MINISTRY MESSAGES

Pastor Craig Michaelson

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“Expanding”

SEPTEMBER 9, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

GRACE Groups are about to begin!  And these GRACE Groups will be a blessing to so many in our Faith Community Family and beyond!

 

The “G” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “gather” so they can grow in God’s GRACE.

 

The “R” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “read and reflect” upon God’s Word together, and to discuss how God’s Word applies to their lives and circumstances and callings.

 

The “A” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “ask” God to answer our prayers on behalf of those in and outside of GRACE Groups.

 

The “C” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “care” for one another, and for others outside of GRACE groups.

 

The “E” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “expand” God’s kingdom.

 

When you think of a missionary, what comes to mind?  A person who lives across the ocean who is sharing Christ with a different culture?  That’s often what comes to mind.

 

But it’s important that we rinse the salt water out of our eyes and recognize that missionaries aren’t all on the other side of the ocean.  All followers of Christ are missionaries!  Wherever you go in your callings in life, those places are your mission fields.  God has placed you in those callings to be missionaries!  You get to help expand His kingdom by inviting more people to know Jesus!

 

Speaking of expanding, the staff at our church and schools has noticed a lot of “COVID Babies” recently!  There are a lot of mommies whose tummies are expanding. 😊

As you can imagine, these mommies and their families are excited about the gift of new life that will be entering this world.

 

In a similar way, we as the family of God can be excited about expanding God’s kingdom!  As we invite people in our mission fields to know Jesus, we can rejoice as we see the Holy Spirit give the gift of new life—eternal life—to others so they can enter His eternal kingdom.

 

In GRACE Groups, you will find special opportunities as a group to help one another be missionaries for the expansion of God’s eternal kingdom!

 

I encourage you to join a GRACE Group and get ready to help God’s kingdom expand!  You and others will be blessed as you do! 

 

“God’s Top Ten: #4”

SEPTEMBER 8, 2020

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

In this devotional series, we are focusing on God’s Top Ten ways for His children to love Him and love others.  The first three focused on how we love God.  The next seven will focus on how we love God by loving others.

 

And today’s Top Ten takes us to the home.  As the home goes, so goes society.  That’s true in a good way as well as a bad way.

 

God has designed the home to be the place where the next generation is shaped by parents to know and love and live for the Lord and for others.  And as children learn to honor their fathers and mothers, that carries over into how they treat others.  But if children don’t learn to honor their parents, they won’t honor others in authority over them either.

 

With all the social unrest we have been experiencing as of late in our country, I’ve had the privilege of meeting with a variety of pastors throughout the city.  Even though we come from various church and social and ethnic backgrounds, its been refreshing to see that our primary desire in ministry is to invite more people to know Jesusso they can be saved for eternity.  

 

And as we have shared our concerns about this city, it has been interesting to hear from pastors who have served in the city for decades as they share what they see as the biggest challenge we face—fatherless homes.  

 

The other problems we talked about continued to point back to the fact that fathers are missing in action in too many homes.  Those who are called to be the spiritual heads of their homes are nowhere to be found.  

 

This is a huge challenge in impoverished minority neighborhoods.  And government programs designed to fix the problem of poverty have pushed fathers out of the homes in the process.  As a result, such programs have caused harm to the families and perpetuated a cycle of poverty and chronic dependence, and created tremendous challenges for single mothers.

 

But this challenge of fathers missing in action doesn’t just apply to impoverished minority neighborhoods.  Many fathers, myself included, struggle with balancing the demands of work and family and other callings.  

 

Sounds like gloom and doom.  But here’s some good news!

 

Due to the pandemic, many families have suddenly found themselves having more time together for the things that really matter.  And in many cases, they have begun to live as families.  Eating meals together.  Praying and reading scripture together.  Talking and learning together.  Doing chores together.   Worshiping together.  Playing games together.  Traveling together.  Many families don’t want to go back to the way things were!

 

And in the process, children have been learning what it means to honor their parents.

 

Did you notice how this Commandment ends?  It is the only Commandment that ends with a promise.

 

“Honor your father and your mother . . . so that you may live long in the land the Lord is giving you.”

 

As God pointed His children towards the Promised Land, He said that honoring parents would lead to long life in that land.

 

As a general rule, that promise still applies today.  Children who learn to honor their father and mother will have a better chance of living longer in this life.  Not only that, children who learn to honor Christian fathers and mothers will get to live forever in the Promised Land of heaven!


“God’s Top Ten: #3”

SEPTEMBER 7, 2020

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Not all four-letter words are bad.  Take the word “rest” for example.  Many of us are feeling weary and desperately need some real rest.

 

And that kind of rest requires more than some time in a recliner or hammock.  We need rest for the body and the soul and the mind.  We need Sabbath rest and restoration.

 

God knew we would need that Sabbath rest.  That’s why, following His week of creation, He established a day of such rest to be a part of the cycle and rhythm of each week.  

 

We need a regular time to gather with God’s people to receive God’s gifts, through Word and Sacrament, and to respond by offering Him our gifts, through prayer and praise and partnering in the work of the ministry.  We need to gather to encourage and support one another.

 

Before the COVID pandemic, some may not have recognized the need for such rest because they were so busy running on the treadmill of life that they didn’t have time to think about their need for that Sabbath rest and restoration.

 

Once the COVID pandemic hit, some were thrown off the treadmill of life and didn’t know how to discover that Sabbath rest and restoration.

 

What do you do when church buildings are ordered to close?

 

What do you do when churches are portrayed by politicians and the media as the most dangerous places on earth for contracting COVID?

 

What do you do when church buildings reopen for worship, with restrictions, but you aren’t sure you are ready to return?

 

Thankfully, at Faith Community, we were blessed to have the technology and staffing in place to make the move to online worship available for many of our people when regular onsite worship was no longer allowed.

 

At the same time, we were able to offer small communion services onsite for people to come and experience Sabbath rest.

 

And once we could open our church campus again, we were able to move to a hybrid model that offered onsite and online worship.

 

We have gone to great lengths to provide opportunities for people to receive the Sabbath rest they need.

 

I hope you have taken advantage of the different options that have been provided.  The last thing we would want is for this pandemic to cause God’s people to drift from Christ and His church.

 

It’s easier than ever to drift away because no one knows whether you are worshiping or not.  If you aren’t worshiping onsite, you may be worshiping online.  Or you may have been worshiping online, but you have found other things to do instead.  There’s nothing the devil and our culture would rather do than cancel church and Christianity.

 

We need our Sabbath rest!  We need that assurance that the Sabbath was fulfilled in Jesus, who’s work for our salvation means we don’t have to work out our salvation.  We can find real rest for our body and mind and soul in the salvation He has won for us.

 

And we can invite others to experience the Sabbath rest they need too.

 

Are you remembering the Sabbath day by keeping it holy?  

 

Are you worshiping onsite?  If so, great!  If not, why not?

 

Are you worshiping online?  If so, great!  If not, why not?

 

Please let us as a church know what concerns or challenges you have that may be preventing you from experiencing the Sabbath rest that Jesus has won for you.  We are here for you to keep you connected to Christ and one another, whether onsite or online.

 

We want to do all we can to help you remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy so you can find rest in Jesus.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“God’s Top Ten: #2”

SEPTEMBER 5, 2020

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” (Exodus 20:7)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

As we continue our spiritual walk through God’s Top Ten ways of showing love to Him and others, we do so out of grateful response for His saving love for us.  And today we will focus on how we are called by God to use His name.

 

It’s so easy to misuse God’s name with our lips and our lives.

 

Sometimes, we misuse God’s name by blaming Him when things aren’t going well in our lives and in our world.

 

“God, it’s Your fault!”

“God, why are You doing this to me?”

 

Our sinful human nature leads us to take the credit when things are going well, but to blame God when things aren’t going well.

 

That’s misusing God’s name.

 

Sometimes, we misuse God’s name by cursing and by condemning others instead of by blessing others.

 

“God _____ it!” (I’m sure you can fill in the blank)

 

“God ____ you!” (I’m sure you can fill in the blank)

 

That’s misusing God’s name.

 

Sometimes, we misuse God’s name by using it to justify our words or actions.

 

“I swear to God.”

“God told me.”

 

How can you argue with that?

 

God would.  That’s misusing God’s name.

 

As we misuse God’s name in these and other ways, we bring shame on His name and on the Gospel.

 

In other words, we discredit our witness to God and His saving work through our words and our actions.  And that turns people away from God.

 

Especially in these volatile times, let’s remember that people are going to base their perception of God on what they see in our words and actions.

 

Are we reflecting God and His love in our Facebook and Twitter and Instagram posts?  Are we reflecting God and His love in our conversations with others?

Are we reflecting God and His love in our actions towards others?

 

If not, we are misusing God’s name.  And as the book of Exodus reminds us, “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name.”

 

Thankfully, God sent His Son into this world to show us how to properly use God’s name for the good of others and the glory of God.  More importantly, God sent His Son into this world to pay the penalty on the cross for all the times we have broken this and other Commandments.  He has forgiven us for all the ways we have misused God’s name through our words and actions.

 

And because we are His forgiven children, we get to use His name properly.  We get to pray to Him and to praise Him and to give Him thanks.

 

God loves it when we use His name in these ways!

 

Such use of His name brings us and others the help we need in times of trouble, and it gives God the glory and honor and praise He deserves!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“God’s Top Ten: #1”

September 4, 2020

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

A god is anyone or anything that you choose to identify as the source of your identity and security and meaning in life.

 

Those gods can change and be exchanged as life and circumstances change, and as the world changes.  

 

But there is one thing that doesn’t change.  Anything you make your god, apart from the one true God, will ultimately fail you.

 

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

 

It’s more than just a Commandment.  It’s a promise.

 

You can try all you want, but anything you try to turn into your god that isn’t the true God will ultimately fail you.

 

That still doesn’t stop us from trying, does it?

 

Are there gods that have failed to give you lasting identity and security and meaning  during the pandemic and pandemonium this year?

 

Your job or career?

Your political leaders?

Your financial security?

Your physical safety and security?

Your freedoms?

Your favorite athletes or teams?

Your favorite entertainers?

Your false sense of control over your destiny?

Your stockpile of toilet paper and sanitizers?

 

Are there old or new gods you are clinging to even more tightly for lasting identity and security and meaning during the pandemic and pandemonium of this year?

 

Your political party?

Your skin color?

Your addiction(s)?

Your news source?

 

Throughout history, humanity has hung onto things as gods with the hopes that those gods will give them lasting identity and security and meaning.  That’s called idolatry. 

 

These gods/idols were never designed to give us lasting identity and security and meaning.  And when we try to experience those things with these gods/idols, we can be guaranteed that they will eventually come crashing down to the ground.

 

The only God left standing is the one, true, Triune God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

And He deserves our worship, our trust, and our obedience because He alone is faithful to provide us with what we need--not just for this life, but for the life to come.

 

Is your god too small?  Have you been clinging to things that will never provide what only the one, true, Triune God can provide?

 

If you have, turn and walk away from those false gods and walk towards the true God.  Only then will you experience lasting identity and security and meaning.

 

And as you walk away from those false gods, just watch your step so you don’t trip over them along the way!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson 

“Walking the Talk”

SEPTEMBER 3, 2020

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love. (2 John 1:6)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.”

 

Some attribute that quote to Ralph Waldo Emerson.  But no one knows for sure who first said or wrote these words.

 

Regardless, they are an important reminder, like the Scripture above, that we are called to walk the talk as we live out our lives.

 

It’s one thing to say we love God and we love others, it’s another thing to show it through our actions.  Did you notice how God’s Word connects love with walking in obedience to His commands?

 

Ultimately, that is what the Ten Commandments are all about.  Jesus summarized them all in this way:

 

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-39)

 

It all boils down to this.  Love God.  Love others.  That’s how Jesus interpreted the Ten Commandments.

 

When God gave the Ten Commandments to the Israelites, He didn’t give them as a list of rules they had to follow in order to become God’s people.  He gave them as a guide for His people so they could live in gratefulness to God for delivering them from slavery and death.

 

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2)

 

First, God delivers us.  Then He calls us to walk in loving obedience to His commands, for His glory, and for our good and the good of others.

 

What was true of God’s people in the Old Testament is true of God’s people today.  The Ten Commandments apply to our lives every bit as much as they applied to those who experienced the Exodus from Egypt.

 

Many people have looked upon God’s Commandments as the “Ten Suggestions” and think they can ignore them without consequence.  But consider what God says:


Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. (Romans 3:19)

 

Every mouth.  The whole world held accountable to God.  Sounds like they apply to everyone!

 

Others treat the Ten Commandments as multiple choice, kind of like an moral buffet, where you can pick and choose what you think is right for you at the time.

 

But God says that’s not how it works:

 

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10)

 

Love God.  Love others.

 

Not so God will accept you because of what you have done for Him and others.  But because God has accepted you because of what He has done for you and others.

 

Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has demonstrated the greatest love in all the world.  God didn’t just talk the talk and shout down from Heaven, “I love you!”

 

Through Jesus, He walked the talk on this earth, all the way to the cross of Calvary.  There Jesus showed God’s love for the whole world and obtained forgiveness for the sins of the whole world so we could be delivered and free!

 

We can never be loved more than that!  In response to God’s great sacrificial love for us in Jesus, we get to love God and others in response.

 

In the coming days, we will look at God’s Top Ten ways to love Him and love others.  As we do, we will see that such obedient love will stand in sharp contrast to a world filled with hatred and lawlessness.  May our obedient love, made possible through the Holy Spirit who is living in us, invite others to know Jesus and His love for time and eternity!  

 

In Jesus’ name.

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Care”

SEPTEMBER 2, 2020

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

It won’t be long before dozens of GRACE Groups are launched!  And these GRACE Groups will be a blessing to so many in our Faith Community Family and beyond!

 

The “G” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “gather” so they can grow in God’s GRACE.

 

The “R” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “read and reflect” upon God’s Word together, and to discuss how God’s Word applies to their lives and circumstances and callings.

 

The “A” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “ask” God to answer our prayers on behalf of those in and outside of GRACE Groups.

 

The “C” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “care” for one another, and for others outside of GRACE groups.

 

Just imagine what our world would be like if everyone’s focus shifted from caring only about themselves to caring more about others.  It would be a glimpse of heaven!  And as children of God, that is what we can offer our world—a glimpse of heaven!

 

Speaking through St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians, the Holy Spirit reminds us:

 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)  

 

When you are part of a GRACE Group, you and others in your group will naturally find yourselves sharing in caring for one another.  Not only that, you will find yourselves looking beyond your group to a community that needs your care.  And that caring love that is shown towards one another, and together towards your community is a beautiful reflection of the God who cares deeply for your every need!

 

I encourage you to join a GRACE Group and get ready to start sharing in caring in a deeper way than you thought possible!  You and others will be blessed!  

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“White-Water Rafting”

AUGUST 31, 2020

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. (Isaiah 43:2a)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

One item that I used to have on my bucket list was going white-water rafting down the Colorado River. The thrill of rolling down the river, dodging rocks, navigating waves, ducking under tree branches and other hazards, and trying to stay afloat in the boat seemed like an exciting and exhilarating experience.

 

Then I ended up with tennis elbow and had back and knee surgeries. Scratch that experience off the bucket list!

 

Or so I thought. I don’t know about you, but 2020 seems like a white-water rafting journey! We didn’t sign up for this journey and we can’t jump off the raft as the journey continues. We suddenly have found ourselves racing down a river full of rocks and rapids and other hazards that we didn’t expect.

 

We have found ourselves trying to stay afloat in the boat, emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, socially and financially. What a ride it has been.

 

And whether we like it or not, this white-water rafting journey is forcing us to live differently.

 

We must live more focused lives.

 

In times like these, we must focus on our final destination and the One who is going to get us there. The waters and the rocks can make the journey uncertain and even dangerous at times. And while we must focus on navigating those things without getting distracted, we must also make sure we don’t lose sight of the end of the journey. Peter began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the winds and the waves instead. Let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith as He leads us to our final destination (Hebrews 12:2).

 

We must live faith-filled lives.

 

As God reminds us through the prophet Isaiah, He is with us as we pass through the waters. When we pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over us. 

 

That’s because God knows every rock, every wave, every hazard, every turn of our journey down the river of life, and He is with us, guiding the raft to our eternal destination. As we follow His guidance and rely in His gracious, guiding presence, we can enjoy the journey more, and we can look forward to where the journey ultimately leads us—to our eternal home!

 

Hang on tight to Jesus, and trust that He is hanging on even tighter to you, an He will get you to your destination!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What a Convention!”

AUGUST 29, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Over the last two weeks, many watched the DNC and the RNC to see how each party viewed the country’s and world’s present challenges and opportunities, and how they  proposed to address those challenges and opportunities.  Many promises were made and many fingers of blame were pointed.  Now its up to the voters to determine which direction will be the best direction for our country and its citizens, and for the world.

 

These conventions reminded me of another “convention” of sorts that took place in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday.  Let’s tune in to that convention and follow the festivities.

 

The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem.  They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the king of Israel!”  Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.” (John 12:12-14)

 

It was an event fit for a king, and rightly so!

 

As Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowd shouted out for Jesus “Hosanna” with the hope that Jesus had come to save them.  They saw Jesus as the King who had come in the name of the Lord.  They waved palm branches in victory and laid them on the ground with their cloaks as their way of rolling out the red carpet for their King. And they rejoiced in God’s promise made centuries earlier through the prophet Zechariah that their king would come to them in such a way!  

 

The polls in Jerusalem that day showed that Jesus had a sky-high approval rating!  They looked forward to their King providing them with free food (like the feeding of the 5000) and free health care (like all His healing miracles).  More importantly, they looked forward to Jesus being their military ruler who would once and for all overthrow the pagan Roman empire that ruled them with an iron fist.

 

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the King of Israel.”

 

The Messiah had arrived!

 

It’s amazing how quickly the political winds can shift.  Throughout the week, the Jewish religious leaders that hated and were jealous of Jesus, took their false accusations and charges against Jesus to a new level. They had Him arrested and then held a mock trial and condemned Him to death.  And they stirred up the crowds to cry a new chant, “Crucify Him!”  

 

Pontius Pilate, although he knew Jesus was innocent, was so insecure about maintaining his own political positionand power, had Jesus flogged and crucified.

 

So much for that King.

 

Jesus disappointed the crowds because He didn’t come to be their earthly king—He came to be their eternal King.

 

Jesus didn’t come to meet all their earthly needs and demands.  He came to meet all their spiritual needs by taking upon Himself the punishment that God demanded for their sin and ours.  

 

And by doing so, through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the crowd’s cry, “Hosanna,” the cry for salvation, was answered in a way they never could have imagined!

 

Jesus had come in the name of the Lord to be their King.  But not just the King of Israel.  He came to be the eternal King of all whom the Holy Spirit would draw to faith in Him.

 

Through Jesus, God kept His promise of a Messiah who would give us what we need the most--forgiveness of our sins, the Lord’s presence in our lives, and a resurrection, restoration and reunion in the life to come in the New Heavens and New Earth, where righteousness always dwells.

 

Can you imagine what the celebration at the Heavenly Convention will be like?  And it will never end!

 

I vote for Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, because that is what He is and always will be!  How about you?

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What the World Needs Now”

AUGUST 28, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

It’s no secret that there is an awful lot of hate in our world right now.  Just watch the news and it spews with examples of this hate-filled world.

 

What the world needs now is love, Christ’s love.  And Christ wants to show the world His love through us.

 

If you have been to a wedding recently, you have probably heard a scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 13 that has a lot to say about love:

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a)

 

Although this scripture reading is used frequently in weddings, it is part of a three-chapter section that has as its primary purpose to instruct God’s children on how to live with and love one another.  These specific verses sound beautiful, but if we pay close attention to what they say, we see that they are also quite challenging!

 

Don’t believe me?  Try this experiment.  Whenever you find the word “love” in these verses, replace it with “your love.”  

 

Your love . . . is patient.

Your love . . . is kind.

Your love . . . does not envy.

Your love . . . does not boast.

Your love . . . is not proud. 

Your love . . . does not dishonor others.

Your love . . . is not self-seeking.

Your love . . . is not easily angered.

Your love . . . keeps no record of wrongs.

Your love . . . does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Your love . . . always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Your love . . . never fails.

 

Are you squirming yet?  😊

 

As beautiful as the words of these verses are, when held up as a mirror before us, they show us that our love is lacking.

 

Can I let you in on a little secret?  These words aren’t really describing our love, because as sinners, on our own, we can’t love in the way these verses describe.

 

These words are describing our Lord’s love for us.  He is the only One who can demonstrate such love constantly and perfectly.  And just as Jesus shows such love toward us, so He can enable us to show such love toward others.

 

Not perfectly, at least not until we get to heaven.

 

But as we are filled with His love for us, that love can overflow to others.

 

What the world needs now is love, Christ’s love.  

 

May He empower us, through His Spirit, to show the world that His love is the most powerful force there is!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

GRACE GrouPS "ASk"

AUGUST 26, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

By now, you have heard quite a bit about GRACE Groups and what a blessing they will be to so many in our Faith Community Family!

 

The “G” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “gather” so they can grow in God’s GRACE.

 

The “R” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “read and reflect” upon God’s Word together, and to discuss how God’s Word applies to their lives and circumstances and callings.

 

The “A” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “ask” God to answer our prayers on behalf of those in and outside of GRACE Groups.

 

This reminds me of Jesus’ encouragement for us to pray:

 

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)

 

Ask

Seek

Knock

 

In the original Greek language, the tense of these verbs reminds us that such asking is not to be a one-time action, but a continuous and repeated action.

 

Keep asking.  Keep seeking.  Keep knocking.

 

Children teach us this well whenever they are in the toy aisle or checkout lane of a store!  They keep asking and seeking and knocking with the hope that they will wear us down and make us give in to their requests.

 

God wants us, His children, to keep asking and seeking and knocking too, but not so we can wear Him down and make Him give in to our requests.  When we keep asking and seeking and knocking, we are showing our trust in God as the One who is willing and able to answer our prayers.      

 

“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (Matthew 21:22)

If a person doesn’t believe in God, much less that God can answer our prayers, then there is no need to pray.  But when we believe in God and knows He is willing and able to answer our prayers, then there is every reason to pray!

 

And as we pray, we do so in Jesus’ name (John 14:13-14), desiring that He answer our prayer according to His will (Matthew 26:39), because His will is always best for us.

 

When you are in a GRACE Group, it doesn’t take long to discover that each person in the GRACE Group is in need of prayer!  What a blessing to be able to ASK God together to answer those prayers given on behalf of one another!  In the process, God draws each GRACE Group participant closer to Him and to one another.

 

Join a GRACE Group and see what God’s Spirit can do in you and through you as you gather to ASK God to answer your prayers for His glory and your good!

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

"DISCHARGED"

AUGUST 27, 2020



Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

My father and I have been waiting for the words, “You have been discharged.  You are free to go home now.”

 

You see, we have been in the hospital for a few days, following my father’s surgery.

 

If you have been in a hospital for surgery, you know how the routine goes.  There are certain things that the doctors and nurses must check off their lists before a patient can be discharged.

 

The temperature and blood work need to show there is no infection.

The pain needs to be manageable.

The patient needs to be able to keep food and fluids down.

The bodily functions need to be working.

The blood pressure needs to be stable.

The paperwork needs to be completed.

 

Once these and other things have been checked off the list, then the patient is free to go home.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that God doesn’t have a list of items that have to be checked off before we can be discharged from this earth and go to our heavenly home.  

 

All the Ten Commandments have been kept perfectly.  CHECK.

No worship services were missed.  CHECK.

Faithful stewardship if time, talents and treasures for the Lord’s work.  CHECK.

Everyone encountered was treated with unconditional love and forgiveness.  CHECK.

Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.  CHECK.

 

You get the picture.  If we needed to accomplish everything that our Holy God has the right to demand of us, we would never receive an honorable discharge into heaven.

 

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .”  (Romans 3:23)

 

Based on God’s Word, because of our sin, we would all be stuck in this sin-broken world forever.  And there is nothing we could do to change things.  

 

But there is something Jesus has done to change things!

 

“All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  (Romans 3:24)

 

Because of Jesus, we can be honorably discharged from this life to heaven.  Not because we have lived so honorably.  But because we have been justified, declared righteous, by God’s grace, because of the redemption paid for by Jesus Christ.  

 

Jesus signed our discharge papers with the blood He shed on the cross.  All our sins were nailed there and left there.  Faith in His saving work comes with the promise of an honorable discharge into heaven!

 

So what do we get to do until we are discharged?

 

We get to praise the One who paid the price for you to be discharged to heaven one day.

 

We get to proclaim the One who can discharge others to heaven through Spirit-given faith in Jesus.

 

We get to ponder what it will be like to leave this sin-sick world and to go Home!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“When Will It All End?”

AUGUST 18, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

When you are going through a long and difficult chapter of life, one of the things you often want to know is, “When will it all end?”  If you can just know that, then it’s easier to hang on until the end.

 

One day, Jesus’ disciples asked Him when this present evil age was going to end.  Others have asked me that question, especially over the last five months.  And its easy to understand why.

 

A global pandemic has brought most of the world to its knees.  People are becoming more divided and determined to destroy one another.  Persecution of Christians is on the rise in many countries, including our own.  Lawlessness has increased dramatically.

 

A Derecho, a massive storm of biblical proportions, swept through Iowa, as well as other Midwest states, destroying 10,000,000 acres of crops in Iowa alone.  That doesn’t include all the homes, businesses, farm buildings, grain bins and other things destroyed by the 100+ mile an hour straight winds and the torrential rains.  What’s amazing is that such a massive, destructive storm that has destroyed a state’s economy has been completely ignored by the mainstream media.  Guess it’s not newsworthy.

 

Are these some of the signs that we are in the End Times?  Yes.

 

In fact, from the time Jesus ascended into heaven and the Holy Spirit was sent to His disciples to continue His mission, we have been living in the End Times.

 

And the signs of the End Times that Jesus shares with His disciples have been happening throughout the age of the Church.  Here are some examples:

 

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come.  Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of birth pains.  “Then you will be handed over to bepersecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.  (Matthew 24:6-14)

 

These signs will increase in frequency and intensity the closer we get to the Last Day.

 

But when will that be?  When will this all come to an end?  

 

After sharing signs of the End Times, Jesus tells us when and how the End will come.

 

“And the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

 

The signs that Jesus mentions should remind us and the world that eventually Jesus will return in glory to judge the world and to establish the New Heavens and New Earth.  We need to be aware of these things, but we don’t need to be obsessing about these things.

 

What Jesus wants us to focus on is inviting people all over the world to know Jesus as their Savior, Lord and King.  When the gospel of His kingdom is preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, then the end will come.

 

That means the Church continues to have a job to do!  Our work remains essential!

 

And that work is producing results!  The Holy Spirit is working in some of the hardest hit cities in America and has been bring leading many to Christ through His Church.  While California churches are shut down indefinitely by their Governor, mass conversions are happening at church services on beaches!  

 

Worship services are taking place in the hardest hit areas of Portland, and hundreds of people are being baptized as a result!   Like the winds of the Derecho that destroyed much of Iowa and other parts of the Midwest isn’t considered newsworthy, neither is the mighty wind of the Holy Spirit that is drawing people to hope and healing in Jesus.

 

But regardless of what the news covers or doesn’t cover, the Good News of Jesus Christ and His kingdom is spreading throughout the country and the world and covering peoples’ sins with Christ’s forgiveness.  As that continues, each day brings us that much closer to the Day when life in this sin-broken world will all come to an end.

 

Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

GRACE GROUPS "Read"

AUGUST 17, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Over the last several days, you have begun to hear quite a bit about GRACE Groups and the blessing that they will be to so many in our Faith Community Family!

 

The “G” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “gather” so they can grow in God’s GRACE.

 

The “R” in GRACE Groups reminds us that GRACE Groups provide places for brothers and sisters in Christ to “read and reflect” upon God’s Word together, and to discuss how God’s Word applies to their lives and circumstances and callings.

 

An amazing thing happens when we read and reflect upon God’s Word.  The Holy Spirit that inspired God’s Word for our reading and reflection is the same Holy Spirit that works through God’s Word to read us and reveal to us what areas of our life or promises of God need our reflection.

 

God’s Word is much more than a source of spiritual information.  It is the source for spiritual transformation!  That’s because as the Holy Spirit is working in and through the Word, He is also working in and through the lives of God’s children.

 

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)

 

God’s Word can get to the core of our being in a way nothing else can.  It’s like an MRI for the soul!  And when God’s Spirit works through God’s Word to diagnose our condition, that same Holy Spirit also works through God’s Word to bring us the hope and healing and help we need from our loving God!


Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life. (Psalm 143:8)

 

The words of the Psalmist remind us of the most important reason to read and reflect upon God’s Word—every day it brings us assurance of God’s unfailing love!

 

Join a GRACE Group and see what God Spirit can do in you and through you as you read and reflect upon God’s Word, and allow the Holy Spirit to read you and reveal to you God’s will for you and His unfailing love for you!

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Making Bricks Without Straw”

AUGUST 13, 2020

Afterward Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’”  Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.”  That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw.  But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota.” (Exodus 5:1-2, 6-8a)

 

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

As slaves in Egypt, things were already extremely difficult for the people of God.  But Pharaoh decided to make things even more difficult for them.  

 

First, Pharaoh refused to let God’s people worship.

 

Next, he treated the Israelite slaves even more harshly than he had done before.  Pharaoh no longer supplied the slaves with straw for making their bricks.  They would now have to gather straw on their own.  But they were still expected to make the same number of bricks as before.

 

With total disdain and disregard for God and His people, Pharaoh found pleasure in making their lives miserable.

 

Ultimately, the God of Israel would have the last laugh.  Through a series of plagues, God would bring Pharaoh and the people of Egypt to their knees, and He would bring the children of Israel to their feet so they could exit the land of slavery.

 

Can you relate to the children of Israel?  Do you feel like current circumstances in your life or in your world have you “making bricks without straw”?  Do you feel overwhelmed by all the directives that keep piling more and more burdens on your shoulders?  Do you worry about how you will be able to gather all the straw you need in order to make the same number of bricks?

 

Do you know what the Israelites did in that situation?  They cried out to God to deliver them.  And God answered their cries by rescuing them from their land of slavery and bringing them into their land of freedom.

 

Are you crying out to God to deliver you from the ways the pandemic has enslaved you?  

 

It’s easy for us to cry out at the television.  It’s easy to cry out on social media.  It’s easy to cry out at the politicians and pundits and players and performers.  

 

Just think what would happen if we took the time and energy that crying out in these ways takes, and redirected it to crying out to God?  Not only would we see God changing circumstances, we would see God changing us.  We would see our trust level rising.  And we would have reason to worship the One who delivered us from our slavery to sin and death and the grave so we could live in the land of freedom—the Promised Land, the New Heavens and Earth.

 

In difficult times, it is easy for us to doubt our trust and to trust our doubts.  But our God is trustworthy.  He has kept every promise He has made to His people, and He isn’t about to stop now.  

 

God hears our cries and will deliver us.  In the meantime, let’s keep making our bricks.  Let’s doubt our doubts.  And let’s trust our trustworthy God.


“Here Comes the Judge!”

AUGUST 12, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

 

“Do not judge.”

 

Seems simple, doesn’t it?

 

But if we look at the context of Jesus’ words, “Do not judge” in this text, and consider Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels, maybe we are making those three words more simplistic than Jesus intended for them to be.

 

By focusing only on those three words, well-meaning Christians can interpret them to mean that we are never to question, challenge, or judge the thinking and words and actions of others.  We are to be tolerant of others, no matter how unbiblical their beliefs and behaviors may be.  “Do not judge” then becomes an escape from our responsibility to others.  

 

But that’s not what Jesus is saying.  He goes on to explain what His opening sentence on judging means.  We are not to self-righteously and pridefully judge others for their sins, while minimizing and ignoring our own sins.  

 

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were masters at doing just that.  But Jesus wasn’t just talking to the Pharisees of His day.  Jesus was talking to us as well.  The truth is, we have all taken the Judge’s seat in order to condemn others for their sins, while ignoring our own sins, in order to appear spiritually superior to others.   

 

In other words, we have all acted like blind eye-doctors:

 

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

 

Would you go to a blind eye-doctor to have a procedure done on your eye?  That’s what Jesus is calling those who want to judge others in a self-righteous, prideful, condemning way.  Ignoring the planks in their own eyes, they insist on removing the specs in others’ eyes.  If we are honest with ourselves, we have all done that to others.

 

Jesus judged others who were thinking and speaking and acting in ways that didn’t reflect God’s will.  Because of their hypocrisy, the Pharisees were the main recipient of His words of judgment.  But the disciples weren’t far behind.  You can probably think of others accounts where Jesus called people to account for their sins.  And He expects us to do the same.

 

You may be thinking, “Well, of course Jesus could judge.  As God in the flesh, He could see what was in peoples’ hearts.  I can’t do that.  I can’t judge like Jesus can.”

 

Exactly.  That’s why we need to be careful how we judge others.  We need to be careful that we don’t start playing God.  

 

But notice that Jesus does want us to remove the specs from the eyes of others.  

 

Every day, in order to respond to the people and circumstances and temptations around us, we all must make judgments based on certain standards.  And God’s Word reminds us what those standards are for His children:  

 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing  and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

 

God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we will be able to test and approved what God’s will is.  The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to transform our minds so that we can make proper judgments that are in accordance with God’s will.

 

Did you notice how verse one says, “in view of God’s mercy”?  

 

Those words remind us that, apart from God’s mercy, we would deserve nothing but God’s eternal judgment and condemnation for our sin.  Thankfully, He was merciful and judged and condemned His Son on the cross in our place for our sin.  Jesus carried our plank of self-righteousness up Calvary and was nailed to it so that we would be spared God’s judgment and declared righteous by God.

 

As those who have experienced God’s mercy, any time we judge others, it’s important that we do so remembering His mercy toward us.  

 

Then, any specs that we try to remove will be done out of humility and love and mercy towards others, so that instead of condemning them we can commend them to God’s will—His good, pleasing and perfect will.

“Interruption or Divine Appointment?”

AUGUST 11, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Could you ever have imagined in your wildest dreams that our lives would have become interrupted so much this year?  It seems there’s hardly an area in our lives that hasn’t been impacted by all the events of 2020.

 

Interruptions are nothing new.  But as we have seen this year, the severity and frequency of them can certainly varyat times.

 

Some interruptions are minor and can be managed easily.  But some interruptions can’t be managed so easily.  Sometimes that’s because the interruption itself is major.  Sometimes that’s because the interruption is keeping you from doing something major. 

 

The latter was the case for Jesus one day.  

 

Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 

Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.  As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him.  And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.  “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.  When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”  But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”  Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 

Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”  While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” (Luke 8:40-49)

 

Jesus had a major situation to deal with.  Jairus’ young daughter was dying, so Jesus was going to Jairus’ home to heal her.

 

And the whole crowd that was with Him decided to go along!  Which led to an interruption in Jesus’ plans.  An elderly woman, weakened by twelve years of bleeding,  reached out and touched His cloak.  And immediately her bleeding stopped.

 

Now here’s where the account takes an interesting turn.  Jesus knew He had just healed the woman.  He also knew He had places to go and a young girl to heal.  He could have just kept walking, uninterrupted by the elderly woman’s healing.

 

But He didn’t.  He stopped.  That’s because He didn’t see this encounter as an interruption, but as a divine appointment.

 

Jesus took the time to bring to the crowd’s attention what only He and the elderly woman knew.  And after the woman acknowledged to Jesus and the crowd that she had touched Him and been healed, Jesus commended her for her faith and told her she was healed/saved (the Greek can be translated either way, or both ways at the same time).

 

I wonder how many lives were changed by that encounter?  Certainly the elderly woman’s life was changed, physically and spiritually!  But how many other lives were changed because Jesus took what could have been seen as in interruption and turned it into a divine appointment to bring hope and healing.

 

By the way, the plans that Jesus had to go to Jairus’ home to heal his daughter seemed ruined by this divine detour when Jesus received word of her death.  But Jesus took care of that situation and brought hope and healing to Jairus and his family too!

 

One thing I have noticed in the midst of the pandemic and pandemonium is that God has interrupted my life on a number of occasions and given me some divine appointments with people I wouldn’t have encountered under normal circumstances.  

 

Have you noticed that too?  People that you normally wouldn’t have encountered have somehow found their way into your life.  God is using what may at times seem like interruptions to put people in your path as divine appointments.  

 

And His desire is that the same thing will happen to them that happened to the elderly woman with the bleeding disorder.  His desire is that, through you, others will experience hope and healing in Jesus’ name.  

 

Irritating interruption or divine appointment?  Something for us to think about as God’s children, not only in this season of life, but in every season of life.

 

God may put other people in your life, and you in theirs, for such a time as this!

 

“Cancelled”

AUGUST 10, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

It’s amazing how many events have been canceled over the last five months and into the unforeseeable future.  Our over-scheduled calendars pre-COVID cleared overnight.

 

It’s also amazing how many things the “cancel culture” is trying to cancel these days.  Anything that offends or triggers or makes a person feel uncomfortable is met with demands that it be canceled.  

 

If everyone continues to demand that things they don’t like be canceled, there won’t be much of anything left.  And in the process, people will have canceled each other out.

 

Aren’t you grateful that God didn’t cancel you and me?  God certainly has every reason to do so!  

 

In fact, the moment after Adam and Eve fell into sin, God could have just canceled the human race.  God created humanity to enjoy unbroken fellowship and communion with Him, and that was broken when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden fruit.

 

And since the Fall, we see in God’s Word how, time after time, God could have ended it all and said, “This show has been canceled.  I can stand this sin anymore.”

 

What’s true of this world is true of your life and mine.

 

If your life were a movie playing on a big screen, and you were sitting with God watching it, how comfortable would you be?  Would God find any sinful thoughts and words and deeds on that movie?  Would there be times you would close your eyes so you don’t see what is coming next?  The answer is obvious.  And God would have every reason to cancel us from a relationship with Him for time and eternity.  We would deserve our holy God’s punishment and wrath and condemnation.

 

But because of His great love for us, God chose not to cancel us in spite of our sin!  Instead, He chose to send His Son into this world to cancel our sin and its punishment on the cross.  Listen to these words from Psalm 103:

 

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:10-12)

 

Because of God’s mercy, we don’t get the punishment that we deserve for our sins.

Because of God’s grace, we get forgiveness and eternal life that we don’t deserve.

 

On the Last Day, when the dust settles from all the mayhem in this sin-broken world, no matter what has been cancelled in this world, we can rejoice in the promise that He hasn’t canceled us and our relationship with Him!  We can look up and welcome our glorious Savior and Lord as He comes to take us to our eternal heavenly home!

 

And for that we can say, “Thank God, He didn’t cancel us!”

GRACE GROUPS "GAthER"

AUGUST 9, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

The GRACE of God is central for our lives, our faith and our salvation!  And as recipients of God’s GRACE, we want to grow in GRACE as we continue to run the race of faith.

 

That is why I’m excited about the GRACE Groups that will be launched soon!  GRACE Groups are going to provide a place for you to grow in GRACE.

 

What are GRACE Groups?  Are they replacing Growth Groups?   What’s the difference?

 

Growth Groups are often seasonal or topical Bible studies that are designed to help people grow in their faith and Biblical knowledge.  

 

GRACE Groups are also centered around Bible study, but they differ from Growth Groups in a number of ways.  In the coming weeks, as we unpack the acronym GRACE, you will be learning more about additional things that GRACE Groups will offer.

 

GRACE Groups generally meet in homes or other off-campus locations, while Growth Groups will continue to meet on campus.

 

Why GRACE Groups?  

 

For one thing, we have learned during this pandemic that God created us for community, and we struggle more when we are isolated and separated from one another!  GRACE Groups will provide opportunities for you and your friends to grow in Christ-centered community in ways that aren’t possible before or after worship services.  

 

But GRACE Groups are just designed to help us get through a pandemic!  From the time the Church began, followers of Jesus have gathered in homes to grow in GRACE.  The book of Acts is full of examples!  That’s because of the blessings that are received through such gatherings 

 

Speaking of gatherings, that is what the “G” in GRACE Groups represents.  GRACE groups provide places for you to “Gather” with your brothers and sisters on a regular basis to grow in GRACE together.  Such gatherings are encouraged by God’s Word:

 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:24-25)

 

Whether in the midst of a pandemic or not, as followers of Christ we need each other.  We need to “Gather” so we can support and encourage one another in Christ while we navigate the ups and downs of this earthly life.

 

Gathering with others is the starting point for growing in GRACE through GRACE Groups.  

 

Please watch for publicity about how you can “Gather” with others in homes or online so you can grow in God’s GRACE and help others to do the same!

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Blind Faith?”

AUGUST 8, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

 

When reading Hebrews, chapter 11, it’s easy to consider the people mentioned as heroes and heroines of the faith.  Consider just these three examples.

 

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith. (Hebrews 11:7)

 

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8)

 

By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. (Hebrews 11:24-25)

 

If you were Noah or Abraham or Moses, would you have done what they did?  It’s understandable why they, and others in the chapter, would be considered, “heroes and heroines of the faith.”

 

At the same time, it would be easy to conclude that they had “blind faith.”  God didn’t lay out all the details so they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into and exactly what the end result would be.  If he did, they wouldn’t need faith.  

 

God simply told them what He wanted them to do, and they would have to trust that He would be faithful to them.  

 

It’s easy to relate to the people mentioned in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.  They didn’t have much clarity on what the future held for them.  Still, they lived by faith and not by sight.

 

That’s what God calls us to do as well.  He calls us to live by faith and not by sight.  In other words, He calls us to live by faith, and not by fear.  

 

 

If we live based on what we see happening in our lives and in our world, we will be frozen in fear as we face the future.  But if we live by faith, we will live with confidence in the Lord and His promises as we face the future.

 

Our lives have been, and continue to be, drastically altered by all the fallout of the last five months. As a result, we have had to venture into the unknown as wemake a new beginning with our lives.  Many people have had their lives drastically altered for other reasons.  Perhaps, you are one of them.

 

Do you remember when the leadership over the Israelites was handed over from Moses to Joshua?  Joshua was to lead the children of Israel across the Jordan and into the Promised Land.  Joshua didn’t know what battles they would face as he led them into the Promised Land.  He was afraid of the unknown. 

 

God gave Joshua a wonderful promise to reassure him:

 

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9)

 

Be strong.  Be courageous.

Do not be afraid.  Do not be discouraged.

How is that possible?

 

“For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 

Joshua wasn’t entering into the unknown on his own.  The Lord would be with Him.

 

And Joshua wouldn’t have to fight the battles on his own.  The Lord would fight the battles for him, just as He had fought the battles for Moses against Egypt.  And God would fight these battles in ways that Joshua and the children of Israel never could have imagined.  

 

The Lord is with you.  And He is fighting for you.  Keep living by faith and not by sight until the day when faith is no longer needed because you will be in the Promised Land of Heaven.  Jesus has already won the battle over sin and death and the grave for you.  And He won those battles in a way the world could never have imagined—through a cross and an empty tomb!  

 

You don’t have to be a hero/heroine of the faith as you face the unknown.  You just need to keep trusting in the One who is the Hero of Faithfulness!  

“One Day at a Time”

AUGUST 6, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Are you feeling worn out these days?

 

How much of that feeling would you attribute to worrying?

 

Worrying seems to come naturally with our fallen human condition.  

 

Maybe that’s why there are so many quotes that encourage us not to worry.  Here are a few I have come across through the years.

 

“Worrying is using your imagination to create something you don’t want.” (Abraham Hicks)

 

“A day of worry is more exhausting than a day of work.” (John Lubbock)

 

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength—carrying two days at once.  It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time.  Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

 

“What worries you masters you.” (Haddon W. Robinson)

 

“Relax.  Worry is infamous for being inaccurate.” (Karen Salmansohn)

 

“Don’t worry.  Be happy!”

 

If only it were that simple.

 

There are many things in each of our lives that concern us.  Worry takes those concerns to the next level and lets those things that concern us consume us and our energy.

 

Can you remember things in the past that you spent a lot of time and energy worrying about that never came to pass?

 

Can you remember things in the past that you spent a lot of time and energy worrying about that you couldn’t have done anything about anyway?

 

It’s easy to remember such times.  It’s harder to learn from such times.

 

We can find ourselves looking back after some time and perspective has separated us from those things we worried about and realize they weren’t worth worrying about in the first place. 

 

But that doesn’t apply to now!  This time is different!  Ihave no other choice but to worry about the things(s) I’m facing now!  

 

It’s hard to have perspective in the present.  Especially when we are worn out by our worrying.

 

Jesus wants to give us perspective and perseverance forsuch times.

 

“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

 

One day at a time.  Jesus wants us to focus on today.

 

That doesn’t mean we stop planning and preparing for tomorrow, to the extent that we are able.  It means we stop worrying about tomorrow, so we aren’t worn out as we face the challenges today.

 

Easier said than done.  Especially if we try to do it ourselves.

 

Consider what Jesus says before He encourages us not to worry about tomorrow.

 

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:33)

 

Instead of focusing our attention on our worries about the future, Jesus encourages us to focus our attention on the kingdom and righteousness that God has given us.  

 

The two most important things we need for this life and the next are to be declared righteous through the saving work of Jesus and to be made citizens of God’s eternal kingdom.  And we don’t have to worry about those things because they have already been provided by Jesus.

 

If He has provided for us these essential eternal needs, we can trust that He will provide for our earthly needs as well.  

 

When worry starts to wear you down, remember to seek the King and His righteous kingdom.  He has taken care of our biggest worries—sin and death and the grave.

 

When our son, John, was a little boy, and he didn’t need our help to do something, he would say, “I’m big to do that!”

 

Taking care of our eternal needs.  God’s big to do that!

 

Taking care of our earthly needs.  God’s big to do that!

 

Let’s seek Him.  As we do, we will see how big God is and how small the things we worry about are.

“Change”

AUGUST 5, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

There are three things in life that are certain: death, taxes and change.  And we try our hardest to avoid all three!

 

We certainly haven’t been successful at avoiding change lately.

 

With each generation, our world has been changing more rapidly.  But with the pandemic and pandemonium we are facing right now, the world, and our lives, seem to be changing faster than ever before.

 

We’ve gone from being told face masks aren’t helpful to being told facemasks are mandatory.

 

We’ve gone from worshiping on site to worshiping online or not at all.

 

We’ve gone from schools opening to closing to trying to reopen on campus or online or some mix of the two.

 

We’ve gone from being told certain things are illegal and immoral to being told they  are now good and acceptable. 

 

We’ve gone from being employed to being unemployed.

 

We’ve gone from running a business to shutting down or closing a business.

 

We’ve gone from gathering with others to isolating ourselves.

 

We’ve gone from meeting in person to zooming on our computers.

 

We’ve gone from traveling on vacation to having a staycation.

 

We’ve gone from eating out to ordering in.

 

We’ve gone from shopping in stores to shopping online.

 

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I’m sure you can think of many things in your life that have changed.

 

Some people thrive in times of change.  They love to search for creative options and opportunities for navigating and succeeding in times of change.

 

“I’ve come up with a new way to do things!”

 

Other people resist and rebel against all change.

 

“I’ve never done it this way before, and I’m not about to start now!”

 

Which one are you?  Or are you somewhere in between?

 

No matter where you find yourself on the change comfort spectrum, I’m sure there are changes happening right now in your life and your world that don’t excite you much.

 

They may even scare you.

 

In such times, it’s comforting to know we have a God who doesn’t change.  He remains true to Himself, His love for us, and His promises to us.

 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

 

Shifting shadows.  That’s how quickly things are changing right now.  But we can depend upon God to remain the same.

 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

 

In a world of constant change, we can rest in the assurance that our God won’t change.  And we can look forward to the greatest change of all that on the Last Day when He changes our bodies to be compatible with and comfortable in the eternal glory of heaven! 

 

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (1 Corinthians 15:51-52)

 

Imperishable!  Now that’s a change I can live with!  How about you?

 

In the meantime, as our world and our lives are bombarded with change, let’s keep in mind the following prayer about how to handle change as children of God.  You may be familiar with the first part of the prayer, but not the full prayer.

 

Serenity Prayer

 

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

 

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world


As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life


And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.
Amen.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What is Truth?”

AUGUST 4, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Do you remember the dialogue that Jesus had with Pontius Pilate about truth?

 

After Caiaphas the High Priest had interrogated Jesus about His disciples and His teaching, he had Jesus sent to Pontius Pilate with the hope that Pilate would have Him executed based on their “evidence.” 

 

So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:33-38a)

 

“What is truth?”

 

That was Pilate’s sarcastic response to Jesus.

 

It’s sad and ironic. Pilate was standing right in the presence of Truth in the flesh. Jesus often began His teachings with the words, “Truly, I say to you . . .” Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. 

 

What is truth? You’re looking at Him, Pilate. 

 

Pilate’s not the only one who missed the Truth.

 

The Jewish religious leaders missed the Truth.

 

Many in Jesus’ day missed the Truth.

 

Many over the last two thousand years have missed the Truth.

 

Many in our day miss the Truth.

 

“What is truth?”

 

Like Pilate, many are asking that question today. Not just, “What is truth?” when it comes to COVID case counts, medical facts, racism, news media, and social media.

 

People are also asking, “What is truth?” and answering the question themselves.

 

People used to answer the question, “What is truth?” with answers like these:

 

“Truth is whatever I want it to be.”

“What’s true for you doesn’t have to be true for me.”

“Truth can change depending upon my circumstances or feelings.”

 

Now people are answering the question, “What is truth?” with answers like these:

 

“Truth is only what I want truth to be.”

“You can’t have your own truth. You have to believe what I believe.”

 

In either case, truth has become subjective and ever-changing, subject to what works best at the time.

 

Like Pilate, many don’t really know, “What is truth?”

 

In these confusing times, when it is hard to distinguish truth from lies, we can always trust our Savior, Jesus, the One who is the Truth. We can trust that what He says in His word is true. And we can trust He will be true to His promises.

 

Want to know, “What is truth?” Take a look at the concordance in the back of your Bible, and check out all the references to “true, truth and truly.” 

 

As you do, you will discover that Jesus is the One who is faithful and true!

“Render unto Caesar”

aUgust 3, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

How can it be August already?!

 

As you may know, the month of August got its name from the first Roman emperor, Augustus Caesar (63 B.C.– A.D. 14).  The Latin word “augustus” means venerable, noble, and majestic.

 

Caesar’s name came up one day in a conversation between Jesus and two groups.  The first group was some disciples of the Pharisees.  The other group was the Herodians, a loosely organized group that sought to advance the political and economic influence of the Herodian family.  Although the Pharisees and Herodians were normally adversaries when it came to many political and religious issues, they joined forces to combat the perceived threat to their power and status.  Let’s listen in on the conversation.  

 

“Tell us, then, what you think.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites?  Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.   And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar's.”  Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” (Matthew 22:17-21)

 

The payment of taxes to a pagan Roman government was a volatile issue in Israel.  As subjects of the Roman government, the people of Israel were burdened by heavy taxes and some believed paying taxes to pagan rulers contradicted God’s lordship over His people.

 

Jesus could see right through their devious scheme.  If He answered that it was right to pay taxes, then He would lose the support of His overtaxed followers.  If He answered that it was wrong to pay taxes, then He could be accused of being an insurrectionist.  Once again, it seemed like a no-win situation.  But Jesus knew just what to say and do.

 

Jesus asked them for the coin for the tax and they brought him a denarius.  The denarius, with a profile of Tiberius Caesar, also had a Latin inscription that said, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus” along the coin’s perimeter.

 

After looking at the coin, Jesus asked His adversaries, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar's.”  Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 

 

Jesus made it clear that He had no plans of establishing a kingdom in opposition to Caesar.  There are matters that belong to realm of civil government, even for followers of Christ.

 

Jesus also made it clear that there are matters that belong to God’s realm too.

 

God is God over both realms.  Like a two-sided coin, He has established both realms for specific purposes.

 

History has examples of times when the State has tried to bring the Church totally under its control, or when the Church has tried to bring the State totally under its control.  In either case, it seems the result has most often been the compromise of the Church.

 

That doesn’t mean the two realms are to be completely separated from one another.  God intended for the two realms to intersect with one another.  And sometimes, by necessity, there are collisions in those intersections.

 

The Church is facing a challenging time during this pandemic.  In some cases, Caesar is pushing God completely out of the public square.  Some churches have been closed indefinitely.  Others have faced strict limits that make it impossible for them to open.  As some courts are finally starting to recognize, Caesar has overstepped the line and mistreated churches, making false claims about how dangerous they are during this pandemic, while allowing riots, protests, casinos and other public gatherings to take place.   

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded the Church, and indirectly, the State, of the essential role of the Church in society:

 

“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state,” King wrote in Strength to Love, a sermon collection. “It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

 

The church is to be the conscience of the state.  If there was ever a time the State needed the Church to be its conscience, it is now.

 

And if there is ever a time when people need the Church for comfort, encouragement, hope, guidance, courage and healing, it is now.  

 

As the Church, let’s remember that we have a critical role to play.  And let’s remind the State that it needs a conscience, shaped by God’s Word and will.

 

Otherwise, a culture hellbent on living without God will get exactly what it desires and deserves, and it won’t be pretty.

“Still Throwing Stones”

JULY 31, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

One of my favorite contemporary Christian songs by Lauren Daigle is, “Still Rolling Stones.”  It’s an inspirational and uplifting song that reminds us the same Jesus who rolled the stone in front of His tomb away when He rose from the dead, is still rolling stones away to bring us from death to eternal life.

 

I suppose a song entitled, “Still Throwing Stones” could be written to describe our culture today.  Stones are being thrown on the news, on social media, on talk shows, and in the city streets.  It seems there is no end in sight to the stone throwing contest.  And the damage it is causing is going to still be felt generations from now.

 

The Jewish religious leaders were obsessed with finding a way to trap Jesus so they could stone Him and silence Him.  Here’s one account, where they hoped to kill two people with one stone.

 

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.  The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women.  Now what do you say?”  They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. (John 8:2-6a)

 

It was quite apparent that the Jewish religious leaders staged this event to trap Jesus and create the maximum pressure on Jesus so they could damage His reputation and destroy Him.

 

Notice that, even though it takes two to tango, only the woman was brought before Jesus.  The Jewish religious leaders drug the woman before Jesus and the crowd, and with their accusing tongues and pointing fingers, they wanted to know how Jesus would respond to her sin.

 

If Jesus didn’t acknowledge her actions as sinful, the Jewish religious leaders would have all the proof they needed that Jesus was a false teacher worthy of punishment.  

 

At the same time, if Jesus allowed these self-righteous religious leaders to act as if they were pure and holy, when He knew better, that wouldn’t be right either.

 

It seemed like a no-win situation for Jesus.  How would He respond?  Let’s see.

 

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.  At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. (John 8:6b-9)

 

Wouldn’t you love to know what Jesus was writing on the ground as the Jewish religious leaders demanded an answer from Jesus?

 

I wonder if Jesus was writing the names of the Jewish religious leaders who also had close encounters with this woman in the past.

 

Whatever Jesus wrote, they were convicted of their sin, and dropped their stones and walked away.  And after they did, Jesus addressed the woman privately.

 

Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”  “No one, sir,” she said.  “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:10-11)

 

Jesus did not condone the woman’s sin.  Neither did He condemn her for her sin.  She was already felt convicted.  

 

He forgave her and gave her a better way to live.  “Go and leave your life of sin.”

 

This story gives us some important reminders when it comes to living in a culture that’s still throwing stones.

 

We can’t control how the world is going to act.  The stones will keep flying.  

 

But we can control how we react to the sin of others, and our own sin.

 

Instead of trying to act self-righteous and holy and justified in throwing stones at sinners, Jesus would have us remember our own sins and need for His forgiveness.

 

If Jesus were to stoop down and begin writing your sins on the ground in front of a crowd, how would you feel?  Nervous?  Embarrassed?  Ashamed?  Convicted?  Deserving of His eternal condemnation?

 

If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to answer “yes” to all the above.

 

The good news is that Jesus isn’t going to stone you for your sin, and He doesn’t want you to stone others for their sin, or others to stone you for your sin.

 

Instead, Jesus wants you to own your sin, and what you deserve for your sin.

 

Then He wants you to remember that He was willing to have your sins, and the sins of the whole world, thrown at Him on the cross.  

 

And three days later, He was rolling away the stone from the tomb so you could live in His resurrection power and victory.  

 

Jesus doesn’t condemn you for your sin.  He commends you, as His forgiven followers, to go and leave your life of sin and death.

 

He’s still rolling stones!

 

“NOTW”

JULY 30, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

I’m guessing you have seen a “NOTW” bumper sticker or window logo on someone’s car.  You may even have one yourself.  “NOTW” reminds us as Christians that we are “not of this world.”

 

Those words found their origin in Jesus and His High Priestly Prayer.

 

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.  They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” (John 17:15-16)

 

What does Jesus mean when He prays to the Father, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world”?  Is Jesus saying that He and His followers are aliens?

 

You could say that. Jesus is reminding us that, even though we were born here, we don’t ultimately belong here.  So we shouldn’t live as if we do.  In fact, this fallen world should feel alien to us.

 

If we live as if we permanently belong here, if we live as if this is our final and only home, if we feel comfortable following the patterns of this sin-broken world, if we join right in fighting the battles of this world, then we need this reminder from Jesus that we are “NOTW.”

 

Not only that, we need His prayer: “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.”

 

Jesus’ prayer may seem a little confusing.  He wants us to understand that we are not of this world, but He asks the Father not to take us out of the world.  

 

Jesus isn’t contradicting Himself here.  For Jesus, this is an issue of timing.

 

He’s saying, “Heavenly Father, do not take my followers out of the world, NOW.”

 

There will come a time when Jesus returns to take us out of this world.  When that time will come, only our Heavenly Father knows.

 

But until then, Jesus prays that, while we are in this world, we would be protected from the evil one.  

 

Deliver us from evil, so we can be used by God to help deliver others into Christ’s eternal kingdom.

 

When Jesus was delivered to Pilate, Pilate questioned Him about who He was and what He had done.  Accusations had been made against Jesus that made Him out to be a threat to the Roman kingdom.

 

Jesus answered Pilate with these words: “My kingdom isnot of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

 

If Jesus had come to become ruler of an earthly kingdom, He would have had forces fighting to protect Him and help Him establish His earthly kingdom.

 

But Jesus had His sights set, for Him, and for us, on a much greater kingdom.  Not a temporary, earthly kingdom with boundaries, but an eternal kingdom that is neither bound by time or space.  One day, all of His followers will join Him as full citizens of His eternal kingdom.

 

That’s because Jesus, the King of Kings, was willing to become the lowly servant of humanity.  Jesus was willing to make a Bethlehem manger, a Calvary cross, and a borrowed tomb His thrones so He could make heaven our home.

 

Our risen and ascended Savior is back on heaven’s throne, at the Father’s right hand.  And He will remain there until He returns, not in humility but in glory, to take us out of this world to the place we really belong.  The only place where we will feel completely at home.

 

Come, Lord Jesus.

“Harassed and Helpless”

JULY 29, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:35-38)

 

During Jesus’ early ministry in the region of Galilee, Jesus found people who felt beaten down and burdened, harassed and helpless, with no one to lead them to a more hopeful future.  

 

It seems Jesus would find people in our country feeling the same at this time.  

 

The pandemic and the pandemonium have had ripple effects in our country, and elsewhere, that have left people feeling harassed and helpless, beaten down and burdened--emotionally, physically, socially, relationally, spiritually, mentally and economically.  

 

Who’s going to lead us to a more hopeful future?

 

There’s only One who can, the same One who led the people in His day to a more hopeful future.  Jesus.

 

Through His teaching and preaching and healing, Jesus brought people hope and help and healing and peace and promise and a purpose.  That’s why such large crowds followed Him!

 

It’s ironic when you think about it.  The One who had compassion on the beaten down and burdened, the harassed and helpless, is the One who was willing to be beaten down and burdened by sinners and the sins of the world, and harassed and helpless as He was tried and condemned and flogged and crucified.  

 

That’s why Jesus can truly show compassion towards us.  He’s been there.  He’s done that.  And He came out victorious on the other side.

 

And He promises we will too as we trust in Him.

 

He also has handed off the responsibility of sharing that promise with others to us.

 

The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:38)

 

Jesus wants to work in you and through you!  He wants to send you out into the harvest!  Jesus wants you to invite others to know Him so they can be lifted up, dusted off, encouraged and empowered to live as a forgiven child of God.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding its not too difficult to spot people who are feeling beaten down and burdened, harassed and helpless.  And it doesn’t take much to get them to talk about things that really matter.  

 

There’s no better time to be a laborer in Christ’s harvest of souls!  More and more people are recognizing their need for Jesus!  

 

I hope you will join in the harvest of souls during this indefinite season, even as we wait for the Final Harvest on the Last Day and speed its coming!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

“Wanna Get Away?”

JULY 28, 2020


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Whenever I hear the words, “Wanna Get Away?” I immediately think of the Southwest Airlines commercials.  A person says or does something that puts them in a very awkward situation, and they wish they could somehow magically disappear.  Then you hear those words, “WannaGet Away?” and you see a plane flying away.

 

There was a time when Jesus’ disciple Peter wanted to get away and stay away.  The Gospel of Matthew tells us what happened.

 

After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.  Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.  Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. (Matthew 17:1-8)

 

Can you blame Peter?  In the previous chapter of Matthew, Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem where He would suffer at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders, and that He would be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

 

It was Peter who jumped in and tried to redirect Jesus.  Peter had other plans for his Messiah, plans for Him to conquer the Romans and usher in a period of peace and prosperity for Israel!  And plans for Jesus’ disciples to be in His administration!

 

I guess it would be an understatement to say that Peter was rebuked by Jesus.  “Get behind me, Satan!  You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men” (Matthew 16:23).  With those words, Jesus tried to redirect Peter to see God’s plans.

 

About a week later, Peter and James and John were with Jesus on a mountain.  Suddenly, the disciples saw Jesus in His brilliant glory!  Not only that, Jesus had some special Old Testament guests with him—Moses and Elijah!

 

Talk about a spiritual mountaintop experience!  

 

As Peter considered what Jesus said would happen to Him in Jerusalem, and saw what was happening on that mountaintop, Peter tried once again to detour Jesus from going the way of the cross. He didn’t want to go with Jesus down into the valley below.

 

“Jerusalem can wait, Jesus!  Let’s stay here and camp out for a while!  You and Moses and Elijah have a lot of catching up to do!”

 

I’m sure Peter was hoping that a little time away in the fresh mountain air might give Jesus some perspective and perhaps change Jesus’ mind concerning His future.  But that detour attempt didn’t work either.

 

That opportunity to get away was nice, and it gave Peter and James and John a glimpse of our Savior’s glory.  But that glory could only be fully expressed if Jesus went the way of the cross and the empty tomb.  Our Savior came to this earth for a time so we could one day get away for all eternity and never have to worry about the challenges of this sin-broken world again.

 

“Wanna Get Away?”

I’ve heard a number of people answer that question in the affirmative lately.  As they see this fallen world and their lives unraveling, they are saying, “Come, Lord Jesus.  I wanna get away from this!”

 

I’ve even had people at Memorial Services and Funerals lately comment that the deceased person is the lucky one because they are with the Lord in heaven’s glory.

 

One day we will get away, either when the Lord returns for us in death or on the Last Day.  Either way, we will one day leave this life behind and experience the glory of the life to come.

 

Until then, we need to get away with Jesus, like Peter did, and have some spiritual mountaintop experiences.  We “wanna get away” in His Word, in prayer, in worship and in His creation so we can gain perspective and get glimpses of His glory to sustain us for life in the valley below.

 

I don’t know about you, but I look forward to the day when the Lord comes for me and asks, “Wanna get away?”  I know what I’m going to say, “Heaven, here I come!”

 

Until then, I’ll need to plan some little getaways with the Lord.  I hope you do too.

“Holey, Holey, Holey”

JULY 24, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:


 


First, I want to assure you that the title of this devotion isn’t a misspelling of the title of a familiar hymn!


 


I came up with the title of this devotion after hearing a story on SOS Christian radio yesterday about a father and a son.


 


Evidently, the son had quite a problem when it came to dealing with his anger in a healthy way. So the father came up with a plan to use his son’s angry outbursts as a teaching opportunity.


 


The father told his son that whenever he started to explode with anger, he was to go out to the back yard and hammer a nail into the wooden fence. The first day, there were 37 nails in the fence!  


 


As time went on, less and less nails were being hammered into the fence. So the father told his son that for every day that went by without an angry outburst, he could pull one of the nails out of the fence.  


 


One day, all the nails were gone. The father took his son out to the fence. As they stood there together, looking at the holey fence, the father told his son how proud he was of his son for getting his anger under control.  


 


But he also told his son to look at all the holes left behind. Those holes were visual reminders that the angry outbursts of the past left holes, not only in the fence, but in others who were the targets of his anger.


 


There is a lot of anger on display in our country, and it is leaving a lot of holes in a lot of people.


 


Is anger sin?


 


Some think so. But the Bible gives us an important qualifier concerning anger.


 


“In your anger do not sin”; Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)


 


Anger in and of itself is not sin. But it can be expressed sinfully. Especially if it builds up over time and explodes like a volcano.


 


And when anger is expressed sinfully, it gives the devil a foothold. The devil loves to gain that foothold, but he isn’tcontent with that. He wants to turn the foothold into a stronghold and then into a stranglehold on you.  


 


You can see evidence all around you that the devil is succeeding, can’t you?  


 


Can you also see evidence within you that the devil is succeeding?


 


Are your unholy displays of anger making others holey?


 


What’s behind your anger?


 


As God’s Word says, anger is not sin, but it can be expressed in sinful ways.


 


Anger is an emotion. And it is not even a primary emotion. It is a secondary emotion.


 


The primary emotions behind anger are fear, frustration, failure and hurt. Anger is the red flag that tells you and others that you are struggling with one or more of these things.


 


While you can’t control the anger you are seeing expressed all around you, you can address the anger within you so you don’t add to the holes that are being nailed in other people.


 


Consider asking yourself, and talking with others, about these questions:


 


What are you afraid of?


 


What are you frustrated about, in yourself or others?


 


How have you failed yourself or others, and how have others failed you?


 


Who have you hurt, and who or what has hurt you?


 


I was blessed to spend about two hours this week talking with four black pastors in Las Vegas that I’m blessed to call friends. We talked about many things, including the above questions, as we reflected upon our own life experiences, and what all has happened and is happening in our country.


 


It’s amazing what a peaceful bond you experience when you gather in humility as brothers, knowing you are allsinful human beings who have been forgiven and united with Christ and one another, and you can talk through and pray about such things. It’s a healing experience that helps to fill the holes we have accumulated over time. What we experienced is what the whole world needs!


 


God’s Word constantly reminds us that we have a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  


 


He has every right to be angry at us for all the times we have frustrated and failed and hurt Him through our outbursts of anger and other sins.


 


But our Heavenly Father chose instead to nail His Son to the cross so He would be the holey one. And through His sacrificial death for our forgiveness, Jesus has made us God’s holy children. For all eternity, Jesus will have holey scars to remind us of such steadfast love for us.


 


Empowered by God’s Spirit, may we be slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love too.  



“No Matter What”

JULY 23, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:


 


Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. (Philippians 1:27-28)


 


This portion of Scripture begins with the words, “Whatever happens . . .”


 


Do you wish you could know what is going to happen in the future?


 


You may be among those who say “yes” because knowing what is going to happen in the future would help you know how to plan in the present.


 


You may be among those who say “no” because knowing what is going to happen in the future would paralyze you with fear in the present.


 


Whether or not you wish you could know what is going to happen in the future, God’s Word reminds us that one thing is always essential. That’s why these verses begin with the words, “Whatever happens . . .”


 


“Whatever happens . . . conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”


 


As those who have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom of His Son (Colossians 1:13), no matter what, we are called to live by a different code of conduct. We are to conduct ourselves in a way that will not bring shame on the name of Jesus. 


 


That’s hard to do in this divisive, destructive, draining time. While we have been saved through the gift of faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, we are still saints and sinners. And that wrestling match between our old self and our new self will continue until the Last Day when Christ returns in glory.


 


In what ways have you allowed your old self to dictate how you think and speak and act, forgetting that the one thing that is always essential, whatever happens, is that you live in a manner worthy of the gospel?


Are you more concerned about the outcome of an election or who is going to win the cultural war than you are with whether souls will be won or lost for eternity?


 


If so, acknowledge your sin to the Lord and embrace the forgiveness He offers you in the gospel. And then embrace the way He shows you how to conduct yourself in a manner that is worthy of the gospel.


 


Stand firm with your brothers and sisters in the faith.


Strive together to defend and advance the faith of the gospel.


Stay courageous in the face of those who oppose you.


 


The world is only concerned about temporary things that are at stake.  


 


The Church is to be primarily concerned about eternal things that are at stake.


 


And that’s why, whatever happens, as God’s children, we are to celebrate and share what happened when Christ entered this sin-broken world to grant us forgiveness for our sins and to give us the fortitude to live for Him in a manner worthy of the gospel.

“Shortage of Little Red Wagons”

JULY 22, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:


 


Over the last few months, we have been hearing a lot about shortages.


 


A shortage of ventilators.


 


A shortage of masks.


 


A shortage of hand sanitizer.


 


A shortage of trustworthy information.


 


A shortage of coins.


 


A shortage of common sense.


 


A shortage of unity and love.


 


I’m sure you can think of other things that could have been included. I’d like to offer one more.


 


A shortage of little red wagons.


 


What?! Let me explain.


 


In 2012, a movie came out called, “Little Red Wagon.” The movie covered the life of a young boy named Zach Bonner, who began a philanthropic foundation in response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Charleyin 2004. Touched by the great need he saw on the news, Zach began using his little red wagon to gather food, supplies and other donations for the Hurricane survivors.


 


In the storm’s aftermath, Zach also discovered the terrible plight of homeless children. Zach’s Little Red Wagon Foundation spearheaded a backpack project. These backpacks became known as “Zachpacks” and were filled with food, personal hygiene materials, candy, toys, and books for these marginalized children.


 


Between 2007 and 2010, Zach walked 4,263 miles to draw attention to the plight of homeless children and was able to solicit support from individuals and corporations to help them.


 


Little Zach saw the news reports of the storm and the terrible damage it caused, and he decided to do something to make a difference for good in the lives of others in need. And to think it all began with a little red wagon and a big heart of compassion!


 


As our country continues to be battered by the waves and raging winds of our current storm, the damage and destruction grows.


 


It is time for more little red wagons.


 


When problems in our world seem so big, it is easy for us to wonder, “What difference can I make?” The story of Zach Bonner reminds us that one life can make a world of difference for many!


 


When Zach began responding to the tremendous human needs he saw by pulling out his little red wagon, he had no idea how he would be used to bless so many people.


 


As God’s children, when we pull out our little red wagons, we have no idea how God will use us to bless others.


 


In a time when there is a shortage of many things, let’s make sure there is no shortage of little red wagons!


 


Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13:15-16)


 


God saw our desperate plight in this sin-broken world and sent His Son to do good and to share forgiveness and life with us through His sacrifice on the cross. May we offer Him our sacrifice of praise—with our lips and our lives—by doing good and sharing Jesus’ love with others who are in need. With such sacrifices, God is pleased.

“WHAT COLOR IS JESUS?”

JULY 21, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

For a while now, some people have shown their lack of knowledge of American history by tearing down and defacing statues and memorials of abolitionists, people whose efforts helped to bring an end to slavery in America.

 

Recently, some people have also shown their lack of knowledge of Church history by defacing and decapitating statues of Jesus and Mary, and by burning churches in America.

 

Some are doing it out of lawlessness, demonstrating that they answer and are accountable to no one, not even God.

 

Others are doing it because they somehow believe that Christianity is a “white man’s religion” that needs to be removed or replaced with some other religion, or no religion.

 

The only problem with this claim is that the history of Christianity shows just the opposite to be true.

 

When the eternal Son of God became flesh, He was born to Jewish parents.  So it’s fair to say that His physical characteristics were like those of a Jew from the region of  Galilee.

 

Throughout my years of ministry, I’ve seen Jesus depicted in many ways.  Sometimes, His skin and hair and features depict Him as a Jewish man.  Sometimes, He is depicted as a fair-haired, blue-eyed northern European.  Other times, He is depicted as a black man.  I have a nativity set from Liberia, West Africa, which depicts the Holy Family as  Liberian.  I also have a piece of ceramic artwork from Peru that depicts Jesus and His disciples as Peruvians, gathered for the Last Supper.  

 

As I reflect upon these and other ethnic depictions of Jesus in artwork, what I see is people from all over the world recognizing and rejoicing over the fact that the Savior of the world is also their Savior.  

 

Jesus made it clear that such was His intention.  When Jesus gave His Great Commission to His disciples, He told them to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19).

 

On another occasion after Jesus rose from the dead, He said to His disciples:

 

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”(Acts 1:8)

 

Just a few chapters later, we see just that.  Chapter eight tells of the great persecution that broke out against Christians.  As they scattered into Judea and Samaria, they proclaimed the Gospel wherever they went.  In fact, Philip met an Ethiopian official and shared the Gospel and baptized him!

 

Two millennia later, we are blessed to have an Oromo Ethiopian Lutheran congregation worshiping on our campus!  By the way, do you know where in the world the Lutheran church is growing the fastest?  Ethiopia!  There are 8 million Lutherans now in Ethiopia, and the number keeps rising!

 

Africa, Latin America and Asia are the three parts of the world where Christianity is growing the fastest.  Through our mission and ministry partnership in Liberia, we are seeing the growth of the church in Liberia through all the churches that are being planted there.

 

Here in Las Vegas, it brings me great joy as a Pastor to see people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds gathering as brothers and sisters in Christ for worship, fellowship, spiritual growth and service.  To me, that’s a picture of what heaven will be like!  People from every tribe and nation and language and tongue gathered around the throne worshiping our God!

 

Christianity “a white man’s religion?”  Far from it!  

 

Jesus came into this world to save the whole world, every human being, because every human being is a sinner in need of His salvation from sin and death and the power of the devil.

 

We are all colored people.  And Jesus loves us all.  Enough to die for us all and to rise again so that whoever believes in Him will live forever with Him!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Who’s in Control?”

JULY 20, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

The more out-of-control our country seems to be getting, the more it makes you wonder who or what is controlling our country and our lives.

 

Health experts who keep contradicting themselves and others?

 

The various media outlets that keep spinning theirnarratives?

 

Politicians who are using and, in some cases, encouraging the chaos to gain power and control and political advantage?

 

The courts as they interpret and sometimes create laws?

 

The vast array of special interest groups that are telling us their version of history and dictating how we are to respond?

 

The mob as it causes mayhem and destruction and death?

 

George Soros as he funds the mayhem and destruction and death?

 

Social media as it bombards our minds 24/7/365?

 

Multi-millionaire athletes and celebrities who whine about how oppressed they are and how horrible this country is?

 

School administrators and teachers’ unions as their decisions and actions leave parents floundering over their children’s academic and social and emotional well-being, and their dilemma of trying to make a living, while providing their children with transportation and safety and meals? 

 

Whoever yells the loudest, causes the most damage, and makes the most demands?

 

Who or what is in control of our country and our lives?

 

Your answer may be, “Most or all of the above, and many more!”

 

With so many things spinning out of control, and with so many people trying to grab control of our lives and our world, its easy to feel like pawns on a chess board.

 

That’s exactly the position Satan wants us to believe we are in—helplessly and hopelessly trapped with no way out of this out-of-control world.

 

If that’s how you are feeling right now, can I give you some hope from God’s Word?

 

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.

He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.   No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.   “To whom will you compare me?  Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?  He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing. (Isaiah 40:22-26)

 

These verses put things in perspective, don’t they?

 

While our natural tendency in times like these is to have tunnel vision, we are reminded that God sees things through a wide-angle, eternal lens, and He wants us to do the same.  

 

God compares the people who seem bigger than life tograsshoppers.

 

God compares the politically powerful to a plant that withers and blows away.

 

And then God encourages us to lift up our eyes and look to the heavens, where we see the work of the One who created and sustains and knows intimately every detail of the vast starry host.

 

The One who controls the heavens is also control of this earth—even when we can’t see how He is in control.  

 

Nothing about the madness and mayhem of this sin-broken world surprises Him or worries Him.  Nothing in all of creation can separate us from His love.  And nothing in all of creation can keep Him from moving this sin-broken world towards His final, redeeming purposes.

 

In His Word, God has already told us how the story ends.  Everything in the new heavens and new earth will be under His gracious control, and all in this sin-broken creation that is so out-of-control will be gone. 

 

In His Word, God also tells us that the chapters leading up to the end of the story will be difficult.  As we go through these chapters, let’s read them in light of the end of the story.

 

Let’s let God be God and trust that He is still on the throne.  If we do, He promises we won’t be disappointed!

 

In Jesus’ name.

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Out of My Hands”

JULY 18, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

In the middle of contemporary Christian singer Matthew West’s song “Out of My Hands” are these lyrics:

 

It's out of my hands
It's out of my reach
It's over my head
And it's out of my league
There's too many things
That I don't understand
So it's into your will
And it's out of my hands

 

Can you relate to the singer’s words as you try to deal with these crazy times?

 

If you ever thought you were in control of your life and your world, I bet you have realized by now that any semblance of control has slipped right out of your hands.

 

Does it concern you that your life is out of your hands?  Does that reality leave you paralyzed in the present and fearful of the future?

 

As we have seen this year, things in this sin-broken world can get out of control in a real hurry.  And as a result, so can our lives.  

 

In such times, the best thing we can do as things fall out of our hands is to release them into God’s hands and His will.

 

In Psalm 31, King David makes it clear that things are certainly out of his hands.  Feeling as if he is being pursued by enemies from every direction, King David places his life and his trust in the hands of the Lord.  

 

Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. (v. 5)

 

But I trust in you, Lord; I say, “You are my God.”  My times are in your hands.  Deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. (vv. 14-15)

 

King David realized that the things that were happening in his life and his world were out of his hands.  And he was good with that because he trusted that his times and his life were in the Lord’s hands.   

 

The creative hands that formed this world and everything in it.  The nail-pierced hands that held our sin and guilt to the cross.  The victorious hands that continue to reach out to you.  Those are the hands that are there for you when things are out of your hands.  

 

May the things that slip out of your hands slip into His hands and His will.  And may His hands hold you and form in you an even greater trust in the One whose got the whole world, and you, in His hands.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Get Rid of It”

JULY 17, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

One of the blessings of being quarantined due to the coronavirus is that it has given people time for some long overdue purging of nonessential items in their households.  Things that have taken up space and have been of no use are being discarded.

 

Agreeing on which items are nonessential, and therefore worthy of purging, isn’t always easy.  What seems worthless to one person seems of great value to another.

 

“Do we get rid of it, or not?”  That is the question.

 

God’s Word makes it very clear what He wants us to purge from our lives.  He wants us to know what things are not only nonessential, but nonbeneficial to us and others.

 

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:29-32)

 

What does God say is nonessential and nonbeneficial in our lives?  What does God say we must get rid of as children of God?

 

Unwholesome talk that tears others down.

 

Bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, and every form of malice.

 

God’s Word is addressing things that are very familiar to us in our divisive, destructive culture.  It seems there are no limits to the ways people are tearing others down through their words.  It seems there are no limits to the ways people are expressing their rage and anger and brawling and slander and malice.

 

Some in our culture want this to happen.  When you can’t control people through fear, the next best way to control people is through anger.  

 

As God’s forgiven children, we are saints and sinners, and sometimes we get drawn into displaying such words and emotions.  And when we do, like the rest of the world, we just make matters worse.

 

Have your words about others or towards others been unwholesome words that are intended to tear others down?  Is that so you can somehow build yourself up?

 

Has bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice become your guiding force?  Have you drunk the poison of these emotions hoping it will kill someone else?

 

Get rid of it.

 

How?  Confess it to God.  Let God forgive it and get rid of it.  And let God give you the strength to live a better way—the way of kindness, compassion and forgiveness.

 

The devil and the world and our sinful nature want to distance and divide us and turn us into enemies.  But God wants to draw together and unite us in Him and His love.

 

As those who have experienced God’s kindness, compassion and forgiveness through His Son’s death on the cross, may we show the same towards others.

 

As we do, in a world that stinks, people will be drawn to the sweet fragrant of God’s sacrificial love for the world.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“IS YOUR TONGUE TWISTED?”

JULY 16, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. (James 3:9-10)

 

I’m not writing this devotion because I want to write it.  I’m writing this devotion because I need to write it--for myself.  And I figure if I need this devotion for myself, there are probably others who need it as well.

 

As I look at the events that are unfolding during this pandemic and pandemonium we are experiencing in this country, it’s a struggle for me to keep from being “tongue twisted.”

 

This may sound weird or even irreverent coming from a pastor, but during these crazy times, I can find it hard to praise God, and easy to curse human beings, who have been made in God’s image.  

 

I struggle at times with praising God because I have a hard time understanding why He is allowing things to unravel before our very eyes, and how He is in still in control, working all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.   

 

I struggle at times with praising God when He ignores my suggested timing and techniques for punishing those who are committing evil deeds.

 

Cursing human beings seems to be much easier right now.  I’m sure, like me, you can picture people in your mind that you would like to curse.  Like James and John, the “sons of thunder,” it’s tempting to want to call down lightning and destroy those who are living in rebellion against the Lord.

 

I know this should not be.  

 

And when I get to this point when it is difficult to praise God and easy to curse people, I must remind myself of three things.

 

First, all human beings, even those I want to curse, are made in God’s likeness.  

 

Second, all human beings, including me, deserve to be eternally cursed because of our sin. 

 

Third, all human beings have been forgiven because Jesus was willing to be cursed by God on the cross and to die to pay the punishment for our sin.

 

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” (Galatians 3:13)

 

If Jesus was willing to do that for us, how can we respond to show our gratitude?

 

Praise the God who made us, and all of humanity, in His likeness.

 

Pray for the people we would rather curse, asking God to change their hearts and lives, just as He has changed ours—through His grace and mercy.

 

Such praising and praying can help to make this world a better place.  

 

And more importantly, it can help to make heaven a fuller place!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

"Rock on!"

JULY 15, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do a lot of hiking in Utah.  The slogan, “Utah Rocks!” is certainly true!  The rock formations, in their wide variety, are amazing.  And while those rock formations stand as remarkable testimonies to the Flood, they also stand as amazing wonders of God’s creation, even in its fallen condition.

 

Not only is it true to say, “Utah Rocks!”  It’s even more true to say, “God Rocks!”  Or better yet, “God is our Rock!”  He is the Rock upon which the Church has always stood, and always will stand.

 

As I watch the news, I see images of protesters and rioters who have turned from defacing and destroying American historical statues and memorials, to defacing and destroying Christian statues and church buildings.  Such people have gone from thumbing their noses at America to thumbing their noses in rebellion against God.  Some insist on being accountable to no one, not even God, for their actions.

 

This is not unique to our current American Christian experience.  Throughout history, Christian churches and statues and memorials have been destroyed, and Christians have faced discrimination, persecution and martyrdom.  

 

During this pandemic, churches in many states are facing obvious discrimination at the hands of political leaders.  Some, it seems, are hopeful that they can shut down the churches and their influence on society.

 

In times like these, I find great comfort in various hymns I have learned and loved through the years.  One that came to my mind recently is the hymn, “Built on the Rock.”  Following are the lyrics of the first verse:

 

Built on the Rock the Church shall stand,

Even when steeples are falling;

Crumbled have spires in ev’ry land,

Bells still are chiming and calling,

Calling the young and old to rest,

Calling the souls of those distressed,

Longing for life everlasting.

 

Even though some individual churches are disintegrating or being destroyed, the Church shall stand.  That was Jesus’ promise to Peter, the other disciples, to you and me, and to the Church Universal.

 

“On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

 

On this rock (Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God), Jesus will build His Church.  And the powers of darkness will not overcome it.  When the battle is over, the Church will stand forever triumphant in Christ’s victory over sin, death and the devil.

 

In the meantime, let the Church bells chime and call out, inviting young and old to rest for souls distressed.  And let the Church stand on the Rock and give what only the Church can give to such souls, the gift of life everlasting in Jesus!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

"Race(s)"

JULY 14, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

How many races are there?  

 

According to God, there is one—the human race.

 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.  And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.  From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.  God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17:24-28a)

 

The God who made the world and everything in it, including humanity, made all human beings from one man, Adam.  We are all from the same race--the human race.

 

But this same human race, corrupted by the Fall, has created many races throughout history.  Why?  So one race can be superior to another, justifying its sinful actions towards the race it considers inferior.  

 

This isn’t just an American phenomenon.  This isn’t just U.S. history.  This is human history.  In the name of race, sinful human beings all over the world have persecuted, discriminated, enslaved, aborted, tortured, segregated, imprisoned and even committed genocide against others.

 

As sinful human beings, we have a sad history of being masters of the game, “Divide and Conquer.”

 

God’s desire in making the entire human race out of the one man, Adam, was that we would play a different game, “Hide and Seek.”

 

God did this (made all the nations from one man) so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.  (vv. 27-28a)

 

Why did God create all of humanity?  So we would seek Him and find Him.  

I remember when our son was young, he used to love playing, “Hide and Seek.”  The only problem was, he wasn’t very good at hiding.  When the person who was “IT” got close to him, he would begin to giggle and say, “Hiding!”  John made it easy for us to find him!

 

God wants it to be easy for us to find Him too.

 

But because of our sinful nature, we make it difficult to find God.  In fact, we can make it impossible because we distance ourselves from Him and focus on our life in this world.

 

God didn’t create us so that we would focus on how we and those like us get all we can out of this life, at the expense of those who aren’t like us.

 

God created us so that we would focus on Him and the life that is really life, the life that lasts forever, the life that unifies us with God and one another as forgiven sinners who are saved by God’s grace.

 

The mission of Christ’s Church becomes more complicated when the world commands that humanity plays the game, “Divide and Conquer.”  And the devil loves it when he can get people to focus on the surface things that make us different and divide us.

 

As Christians, we need the help of God’s Holy Spirit so we don’t fall into the trap of the devil and the world and our sinful nature.  If we as Christians fall into the trap and play, “Divide and Conquer,” people will look at us and see no reason to seek and find God.

 

Have you fallen for the world’s trap in these divisive times?  Have you forgotten that you are like every other human being in this world, a sinner that has fallen far short of God’s glory and who can only be saved by God’s grace through the saving work of His Son?

 

If you answered “yes” to the previous questions, the best thing you can do is confess that sin to God.  And you know what God will do?  He will seek you and find you and give you His forgiveness!

 

He’s been doing that since Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden and hid in their sin and guilt and shame.  “Adam, where are you?”

 

Like the world, we sometimes hide from God in our sin and guilt and shame.  But thank God He is willing to seek us and find us in our lost condition so we can be forgiven.

 

As forgiven children of God, this is a great time for us to seek and find people who are caught in the chaos and confusion of this sin-broken world, and to invite them to know Jesus, the One who alone finds us and unites us.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“How Will They Know We Are Christians?”

JULY 2, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

It seems there is not a lot of love out there these days.

 

And any efforts of showing love towards some people seem to come with the requirement of showing hate towards other people.

 

That’s because any attempts by the world to show love will always fall short.

 

God is love.  Whoever does not know God does not know love, so they cannot show true love.  And if the world is going to see and know what true love is, it is up to God’s people to show that love.  Consider these words of Jesus.

 

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

 

On the surface, this renewed command to love others, which is a new command based on Christ’s love for His disciples, seems simple and attainable.  Jesus’ disciples were called to love each other as Jesus had loved them.

 

It seems simple and attainable until you think of the motley crew of disciples that Jesus called to follow Him!  If Jesus were to start a revolution of love to change the world, you would think He would have used a better screening process when it came to choosing the ones He would leave this task to when He returned to heaven!

 

Matthew had been a tax collector, a Roman government IRS employee.  He was despised by the Jews for being a traitor and for taking financial advantage of them when he collected their taxes.

 

Simon the Zealot hated the Roman empire and wanted to play a role in destroying it.

 

James and John were called the “sons of thunder” and for good reason.  When a Samaritan village refused to show hospitality to Jesus and His disciples, they asked the Lord if He wanted them to call down fire from heaven to destroy the village.  As if they had the power to do so if the first place.

 

Peter was bold and loud and liked to engage his mouth before his brain.

 

Judas, the treasurer, would steal money from the treasury and betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

 

These and the other disciples didn’t seem to qualify as the top twelve in “Who’s Who for Changing the World.”

 

But Jesus would work through the least likely of people to change the world with the only thing that has the power to do so—His love.

 

But before the disciples could be used by the Lord to change the world with His love, they had to be changed by His love and love one another.  Not so easy considering their varied backgrounds.  If they didn’t first love one another in Christ, the world would have no way of being changed.

 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

 

This love that they were to have for one another, and for the world, was the kind of love that Jesus has for the world—a self-sacrificial, forgiving love.

 

God took a strange mix of people and filled them with the Holy Spirit so they could share Christ’s love with the world.  And billions of people have experienced the love of Christ and shared it with others so they can know the promise of forgiveness and eternal life too.

 

At the beginning of this devotion I stated that it seems there is not a lot of love out there these days.

 

That’s because all the media and the politicians and special interest groups want to do is stir up more hatred and division.  And if we allow it, we can become overwhelmed and think there is not a lot of love out there these days.

 

The good news is that God is still at work, behind the scenes, through His people, sharing love in lots of exciting and creative ways in these crazy days.  These things won’t make the news headlines, which is just as well, because they would get twisted to fit a predetermined worldly narrative.  God knows, and so do many of God’s people who are involved in sharing the love of Jesus in word and deed.

 

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we are made up of people from all kinds of backgrounds.  As the world sees that Christ’s love unites us, they will know we are Christians by our love.  And they will recognize the kind of love this world is missing, the kind of love this world needs, the kind of love only Christ’s disciples can provide—Christ’s self-sacrificial, forgiving love.

 

May we be used by Jesus to be His change-agents in this world, loving others as He has loved us.  May the world know us by our love.

 

In Jesus’ name.

“Erasing Our History”

JUly 1, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

In the midst of all the racial and political tension our country is facing, we are seeing  attempts to erase our country’s history.  Protesters and rioters are tearing down statues and defacing monuments.  Ironically, in their effort to erase our country’s history it has become clear that many of them don’t know our country’s history.  If they did, they would be more selective in what they are tearing down and defacing!

 

Some of the statues and memorials are painful reminders of our country’s sinful past.  But does tearing them down really erase our country’s history?  And does it fix the challenges we are dealing with today, that are a consequence of our country’s sinful history?  When we tear down statues of people that remind us of our country’s sinful past, we replace those statues with those of other sinners.

 

In many countries, statues and memorials serve as reminders of their sinful past so people don’t forget their sinful history and repeat the same behaviors.  They can and should serve as calls to repentance and renewed efforts to leave the past in the past and work together to create a better future for everyone.

 

On a personal note, have you ever wished you could erase your personal history?  Perhaps you have tried to do so in different ways.  The truth is, no matter how hard you try to erase your sinful history, it still shapes who you are today.  And the consequences you still deal with today because of your history can serve as a warning to you and others not repeat the same sins in the future.

 

King David is an example of one who tried his best to erase his sinful history.  After his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, resulting in her pregnancy, King David tried in different ways to make his sinful action disappear.

 

First, he called Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, off the battlefield to get some rest and get reacquainted with his wife.  That way, people would assume that Bathsheba’s baby was Uriah’s baby too.  But King David’s plan failed when Uriah refused to be with his wife in the comfort of his home when he knew his fellow soldiers were out in the battlefield sacrificing for their King and country.

 

King David’s next strategy turned deadly.  He ordered that the army commander place Uriah at the front lines of the battle, and that the army pull back, leaving Uriah to die at the hands of the enemy.

 

With Uriah’s death, King David thought he had erased his sinful history until he was confronted one day by the Prophet Nathan.  David’s sin and shame were exposed, and he was about to discover that his sinful actions would have consequences for the rest of his life, and literally for generations.

 

But King David also discovered that God is willing to erase our sinful past so we can have an eternal future with him.

 

In Psalm 32, King David relives how he tried to erase his sinful history, and how God erased his sinful history.

 

Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.   Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.  (Psalm 32:1-5)

 

King David tried to cover up his sinful history, but it didn’t work.  Only when he confessed his sinful history to the Lord, was it covered with God’s forgiveness.  

 

God does the same thing with you and me.  Are you still trying to erase your history?  Cover up your sinful past?  

 

There’s a better way.  Confess that sinful history to God, and he will erase your sin and your guilt.  Consider these wonderful promises from God.

 

First, from a Psalm of King David:

 

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  (Psalm 103:11-12)

 

And from the Prophet Isaiah:

 

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25) 

 

Our God erases our sinful history, not by destroying us, but by forgiving us and choosing to remember our sins no more!

 

And with our sinful history erased by God, we can live in the present, free of shame and guilt, and full of joy and peace and hope, and we can live to make the future better for all, in this life, and for eternity.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“We Are One”

JUNE 26, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

As sinful human beings, our history is one of struggling to be united as one.  Right after the fall, the battle of the sexes began.  With Adam and Eve’s children, Cain and Abel, sibling rivalry began.  At times, people are able to rally others together for a while in response to a cause or a catastrophe.  But even in those times, walls of division seem to get erected quickly.  We end up focusing on what makes us different.  Even our calls for diversity seem to be efforts to further divide us from one another.

 

I was talking with a black gentleman recently.  He brought up the frustration he had over what Darwinian evolution has done to harm the human race.  And he was right on.

 

If evolution is true, and survival of the fittest is the driving force behind it, then if we are different from one another, one of us is further evolved, and therefore superior, to the other.  And our world has always been full of individuals or groups willing to step in and determine who is more evolved/superior.  

 

As an example, Hitler, in his attempt to create the Master Race, saw Jews as inferior and unworthy of survival.  So he set out to try and exterminate the Jewish race.

 

In various parts of the world, tribes have viewed each other as inferior.  By identifying characteristics that are different, tribes have fought for their claim of supremacy.  And they have used that as justification for the ways they have treated one another.  One tribe stealing young people from another tribe and selling them to as slaves or for human trafficking is an example.

 

In America, rather than being a “melting pot” we have remained more like “stew” with each part of the recipe remaining separate from the others.  

 

I’m glad that God, our Creator and Savior, doesn’t look at humanity the same way.  He sees us all the same.  We are all created in His image.  We have all been tainted and tarnished by sin.  We all deserve His earthly and eternal wrath and punishment for our sin.  That’s the bad news for us all.

 

But here’s the good news for us all!  

 

Because of His grace and mercy, God sent His Son to atone for our sin.

 

Through His death on the cross, we who were divided and distanced from God have been united and brought near to God once again!  Through His atoning death on the cross, Jesus made us “at one” with God.  And in Baptism, connected personally to Christ’s saving work, we are made “at one” with one another.  We are baptized, not just into a relationship with God, but into His family of forgiven children.

 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

 

In these verses, we see how God removes what divides us and replaces it with what Jesus has done to unite us.  

 

You are all children of God.

All of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

You are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

Because of our Baptism, God doesn’t see us as different from one another.  Instead, clothed in Christ and His righteousness, when God sees us, He sees us through the lens of Jesus’ saving work.  We come to baptism equally as sinners.  We come out of baptism equally as forgiven children of God, one in Christ Jesus.

 

Our race and status and sex don’t get washed away in baptism.  They just don’t define who we really are.  And they aren’t the basis for our unity and oneness.  We are defined by God’s gracious act of claiming us, clothing us and calling us together as one in Christ through Baptism to be His children forever.

 

My prayer is that the world will see our oneness in Christ and be drawn to know Him as the One who can make them one with God and one another too.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Shaping Us”

JUNE 25, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

 

We are all a work in progress!

 

And there are many forces at work in our culture trying to shape us and mold us and form us into their image and likeness.  Sometimes we are willing to let them do so.

 

Are we as willing to let God do so?  Are we willing to let Him shape us and mold us and form us into His image and likeness?

 

Are we willing to recognize that we are the clay, the work of His hand?  

 

Are we willing to recognize the Lord as our potter?

 

We would be wise to do so.

 

This world has a way of throwing us, like a lump of clay, onto a spinning wheel, leaving us deformed and disoriented and discouraged.

 

Sometimes, in our sin, we have a way of throwing ourselves onto that spinning wheel.  And when we do, we wonder how our sinful acts and words and deeds are going to shape us and our future.  Is our life going to spin out of control?

 

In those times, God is there for us, with His gentle hands, to reform what was deformed by our sin and the sin of others, and to transform us to be more like Him.

 

We are the work of His hands.

 

The same hands that formed all of creation.

The same hands that healed the deformed and diseased. 

The same hands that raised the dead and dying.

The same hands that blessed children.

The same hands that fashioned our salvation.

The same hands that held our sins to the cross.

 

Those loving hands are the hands that are forming us.

 

And we can trust that they are forming us into vessels that will carry the power and promise of His eternal treasures into our world.

 

 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  (2 Corinthians 4:6-7)

 

We are the clay.  The Lord is the potter.  And He is continuing to form us into the vessels, the jars of clay, that He can use for sharing His glory with the world.  

 

May we trust in Him and continue to be a work in progress for Him.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson


“Protesting”

JUNE 24, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

At times, it may seem that protesting is a new phenomenon, maybe because it gets so much media attention.  But did you know that throughout human history, protesting has occurred?

 

Sometimes, people protest against God.

 

Adam and Eve protested in the Garden of Eden because, even though God gave them everything they would ever need, they wanted to be more than God created them to be.

 

Cain protested against God because God approved of Abel’s offering of his first and his best and God didn’t approve of Cain’s offering which was nothing more than an afterthought.  And in protest against God, he killed his brother Abel.

 

Sometimes, God protests against people.

 

Because God saw how great man’s wickedness had become, and how every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time, the Lord was grieved that He made humanity and His heart was filled with pain.  In protest against such evil, God sent a flood to wipe sinful humanity off the face of the earth and to make a new beginning with Noah and His family.  God called them to be fruitful and to multiply and to fill the earth.

 

Some time later, humanity decided to do just the opposite.  Gathered as one, they decided to build a city with a tower that reached up to the heavens (or so they thought) so they could make a name for themselves.  God protested against their sinful and prideful actions and confused their language and scattered them all over the face of the earth.

 

Sometimes, people protest for God.

 

One of my favorite examples of this kind of protesting is found in the third chapter of the book of Daniel.  It’s the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego protesting for God and against King Nebuchadnezzar.

 

The Challenge They Faced

 

The Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had a 90-foot tall image of gold made, and he demanded that at the sound of the music, everyone in his kingdom, including the Jewish exiles, had to bow down to that image, or they would be thrown into a fiery furnace.

 

Their Response

 

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego peacefully protested against Nebuchadnezzar’s decree.  When the king demanded that they bow down to the golden image, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied:

 

“King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)


The Result

 

Enraged, King Nebuchadnezzar had the furnace cranked up seven times hotter, and had Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego bound and thrown into the furnace.  God rescued them and the king was amazed and called for them to come out of the furnace.  And this was the king’s response:

 

Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.  Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.”  Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon. (Daniel 3:28-30)

 

All because Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego peacefully protested against King Nebuchadnezzar.  They obeyed God’s first commandment and refused to be forced by an earthly ruler to worship anything or anyone but Him.

 

Sometimes, when the heat is cranked up against us as God’s people, we react in fear instead of faith.  We seek to protectourselves rather than protest for God.  And for all those times we have sinned in this and other ways, God protested by causing His anger and wrath over our sin to pour out on Jesus.  On the cross, Jesus went through the fiery furnace for us so that we could be forgiven and set free to live for God.

 

I wonder what God can do through us if we are faithful and obedient to Him, and peacefully protest for Him--like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego--when others try to make us worship gods other than Him.  I guess we won’t know until we try!

“Who Can You Trust?”

JUNE 23, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

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/direct your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

 

It’s one thing to trust in the Lord for eternal life.

 

It’s another thing to trust in the Lord for the entirety of your life.

 

As earthly, sinful mortals, we must trust in our eternal Lord and Savior for eternal life.  We have no other chance of getting to our heavenly destination.

 

But why is it that as earthly, sinful mortals, we forget we must trust in the same Lord for the entirety of life to give us directions to follow on our way to our heavenly destination?

 

We seem to recognize our need to totally depend upon God for eternal life, but we often fail to recognize our need to depend upon Him for this earthly life.

 

We tend to believe that we can lean on our own understanding and depend upon ourselves.  That is until we suddenly find our lives and our world are out of control. 

 

In such times, leaning on our own understanding doesn’t get us anywhere, because we can’t understand what is happening, much less what will be happening in the future.

 

That’s why these words from Proverbs 3:5-6 are so important.

 

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart”

 

Half-hearted trust in the Lord won’t do, because half-hearted trust is no trust at all.  That’s like partial obedience.

 

The Lord invites whole-hearted trust in Him.  After all, He is the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe and the Savior of our souls.  If you can’t trust Him, who can you trust?

 

“Lean not on your own understanding”

 

If we insist that we lean on our own understanding, we will learnthe hard way how limited that understanding is—especially when our understanding is compared with the God who knows all and sees all and is over all and is working through all things for His eternal purposes.

 

As the prophet Isaiah reminds us:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

 

“In all your ways acknowledge Him”

 

To acknowledge God is to admit that He is God and we are not.  It’s to rely on His divine wisdom and not our human reason and emotions.  It’s to recognize Him as the Lord of every aspect of our lives.  It’s to let go of the need to try to be in control and to recognize that He is the One who is ultimately in control.

 

“He will make your paths straight/direct your paths”

 

Not sure what direction your life or this world is heading?  You’re in good company these days!  

 

But God knows what direction your life and this world are heading.  And He is glad to give you directions.  He wants to make your paths straight, to direct your paths.

 

That doesn’t mean your path will be easy and comfortable.  But it does mean that through His Word God will reveal the earthly direction for you to go as you journey towards your eternal destination.  

 

And when He directs your earthly path, He will teach you and comfort you and assure you and strengthen you on the way so that it becomes easier for you to “trust in the Lord with all your heart”—not just for eternity, but for the entirety of your life!

“A History Buffet”

JUNE 22, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
 
Israel’s history is our history.
 
And according to the Holy Spirit, it is important that we understand their history so we don’t make the same mistakes they did.  Consider this verse from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the 10th chapter:
 
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (v. 6)
 
According to this verse, the Holy Spirit wants us to learn both the good and the bad of Israel’s history to help us in our spiritual journey as God’s children.
 
First, we hear the good history:
 
For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea.  They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (v. 1-4)
 
In these verses, we are reminded of the good things that God did for the Israelites.
 
God delivered His people from certain death by parting the Red Sea and letting them pass through on dry ground, while drowning the Egyptian army charging after them.
 
God sustained His people by providing manna and water to satisfy their hunger and thirst on their journey to the Promised Land. 
 
The same God has delivered us from our enemies of sin and death and the power of the devil.  And He has sustained us, physically, and spiritually through Word and Sacrament, on our journey towards the Promised Land of Heaven.
 
That’s good history to remember!
 
But God also wants His people to remember the bad history.  In spite of all that God had done for His people, they didn’t act like His people.
 
Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness . . . Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.”  We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.  We should not test Christ as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.  And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. (v. 5, 7-10)
 
That’s some bad history!  And you can imagine why God’s people wouldn’t want to remember that history because it points out the sins of God’s people and the consequences that resulted from their sins. 
 
How about just erasing that bad part of history and just keeping the good part?
 
“Not so fast,” says God.
 
 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. (v. 11)
 
God wants us to also know the bad history of His people to warn us so we don’t commit the same sins and suffer the consequences as a result.
 
It’s important for everyone to learn from history and its warnings.  But we live in a time when many don’t want to do so.  Instead, many would rather play with history to suit their taste or their personal agenda.
 
Many like to play the game, “A History Buffet.”
 
In this game, each player grabs a plate, and only puts on the plate those items that sit their taste or fit their narrative or justify their agenda.
 
Whenever there is social and political turmoil, lots of people sign up to play this game.
 
Because of our sinful nature, we are all guilty to some degree of filling our plates and shoving our plates in others’ faces and insisting our plates define reality.
 
And in the process, what we are doing is insisting that life must make me feel good about myself, my worldview, my position, my rationalization, and my sin.
 
Thank God, as forgiven followers of Jesus, we are among those “on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (v. 11).
 
We are part of the age that began with Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, and that will end when He returns in glory and judgment on the Last Day.
 
Ultimately, history, no matter what we try to make or remake of it, is HIStory.  It’s the story of how our Savior Jesus is working through everything in this sin-broken world to ultimately accomplish His redeeming purposes.  And when He does, there will be no more need to learn from human history, because history will be history.
 
Instead, we will get to celebrate HIStory of salvation forevermore.  The book of Revelation describes that celebration in this way:
 
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.  And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)
 
Until then, as forgiven sinners, let’s learn from history, and fill our plates with salvation history, so more people can be invited to know of Jesus and His story of salvation too.
 
That’s HIStory worth repeating!

“Cacophony”

JUNE 19, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“Have it your way.”

“You’re entitled to it.”

“You can do what you want with your body.”

“You need to express yourself.”

“The world revolves around you.”

“You’ve got to look out for number one.”

 

Our culture hasn’t just spoon-fed us this philosophy since birth, it has shoved this philosophy down our throats!

 

Add to that our sinful natural tendency to be inwardly focused, and it’s the recipe for chaos.  And if everyone follows that philosophy, the world becomes a cacophony.

 

Imagine what it would be like if all the members of a symphony orchestra followed this philosophy.  Instead of each musician playing their part(s) at their time(s), imagine every musician playing as if they were the star of the entire symphony.

 

Trumpets and tubas and trombones blasting like elephants.

Percussionists pounding everything that will make noise.

Musicians shoving one another off center stage.

 

Forget the sheet music.

And who needs a conductor?

 

If you were in the audience, would it sound harmonious?

If you were to look at the conductor and musicians, would you see happiness?

 

Chances are, you would leave your seat and get away from the chaotic cacophony!

 

Once again, our culture is “playing” a chaotic cacophony.  And each “musician” is determined to be the loudest in order to be heard above all the rest.  If it takes pushing another “musician” off center stage, all the better. 

 

At this rate, if you are waiting for this chaotic cacophony to somehow turn into a peaceful, harmonious melody, don’t hold your breath!

 

Until we all remember our place in the symphony and turn back to the Conductor and the sheet music He has provided, the chaotic cacophony will continue.  

 

While we can’t expect a godless world to turn to our Conductor (God) and His sheet music (Bible), as children of God, we can certainly do so.  And as we do, a peaceful, harmonious melody can attract people away from the chaotic cacophony and to the Conductor of our souls and our salvation.

 

Here’s one sheet of music we find in God’s Word.

 

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

 

Sounds like just the opposite of a chaotic cacophony.  Sounds like just the opposite of our culture currently.  Sounds more like a soothing symphony.  

 

Let’s allow God our Conductor to be on center stage where He belongs.  Let’s allow the sheet music of His Word guide our lives.  Let’s follow the Holy Spirit’s prompting and play our part(s) at the right time(s) so others can enjoy God’s symphony of forgiveness and salvation so they can experience peace and reconciliation with Him and with one another.

 

Let’s teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.  God’s harmony.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson


“Please Pass the Salt”

JUNE 18, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Because I have very low blood pressure, my doctor tells me I need more salt in my diet.  I’m guessing for many of you, your doctor tells you just the opposite!

 

I hope you can agree with Jesus that more salt is needed in our world.

 

Do you know that Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13a)?  What does that mean?

 

Salt was once a rare and valuable commodity that had great political and economic importance in the world.  

 

In fact, salt was so valuable it was used as money.  The English word “salary” comes from the Latin word “salt.”  Roman soldiers received an allowance of salt for their pay.  Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “He’s not worth his salt.”  That saying means, “He’s not earning his pay.”

 

In ancient times, salt was also used as a preservative.  You could say it was the refrigerator of the ancient world.  Without it, meats and other foods would spoil and rot and decay.

 

While salt isn’t as valuable and rare in our day, it still plays many important roles.

 

Salt is important for our health.  It maintains electrolyte balance between the fluid inside and outside of cells, preventing dehydration.

 

In colder climates, salt is spread on icy roads to melt snow and ice so cars can drive safely through winter storms.

 

Salt is used for chlorinating the water that we drink and swim in, and it is used in water softening systems to remove minerals.  

 

So what does this have to do with Jesus saying, “You are the salt of the earth”?

 

As salt, as a follower of Jesus, you are called to be a moral preservative.

 

This culture is morally spoiling and rotting and decaying right before our eyes.  St. Peter reminds us how to live our lives, as temporary residents, in such a world:

 

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:11-12)

 

As salt, as a follower of Jesus, you are called to be a taste enhancer.

 

Much is being said and done in bad taste.  St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Colossian Christians how we are called to live and speak:

 

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6)

 

As salt, as a follower of Jesus, you are called to prevent spiritual dehydration.

 

In this challenging and changing time we are facing, many people are finding themselves spiritually dehydrated, and they don’t know how to get rehydrated.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus reminds us that He is our Thirst Quencher:

 

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

 

As salt, as a follower of Jesus, you are called to clear the road for people.  John the Baptizer is an example of one who cleared the road for people so they would be invited to know Jesus as their Savior:

 

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Matthew 3:1-3)

 

I hope that you have recognized by now just how valuable you are as the salt of the earth!  As the Lord sprinkles you in this world, may you . . . 

 

S eason the world with the grace of God.

A dd some moral preservative to this world.

L iquify hearts that are spiritually dehydrated.

T haw out and clear the road for peoples’ hearts to be open to Jesus.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Watching Over You”

JUNE 17, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Contact tracing is getting a lot of attention these days.  Although it’s nothing new, the use of contact tracing apps for dealing with this COVID-19 pandemic has created division and dissension over its pros and cons.  

 

Because there is a lag of time between infection and the onset of symptoms, people can contract the virus and unknowingly pass it on to others.  So being able to identify and warn individuals who have been exposed to the infected person, through various forms of technology, could be a way to prevent and beat COVID-19.

 

But many are concerned that the technology used in such contact tracing could be used by the government or technology companies to use their personal information for other purposes.  

 

Hence the division and dissension over its pros and cons.  While such apps could help to prevent people from getting the virus, what happens to the privacy of those who use such apps?  

 

Recent surveys show that a large majority of people who are opposed to contact tracing apps have trust issues.  They don’t trust the health departments, the governments or the tech companies.  And if that’s the case, the benefit of such contact tracing will be limited.

 

What’s the best way to prevent COVID-19 from spreading to people without making people feel someone is watching over them?  The answer to that question remains to be seen.

 

In the midst of all the challenges and questions we are dealing with in these uncertain and unsettling times, I’m glad we have a God who is watching over us.  And He doesn’t need a contact tracing app to do so!  Not only that, we can trust Him as He watches over us!  

 

Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”  even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:7-12)

 

Wherever you are on this earth, God is there, watching over you with His loving care.

 

Even before your birth, God was there, watching over you with His loving care.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.   I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place . . . Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:13-16)

 

From the time you were conceived in your mother’s womb until the time you are received into heaven’s glory, God will always be with you.

 

He is watching over you, and because He is, you can trust in Him.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What Makes You Weary?”

JUNE 16, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
 
My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. (Psalm 119:28)
 
What makes you weary?
 
Chronic pain?
Ongoing tension in a relationship at work or school or home?
A fruitless job search?
A debilitating disease?
A relentless addiction?
Political division?
Racial tension?
Constant temptation?
Unending grief?
The stress of an over-scheduled life?
The news?
 
As we live out our lives in this sin-broken world, it is easy for our souls to become weary with sorrow.  And that sorrow makes sense.  Our hearts grieve over the fact that things in this world aren’t as they should be.  Because of sin, things in this world aren’t as God intended them to be. 
 
Do you know what else makes me weary?  When I try to carry all the burdens of this sin-broken world by myself.  Have you ever found yourself doing the same thing?
 
I have a plaque on my desk with this constant reminder:
 
“Instead of carrying the world on your shoulders, talk to the One who carries the Universe on His.” 
 
God never intended for you to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.  He knows you can’t.  But He can.
 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Isaiah 40:28-29)
 
As frail human beings, you and I grow tired and weary quite easily.  But the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth, never grows tired or weary.
 
In fact, as the prophet Isaiah reminds us, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.”
 
The One whose strength and power are limitless knows our strength and power are limited.  So He encourages us to rely on His strength and power instead of our own.
 
How does God strengthen us?  According to His word. (Psalm 119:28)
 
When we read God’s written word or listen to God’s spoken word, we are reminded and reassured of His promises, and we find the strength and power we need for living.
 
Not only that, we find the One who is the Word made flesh inviting us to come to Him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)
 
The One who carried the weight of the world’s sin to the cross knows what it is like to be weary with sorrow and familiar with suffering (Isaiah 53:3).  Through His death on the cross, He has freed us from the burden of sin and guilt and shame.  With that load removed, we are strengthened by His forgiveness and resurrection power to live for Him! 
 
One day our souls will no longer be weary with sorrow.
 
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)
 
Sorry sorrow.  There will be no place for you in heaven.
 
As we live out our lives on this earth, whenever our souls become weary with sorrow, let’s find strength and rest for our souls in the Savior of our souls.
 
In Jesus’ name.


Pastor Craig Michaelson

“FREEDOM”

JUNE 15, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

What is freedom?

 

In our culture today many would answer that freedom is the right to do whatever you want with your life, no matter how it impacts the lives of others.

 

If everyone lived with that understanding of freedom, then freedom would be a synonym for anarchy.

 

In St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia, we find another definition for freedom.

 

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”   If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. (Galatians 5:13-15)

 

St. Paul reminds us as Christians that we are not to use our freedom to indulge the flesh, or sinful nature.  Freedom is no license to sin.

 

Rather than being freed to selfishly and pridefully sin to please ourselves, we have been freed to selflessly and humbly serve others in love.

 

That’s what Jesus did for us.

 

Our freedom wasn’t free.  In order to free us from our slavery to sin and death and the power of the devil, Jesus left the glory of heaven, and in loving humility He gave His life on a cross to pay the penalty for our sins so we could be set free.  The cost of our freedom was priceless.

 

As those who have been set free by Christ’s forgiveness, rather than using our freedom to do whatever we want, we want to use our freedom to do whatever God wants.

 

And what does God want?  “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 

 

Sadly, instead of loving our neighbors as ourselves, we are biting and devouring and destroying one another.

 

We are living in a very difficult time.  But difficult times are often the best times to be the Church!  

 

The world has lost its way.  And we are the ones who know the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life.   And we have the privilege and responsibility of showing the world the real way to live in true freedom.

 

Not by hurting others, but by healing others.

Not by fighting others, but by forgiving others.

Not by preying on others, but by praying for others.

Not by seeking revenge against others, but by seeking reconciliation with others.

Not by tearing others down, but by building others up.

Not by finding faults in others, but by finding faults in ourselves.

 

Let’s love our neighbors by kneeling with them at the foot of the cross.

 

There, together at the cross, we can humbly admit that we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s will.  We can acknowledge that from God’s perspective, we are all equally guilty.

 

There, together at the cross, we can seek forgiveness from God and one another.

 

And there, together at the cross, we can stand, freed by Christ’s forgiveness, and we can go and show others in the world a better way to live with one another.  God’s way.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“I Will Fear No Evil”

JUNE 13, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4)

 

Do you feel like you are going through a dark valley right now?  Are you afraid?

 

It seemed like we were just beginning to walk our way through the dark valley of a pandemic.  And now we find ourselves walking through the dark valley of racial tension and unrest.

 

In the dark valley of the pandemic, there has been a lot of fear.  And there has been a lot of evil.

 

In the dark valley of social unrest, there has been a lot of fear.  And there has been a lot of evil.

 

In such times we need to remember that the Lord is our Shepherd.  Then we can say with the Psalmist, King David, “I will fear no evil.”

 

“I will fear no evil . . . for you are with me.”

 

Sometimes, when we walk through the dark valleys of life, we feel like we are walking through them all alone.  We forget that God is with us, walking alongside of us.  God promises to never leave us or forsake us.

 

No matter what dark valley you are walking through right now--and it may have nothing to do with the pandemic and pandemonium that is constantly in the news--

you aren’t walking through the valley alone.  The Lord your Shepherd is with you.

 

And the Lord your Shepherd is equipped to protect you and guide you as you walk through the dark valley.

 

“I will fear no evil . . . your rod and staff, they comfort me.”

 

A shepherd uses a rod for many things.  He uses it to count his sheep, to guide and prod his sheep, and to protect his sheep from predators.  

 

A shepherd uses the crook of his staff to snag and rescue his sheep from danger, whether the danger was self-inflicted or from predators and other predicaments. 

 

That’s what the Lord, your Shepherd, does for you with His rod and His staff.  

 

Rest assured that the Lord your Shepherd is with you as you walk through the dark valleys of this life.  He will not leave you stuck in the dark valleys.  He is with you, keeping track of you, guiding you, prodding you, protecting you, and rescuing you.

 

And remember that Jesus, your Good Shepherd, walked through the darkest valley of all, the dark valley of death on a cross, and He rose again to assure you that you will make it through the dark valleys of this life—even the dark valley of the shadow of death--to your heavenly home.

 

That’s why you can say, “I will fear no evil.”

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Listen Up!”

JUNE 12, 2020


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

On a “few” occasions, my Mother shared these words of advice with me:

 

“God gave you two ears, which are always to be open, and one mouth, which is usually supposed to be closed, for a reason.”

 

Those words reflect what James, the apostle and half-brother of Jesus, said:

 

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. (James 1:19-20)

 

Be quick to listen.

Be slow to speak.

Be slow to become angry.

 

Our sinful human tendency is to turn that upside down.  That’s true all the time, but it’s especially in times when relations are tense.

 

We are quick to become angry.

We are quick to speak.

We are slow to listen.

 

That’s what we’ve been experiencing throughout the coronavirus pandemic and the pandemonium from all the racial and social tension.

 

There are people, not just speaking, but screaming at one another, and trying to force their viewpoints on others.  Are you one of them? 

  

At the same time, very few people are listening.  Some don’t want to listen because that could force them to consider things in new ways.  Are you one of them?

 

The words from James are wise words for everyone, but especially for children of God.  And so are the following words found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs.

 

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance. (Proverbs 1:5)

 

To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)

 

The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)

 

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.  The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly. (Proverbs 15:1-2)

 

We don’t learn anything when all we are willing to do is speak.

We learn when we are willing to listen.

 

And we often help others heal simply by being willing to listen.

 

The most important voice we need to listen to all the time is God’s voice.  As we do, He  helps us to discern what others are saying, and He guides us to speak the truth in love.

 

And when we fail and are slow to listen and quick to speak and become angry, He is willing to listen to our confession of our sin and forgive us.  

 

Let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

 

Let’s be used by God to bring healing to others.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Proper Focus”

JUNE 11, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

 

It’s easy to lose heart when we lose focus of the big picture.

 

The tyranny and chaos and angst of the moment can cause us to lose sight of the joy and peace and bliss of eternity.

 

That’s why St. Paul encourages us to shift our focus.

 

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

 

Our culture tries to force us to live for the moment, to fix our eyes on what is seen.  

 

But God wants us to live for eternity, to fix our eyes on what is unseen.

 

Only then will we see the reality that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

 

Light and momentary?

 

Our troubles don’t always feel light and momentary, do they?  They can feel heavy and never-ending. 

 

Unless we shift our focus from the temporary to the eternal.

 

The glory that awaits us in heaven far surpasses the grind that weighs us down on earth.  And it renews us as we live out our temporary lives on this earth.

 

God’s Word is encouraging us not to put more weight on today than it deserves.  Today is like a drop of water in the ocean of eternity.  Whatever weight from this sin-broken world is weighing you and me down today is nothing when compared to the eternal glory that awaits us on the Day of Christ’s glorious return!

 

Some mockingly say that Christians have their eyes so fixed on heaven that they are of no earthly good.  But the opposite is true.  The more our eyes are fixed on heaven, the more we are of earthly good because we are living for the things that matter most.

 

When we live with an eternal perspective, we can face each day with a sense of peace and hope and joy that eludes those who are just focused on the moment at hand.  We can see that today is just one page in the book of salvation history, and we can remember how the story ends!

 

Let’s fix our eyes on what’s eternal.  Then we won’t have to worry about losing heart over what’s temporal, and we can put our hearts into what really matters.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Overcome Evil with Good”

JUNE 10, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16)

 

As we consider these words of warning to the Christians in Ephesus, we can certainly see how much they apply to us in our time and place as well.

 

The days are evil.

 

The truth is, all days, since the fall of Adam and Eve, have been evil.  But there are times in history where evil rears its ugly head and covers our world with a dark cloud.

 

This is one of those times.  

 

So how do we respond to evil?

 

The world’s response is to return evil for evil.  Revenge and rage and rioting and robbing and ranting and ruining buildings and lives and livelihoods are examples of evil we are seeing now.  But multiplying evil does not get rid of evil.  It allows evil to grow exponentially.

 

The only proper way to respond to evil is God’s way.

 

Do not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

 

Evil can never be overcome by more evil.  It can only be overcome by good.  And what’s good is what is what shows loving obedience to God’s will and godly love to humanity.  That is the only force that can overcome evil.  And that is the only force that can change lives for good.

 

One of the greatest examples in the Bible of good overcoming evil is found in the life of Joseph (Genesis 37-50).

 

As you may know, Joseph was despised by his older brothers.  They were so jealous of Joseph that they hated him and decided to commit evil against him.

 

Once as Joseph was approaching his brothers, they plotted to kill Joseph.  They seized him and threw him in a pit and left him for dead.

  

And then, Joseph’s brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming their way.  They decided there would be no gain in killing their brother and covering up his death.  Instead, they would sell him to the Ishmaelites.  “After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.”  With brothers like that, who needs enemies!

 

As Joseph’s journey of injustice continues, the Ishmaelites take him to Egypt and sell him as a slave to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials and the captain of the guard.  But God was with Joseph.  And as Potiphar’s slave, Joseph lived and served with godliness and integrity.  And God blessed Potiphar’s household as a result.  Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household.

 

But when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph and he refused, she did evil against Joseph, falsely charging Joseph with trying to rape her.  The result?  Joseph ends up in prison for a crime he didn’t committed.  More injustice.

 

But God was with Joseph.  Once again, Joseph lived with godliness and integrity, and as a result, he was put in authority over the prison.

 

Eventually, the Pharaoh called for Joseph.  He had been having disturbing dreams and he wanted Joseph to interpret them.  God helped Joseph interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.  Following seven years of bountiful harvest there would be seven years of famine.  Egypt needed to plan accordingly.

 

Pharaoh was so impressed that he made Joseph second in command over all of Egypt.  Joseph was to oversee the food storage and distribution program.  As Pharaoh’s dreams came true, Egypt had the food they needed, with plenty left over to sell to people from the surrounding countries. 

 

And this is where the story takes an interesting turn.  Joseph’s brothers, whose actions resulted in so much evil and injustice being done against Joseph, came in search of grain.  

 

Joseph recognized his brothers, but they didn’t recognize him.  For all they knew or cared, Joseph was dead and gone.

 

What a great time for Joseph to get his revenge!  What a great time for Joseph to return evil for evil!

 

But Joseph was led by God to overcome evil with good.  After Joseph finally revealed his identity to his brothers, they feared for their lives.  They knew what they deserved, and they knew that Joseph had the power to give them what they deserved.

 

But Joseph decided to overcome their evil with good.  He calmed their fears and said to his brothers:

 

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

 

What a beautiful picture of what God is calling us to do in such a time as this.  While many are trying to use this time to harm others, God intends it for good and for the saving of many lives.  

 

Instead of returning evil for evil, may God help us to overcome evil with good so many lives can be saved, now and forever.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

"PEACE"

JUNE 9, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Every day, through my ministry messages, my hope has been to apply God’s Word to what we are experiencing in these difficult times in order to help us to look through a biblical lens as we respond to all that is going on around us.  As we consider the hostility and division in our country, this portion of Scripture seems relevant.

 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall ofhostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.  (Ephesians 2:14-18)

 

Not everyone in our country wants peace right now.  Some want hostility and division and violence and destruction.  And they are doing everything they can to fuel it.

 

Our country is not alone.  If you look all over our world today, and throughout history, you see a sad record of a sin-broken world filled with hostility and division.

 

St. Paul dealt with a lot of hostility and division during his ministry.  In his case, it was Jews v. Non-Jews/Gentiles/Pagans/Uncircumcised.  The Jews had all kinds of labels for those who weren’t in their group.  And they didn’t believe anyone outside of their group belonged in their group.  In their minds, no one else deserved to be considered the children of God because it was the Jews who were the chosen people, and it was the Jews who were given the Ten Commandments and the Covenants.  Everyone else was an outsider and an enemy.  There was a barrier, a wall of hostility, between the Jews and others.

 

But with Christ’s coming, that would all begin to change!

 

Jesus, our Prince of Peace, came to destroy the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between Jews and non-Jews.  And in the process, He would make one new humanity out of the two!  

 

The only way one new humanity could be created out of two, the only way reconciliation could be realized, was through Christ’s death on the cross.  There on the cross, Jesus reconciled the entire sinful, rebellious human race to the holy, righteous God.  The barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, that separated us from God because of our sin, was removed and access was granted to God once again.

 

By removing the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility between sinners and God through His death on the cross, Jesus has also opened the way to remove the barrier, the dividing wall between sinful human beings.

 

That’s something no political party or program or special interest group can do.  That’s something only Jesus can do through me and you.  

 

As we all come in honesty and humility and bow in repentance over our sin at the foot of the cross, the forgiveness Christ won for us fills us with peace and the desire to be reconciled and at peace with all other members of the one race—the human race.  

 

As brothers and sisters in Christ, we know what unites us all is not our skin, but our sin.  What unites us all isn’t our race, but God’s grace.  What unites us all is the peace and reconciliation we have with God and one another through Christ’s death on the cross.

 

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28)

 

United in Christ!

 

Because we are united in Christ, we can be united in our mission of inviting more people to know Him so they too can experience the peace and the unity and the reconciliation and restoration He has won for us through His death on the cross.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

“United”

JUNE 8, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! (Psalm 133:1)

 

It was an amazing thing to behold last Saturday!

 

Pastors and members from churches all over Las Vegas gathered, not to protest, but to pray and praise the Lord during a five hour walk through the historic west side of Las Vegas.

 

There were Blacks, Whites, Hispanics, Asians and others gathered as one in Christ for one purpose--to tell and show the community that God loves everyone.  Starting at the Police Station and ending at the MLK statue, with other stops along the way, we sang songs of praise and we prayed and we celebrated that God created all in His image and Christ died for all sinners to show that all lives matter to Him, now and for eternity.   

 

And as we did, people we encountered were filled with hope and appreciation.  In a time of so much hatred and violence and division, we showed love and peace and unity.

And people responded with joy and thanksgiving.

 

Saturday’s event was a powerful reminder that it’s a great time to be the Church!  In a time when our community and country and world are reeling with problems for which they have no answers, we have what people need.  The social problems we are facing are ultimately sin problems.  The government doesn’t have solutions for those problems.  Either do special interest groups.  Often, they cause more problems.

 

But as the Church, we know the answer to the sin that has created so many problems in our world.  We know that Jesus, the sinless Son of of God, faced the greatest injustice in world history so He could trade our sin for His righteousness.  

 

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

 

That means we, who have been made righteous by Christ, we who have received mercy and grace, can show mercy and grace to others.  And as we do, God can bring healing and help and hope to the hurting and the helpless and the hopeless.

 

What began a few months ago as a united Christian effort to share Christ’s love in this community through free drive-through COVID-19 testing, has branched out into a united Christian effort to bring God’s peace and presence and love to people whose lives have been overwhelmed by violence and abandonment and hatred.

 

Our Governor is convinced that churches are the most dangerous places on earth in Nevada, and that people should stay away from them.

 

I’m convinced, along with many other Christians, that when God’s people gather together in their churches, and scatter together as the body of Christ into our communities, we are the most powerful force for bringing healing and unity and reconciliation to our communities.  And as we do, we can help make this world a better place and heaven a fuller place.    

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)   

 

May we who have been made new, reconciled to God by Christ’s saving work, be committed to the work of reconciliation in our communities, our country and our world.  

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“JUSTICE”

JUNE 5, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Sadly, our country is reeling and hurting once again from the reality that we, like every country, are far from being a just society.  Hence, the cries for “Justice!” once again.

 

But what does “justice” really mean?

And to what degree are we able to create, as we should, a “just” society?

 

These are questions that the world has been trying to answer for millennia.

 

The Bible makes it clear that God is a just God.  Here’s just one example.


He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he. (Deuteronomy 32:4)

 

The Bible also makes it clear that God wants justice for the world, sin-broken as it is.  Here’s just one example.

 

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

 

I would encourage you to explore the words “just” and “justice” in the Bible sometime.

 

Let me ask you this question: “Who’s job is it to create a just society?”

 

Many insist it’s the government’s job to create a just society.  And to some degree, it is.  

When government leaders at all levels faithfully carry out their vocations as God intends, as servants of all the people, and as we pay taxes, good can be accomplished through the government to create a more just and peaceful society. (Romans 13:1-7).  

 

But it takes much more.  It takes all of us.  And it takes all of us understanding what it takes to make us just so we can help create a just society.

 

Remember how I mentioned that the Bible is full of reminders that God is a just God?  Here’s the amazing thing about God.  He didn’t treat human beings with true justice!

 

What do I mean?  If each of us as sinful human beings received true justice from God, we would be subject to God’s righteous punishment, wrath and condemnation, now and forever.  

 

The criminal on the cross next to Jesus knew that truth.

 

 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”   But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:39-40)

 

And here is the crux of the matter.  If we are all willing to see ourselves in that criminal and we received the justice we truly deserve, it would not be a pretty picture!  

 

But instead of treating us with the justice we deserve, God chose to treat us with mercy. He chose not to give us the earthly and eternal punishment we deserve.

 

How can He still be a just God?  Because He made a way for His justice and mercy to come together at the cross of Jesus Christ.  There, God punished sin and forgave sinners.  Jesus got the punishment we justly deserve and we got the mercy we didn’t deserve.

 

Now, here is why this is so important.  When God says through the prophet Micah that we are to, “act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God,” we don’t do so out of guilt or shame.  We do so out of gratitude to God for what He has done for us.

 

Through Christ’s death on the cross, we have been justified, we have been declared righteous in God’s sight.  As those who have been justified by His grace, we get to act justly by showing God’s grace to others.

 

I’m often amazed when people want to talk about “social justice” with me.  After letting them speak for a while, and hearing their social justice solutions, I ask a question:

 

“What are you personally doing to create a more just society?”

 

The most common response I get to that question is shock at the notion that it is their job, as much as anyone else’s job, to personally help create a just society.

 

As the human race, we are all in this together.  We all have a role to play.

 

“What are you personally doing to create a more just society?”

 

Consider these words the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Paul to write to the Christians in Philippi.

 

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God

something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:3-8)

 

God’s Word calls us to do for others what His Son was willing to do for us.  Through humble service and sacrifice, we focus on the needs of others more than our own.  And we reflect the One who faced the ultimate injustice on the cross to make us just.

 

We are also doing the opposite of what makes societies so unjust—people pridefully focusing on their own selfish interests instead of focusing on the interests and needs of others.

 

One day, in the new heavens and new earth, the home of righteousness, true, lasting justice will prevail.  Until then, as forgiven sinners in this sin-broken world, we can strive for biblical justice in this place, because we have been made just through God’s mercy and grace.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson


“Restoration Project”

JUNE 4, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

One of my favorite Old Testament characters is Nehemiah.  I’m always amazed when I read the book of Nehemiah and see his prayerful dependence upon God and his intentional leadership of God’s people that allowed them to accomplish great things in a short period of time.

 

Nehemiah was a man of high position.  He was cup bearer to King Artaxerxes, a position requiring complete loyalty on Nehemiah’s part and total trust on the King’s part.

 

One day, Hanani and another of Nehemiah’s brothers came from Judah to tell Nehemiah how the Jewish exiles from Babylon were doing, and what kind of condition Jerusalem was in.  Here’s what they said to Nehemiah:

 

“Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” (Nehemiah 1:3)

 

The Babylonian invasion had resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s unfaithful people.  Upon their return to Jerusalem, they found a city in need of a major restoration project.

 

Numerous cities in our country could be described in the same way right now.  All the destruction will require a major restoration project, not just to rebuild the buildings, but to rebuild lives and livelihoods, trust and peace and harmony.

 

In the case of Jerusalem, Nehemiah would be the man to lead the restoration project in Jerusalem.  He would leave his high government position to identify with the plight of the people in the wreckage, and through prayerful dependence upon God, would lead God’s people in the restoration project.

 

But before he jumped into action, Nehemiah had to tend to some more important matters first:

 

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.  Then I said: “Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments,  let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.  We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. (Nehemiah 1:4-7)

 

Notice the first things Nehemiah did when he got news of the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

 

He wept and mourned.

He fasted and prayed.

He confessed sin, individually and corporately.

 

Nehemiah acknowledged why the city of Jerusalem was sitting in ruins.

It was because the people had sinned against God.

And it wasn’t just one generation of people that had sinned against God.

Generations of sinning against God led to the destruction.

 

Our human tendency in times of disaster or destruction is to blame others.  We are innocent and they are guilty.  That way we can justify our action or inaction.

 

God knows better.  And so did Nehemiah.  None of us are righteous.  We all fall short of God’s will for our lives.  We have all committed sin against God.  We have all acted very wickedly toward God.  We have not obeyed God’s commands, decrees and laws.

 

In order for true and lasting restoration to happen, we each need to comes to terms with our sinfulness, weep and mourn over the damage and destruction our sin has caused, fast and pray to God, and confess how we have sinned both individually and corporately.

 

Only then, can we be restored in our relationship with God.  And that’s only possible because Jesus was willing to carry out the greatest restoration project of all time!

 

Jesus was willing to leave a place of high position—the highest position—seated at the right hand of God on heaven’s thrown, not just so He could identify with the plight of our sinful human race, but so He could carry out the mission of restoring the relationship between our sinful human race and our holy God.

 

Jesus faced riots, arrest, beatings, flogging, injustice and a criminal’s death on a cross so that He could forgive all of our sins and restore our relationship with God.  

 

Having been restored in our relationship with God, He then empowers us to join Him in His restoration project so people and communities can receive the hope and help and healing they need.  

 

Before we jump into action, let’s follow Nehemiah’s example.  Let’s weep and mourn over what has happened, let’s fast and pray for God’s help, and let’s confess our own sins of commission or omission that have led to the destruction we see in our land.

 

And then, let’s ask God to work through us so that peoples’ lives can be restored, for time and eternity. 

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“All Lives Matter to Jesus”

JUNE 3, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

 

If there was ever a question regarding whether all lives matter to Jesus, this is one of many scriptures that answers that question in the affirmative.

 

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus continually showed that all lives mattered to Him.  The rich.  The poor.  The healthy.  The sick.  The sinners and outcasts.  The lost and lonely.  The soldiers.  The Jewish religious leaders.  Jews.  Samaritans.  Gentiles.  All lives mattered to Jesus.

 

This wonderful truth became abundantly clear as Jesus hung on the cross.

 

What would you expect Jesus to say to God concerning the soldiers who mocked Him, flogged Him and nailed Him to the cross?  “Father, destroy them?”

 

What did Jesus say?

 

When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. (Luke 23:33-34)

 

When a criminal hanging beside Jesus asked Jesus to remember Him, what would you expect Jesus to say?  “Remember you?  You are a criminal that deserves to die!”

 

What did Jesus say?

 

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

 

It didn’t matter who people were, what they had done, or how they treated Him, their lives all mattered to Jesus.  They mattered enough to Him that He was willing to leave the glory and comfort of heaven and enter this sin-broken world so forgiveness and salvation could be offered to all.

 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

 

God loves the entire world.  Every life matters to Him.  That’s why He sent His Son into this world to die for us sinners who think and act too often like only our life matters, and no one else’s does. 

 

Every life matters for eternity.  God gave His Son so that whoeverbelieves in Him will have eternal life. 

 

Through Jesus, God has shown humanity that every life matters to Him, in this life, and for all eternity.

 

And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

 

Your life matters to God.

Every life matters to God.

 

Rather than live for ourselves as if only our lives matter, let’s live for the One who died for us and rose again, by showing others that all lives matter to Him and to us.

 

In the process, may God work through us to make this world a better place, and heaven a fuller place!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Lord, Heal Our Land”

JUNE 2, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

 

This Old Testament verse is often referenced during the National Day of Prayer or in times of national emergency or disaster.  And it’s an appropriate prayer now because we certainly need God to heal our land!  

 

The COVID-19 cloud continues to hang over our heads.

The economy is on a downward spiral.

The citizens’ lives are being ruined.

The riots and violence are out of control.

The dream for God-pleasing justice seems far from reality.

 

Lord, please heal our land!

 

While the verse above may be familiar to you, I wonder if you are familiar with the context of this verse.

 

King Solomon had constructed and dedicated the temple in Jerusalem.  The Lord appeared to King Solomon afterward and said:

 

“I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices.” (v. 12)

 

So far, so good!  The Lord is happy with the temple and looks forward to moving in!

 

But listen to the Lord’s next words:

 

“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people . . .” (v. 13)

 

What?  Where did those words come from? 

 

They came from a God who knew His sinful people all to well.  God’s Old Testament people had a pattern of behavior that went like this:

 

Sin and stray away from God.

Face punishment from God.

Repent to God.

Be restored by God.

Repeat.

 

God knew that no matter how beautiful a temple was built for His Name, His people would still repeat their cycle of sin and shame.  And they would experience the consequences of their sin as a result.  That’s the bad news.

 

BUT . . . there’s good news!  Listen to God’s words once again:

 

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

 

When you understand these words in their context, it makes them even more beautiful!

 

“If my people, who are called by my name . . .”

 

In spite of their rebellion and rejection, God still called them His people, called by His name.  God wasn’t giving up on them.  But God did expect something from them.

 

“will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” 

 

God’s people had to own their sins.  They couldn’t deny them or make excuses for them or blame others for them.  They had to own them.  They had to do a U-turn and approach God with humility and honesty about their sin.  And if they did, the most beautiful thing would happen.

 

then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

 

Fast-forward to today.  In the midst of all that this sin-broken world is throwing at us right now, God is calling us, His children, called by His name in baptism, to humble ourselves and pray and to seek His face and to turn from our wicked ways.

 

If forgiveness of our sin and healing of our land is what we desire as God’s children:

 

Let’s humble ourselves.

Let’s pray to God.

Let’s seek His face.

Let’s turn from our wicked ways.

 

And let’s trust God’s promises that, as we do, He will forgive our sins on account of Christ’s saving work and He will heal our land.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Another Virus is Spreading” 

June 1, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Lord, have mercy.  Just when it seems safe to leave our homes and enter our communities once again, another virus is spreading all over our country.  And as we have seen in the news since the death of George Floyd by a police officer, symptoms of this virus are rage and protests and destruction and more deaths.

 

It’s sad but not surprising that this virus is spreading as fast as wildfire.  So many things have been fueling this fire.

 

What hasn’t helped is the coronavirus and all the restrictions and responses to the coronavirus.  They have left the people of this country emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually drained, and ready to explode.

 

Nations have been fighting against nations over the coronavirus.  Political parties have been fighting one another over the coronavirus.  Businesses and the unemployed and churches have been fighting with political leaders over the coronavirus.  Media sources have been fighting with other media sources over the coronavirus.

 

And during the war against the coronavirus, all this warfare just mentioned has filled people with fear and frustration and fury.

 

All this country needed was for a match to be lit.  And that’s what happened when George Floyd was killed.  Like a wildfire spread by hot summer winds, we now have a new virus spreading out of control.

 

And politicians and the media and the racial tensions keep adding more fuel to the fire.

 

If you were foolish enough to venture downtown in any large city at this time and ask people who their enemy is, you would get lots of different answers.

 

The real enemy, which is unfortunately going to go unnoticed by many, even Christians, is not of this world.

 

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  

(Ephesians 6:11-12)

 

Satan loves it when he can deceive us and distract us to the point that we don’t see who the real ENEMY is.  

 

The more Satan can get us to believe that our enemy is “flesh and blood”—police officers, people of a different race, people of a different political party, people of a different country, people of a different . . . the more damage Satan can do to this sin-broken world.  Satan loves it when we fail to recognize our invisible enemies and focus instead on the visible enemies we have created. 

 

Jesus knew who the enemy was and He was right when He said of Satan:

 

“The thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy.” (John 10:10)

 

Satan’s been doing just that ever since he deceived Adam and Eve into sinning.

 

In His letter to the Christians in Ephesus, St. Paul tells them and us how to respond to the warfare we are facing.

 

First, we need to realize that we are no match for these invisible enemies.  

 

Second, we need to realize that we won’t be able to stand against these enemies unless we are wearing the armor of God.

 

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

(Ephesians 6:13-17)

 

Every peace of this armor is a gift from our good and gracious God, fashioned and formed deliberately to protect you from your real enemies.  And every peace of this armor equips you to help others who are being attacked by the real enemies.  

 

Satan wants to keep us distracted and deceived so we will fight the wrong enemies.  But because Christ has won the victory over Satan through His perfect life, His sacrificial death and His glorious resurrection, we have victory over the real enemies.  

 

And we have been covered by God’s armor to go out into this hostile world, to fight for the salvation of others so they can live in Christ’s peace, now and forever.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Change of Plans”

MAY 30, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

What kind of plans were you making pre-COVID?

 

Retirement plans?

Investment plans?

Vacation plans?

Wedding plans?

Business plans?

Surgery plans?

Budget plans?

Education plans?

Addiction recovery plans?

Building plans?

Other plans?

 

A lot of your plans pre-COVID most likely fell along the wayside as you were forced by the pandemic to shift your focus and make new plans to get through the pandemic.   And you found your new plans had to keep changing, often by the day, as the world and your life kept changing.

 

As you shift your focus to post-COVID, whatever that means, have you already begun making plans?  It’s hard not to make plans because we want so much to get on with life.  But it’s hard to make plans because of all the unknowns.  Even the next season will require a constant changing of plans as you adjust and adapt to all that is unfolding around you.  How can you possibly make plans when you have never faced anything like this before?

 

Don’t get me wrong.  Planning is important.  You can’t just stay parked in the intersection of your life, staring at a red light.

 

Neither can you stomp on the gas and squeal your tires with a green light, leaving the intersection in your rear-view mirror as fast as possible.

 

There’s another option.  The yellow light.  Proceed with caution.  If there’s one thing you have learned is certain during this pandemic, it’s that life can be very uncertain—not just in the present, but also in the future.

 

 

I’m guessing your plans will be less aggressive when we exit the COVID pandemic than they were before we entered the COVID pandemic.  It will be wise to plan and proceed with caution.

 

But how?  By making sure you have included God in your plans.  Actually, by making sure you have included yourself in God’s plans.

 

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”  Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

 

No matter what plans you may have for the future, no matter how hard you try to make those plans come to fruition, if your plans don’t line up with God’s plans, you will find yourself wasting a lot of time and energy, and frustrated as a result.

 

Your life is like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  God is eternal.  As He looks at all of creation from His eternal perspective, and as He looks at your life from His eternal perspective, He has an individualized plan for you that fits into His ultimate, redeeming, eternal plan for His entire creation.

 

And that’s why, rather than charging forward with your plans, it is best to consult and trust in Him when it comes to His plans for your life.  Consider these words of encouragement from Scripture.

 

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. (Psalm 33:11)

 

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. (Proverbs 16:3)

 

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

 

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11)

 

Rather than asking God to bless your plans, it’s best to ask God to help you follow His plans for your life.  As you do, you will be blessed, and so will many others through you!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Hub or Spoke?”

MAY 29, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

If this global pandemic has taught people anything, it’s that we can’t get through this life without God!  And in spite of all we have had to endure, and continue to endure, I’m thankful for that.  I’m thankful that God has been working through this time to show more and more people their need for Him.  I’m thankful that God has shown us all that He alone is to be the object of our wholehearted devotion and dependence.  

 

When some Jewish religious leaders tested Jesus by asking Him which commandment is the greatest, He said:

 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul

and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)

 

Imagine your life as a wheel.  Before COVID-19, when life seemed manageable, was God the hub of the wheel of your life, the One who was the center of your wholehearted devotion and dependence?  Or was God just a spoke on the wheel of your life, along with all the other spokes?  Or was God not even a spoke on the wheel of your life?

 

The difference is huge!  If God is the hub of the wheel of your life—then every spoke is connected to and extends from that hub, that center.  That is when you experience the peace and wholeness that God offers you.  But if God is a spoke on the wheel of your life, He is just connected to whatever hub replaced Him.  And that hub will never really be able to replace God.

 

That’s why God’s first commandment is, “You shall have no other gods before me.”  (Exodus 20:3)  

 

In other words, you can try to have other hubs for the wheel of your life, and that may work for you for a while.  But eventually, when tough times come, you will discover how much your life is out of alignment.  Only when God is the hub of the wheel of your life will it be in alignment. 

 

I wonder how many people during this pandemic have added God as a spoke to the wheel of their lives to help them get through this time?  How many have recognized God as the hub of the wheel of their lives?

 

And I wonder how you and I and others will respond when life becomes more “manageable” once again.  Our sinful human tendency when things become “manageable” or “prosperous” is to replace God with a different hub and relegate Him to a spoke status, or no status.

 

My prayer for all is that our hearts and souls and minds will be filled with wholehearted dependence and devotion to God, no matter what season we go through in life, so we can be aligned with Him and His will and purpose for our lives.   

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson


“The One Who Calms the Storms”

MAY 28, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

It’s been quite a storm, hasn’t it?  And who knows how long the storm will last?

 

The Lord knows.  And He has the power to stop the storms of our lives. 

 

Remember when Jesus and His disciples were in a boat during a storm?

 

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him.  Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping.

The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.   The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this?  Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

(Matthew 8:23-27)

 

The storm the disciples experienced on the Sea of Galilee wasn’t uncommon.  They knew that because of the geography and wind patterns, the Sea could be calm one minute, and stormy the next.  Such was the case as they were crossing with Jesus to the other side of the Sea.  A furious storm came up in an instant, endangering their very lives.  Their hearts were filled with panic and fear.

 

Can you relate to the disciples?  Maybe a few months ago, the seas were smooth and calm for you.  And then, out of nowhere, your boat got hit by the furious pandemic storm, and the winds and waves began pounding against and breaking over your boat.  

 

I know I’m getting seasick from all the winds and waves that have been hitting my boat from all directions.  And I’m right there with the disciples in saying, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!”

 

How about you?

 

The good news is that Jesus is in the boat with us, to feed our faith and starve our fear.  Jesus is in the boat with us to calm the storms of our lives.

 

When the disciples cried out, “Lord, save us!” Jesus calmed the storm with a simple rebuke.  The Gospel of Mark tells us He said to the winds and the waves, “Quiet!  Be still!”  And just like that, the Sea was calm.  And so were their hearts.

I wish Jesus would do that with all the storms in our lives.  I wish I could say with the disciples, “Lord save us!” and all the storms in my life would calm.

 

Sometimes, by His grace, He answers our prayer for deliverance by calming the storm.  Other times, by His grace, He answers our prayer for deliverance, not by calming the storm, but by calming our hearts so we can withstand the storm.

 

In the latter case, His words, “Peace.  Be still.” are spoken to you and me instead of to the storm.  And just as Jesus’ words have the power to calm the storms, so His words have the power to calm our hearts.

 

Why He decides to calm some storms and not others, I don’t know.  What I do know is that, whether He calms the raging storms in our lives, or calms our hearts in the midst of the raging storms, His goal is to move us from fear to faith in Him as our Savior.

 

And I’m thankful that Jesus came into this world to ultimately answer our plea, “Lord, save us!  We’re going to drown!” 

 

As sinful, rebellious human beings, we deserve nothing but the storm of God’s wrath and punishment.  We deserve to drown in our sin.

 

But because of His mercy and grace, God sent His sinless Son to face the storm of God’s wrath and punishment in our place on the cross.  Jesus could have stopped the storm.  But He chose not to because He wanted to ensure that all who trust in Him would make it to heaven’s shores and spend an eternity free of the storms of this life.

 

“Peace.  Be still.”

 

May the Lord calm our hearts with these words as we face the storms of this life.  And may He turn our fear into faith in Him, the One who has the power over life and death.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Keep the Fire Burning”

MAY 26, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

This coming weekend is Pentecost weekend.  On Pentecost we remember how the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ gathered disciples in the form of tongues of fire.  The coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples lit the fire for the Christian Church and its mission and message and has continued to burn to this day!

 

Speaking of fires.  Picture yourself with family members or friends, social distancing at a camp site around a campfire.  Focus your eyes on the fire.  It will give us an analogy of what our culture has been doing to the Church over the years.

 

Decades ago, this became the cultural narrative.

 

“Christians can gather together in the church, as long as they leave their faith there.”

 

In other words, Christians can live their faith within the fire ring, but their faith must remain there and not spread and contaminate the world.

 

Fast-forward to today.  Now this is cultural narrative.  

 

“Christians can’t gather together in church and don’t need to because they can just practice their faith privately.”

 

In other words, each Christian “charcoal” must remain separated and burn on its own.  You can’t even be in the fire ring together with other Christians. 

 

You know what happens when a charcoal is separated from the rest.  Instead of burning together with other coals as a fire for an extended period of time, the separated charcoal will quickly burn out.

 

That’s exactly what Satan and our world wants to have happen to the Church!  

 

As Christians, we understand that our faith was never intended to be private.  Our faith is personalbecause our Triune God came to us personally in the waters of Baptism to make us His children.  But we weren’t just baptized into a personalrelationship with God. We were baptized into the family of God as well.  

 

That means that the warmth and glow of our faith and our mission is fueled by our gathering together and burning together in the Spirit’s power.  

 

To use another analogy, we are the body of Christ. Right now, all those body parts are scattered.  Not only is every part of the body essential, the body can’t function properly when its parts are apart.  St. Paul write in his first letter to the Corinthians:

 

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.  Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

 

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.  And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

 

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.   If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

 

 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27)

 

Notice what the Holy Spirit says through St. Paul here?  Every part of the body is “essential.”  All parts are needed, and all parts are needed together.

 

As a church, we have been doing our best to keep your fire burning during this time of separation, and we will continue to do so. As we do, we pray for the day we will be able to gather together again so we can burn and glow by the power of the Spirit and be the light this world needs in this dark time.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Is the Church Really Essential?”

MAY 25, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“Is the Church Really Essential?”

 

That is one of the biggest questions people all over our country are asking right now. 

 

Some are answering that question with an emphatic, “NO!” 

 

In fact, some are portraying the churches as the most dangerous places to be right now, no matter what safety and sanitation efforts they employ.  The Church is viewed as less essential than big box stores, mega malls, abortion clinics, casinos, restaurants, strip clubs, brothels, etc.

 

“Is the Church Really Essential?”

 

Some are answering that question with an emphatic, “YES!”

 

In fact, some realize the Church is most essential in times of crises, natural disasters and pandemics like these.  Throughout the church’s history, the church has often been welcomed as an essential partner in helping communities through physically, emotionally and spiritually dark and difficult times, and to rebuild their lives.

 

“Is the Church Really Essential?”

 

Some are answering that question with a hesitant “maybe.”

 

And that’s not just because of the recent COVID-19 pandemic.  As we consider cultural trends over the last few generations, each generation has viewed the Church as less and less essential.  

 

There may be several reasons why people may wonder if the Church is really essential.

 

One reason people may wonder if the Church is really essential could be that people don’t really know what goes on, in and through the Church, for the benefit of others.

 

If you drive by a hospital building, you can’t see all that is going on inside amongst the employees and patients and families.  But for those who are gathered inside the building, they know the goal is to bring health and wellness to patients so they can leave and return to a more normal and productive way of life and service once again.

 

The same is true of the Church, but to an even greater degree.

 

Another reason some may wonder if the Church is really essential could be that they have been bombarded by a culture that constantly strives to cast the Church in a negative, if not evil, light.  Who would want to be part of that?

 

But another reason some may wonder if the Church is really essential is what they see and hear Christians telling them through their words and actions.

 

Studies that follow cultural and religious trends show that people who consider themselves as Christians worship less than two times a month.  The vast majority see no need to worship regularly, much less to gather for Bible study or to scatter for service in the community and beyond or to financially support the ministries of the church.  A quick look at our calendars and checkbooks pre-COVID-19 is a good indicator of how essential we view the church and its mission. 

 

If Christians show by their words and actions that Church isn’t really essential, should we be surprised that the culture doesn’t view Church as essential?

 

Some people see the Church for what’s its against, and not what its for.  They see the Church willing to welcome people only when they meet a certain standard of holiness first, which is impossible without the help of Christ and His Church.

 

“Is the Church really essential?”

 

Jesus made it clear to His disciples how essential the Church is. 

 

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”   They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”   “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”   Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.   And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:13-18)

 

On this rock, this confession of Peter that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of the living God, Jesus said He would build His Church, and all the forces of darkness will not overcome it.

 

The Church is essential because it has been given the privilege and responsibility of confessing to the world that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And as the Church does so, Jesus promises to build His Church.  

 

Jesus declared the Church and its mission as essential from that moment until He returns in glory when the Church on earth will be gathered together with the Church in heaven for all eternity.

 

There are several passages in Scripture that also show that the essential mission of the Church includes feeding the hungry, ministering to the sick, healing those who are grieving, helping those in need.  Our congregation, like many, has done that in many ways, prior to, and during, the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Now, here’s where the rubber hits the road. 

 

“Is gathering together as God’s people in the church building essential”?

 

As Christians, we know that the church is more than a building, and during this lockdown, the church had to leave the building.  The church had to find other ways to worship and study God’s Word and to serve.  And in some ways, that has been good.

 

But why is it essential for people to gather together in the church building?

 

Because things happen when God’s people are gathered together that impact them while they are gathered, and impact them and their world as they scatter.  What happens to the body of Christ gathered together and then scattered is greater than the sum of its parts.

 

On Sunday, I posted an article on Facebook entitled, “Why Gather?  Thinking About Churches When Churches Can’t.”  I encourage you to go to this link and read it.

 

www.9marks.org/article/why-gather-thinking-about-gathering-when-churches-cant/

 

My hope and prayer is that, after reading this article, you will have an even greater desire to gather together in the church building when we have the opportunity once again to do so.

 

It will be different for a while, as we take necessary safety measures.  But it will provide us the blessings that just can’t be realized as fully when we don’t gather together.

 

“Is the Church essential?”

 

“YES!”

 

“Is gathering together in the church building essential?”

 

“YES!”

 

My prayer is that your absence from the Church building will make your heart grow fonder for the gifts you will receive together there when we can gather once again!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson


“How Long?”

MAY 23, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“Be patient.”

 

How many times have we heard those words as we wait for our world to reopen?

 

“How long do I have to be patient?  My patience is wearing thin!”

 

That’s where many of us are at right now.  We did what we were asked to do for the sake of the common good.  And we made significant sacrifices in the process.  Now we are ready to get on with rebuilding our lives and our country.

 

We are ready to get back to work.

We are ready to get back to businesses.

We are ready to get back to worship.

We are ready to get back to our family and friends.

We are ready.  How long?

 

It’s hard to be patient right now.  Not just because we have been living in an instant-gratification, drive-through, microwave society.  But because this time of waiting is harming so many lives in so many ways in the process.

 

It’s hard for us to be patient.

 

It must be hard for God to be patient too.

 

I know we read several times in scripture that:

 

“The Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 86:15)

 

But still, you wonder how He can be so patient, especially as you consider what this sin-broken world has become.

 

God’s patience finally ran out in the days of Noah.

 

The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.  So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

 

God’s patience with a sinful and rebellious human race finally ran out in the days of Noah.  You can sense from these verses how much it pained God to see how great the wickedness and evil had become—to the point that He was deeply troubled and regretted He had made humanity, and He resolved He had to bring judgment and punishment on humanity.

 

Fast-forward to today.  When you look at those verses in Genesis, you wonder what is different in our day.  How long can God be patient with His human creatures?  And why is He being so patient?

 

God’s Word gives us the answer.

 

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:8-9)

 

God is patient—in spite of how heartbreaking it is for Him to see how evil and wicked humanity has become—because He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

 

God’s desire isn’t to judge and condemn humanity.  He wants all of humanity to come to repentance—to turn from their sin and towards God in faith.  That’s why He is so patient.

 

But that patience won’t last forever.  He will come in judgment.

 

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.   Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.  But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 

(2 Peter 3:10-13)

 

Just as the coronavirus descended upon this world when we least expected it, so the Lord will descend upon this world when we least expect it.  And when He does, all that is evil and wicked will be consumed and destroyed.  That’s the bad news.

 

The good news for followers of Jesus is that God promises we will enjoy an eternity in the new heaven and new earth, where righteousness dwells.  

 

Until then, God calls us to live holy and godly lives as we look forward to that day of God and speed its coming.

 

We can look forward to the day of His coming because Jesus was judged in our place on the cross for our sin and He rose from the dead to reserve a place for us with Him.

 

And we can speed the day of His coming by living in such a way that others will be invited to know Jesus through our words and actions.

 

How long before the Lord returns?  Only He knows.  Until then, let’s patiently and intentionally worship and serve and live for Him.  And let’s share His promises with those for whom He is patiently waiting to repent.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Fear is Overrated”

MAY 22, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

 

Those words were spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt in his inaugural address on March 4, 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression.

 

President Roosevelt wasn’t blind or wearing rose-colored glasses when he said those words.  He knew the dim reality this country was facing and he faced it head on.  Listen to what he said about the issue of unemployment, which had reached 25%.

 

“...the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.”

 

“More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”

 

“Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”

 

“There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly.”

 

It appears the writer of Ecclesiastes was right when he said,

 

“There is nothing new under the sun. (1:9)

 

Fear is the primary emotion that many people are dealing with these days.

 

And it seems, thanks to all the hype and hysteria that has been caused by politicians and media outlets, while economic fears are high, the ultimate fear that people have is the fear of contracting the COVID-19 virus, as if it is an automatic death sentence of the worst kind.

 

I don’t in any way want to diminish the suffering and dying that some have experienced, due, at least in part, to the COVID-19 virus.

 

What amazes me is how Christians, of all people, are in a panic and petrified over something that, if they contracted it, could possibly lead a small percentage of them to die.

 

Unless something has changed, if the Lord doesn’t return first, none of us will get out of this world alive.  That’s because we are all sinners, and the wages of sin is death.  We don’t know how we will die or when we will die or where we will die, but we will all die.

 

Let me share with you a couple of scriptures in St. Paul’s writings that help to put death into perspective for followers of Christ.

 

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know!  I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far . . .” (Philippians 1:21-23)

 

St. Paul reminds us that death is inevitable, but fear is optional.  Why?  Because, while living is good in that we have an opportunity to serve the Lord, to die is gain because then we are in the presence of the Lord, free from all that plagues us with fear in this sin-broken world.  To be with Christ is better by far. 

 

“Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”   The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

 

Death does not win the victory over us.  Through faith in our victorious risen and ascended and returning Savior, we win the victory over death. 

 

That’s because Christ removed death’s stinger.

 

I’m sure you have noticed that there are lots of bees buzzing around these days.  And  one thing people are afraid of, and in some cases, deathly afraid of, is getting stung by a bee.  

 

But what if the stinger was removed?  A bee could buzz around you and harass you, but it couldn’t sting you.  And because the bee has no stinger, there is no need for you to fear it.

 

The same is true of death.  Through Christ’s perfect life, sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, Jesus has removed death’s stinger.  Oh, death will still buzz around you and harass you, but it can’t sting you.  And because death has no stinger, there is no need for you to fear it.

 

We live in a culture that has constantly tried to desensitize us and dumb us down so we will react emotionally to everything that happens.  That has certainly been the case with the coronavirus pandemic.  People are being led and controlled like fearful, frantic sheep.

 

Better to trust in our Good Shepherd and His promises:

 

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32)

 

Because of God’s grace, you are heirs of His eternal kingdom.  If He has taken care of our eternal needs, we can trust Him to take care of our earthly needs as well. 

 

Because Jesus is here, we have nothing to fear.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Anchors Aweigh!”

MAY 21, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

It’s been about two months since Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak’s “Stay Home for Nevada” order.  Nevadans were told to “drop anchor.”  We were to hunker down and to secure ourselves at home until we were told otherwise.

 

Anchors serve a vital purpose.  When passengers on a boat or ship “drop anchor” it is to keep the vessel in place and secure, especially as a storm passes through.  The anchor is dropped to the bed of the body of water, holding the vessel in place until its time for “anchors aweigh.”

 

It’s been difficult to stay anchored, waiting and wondering how long it will be before the coronavirus passes.  

 

Some are saying, “We have to stay anchored until . . .”

 

Until what?

 

Until everyone has been tested?

Until no one has COVID-19?

Until there is a vaccine?  How has that worked with the flu?

Until more people die of other causes (which they already are)?

Until the economy is completely destroyed?

Until the Lord returns?

 

Until what?

 

I understand the concerns of those who are saying, “Stay anchored!”  

 

There’s the concern of catching COVID-19 and getting sick and dying.

 

There’s the concern that there will be a spike in cases and deaths that would cause things to close down after they have been opened.

 

I also understand the concerns of those who are saying “Anchors aweigh!”

 

There’s the concern of losing their job or business if restrictions continue.

There’s the concern of being manipulated and harmed by those who are using this pandemic for their own personal and political agendas.

 

There’s the concern of rising addiction and abuse rates while people remain anchored down in their homes.

 

There’s the concern that every aspect of our lives will be unreasonably affected by this pandemic.

 

By the way, the phrase “anchors aweigh” is specifically used for ships when they are prepared to leave a port or a place on a body of water where they have dropped anchor.

 

When it is time for the vessel to leave, the captain ensures that the anchors are pulled up and put in place.  Therefore, it is called “anchors aweigh,” which means the ship is prepared to leave.  In other words, “aweigh” means to pull up.  When an anchor is pulled up and placed on the deck, this act is noted down in the logbook to make the crew alert that now the ship is free to go.

 

How long before we will hear, “anchors aweigh”?  How long before we can pull up our anchors and press on with our voyages, while balancing caution and confidence?

 

I pray for all those who have been impacted far worse by the response to the virus than the virus itselt, it will be sooner than later.

 

In the meantime, as we are getting tossed to and fro by the global storm this pandemic has caused, we can be grateful that Jesus is our anchor.

 

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20a)

 

Do you feel like you are being pulled in all kinds of directions?  Do you feel like you are holding onto the weight caused by your anxiety and fear and anger and frustration?

 

Then drop anchor.

 

Trust that Jesus will hold your soul, firmly and securely in place.

 

But He doesn’t do it by dropping to the depths of the sea.  Jesus our anchor rose from the dead and when He ascended into heaven he said, “Anchors aweigh!”  He has pulled up and returned to the heavenly holy place and He anchors our hope to the throne of grace.

 

And one day, when your earthly life ends, or on the Last Day when this sin-broken world comes to an end, Jesus will proclaim, “Anchors aweigh!” and He will pull us up to our new home—the new heavens and new earth.  And then, the real voyage will begin!

 

Until then, may Jesus fill you with hope and keep your soul anchored in heaven with Him until this storm passes.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson 

"Empty Net”

MAY 20, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Today was one of those “empty net” days for me.

 

The day began with a Zoom Video Conference meeting with Pastors of other Lutheran Churches in our Circuit.  It was great to see each other and catch up with each other and study God’s Word together.  But we all acknowledged that, although it is nice we can see and talk with each other, it still leaves you feeling empty because we can’t be together.  Then, when the discussion turned to, “What can we do as we wait for our Governor to give us direction regarding worship,” we all had empty looks on our faces.

 

My next Zoom Video Conference meeting was with Pastors and medical leaders in this community who are working together on the City Serve Las Vegas Drive-Through COVID-19 Testing Ministry.  After we got through our business, I stayed on the phone with one of the pastors and we talked about what to do with worship.  Another meeting with empty looks and shrugged shoulders as we each acknowledged that it feels like we are waiting in a holding pattern to land our worship back in the sanctuary.

 

Then I went to the empty Academy Chapel to record a video message for the 5th graders which will be given them as part of a DVD celebrating their completing this chapter of their education.  Normally, that Culmination Service would have been filled with students, parents, grandparents, teachers and aides and administrators and staff.

 

When I got back to an almost empty church building to work on this message, my idea tank for a message was empty.  Normally, ideas come throughout the day and I add them to notes on my I-phone as reminders.  As I look at the themes, something jumps out at me saying, “This is the message for today!”  I looked at the list today and came up empty.

 

Pastor Bob stopped by my office and he could tell by the look on my face there was a lot of empty space between my ears!  As we talked, he shared an idea which got me moving.  It’s the story of an empty net in John 21.

 

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.  It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3)

 

Now these disciples had seen their risen Savior.  They knew Jesus was alive.  Just like us now, we are grateful for that assurance.

 

But they still found themselves in a holding pattern.  As they waited for direction from their risen Savior, they wondered what the future held for them.  Peter decided to go back to what was familiar to him.  He went fishing on the Sea of Galilee.  And some of the other disciples joined him.  But even though some of these guys fished for a living before Jesus called them to be His disciples, still they caught nothing that night.  Their net was empty.

 

Can you relate to those disciples right now?  As you wait in a holding pattern, not knowing what the future holds, do you want to return to what’s familiar?  Have you been casting your net, only to find your net empty each time you pull it up from the waters?

 

There’s only one thing worse than having an empty net.  And that is for someone to ask you how the fishing is going.  But that’s what Jesus did.

 

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  “No,” they answered. (John 21:4-5)

 

The good news is that Jesus comes to us in our “empty net” moments.  He meets us at the point of our emptiness and our need for direction.

 

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

(John 21:6)

 

Are you having an empty net day?  Having a hard time with your holding pattern?  Wondering what the future holds for you?  Not knowing which direction to go?

 

Invite Jesus to join you on your fishing expedition.  Admit to Him your struggles and your failures and your emptiness.  And follow where He leads.

 

Trust in Him to fill your empty nets with what you need.  And as you do, remember to give Him the credit for the catch!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“CONFIDENCE”

MAY 19, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

How is your confidence level these days?

 

As we continue to plod along through this COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sensing from many people that their confidence level is going down.  Whether it’s confidence in our government leaders and agencies, our health officials, our media, or the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths that are being reported, or the changing definition of “flattening the curve,” we are losing confidence.

 

You may even find yourself losing confidence in yourself.

 

Prior to this pandemic, you may have been feeling quite confident. The economy was strong.  Your job was secure.  Your health was good.  Your social life was enjoyable.  Your future looked bright.  You felt like you had life under control.

 

But then an invisible enemy changed everything, including your confidence in yourself.  Things are out of your control.  The future is fuzzy and frightening.  Your physical and emotional health isn’t so good.  You feel isolated and helpless.  Your confidence is gone. And you may not know where to find it again.

 

Sunday afternoon, I had the privilege of joining our Oromo brothers and sisters in their Zoom worship service.  As many of you know, we have supported the Oromo Evangelical Church of Las Vegas (LCMS), which has been worshiping on our campus for years.  Now these Ethiopian brothers and sisters in Christ are worshiping online as we are. 

 

I always feel inspired when I spend time with them!  And the reason is their confidence in the Lord.  When people have experienced political and religious and tribal persecution and have been displaced and scattered, they understand at a deeper level than many what it means to depend on the Lord and to place their confidence in Him.

 

In my sermon, I shared with them how we can be confident in the present for two reasons.  First, we can be confident in the present because of God’s faithfulness in the past.  Because the Bible reminds us of God’s great acts of deliverance throughout salvation history, we can look back and see God’s faithfulness to us.

 

Second, we can be confident in the present because of God’s promises for the future.  God has kept every promise He has ever made to us, and He’s not about to stop now!

 

I was certainly preaching to the choir when I shared these words with the Oromo congregation because their lives are a beautiful example of the confidence they have in God because of His past faithfulness and His future promises. 

 

Whenever you find that your confidence level is down, I encourage you to take the following prescriptions to boost your confidence level too:

 

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. (Psalm 27:13)


For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. 

(Psalm 71:5)

 

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidenceis in him.   They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.  It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

 

Such confidence we have through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.

(2 Corinthians 3:4-5)

 

 In him (Jesus) and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:12)

 

Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)

 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

 

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for. (Hebrews 11:1-2)

 

God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

 

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (1 John 5:14)

 

 No matter what you go through in life, you can remain confidentin the Lord!  

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Hope Dealers”

MAY 18, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Last Saturday, our parking lot was filled with “hope dealers” as we hosted the City Serve Las Vegas drive through COVID-19 testing. Over 300 people registered for this testing on our campus.  And lots of people from Faith Community and other churches  signed up to serve in this special ministry!  

 

Some directed traffic.  Some registered volunteers.  Some registered patients.  Some performed the tests.  Some sang and played their instruments.  Some explained the after-care ministry and prayed and witnessed.  Some interpreted for the Hispanic and deaf.  Some set up or cleaned and tore down equipment.  Some spoke with the media and city officials.  Some did prayer walks around the campus asking for God’s blessings upon all the volunteers and patients.  Each and every volunteer was a “hope dealer” in their own special way!

 

In his first Epistle, St. Peter writes:

 

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

 

As people entered our parking lot, they had anxiety, fear, uncertainty and worry.  As they drove through each stage of the testing process, they received words of hope and peace and love and encouragement.  They received the promise that the Lord was with them, and that we would be with them, even after they pulled out of the parking lot.

 

The after-care part of the City Serve Las Vegas COVID-19 testing involves making follow-up calls to the people who were tested to see how they are doing.  And if they share that they have tested positive, we offer to call each day to check on them, to pray for them, to pick up their pre-purchased groceries for them, to be there for them so they don’t have to go through their time of quarantine alone.

 

As we continue to join other churches in this COVID-19 testing through City Serve Las Vegas, our desire is threefold.  First, we want to help people with symptoms to get tested so they can get treated and heal.  Second, we want to help our state increase the volume of testing so our city and state can re-open and people can rebuild their lives.  Third, we want to plant seeds of hope in peoples’ hearts so they will discover the peace that can be theirs in Christ—for this life and the next.

 

I would encourage you to check out cityservelv.org if you would like to find out more about this ministry, volunteer to serve, or register for a COVID-test.

 

I’m grateful that God’s people came together on our parking lot to be “hope dealers” on Saturday.  And I pray we will continue to be “hope dealers” for a world that desperately needs the hope that only Jesus can give.

 

By God’s grace, on Saturday, we were prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus.  By God’s grace, may we always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that we have in Jesus. And may we always share that hope with gentleness and respect.

 

As we do, may the Holy Spirit work through us to invite more people to know Jesus, our Lord, our Savior and our hope!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig

“Masks”

MAY 15, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

What kind of mask(s) are you wearing these days?

 

During this pandemic, with the high demand for masks, people are coming up with creative ways to make masks out of all kinds of materials.  Some businesses are even selling designer masks. Among other things, you can order masks with your favorite team, your favorite pet, your favorite scripture, your favorite . . .  You get the idea.

 

Whether we like wearing these masks or not, we understand why we must wear the masks for now when we are around others.  We could either spread or catch a virus otherwise.  So, whether we like it or not, wearing masks is a good thing for now.

 

Do you know masks are a God thing too?  God loves wearing masks all the time! 

 

Do you know what kind of masks God wears?  Look in the mirror!  You are His masks!

 

Here’s something interesting about God.  He reveals Himself to His creation by concealing Himself in His creation.  Let me give you some examples.

 

The Lord revealed Himself by concealing Himself in a burning bush.

The Lord revealed Himself by concealing Himself in a pillar of fire.

The Lord revealed Himself by concealing Himself in a Babe in a Bethlehem manger.

The Lord reveals Himself by concealing Himself in bread and wine in communion.

 

God often reveals Himself by concealing Himself so He can bless us and others.

 

One reason the Lord does that is because if we, as sinful human beings, were to experience God in His full glory and majesty, we would instantly be consumed!  Sinners can stand in the presence of a Holy God and survive!  So God reveals Himself to us by concealing Himself so we can be blessed by His gracious presence.

 

The other reason the Lord does that is because God would rather work through us than work around us to deliver His blessings to others. 

 

God could give his blessings to human beings directly, but He chooses to hide behind us, His masks, to give His blessings indirectly.

 

In Volume 14 of Luther’s works, as Martin Luther explains Psalm 147, these are some of the things he says about our being “masks of God.”

 

“God could easily give you grain and fruit without your plowing and planting. But He does not want to do so. Neither does He want your plowing and planting alone to give you grain and fruit; but you are to plow and plant and then ask His blessing and pray:

 

‘Now let God take over; now grant grain and fruit, dear Lord! Our plowing and planting will not do it. It is Thy gift.’”

 

“What else is all our work to God—whether in the fields, in the garden, in the city, in the house, in war, or in government . . . by which He wants to give His gifts in the fields, at home, and everywhere else?  These are the masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.”

 

“He could give children without using men and women. But He does not want to do this. Instead, He joins man and woman so that it appears to be the work of man and woman, and yet He does it under the cover of such masks. We have the saying: “God gives every good thing, but not just by waving a wand.” God gives all good gifts; but

 you must lend a hand and take the bull by the horns; that is, you must work and thus give God good cause and a mask.”