (11:1); the disciples weren't content to have the leader minister or to hear about others growing around them, they wanted to know growth first hand
  3. A community of disciples are kingdom thinkers (11:2); the prayer that Jesus suggested to the disciples was one that included a "seek ye first the kingdom" attitude. Disciples are people who pray for the kingdom to come, to build, to blossom in and around their corner.
  4. A community of disciples are content to allow for God's daily sustaining blessing for their ministry (11:3); they do not try to work it out themselves, co-erce others to give, manipulate the circumstances for God.
  5. A community of disciples practice forgiveness as a way of life (11:4); you will know when you walk in whether this is true or not! They practice the art of forgiving because they remember how great it is to be forgiven! They do not love forgiveness enough to keep on sinning that grace may abound.

What would happen if these were all true of our ministry at Wyoming? What if we could be known as a community of disciples like the first century church? What if we would set this prayer as more than a liturgical form at the front of our philosophy and praxis for church ministry? What if.... what if.

Mike

Monday, September 22, 2008

Praising Power


Do you remember your reaction when "The Dominator" blew an engine pulling to the finish line in last weekend's tractor pull? While I admit this is definitely a Western NY summer reference, there is a certain element that I believe you can appreciate wherever you live. We love power! Especially raw, unbridled, explosive power! We are men! (insert appropriate Tim Allen-style grunting/growling here) We love "Binford Power Tools", we love stock car racing, we love tractor pulls, we love bone-jarring football; we love power.

As I read Luke 10:17-24 this morning I realized that the seventy that were sent out by Jesus came back to the debriefing circle excited. They had just seen raw power -- the kind that made demons fall flat on their backsides! Jesus was excited with them, for their ministry efforts had toppled even Satan himself! But Jesus' warning in v. 20 was what captured my attention.

"Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven."
The temptation was to say "WOW! lookie, lookie what I did! I am an amazing servant of God!" Jesus was suggesting that the word order was important. The word order should have been "WOW! lookie, lookie what God did! I serve an amazing God!" He said that first of all the biggest activity of power was the rescue of sinners, not casting down of demons. He said that the salvation of the servants, not the subjection of the enemies was the best cause for spiritual partying.

Then Jesus did a very important activity -- He led them in Spirit-ual worship. He was demonstrating to the seventy disciples that the power for ministry comes from a person (the Father) by His intentional ministry of revelation to the ministers first. Jesus, being in tune with the Spirit, started a praise session at the debrief time. I have seen this happen first hand a number of times -- it is awesome! But I dare not praise the power of praise/worship, as great as it is, for it is small in comparison with the fact that I can praise a personally known God at all!

May I suggest a few things that we need to do in light of this passage?:

  1. Tap into the power that God has to do the best ministry; "so, forget about yourself and concentrate on him, then worship him"
  2. Remember to include a time of debriefing after ministry and lead it into praise and prayer time celebrating a great God of power, not the power of our great God
  3. Thank God every day for the revelations that He brings to you through His Word and His people; keep living, serving, being by that kind of power

Power-up by the All Powerful One's power for ministry of the gospel,
Mike

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vacations from the Routine

We are coming to the conclusion of our final vacation time of the summer. We have had a wild one! We have been gone every other week for about 10 weeks! We are ready to embrace the routine again! These vacations and minitry trips have stretched us and refreshed us and encouraged us beyond our wildest imaginations. We have been able to do everything from installing insulation to ministering in NYC. We have visited Atlantic beaches and finger lakes and Civil War re-enactments. We have slept on air matresses and fold-out sleeper couches. We have eaten Chinese with a group of 14 people and we have grilled hobo dinners over a campfire. We have driven a borrowed 15 passenger van and our own mini-van all over the state and have been content to stay at home too.

But the biggest challenge of the whole summer has been releasing people to do the ministry that we normally would do. I hope that those who have helped out this summer while we travelled and ministered and vacationed have caught the vision for their part in the body of Christ. May we not return to the same old same old routine of inactivity and passive church attendance. I am looking forward to many servants blossoming from this break from the routine. It has been a wild ride, but God has taught us amzaing personal lessons and shown us incredible things in the down-time, "whereof we are glad".

Ready to start in on the regular,
Mike

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back with a BANG!


Hello. My name is Mike and you have been wondering what in the world is going on with me and this blog. Thanks to the impetus of my brother Todd, I am getting back in the saddle of blogging.


I begin to blog once again with this quote, modified only slightly from a statement made by the Sr. Pastor in a message a few weeks ago,


"Indifference to the miraculous, personal revelation of God is worse than adultery, harlotry and sexual deviance."


That quote is a reference to the challenge given by Christ to Capernaum "Woe to you Capernaum! It will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah in that day (judgment day)..." (a loose paraphrase of Matthew 11:23-24).


So how has God revealed Himself to you recently? Did you make the necessary personal adjustments to realign your character with God's? Did you obey or balk?


If you saw a glimpse of God and continued to be the same as you were before, you are in a seriously bad place! I have seen some pretty amazing glimpses of my Savior this summer. I pray that I will never be the same because of them! I will blog some more about them soon, I am sure.


Hope you are being challenged to growth,

Mike

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Under Attack



"The greatest threat to the church is apathy. ... The American culture [especially] is messed up. It's going to get worse. There is an attack [on the church] from the Enemy. ... We are retreating a whole lot more than we ought to."

notes from another Dr. Gary Candlish session

So now observe how helpful the Word of God is to this attack!
"Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."

Ephesians 6:13

Stand firm,

Mike

Monday, June 09, 2008

Church Growth The Way God Meant It To Be


There are many people who are selling the next best idea about how to raise up a church that excels in the areas of buildings, bodies and bucks. It has been called a "Glitz, Glamor, and Glee" gospel or the "health and wealth" gospel. But these things are no different than corporate America. So what does really make a great church?


Dr. Gary Candlish described a church that is growing God's way at a conference on prophecy that I attended a few months ago. Here are some of the points that he made from that session:

  • A growing church is a congregation of people that are committed to pleasing God "no matter what". We must never allow the culture to dictate what we will or won't do in church.

  • A growing church must focus on the stuff of the Scriptures, affirming that Biblical truth is not obsolete. We must think outside the box, but never outside the book.

  • A growing church cannot be built on a diet of spiritual cake and ice cream. We must place a premium on doctrine and serve spiritual broccoli and spinach with great regularity.

  • A growing church does not use pragmatism as the reason for doing anything in the church. We must never allow faith to be become less important than finances, family, friends, fun, freedom.

  • A growing church takes the focus off of their own sufficiency and comes humbly to worship and wait before the Lord. We must not draw our approval from the world's criteria for success.

So are we really ready to redefine church growth in Biblical terms? Are we ready to do the stuff of ministry with a focus on discipleship? Are we ready to move beyond surface level results and get God's heartbeat on the matter?

If there's something sickly or dying in our churches, what better place to go for wisdom than to its founder, God. We, as leaders of WyBC, have arranged our focus around a Biblical model of discipleship. We desire to see people built up in Christ through a process of "Come In, Put Off, Put On and Go Out". This construction of God's church through intentional discipleship is our mission.

We, therefore, are committed to pleasing God in every aspect of this growth cycle. We will endeavor to use the Scriptures as our standard of faith and practice at every phase of this cycle. We desire church growth to occur at God's speed and according to God's parameters. We understand that God, and God alone, is able to convict the hearts of men and bring about true heart change and life results. We are building an environment that is designed to offer every person that enters it a chance to begin or build his/her personal relationship with God. With God's help, I look forward to seeing many lives changed into the image of Jesus -- beginning with me!

Changing and growing for the glory of God,

Mike

Isaiah 6 -- When the Music Fades

I have always enjoyed hearing messages preached on Isaiah 6. This chapter contains a very yielded servant of God responding to the call. This chapter contains an awesome worship event complete with the smoking glory of God, angelic beings and an undone worshipper. But yesterday morning as I sat under some teaching in Sunday School, I saw something else. There was way more to Isaiah 6 than first met my eye. There were a ton of references and connections that began to pop for me from that passage.

1. "In the year that King Uzziah died" the throne was vacant or at least in transition. The establishment of order to the throne room would have seemed to be a high priority. Yet in that same timeframe, Isaiah saw a vision of God on His throne. I believe that God was sending Isaiah a message -- the throne is not empty! I am still in control. I am still sovereign even in these difficult political days. That is a great message for us as we face a transition of leadership nationally!

2. King Uzziah died. Do you remember what he died of? I didn't. In the second book of Chronicles, Uzziah was struck with leprosy as a judgment. This judgment with its consequential uncleanness was the result of Uzziah trying to offer incense before God. That was off limits for him, and people tried to stand in his way, but He insisted on blowing past God's servants, the priests, and offering the incense anyway. It cost him his life! The leprosy that he contracted (supernaturally) eliminated him from even entering the temple from that day forward. That is a great message to anyone who wants to blow past their pastor's proper spiritual leadership!

3. King Uzziah got leprosy from a proud attitude. In 2 Chron 29, it says that he had gained strength and became proud. How easy it is to get sucked into the vortex of power and accomplishment. His sin of pride and arrogance cost him all that he had been entrusted with. His response must come up against Isaiah's response in Isa 6. Isaiah bows in humbleness before God. He anticipated that he would probably die since he was so unworthy to see such a vision of God. He was humble. God, the exalted and high lifted one, reached down to the lowly Isaiah and cast down the haughty Uzziah! That is a great message for leaders who think that this great kingdom (whatever God has blest most recently) is of their own making. There was another king (Nebuchadnezzar) who had a similar mindset and he ended up out in the field like a beast! (see Dan 4 to read about Nebby's vision)

These are just a couple of aha! moments that I gleaned from Sunday School. What a refreshment to hear and apply God's Word. You don't have to be a kid to get something from SS! :) I hope that your study of God's Word yields similar insights and applicable lessons for your world. Drop me a note and let me rejoice with you!

True worship is bowing in humble adoration before my Sovereign who has brought me success and showered me with His favor.

I bow in humble adoration,
Mike

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Struggling with Unbelief

Want another test? :) This time it is your faith!

Whenever doubts creep into your world, check your faith level in these three areas:
  • God's wisdom
  • God's love
  • God's power
When you figure which area(s) that you are struggling to keep focused in, read Scriptures to reinforce these truths and shore up the area of unbelief. Pray and ask God to help your unbelief and to build the faith that you have. With faith the size of a mustard seed you can move mountains!

growing in my own faith,
Mike

What really ticks you off?

Here's a test for anyone who struggles with anger.

If you are ever angry with an inanimate object, you are really mad at God.

Test out the theory! When you get angry and kick the washing machine ask, "What am I angry about? What do I think God has shorted me on? Why am I taking my anger out on this washing machine/computer/rainstorm/etc.?"

Working through it myself,
Mike

Saturday, May 31, 2008

God's Act of Self-Revelation

I was reading in Luke again this morning and thought about this quote from the Shorter Catechism,

Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

Look at Luke 1:15-20! And think about these verbs that are used in this discussion of the people as they interacted with the revealed God:
wonder
treasured
pondering
glorifying and praising

As God revealed Himself to those first New Testament believers, the response was overwhelmingly worshipful and extremely personal. But this is exactly what God has called us to do. It is our high calling.

Praise to the revealed God,
Mike

Friday, May 09, 2008

Good Nuggets Found

Eureka! I've found 'em! (--good nuggets -- not gold nuggets! But they are on a yellow legal pad!) They are statements made during a recent conference that I attended that highlight the power, beauty and influence of the Word of God on our ministry (God's ministry actually of which we are stewards) especially in light of postmodernity!

  1. Appreciate the veracity of the word of God; it can and must be believed b/c it is true! It can and must be presented to a world in search of truth!
  2. We talk about the "high view of Scripture". The litmus test of our view of Scripture is how long it take us to go to its pages for answers. Who do we value higher? We will go there first!
  3. Often cries of "I'm not being fed here" mean "I want chocolate, not vegetables".
  4. Obey God> today, I am going to be like Jesus; Oppose Godlessness> today, I am going to rightly divide the Word of Truth

You probably didn't select the culture into which you were born. You shouldn't hole up and isolate from those who are lost in the culture. You probably won't change the culture. You can be salt and light. You can bring truth to bear on a truth-starved world! Titus 2:11-14!

Mike

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Here'e Some More -- Titus 2:11

Mondays are often a day of "watching film" for football players and coaches. I have found that my evaluative nature causes me to go back over my notes from Sunday's sermons on Monday morning. I jot in the "on-the-fly" illustrations and comments that I made and flesh out portions of the messsage that were weaker or not able to be discussed at length. This editing "after delivery" helps especially when an expositional, "work through a book" hermeneutic and methodlogy are employed. It gets you ready for the next piece of the pie.

This Monday was no different. I just preached Titus 2:11 on Sunday afternoon. I suggested that this verse was a reference to the gracious ministry and activity of Christ as he lived and died and rose again here on this earth. Our ministry, then, ought to bear the marks of such graciousness as well! After all we are disciples, copies, imitators of Christ! The beauty of grace is unmistakable and must be displayed in all of our ministry efforts.

Beautiful, ornamented ministry...
a. Uses both grace and truth to make God known
b. Presents Jesus as the gracious Savior
c. Removes any ungraces that might distort the gospel
d. Lives each day graciously

All good challenges, but there is more! These notes (following) are part of a sidebar that I worked out myself:

1. Jesus came to reveal, explain, invite others to salvation; he wanted to introduce others to a knowing relationship with God. I must do the same.
2. He made grace appear right before their very eyes. I must do the same.
3. No one had seen God before, but they saw Jesus and therefore had seen the Father! I want this to be true of me as well! (ie I have never seen God, but I have seen Mike and he is a spitting image of him!)

Thanks for thinking about incarnational ministry with me. Thanks for doing incarnational ministry with me!

Mimicking my gracious Savior,
Mike

Monday, April 21, 2008

For Rent: Cheap

Could this advertisement be posted about you and your mind?

"Head for rent, now vacant and unfurnished"

I hope not! Fill your head with the good stuff!

"Finally brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." Philippians 4:8

"But as for you, speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine." Titus 2:1

Mike

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What Makes a Great Youth Group

The secret ingredients of "a great youth group" may not be what you expected. It really has nothing to do with a great band, pyrotechnic displays, fun games/icebreakers, excellent pizza, lots of teens, couches, cappucino machines, or a separate dedicated youth building. In fact, according to pollster George Barna,

"Two out of three teens are interested in a meaningful relationship with God, yet one-third fewer are geared to be active in church. This is indeed reflective of the youth population's impressions of the local church: It sometimes has something to offer, but what it adds is neither consistent or important enough to justify a significant commitment to such an entity. If they are going to find God, they believe they can find Him elsewhere."
Real Teens, p. 86


So if we want to stem the tide of teens dropping out of church and looking elsewhere for help with dealing with the great issues of life, we had better find out what really attracts people, especially young people. What are they looking for in a youth group?

"What makes being a Christian cool[?] -- [T]he essence of coolness is living as a sold-out, loving, compassionate follower of Christ. Teens possess a sensitive hypocrisy meter that is triggered by counterfeitfaith. Truly living the life of Christ earns the respect of modern teens; talking about faith but failing to live it is anathema to them."
Real Teens, pp.87-88

That is why on two consecutive weeks, when we didn't have youth group at our church, teens from Wyoming Baptist wanted to go visit the youth group meetings of another Baptist church about 45 minutes away. They knew that this group had some on-fire believers who had ministered together with us at summer camp. And we weren't disappointed. We found teens that loved the Lord and loved each other enought to be vulnerable and honest with each other. We found that our teen friends at the other church held us accountable to where we were in our spiritual walk with God. We found that they led in meaningful worship songs that spoke to a deepening love of the God who gave Himself for us! Not just happy-clappy-motions songs! Then we were challenged from God's Word to use the Word and prayer as the last of a string of protective elements in the Christian's armor for spiritual warfare.

Wow! That's the kind of youth group that I want to keep coming back to, time and time again. That's the kind of youth group that we want to have here at Wyoming. That kind of youth group doesn't have to have a huge budget or a flashy, charismatic full-time paid youth pastor. That kind of spiritual genuineness will attract the right kind of flies -- thirsty, hungry teens!

Building a youth group filled with teens who make a difference,
Mike

Monday, April 07, 2008

Putting the Cart Behind the Horse


I preached yesterday afternoon using an analogy. It was an imperfect analogy at best (so stated by me). I really wanted to help these dear people (who endured the message) to see that character and doctrine were extremely important to the selection/success of leaders for church ministry.


I suggested in that message that character was kind of like the horse of the "horse and cart" illustration. It provided the "go" power and was the result of training for the task. The best kind of GO looks like this:

GO for God, the trainer/driver, not for self
GO every-day-all-day, not in spurts when the mood strikes us
GO through hard times
GO like God showed you in training

The cart portion of the tandem is like doctrine. I realize that we often use this word in a slightly different way (=dogmatic statements of truth), but I tried to broaden the definition to: the understanding and application of God's Word to everyday life. That definition is probably closer to the definition of wisdom.


I wanted to discuss with people the importance of looking beyond the doctrinal statements of leaders to determine whether this man (or woman in some cases) is a good appointee for the role of ministry leader. Doctrine, as a I defined it, must meet certain criteria of it will be a great cart, or vehicle for ministry:



  • CONNECTION to the power source

  • CONTAINMENT of the load

  • CONVEYANCE of the load from point A to point B

  • CONTROL of direction, speed, etc to reach point B

The stuff of theology (applied doctrine) had better be connected to God's Word, it's ultimate power source and had better accurately reflect the cahracter of God. The horse (me--the leader) has to have character -- the character of God, i.e. godliness, in order to have any strength at all.


By being built according to God's standards for "carts", the vehicle of leadership (ie ministry) is God pleasing and glorifying to Him. A disconnect from God, His Word, His design for ministry, etc. will spell disaster for the ministry vehicle. In Titus, one of the roles of the leaders was "cart inspection". There were some leaders afoot that were not building quality carts -- they were overturning houses!

The load must be moved along by the cart. In order for the cart to have usefulness, it has to take the load to the marketplace. It has to move the load for point A to point B. I suggested that those two points might be the church and the community. We must get the load out there!


The load in this analogy is the good news of the gospel and the Word of God and the relationship offered with God. The world around us needs to hear that message! The load is critically urgent and precious -- we had better build great carts for delivery of such to the marketplace. the design of our carts (ministries) must then be such that the gospel comes through clearly and nothing is lost along the way. We must think about how the carts can convey the gospel to those desperate to receive it. If we spill out the load along the path or if we have nothing to carry the cargo, then those who need to hear it will be without!! To leave the cargo on the loading dock or to leave the cart in the carriage house is unacceptable!

The design of our ministries ought to have a series of controls in place -- a brake, a steering wheel/reins, a throttle, etc. These controls are safely in the hands of God. As we prayerfully listen to the instructions given to us through the Spirit and Scripture, we know best how we ought to pull the load. To chase after the enemy's carrots is a mistake we all too often make! We must find our sustenance and satisfaction in following the lead of the Divine Driver (God). He is too powerful to lose control, too wise to make a wrong turn and too loving to drive us beyond what we are able to handle! Praise to Him!

Analogies all break down at some point. This one is indeed flawed -- as is the teacher. But I pray that it might communicate a little of my heartbeat for the advance of the kingdom through the careful delivery of the goods to the lost and dying!

Would you care to interact with the analogy some more? Jot a thought in the comments section! I would love to work through the idea with you. It's what I enjoy most! :)

Puling for the Kingdom,
Mike

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

From Disgrace to Grace

I found another great grace text yesterday as I was reading Luke 1:24-25!

"After these days Elizabeth became pregnant, and she kept herself in seclusion for five months, saying, 'This is the way that the Lord dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men.'"

God's grace has a way of doing exactly that -- removing disgrace. The favorable look of God (grace) erases the disgrace of men -- or at least its lowered esteem. Elizabeth was excited to see the Lord reach out to her when she thought taht she was done. God had not forgotten her even though she was "damaged goods" in the eyes of the world.

What an amazing grace,
Mike

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cultural Sensitivity Training

The topic of "sensitivity training" raises the littel hairs on my neck. But maybe there is a Godly kind of sensitivity training that I do need!

Stott writes:

"... there is no such a thing as 'contemporary Christianity'. It is not a new version of Christianity which we are busy inventing, but original, historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity sensitively related to the modern world."

p.15

And so here we are -- bringing the timeless truths of the faithful word to bear on the ever-changing culture around us. Maybe this should be our mission statement for any relevant ministry -- youth ministry, men's Bible study, Sunday School/ABF/OAG/small groups, worship services, VBS, etc.

Seeking contemporary ministry without compromise,
(that sounds missional!!!??? :) )
Mike

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Challenge Before Us


I read some great stuff in a "rediscovered book" on my shelf, The Contemporary Christian, by John Stott. He is trying to put his finger on the how of living authentically in the world without practicing worldiness. In 1991, when Stott wrote this book, it was cutting edge. Now 17 years later, it is still appropriate -- maybe even more appropriate -- for us as church leaders to examine these possibilities. Chew on this today with me!




"Can we preserve Christianity's historic identity intact, without thereby cutting oursleves adrift from our contemporaries? And can we communicate the gospel in exciting, modern terms, without thereby distorting and even destroying it? Can we be authentic and fresh at the same time, or do we have to choose?"


Stott, p. 11




Chewing, tasting,

Mike

The Challenge Before Us

I read some great stuff in a "rediscovered book" on my shelf, The Contemporary Christian, by John Stott. He is trying to put his finger on the how of living authentically in the world without practicing worldiness. In 1991, when Stott wrote this book, it was cutting edge. Now 17 years later, it is still appropriate -- maybe even more appropriate -- for us as church leaders to examine these possibilities. Chew on this today with me!

"Can we preserve Christianity's historic identity intact, without thereby cutting oursleves adrift from our contemporaries? And can we communicate the gospel in exciting, modern terms, without thereby distorting and even destroying it? Can we be authentic and fresh at the same time, or do we have to choose?"

Stott, p. 11

Chewing,
Mike

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Glorying in Grace

Every once in awhile God will begin to highlight a really key area in my life. Then, so I don't miss it, he will bring a ton of confrontations and intersections with that truth. For me, right now, it seems to be "grace". I know that I have a theological definition of that word and can articulate clearly that "Grace is God's riches at Christ's expense" or "Grace is God's unmerited favor towards me". These definitions are seeming too trite to me recently. They are simple and easy to remember -- maybe too simple.

I hope that your understanding and appreciation of grace is growing as you study and search the Scriptures to understand what God is doing and how the doctrine of grace fits into that picture. The prophets, as they wrote Scripture, understood that God had a still-to-be-revealed plan. They got a whiff of it and couldn't get it out of their systems. They knew that smell -- it was a beautiful fragrance -- it was a scent of hope and empowerment and faith to handle whatever hardness that they might face -- it was "grace".

See if this lexicon definition of GRK charis helps you appreciate grace any more!
  1. grace -- that which affords joy, pleasure, delight, sweetness, charm, loveliness: grace of speech
  2. good will, loving-kindness, favour -- of the merciful kindness by which God, exerting his holy influence upon souls, turns them to Christ, keeps, strengthens, increases them in Christian faith, knowledge, affection, and kindles them to the exercise of the Christian virtues
  3. what is due to grace -- the spiritual condition of one governed by the power of divine grace; the token or proof of grace, benefit
  4. thanks (for benefits, services, favours) -- recompense, reward
Then read 1 Peter 1:13-16 to see how grace affects us:
"Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

So my definition is growing.
Grace is anything beautiful that you see in my life, which is exclusively the result of God's gift to me because He loves me dearly; I receive more of it every day as I place my trust in Him and He, in turn, conforms my heart towards His and away from my own fleshly desires.

And yet, this is still probably still too simple. I am willing to continue studying and growing in my appreciation of grace. This is one study that I am convinced I will never grow tired of.

Bathed in grace, the fragrance of Christ for men,
Mike

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

How to Drink Timmy Ho's to God's Glory

John Piper has challenged the 1 Cor 10:31 principles to the level of the ordinary. So, my trip to Tim Horton's may be either God-worship or idol worship!

Good challenge!


Mike

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Proof That You Have Arrived

I just finished reading Yancey's book, What's So Amazing About Grace? He provides a great summary statement in his discussion of "Grace Avoidance" or legalism.

"In other words, the proof of spiritual maturity is not how 'pure' you are but awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the door for grace."
Yancey, p.198

This quote, and this book, are good balancers for the lats post on testing your growth in teh area of wisdom. Unfortunately, we can get caught in the pursuit of the quantity rather than the quality. Wisdom pursuit, like humility pursuit, like holiness pursuit is a fleeting chase. As soon as we think that we have achieved our goals, we look and find that there is much work to do from here. Paul said it this way:

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:12-15

Still working at it (exercising my faith),
while the sanctifying Spirit guides/shapes/teaches me,
and until I get obedience of Christ to perfection,
Mike

Monday, March 24, 2008

AMAZING GRACE


I hope that your Easter was great and that you included some corporate celebrations of the greatness of resurrection. To celebrate our Savior and His sacrifice for us is so central for worship.

At Wyoming, we used the morning to celebrate the changes that the grace of God have accomplished in the lives of two couples. I was again impressed with the variety of the paths that God has led people along in. Each path has a shockingly similar crisis point. And then the paths diverge again. But each story has a common cord woven throughout -- the grace of God!

Then, as if to highlight these things, I finished the day reading "What's So Amazing About Grace?" by Philip Yancey. He discusses a great section of Paul's letter to the Romans (6-7). As Paul talks about grace, he knows that there are some people who are going to try and exploit grace-- to keep on sinning so that more grace can be given to them. Paul responds with some very pointed expressions -- "GOD FORBID!" Yancey summarizes/paraphrases this expressive thought in this way:

"No Christian resurrected to new life should be pining for the grave. Sin has the stench of death about it. Why would anyone choose it?"

-Yancey, p.186

and then

"Similarly, if we approach God with a 'What can I get away with' attitude, it proves that we do not grasp what God has in mind for us. God wants something far beyond the relationship I might have with a slave master, who will enforce my obedience with a whip. ... God wants something more intimate than the closest relationship on earth, the lifetime bond between a man and a woman."

- Yancey, p.190
Yancey then makes a quote from another writer, Clifford Williams,

"Discipleship simply means the life which springs from grace."

Wow. Amazing.


O Father,
Your grace still amazes me. Help me to allow my discipleship to spring from the seedbed of your grace and not my ability.
Amen

Springing up,

Mike

Thursday, March 20, 2008

When God Gives You a Boost


I love it when God gives you an affirmation that you are not crazy. Every once in a while, as I am out doing ministry, I get that feeling of "I wonder if I am heading in the right direction?"


You know, this is the the same kind of feeling that comes with a drive down an unfamiliar stretch of highway, heading for a critical meeting with zero minutes to spare, reading MapQuest directions that you are unsure about. And then you see it, your exit ramp sign or another clue that you are headed in the right direction and are on schedule. "Yes!" you say, and get excited about the trip and the destination all over again.


I got one of those "yep, your right on track" spots today at a pastor's seminar in Watkins Glen, NY. The speaker, Dr. Milo Thompson, formerly president of Baptist Bible College & Seminary, shared some key thoughts about how to navigate the culture around us. Here are just a few of the take-home ideas I got:


1. In many areas, God has said alot about function and not so much about form -- leaving us, and our creativity to figure it out for the people that we are trying to reach.

2. Everything that is healthy grows; not everything that grows is healthy.

3. People only make life change when they hear the challenge given to them in their heart language; we need to learn to speak their language.

4. We are too busy making cosmetic changes and not busy enough making systemic changes; systemic changes are the most important to moving forward in a changing culture.

5. Is it possible that we have become more separated than God is?

6. Contamination is not environmental. The best way to protect against contamination from the world is not isolation, it is vibrancy of yoru relationship with Jesus Christ.

7. A refusal to change or a holding on to the old ways of doing things limits your ministry, the size of its sphere of influence, and the number of people that you can reach.


I want to work feverishly to help Wyoming Baptist be a place of balanced Biblical outreach and ministry. I want to be about the work that God has called me to. I must be an active student of the culture around me -- not just the people who are like me. I am headed the right direction, but there is no road-side rest areas for me until I get to the destination!


Holding fast the faithful Word without compromise,

Mike



Monday, March 17, 2008

Why Do I Serve?


I had the opportunity to teach this weekend to about 80 people (teens and adults) on the topic of "Service". I taught the seminar 3 separate times. In the first 10-15 minutes of my session I laid the Biblical foundation for a life of full-time ministry for every believer. (Note: not the paid professional kind that I get to enjoy! LOL)


Q. Why should you serve in your local church?

A. It's just what Christians do.


Q. Why should Christians serve?

A. Because Christians are...


  1. Servants -- Because I have been redeemed by Master, I now no longer serve myself; I serve Christ! (Mt. 25:21,23; Ac. 27:23 + Ro. 1:1 (et al); Ga. 2:20)

  2. Disciples -- I am attempting in every way to more accurately reflect the character and actions of Christ, the True Servant. (Mt. 12:18, 20:28; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 22:42; Jn. 13:15-16)

  3. Worshipers -- My life is a continual active praise session to God who is worthy of my loyal service. (Ro. 12:1, 11; Co. 3:15-17)

  4. Witnesses -- By serving others, I am distributing the same kind of grace that I have recieved and building a bridge to those around me who need to hear about my Gracious Savior. (Mt. 5:16, 1 Co. 9:19; 2 Co. 9:12-14; Ja. 1:26-27)

  5. Members of the Body -- God has placed me in my spheres of influence (including my local church) for the purpose of exercising fellowship and connection. (Ro. 12:4-5; 1 Co. 12:18; Co. 2:19)

So, if you are not actively involved in the ministry team of your local church, why not? If you are a Christian, you have no legitimate excuse. If you choose to simply come and sit and soak in the same seat every week without exercising your faith in ministry opportunities all around you, then you are a "Christian cripple", handicapped only by your choice to be uninvolved. Be warned! God is not pleased! Church ought not to be a spectator's arena. Join in the ministry of your local church today! There are no exemptions from ministry.


Actively serving the Master,


Mike



Thursday, March 13, 2008

This is Only a Test

Have you ever fallen asleep watching that all-night John Wayne Movie Marathon and been wakened in the wee hours of the morning by the annoying sound of the emergency broadcasting system check? Drool running from the corner of your mouth, contacts dried onto your bleary eyes, and ears still ringing with that annoying tone (beeeeeeeeeeeeeeep), you wonder to yourself and maybe say out loud "What was that all about? Why did I need to go through that painful experience? Can we get back to the Duke here?"

No one likes to get into painful situations. However, painful situations will happen as you journey. The Israelites hit such a bottom point only three days out from the Red Sea. At the end of Exodus 15, they came to a spot on the map where they were without water and they found a shallow, small hole in the wilderness called Marah. Marah means "bitter" and this drinking hole was the reason for the name on the sign. As the Israelites got to this low spot in their spiritual walk, a couple of things happened:

1. They lost faith in God -- 14:31 said that they had faith in God and in Moses. then 15:24 declares that they complained against Moses. They couldn't see past the bad taste in their mouth. Moses fortunately doesn't join in on their chorus; he prays and talks to God about the situation.
2. God did something miraculous -- 15:25 says that God helped Moses know what to do next in this low spot of intense trouble. And Moses obeyed, thereby opening the floodgates for a miracle to occur.
3. God used this hardship to teach the Israelites a valuable lesson -- This place, Marah was a test point. It was intended to strengthen faith. The faith that was dropped as soon as the way became bitter was not genuine -- it was "blue skies and sunny" faith. The "blue skies" faith is a common commodity -- lots of people have that. The "bitter water" faith is fairly rare. The only way that you get it is at the low, hard spots of life.

The lesson that God was instructing the Israelites on was the standard by which God blesses or chastens his children:

"If you will give earnest heed to the voice of the LORD your God, and do what is right in His sight, and give ear to His commandments, and keep all His statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you which I have put on the Egyptians; for I, the LORD, am your healer." Ex. 15:26, NASB

One of the parts I love about this verse is that the LORD gets a new name -- Healer. He is saying that this test will determine whether I have to spank you or not. And if I do have to spank you (you failed the test) I will work to restore you and forgive you and make it whole again. He wants to heal us after He does the surgery necessary. He exposes the needs we have for surgery at the Marah test sites. He shows us that we are still immature or even diseased and then He sets about to bring correction and healing. What a great Physician!

Are you in a Marah location right now? God wants to use it to expose the bitter and make it sweet. He wants to heal the junk that you are carrying inside. Let him make the corrections so that the next time this comes up, you pass the test! Don't be like King Beltshazzar who was weighed and found wanting!

Do your work and then heal me, LORD,
Mike

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Praise & Worship in Exodus


This morning in Bible Study, we read a portion of Exodus 15. For those of you who haven't been studying Exodus with us, Ex 15 is a song/psalm. It is abruptly inserted into the narrative immediately following the Red Sea crossing. The song is sung by Moses and the Israelites with a ladies' back-up tamborine choir led by Miriam.

The singers sang a song that I believe fits in the "Praise&Worship" genre. It has these features:


  1. It encourages group participation (not spectator sport)

  2. It celebrates God's character

  3. It celebrates God's activity on behalf of the singers

  4. It allows the singers to rehearse God's future plans for them and take ownership

  5. It builds, strengthens faith

  6. It calls God by His name (so that there is no chance that this can be a crossover love song)

so....


  • What is your favorite praise and worship song?

  • How has God demonstrated his mighty arm in your life recently?

  • What aspect of God's character means the most to you right now?

  • What would you say that the difference between praise and worship is? Are they verbs or nouns?

Just remember, the words of this song should have been a great encouragement and a deterrent of any fussing or complaining about anything that might have happened on the path. But only three days later, the children of Israel are all in a knot because the water is bitter. Keep singing the songs of worship throughout the week! Praise and worship is not simply a Sunday activity!


Singing, making melody in my heart,

Mike





Monday, March 03, 2008

Check Out the Rebelution

Thanks to Todd for the link to a great site about two guys trying to change and grow radically.
Here's what they said that I think bears reprinting:

"But this is where the idea of “working for the Lord and not for men” comes in. We should never be doing hard things for the recognition and admiration of men, but only for the glory of God. Despite the numerous earthly blessings that accompany doing hard things our ultimate reward is in Heaven when we stand before our Maker and hear Him speak the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

God knows better than we do what a great reward looks like. He knows those who have already been rewarded by the praise and adulation of men, as well as those who have served quietly — far away from the limelight.

The point, however, is not to seek recognition or obscurity, but rather to seek the glory of God. A heart that longs for the praise of men more than the praise of God — whether prideful in receiving it or resentful in lacking it — does not honor God."

I think that was well said!
Here are some interaction points:
  1. What ministry do you enjoy that is really hard for you?
  2. What is it about that ministry that brings you the most joy?
  3. Are you content to have the glory of God (and the future glorification at that) be the only outcome?
  4. What area needs to be recommitted to the glory of God and not me?

Thanks Todd for the challenge to excellence. I hope others will join with us on this path of humble service given through gratitude!
Mike

Exploration via the internet

Hey readers (I hope that I still have some). I have been away on a long journey. It has included some really incredible moments and some really difficult moments. But I have been listening and growing and changing as I journeyed.

One of the things that I have learned as I have journeyed is that there is a lot of good stuff to be tapped in the information explosion called the internet. I think that we may have spent so much time railing against the darkness (please do not be hearing me to say that there is no darkness on the internet) that we have not been very creative about the proper and helpful use of the tool!

I have discovered facebook as I have been away from you all here at OpenMike. (Check out my profile!) And I have been dialoging with friends via blogs about stuff like the will of God, fasting, and churchplanting. I have had a music discussion with a new friend/potential ministry partner in Ithaca. I have downloaded podcasts about fasting, worship, etc. I have been involved in my local church and in Bible studies (where we actually turn the pages of the manual!!).

I am indeed a life-long learner! I love to connect ideas and see new insights in old familiar places. I love to make friends and challenge each other. These are a few of my favorite things (I feel a song coming on!!)

Thanks for coming back and checking on me. Thanks for not giving up on learning or growing. Thanks for being a part of the fabric of my life!

Learning, living, loving,
Mike

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How Does That Work?

I am studying for Bible Study tomorrow morning. And I read again the verse from Exodus 14,


"The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent."

Three comments:

  1. I like the first part (God fighting for me). I have trouble with the last part (keeping still/silent).
  2. This verse was first shared with me from a friend. As I shared a concern that I not say too much at a business meeting, she gave me this verse. I listened and watched God bring those comments to fruition. I was silent; God fought for me.
  3. I am still pondering this verse as I get ready for the study in the morning. It seems like a good nugget to chew on as the winter storm rages around us (literally!). [NOTE: There is not a figurative storm raging at my home!]
Hope He's in your corner too,
Mike

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall


"In mirrors I see myself. But in mirrors made of glass and silver I never see the whole of myself. I see the me I want to see, and I ignore the rest. Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. They reveal an ugliness I'd rather deny. Yow! Avoid these mirrors of veracity!...Oh what a coward I am, and what a fool! Only when I have the courage fully to look, clearly to know myself -- even the evil of myself-- will I admit my need for healing... Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me... The passion of Christ, his suffering and his death, is such a mirror."

Bread and Wine, p.11-12

Friday, January 25, 2008

What is Our Youth Ministry Action Plan

Greg Stier, author of Ministry Mutiny, wrote a very challenging article "Why Mormons Do Better Youth Ministry Than We Do". It points to the level of commitment that the Mormons expect from their young people and the aggressive pursuit of preparation of these young people for ministry. His conclusion is spot on:

"We need to push our teens. We need to turn them into active activists. We need to build consistent opportunities for service, outreach and training. We need to equip them to share their faith and then go with them, leading the way. After all, we are youth leaders.
Somebody may accuse me of looking at this as some sort of competition. It is. We are in a competition with Satan for thesouls of our young people. And we are getting our rears kicked.
My problem is not with Mormons. It's with us. Let's learn from the Mormons and turn our kids into missionaries. Armed with the power of the true gospel (not some aberrant belief system) our teens could mount a comeback and help us win this thing.
Game on."

I want to win the war,
Mike

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Ordering Your Thoughts

Here's some good reminders about taking our thoughts captive today:


"Ordering our thoughts by guarding our minds against ungodly imaginations is our first defense against the schemes of the enemy. The battle for our hearts and minds takes place in our thought life. We must purpose to think thoughts pleasing to God, filling our minds with scriptures declaring the promises of God."

Life's Ultimate To Be List, p. 25

So...
what good, acceptable, pleasing thoughts are you thinking about today?
what Scriptures are reminding you that God is crazy about you and totally for you?
who is winning the battle today?

Filling up on the Word,
And thereby winning the war,
Mike

Friday, January 18, 2008

What is your WQ?

It is certainly not IQ that matters. It is wisdom that counts with God. The fourth lesson for WOL year 2 round 2 was a lesson from the book of Proverbs. I specifically went to chapter 9 and looked at the contrast between folly and wisdom.

Chapter 9 is a classic contrast of these two worldviews as they are personified as Lady Wisdom and Lady Folly who both call the simpleton to eat at their table a feast that they have prepared.

Here is the conclusion section of that lesson which asks four key questions that evaluate whether you are in the wise man's camp or the foolish man's camp.

"How wise are you? Is there a test that will measure your wisdom level? The answer is yes! The book of Proverbs not only shows us how to live, it also shows us how to measure our progress in God’s eyes. Here are a few questions to determine whether you are a wise person or a foolish person.

Question 1: How do you respond to correction? (9:7, 8)

When people share how your choices do not match up with God’s Word, do you get angry and ignore them? Then you are a fool. When parents and friends show how you can make better choices and please God, do you thank them for their concern and make changes quickly? Then you are wise.

Question 2: Are you growing “smarter and stronger” spiritually? (9:9)

Are you willing to work hard and study the Bible so that you can know God’s instructions (Proverbs 5:1-11)? You are wise. Becoming better and better at making good choices that always please God does not happen by accident. Wise people aren’t easily tricked by Satan’s lies (7:22-23) because they have studied the truth. Grow stronger as a wise warrior for God (Ephesians 6:11-16) by putting on your armor.

Question 3: Do you have a loving, personal relationship with God? (9:10)

A wise boy or girl hates the things God hates (6:16-19; 8:13) and loves the things God loves (7:4; 8:17)! As you choose to follow God’s ways, you will learn to love God more. As you obey Him, you will grow closer to Him. A wise person doesn’t want to do anything that will not please God. We are most happy when we are living God’s way.

Question 4: Is God blessing your life? (9:11, 12)

Trouble seems to happen more frequently in the life of the fool (6:15). Whenever he chooses the dangerous ways he gets caught! He does not have God to help him. Don’t be fooled. The blessings of God are not just about getting more money! Wisdom is better than all the money in the world (8:10-11, 18-21)!

So are you a fool or a wise boy or girl? God knows which you are, you cannot fool Him! (5:21-23)"


Praying for more wisdom,
Mike

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Are You Diluted?


"Like fine wine poured into a jug of water, Jesus' wondrous message of grace gets diluted in the vessel of the church."

What's So Amazing About Grace, p. 29

I don't have to know too much about wine to get this comment. I want a vintage church (in terms of wine excellence, not in terms of musty fermentation). I want a vintage life! We will serve no wine before its time. May it be said of me, "You have saved the best wine until last".

Mike

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Deuteronomistic History


For those of you who don't understand the humor of the title, it's okay. You don't really need to know about the JEPD textual criticism discussion, but if you want to....


Side Bar: For those of you who would like a boost of encouragement today, take a look at what is happening with WyBC teens online. We are engaged in a discussion about the application and lessons that can be learned from a fairly tense confusing passage of Scripture. The teens are doing admirably at their give and take in the conversation.


Back to deuteronomistic history, I just completed a week of writing conference where one of my tasks was to teach the book of Deuteronomy in three lessons for 1st -6th graders. Easy huh? Maybe if you are a third grade teacher. Maybe if you are smarter than a fifth grader.


Here is an overview of these lessons:

Lsn 1: Three Steps to Accomplishing Mission Impossible

A three step process for handling things that seem to hard to handle; look back at what God has done in the past, trust His Word, obey what you know to do.


Lsn 2: God's Top Ten Ways to Love Him Wholly

An overview of the importance of God's Law -- it shows us how to live differently in a broken world. By our obedience, we show the world that God and our friendship with Him through Jesus makes a difference in the way we do life.


Lsn 3: What Does Your Future Hold?

A look at the choice between blessings and cursings; All of our choices have consequences.


It was a good (albeit exhausting and sometimes difficult) week with a great ending. I am always glad that I went and always excited about the product that we turn out. I am sorry that I cannot give you any of the details of the lessons or send you copies since they belong to Word of Life. But if you buy the curriculum, you should see these lessons in 2 years. :) Tell them that Mike Paris sent you! (I don't think that there is a finder's fee)


Thanks for praying,

Thanks for caring,

Mike


BTW -- My second task was to summarize the difference between wisdom and folly.

Lsn 4: Test your WQ (Wisdom Quotient)

A four part test to see if you are really growing in wisdom. See the next post. :)

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Prayer and Share

I am a firm believer in the whole prayer and share stuff. We used to do it in our WOL youth group before we broke up for DIA groups. Here at Wyoming, we do it as a church family in SS and in evening service. Sunday night we had an hour of sharing and group prayer!

This is a coded list so that no one is vulnerable or exposed online, but check out the praises!! :)

CR -- "It was great to be able to share a testimony this morning at the end of the morning service. Thanks for asking me!" CR also mentioned that he had a plan for the next couple of books that he would be reading: It's Not About Me; Little Red Book of Wisdom; He quoted "You will be the same a year from now apart from the people you meet and the books that you read"
NF -- There were some incredible bonds fomed during the practices and performance of the Baggage Claim drama. She was glad to have had her Mom and sister come to the drama when they could have done other things.
CB -- He and his wife had done some visiting at the second night of the drama (they came back to see it again) that had been well received; He was putting into practice something he had studied for SS -- praying and being in tune with the promptings of the Spirit; He had a chance this week to minister to a co-worker who had a car accident -- CB had arrived at the scene within 5 minutes of its happening; God had placed him at the right place at the right time
PZ -- I am an uncle; I want to be a good role model for the baby as he grows
DR -- Praise God for such a clear gospel message presented at the drama
DE -- Had a chance to talk with SD, the school administrator where we performed the drama; SD had been in a Bible study with another one of our ladies in the past.
CM -- had a chance to talk with two people after the first night of drama; one had never thought about God before!!, the other had realized that she had been harboring sin in her life and was planning to change as a result of the drama
GR -- a former co-worker really needs prayer, she stopped in and visited with GR and her husband on Sunday afternoon; GR and her husband were able to witness with another couple to a waitress using the lyrics of the Christmas carols being played as mood music!
JM -- what a delight to hear the prayers of the cast and crew as we worked together to share this drama; it was a total team effort
MP -- excited about seeing the young people getting "it" and using "it" to minister during the drama and Christmas caroling, etc.; his son (age 4) has been praying wonderful prayers thanking God for his gift, Jesus at Christmas time -- thanks to SS teachers who have been pumping the boy full of good stuff! :)
CR -- his daughter and son-in-law were going back into a diffilcut work situation after the holidays, desiring to come back to our area and church
BB -- able to give a Bible to a young boy who rides to AWANA with her; the boy is eagerly devouring the Word, setting as his goal to read through the Bible in one year; the boy and his sister are working on their memory work at home!

And that is just what I wrote down on my prayer notes. There were more and lots of stories being shared. It was a great encouragement to listen to them share their hearts with each other and conclude with prayer at the end of a longer sharing session. Praise the Lord with me!
Mike

The Next Step in the Exodus

Have you ever turned the corner in life thinking, "okay, now we're on our way" only to find that God was directing you in a round-about trip? If you have (I know that I have), then read Exodus 13:17-18, preferrably from the NIV.

God often takes in an alternate route to build us up and keep us from quitting. And He knows us better than we know ourselves. Even when we think that we are ready for the next step, to do battle with the enemy, God sometimes diverts our plans to keep us from getting crushed in our own strength.

If you are caught in what feels like a scenic route with God, enjoy the scenery! It is the best route for you right now. Just leave the driving to God! :)

With totally no concept of where God is leading me towards, and away from, at the same time, by His strength and presence,
Mike

PS -- for another look at this passage (click here)