MINISTRY MESSAGES

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“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.”

 

The point Luther is getting at is that our vocations, our sacred callings in life, are the masks behind which God hides to give His blessings to others through us!

 

During this COVID-19 pandemic, some of you have found yourselves wearing less masks.  You are no longer the taxi driver for sporting events.  You are no longer an employee of a company.  You are no longer a volunteer at church or school.

 

Some of you have found yourselves wearing some masks.  Parents have become teacher’s aides assisting their children with their online education. 

 

Some of you have found yourselves adjusting your masks to carry out the same vocations, but in different ways.

 

Just know that whatever masks you are wearing right now, whatever vocations or sacred callings you are fulfilling in your daily lives, you are God’s masks, being used by Him to be a blessing to others.

 

I hope you enjoy the fact that God enjoys wearing you as His masks!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What’s Right with This Picture?”

MAY 14, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

When we find ourselves in a difficult situation, like we do now with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to see “what’s wrong with this picture.”  People have shared many of those things with me the last few months.

 

“Government leaders are confusing us and using us for their political agendas.”

“Health officials say we must have a cure for the virus before life can resume, even

  though we’ve never been able to find a cure for the flu.”

“As citizens, we are being forced to give up their rights.”

“I am one of millions of people who are unemployed.”

“Suicide and depression and addiction rates soaring.”

“We can’t attend worship, school, sporting events, entertainment, family gatherings.”

“The media outlets are overwhelming us and fueling anxiety and fear.”

 

What’s wrong with this picture?   Lots of things!

 

What’s right with this picture?  Lots of things!

 

People have shared many of those things with me too.

 

“The job that I’ve hated for years, but was afraid to do anything about, is over, and I’m

  pursuing a new path.”

“Our schedules that had us on the verge of exhaustion have slowed down and restored

  some margin in our lives.”

“I’ve been removed from people who were being a bad influence on me.”

“We’ve had time to address issues that were negatively impacting our marriage.”

“I’ve been able to pause and listen to the Lord more.”

“We have more time together to really be a family.”

“We’ve reprioritized our budget and our lives.”

“My exercise routine and eating habits have improved.”

“I’m reconnecting with people I was too busy to connect with before.”

“I’m becoming more aware of the needs of those who are less fortunate.”

“I’ve been able to tackle projects and hobbies that have been on the back burner.”

“I’ve found it easier to share my faith with people who are searching for hope and peace

  and courage.

 

Author and speaker, Chuck Swindoll once shared that life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.  If we waste so much energy on “what’s wrong with this picture” we won’t have the energy that should go into “what’s right with this picture.” That’s why it’s so important to ask God to help us see, “What’s right with this picture,” or “What could be right with this picture?” It’s amazing what happens to us and others when we invite Him to give us that perspective.

 

In late summer of 1989, Amy and I moved to St. Louis, Missouri so I could begin my Seminary studies.  We were excited to begin this new chapter of life and preparation for ministry.  Amy had a fulltime accounting job.  I had a fulltime class and study load.  And we were resident managers for a 76-unit Senior Apartment complex.  We were very busy, but we were young and in good health and eager to charge forward.

 

A few months later, everything came to a screeching halt.  Amy had injured her knee and was going to have a routine operation which didn’t end up being so routine after all.  On the same day she came home from her knee surgery, I came home with a diagnosis of the Asian Flu and double pneumonia.  Amy was on crutches.  I was bed-bound for months.  And it seemed the jobs and home and family and friends we had left behind to prepare for ministry were all for naught.

 

If we were to ask ourselves, “What’s wrong with this picture?” we could have listed plenty of things.

 

But we never really had the chance to make that list because God kept showing us “what’s right with this picture.”

 

       Amy’s parents had come down from Iowa for the weekend to assist as Amy recovered from her knee surgery, but were able to stay for months to help us because they had sold all their livestock that fall.

 

       The senior citizens we were to care for in the apartment complex became a bunch of grandparents who took care of us by providing soups and goodies and cards and prayers.

 

       Since the only thing I could do for months in bed was listen to the Bible on cassette, I was constantly filled with God’s promises.

 

       My illness, and a subsequent bout with pneumonia, forced me to spread out my studies at the Seminary an extra year, which helped restore my health and made life more manageable.

 

       The lessons I learned during my quarantine taught me more about the Lord and ministry than any Seminary class could ever teach.

 

No matter what situation we find ourselves facing in life, we can always find, “What’s wrong with this picture.”

 

But by God’s grace, as we trust in Him and His promises, we can also find, “What’s right with this picture.”

 

And every day, “what’s right with this picture” is God’s love, compassion, faithfulness and provision.

 

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.

They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24)

 

As we focus on the Lord and His promises, we will be blessed, and God will work through us to be a blessing to others.  And as He does, we will be used by God to help others see, “What’s right with this picture.”

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Seeing vs. Viewing”

MAY 13, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

I can now clearly see what’s wrong!

 

Because of the restrictions placed upon our lives, our jobs, our churches, our schools, and our entertainment outlets because of COVID-19, we have been forced to settle for viewing one another instead of seeing one another.  And the longer this drags on, the harder it is to settle for that digital distancing difference.

 

That certainly has been the case with ministry.  Out of necessity, our worship services, growth groups, support groups, prayer groups, meetings and school classes have gone online.  Now, instead of seeing each other in person, we are viewing a digital image of each other on a screen.  While it is certainly a blessing that we can at least be viewing one another, thanks to technology, it’s just not the same as being present and seeing one another face-to-face.

 

I’m thankful that some restrictions are being lifted, and that there are beginning to be more opportunities for seeing one another.  And I pray that the increased personal interaction and connection with one another will continue in a safe and steady manner. 

 

I’m sure there are many events and activities that you can’t wait to get back to with other people.  I can’t wait for the time when God’s people can all return to church for worship and fellowship and study and support!

 

At the same time, I’m grateful that during this shutdown and the changes it required for our ministry, we have people connected to our online ministry that wouldn’t be able to be connected to our onsite ministry.  I’m glad we can provide opportunities for viewingin such cases and pray that we will grow in our ability to stay connected. 

 

I’m beginning to sense that as the church, we aren’t alone in recognizing the need to come out of this challenging chapter in a way that will provide a hybrid model for the way we do things.  Schools, businesses, sports, entertainment and many other areas will not be able to go back to business as usual.  It will be a new day and things will have to be done a new way. 

 

As a church, we will want to stay connected with those who can be in community with us through their viewing online.  And we will want to get reconnected with those who can be in community with us through their seeing one another onsite.

Months ago, I read an article in a Concordia Seminary Press journal, “Inviting Community” that’s entitled, “Technology and Community.”  This journal was written B.C. (Before COVID), and I thought it would be interesting to see how the article now applies. I want to share two quotes from author Matthew Kobs that I believe get to the heart of what I’ve been struggling with during this time of social and physical and digital distancing, and perhaps you’ve been struggling with too.

 

“Human beings are social creatures designed to form community based on shared physical presence.”

 

“Time spent together (actually together), sustains us for time spent apart.”

 

This is so true for us when it comes to all our communities.  It’s especially true when it comes to the faith community.  No one is an island.  We are created for community. 

 

I’m thankful for the time we have had to spend together (actually together) before our lives and our world came to a halt by COVID-19, and pray that time will sustain us for our time spent apart.  And I pray you all long for that time spent together once again.

 

The Holy Spirit inspired these words to be written in the letter of Hebrews:

 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

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 10:23-25)

 

For now, our meeting together has been hindered.  One day, when that is not the case,  I pray we will realize how crucial it is that we faithfully meet together, in person, to spur one another on toward love and good deeds and to encourage each other.

 

I can’t wait until we can “see” each other once again, and worship and study and serve and support each other once again!

 

Until then, may God bless your viewing!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig

“I’ll Trade You”

MAY 12, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Have you ever offered someone to trade what you have for what they have?  I’ve tried it with my cars through the years.  So far, no takers!

 

There are times when we would rather trade our circumstances with the circumstances of others.  You can no doubt think of difficult circumstances you have faced that you would have been glad to trade with someone else!  Doing so would have made life a whole lot easier for you!

 

But I’m also guessing you know of people who have gone through extremely difficult circumstances and have said, “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

 

How could they say that?  Do they find some weird kind of pleasure in their pain and anxiety?  Or . . . can they say that because they found peace in the midst of their pain and anxiety?

 

In St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Philippi, he shows us how peace in the midst of pain and anxiety is possible.

 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition,

with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

 

God is offering us an amazing trade!  He invites us to trade our anxiety, our every situation, in exchange for His peace.  Talk about an unfair trade!  In prayer, we give God the bad stuff and He gives us the good stuff!

 

But then again, this shouldn’t surprise us.  That’s how our God operates.  He sent His Son into this world to make a trade with us. As Jesus hung on the cross, He offered the world the most amazing trade of all:

 

“I’ll trade my forgiveness for your sin.”

 

And in spite of all the rejection, betrayal, denial, injustice, agony and abandonment He experienced during His passion, because He knew it would result in our forgiveness, He says to you and me, “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

Imagine that.  He was willing to make that amazing kind of trade for us, as unfair as it was for Him.

 

And He continues to offer to make an amazing and unfair trade with you. 

 

Give God your anxiety and your anxious requests, and He will give you His peace, a peace that passes all human understanding. 

 

Not only that, He will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

If there is ever a time when our hearts and minds need to be guarded, to be grounded in Jesus Christ our Savior, it is now.

 

I encourage you to take Him up on His trade offer.  Give Him your anxiety and He will give you His peace.  You will be glad you did!

 

God’s peace be yours, now and always.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Are You Waiting for God or Waiting on God?”

MAY 11, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

With government leaders beginning to open their states in phases, many people are excited about returning to their favorite dining establishments.  They can’t wait to be waited on, perhaps by a favorite server, and to enjoy those foods and refreshments they have missed!  And the waiters/servers are excited to wait on customers so they can start generating an income once again!

 

Recently a book I was reading made an interesting analogy between a waiter/server waiting on customers and a Christian waiting on God. 

 

In his book, Sacred Waiting: Waiting on God in a World That Waits for Nothing, author David Timms reminds us that the Bible is full of people who were used by God after significant periods of waiting on God.  The author made an important distinction between waiting for God and waiting on God.  This is where the analogy of the waiter/server and customers is used.

 

Often in life, we act like we are the customers and God is the server.  We wait for God to come to the table and to take our orders and to serve us in a timely and satisfactory manner.  And if we aren’t satisfied with His service, He doesn’t get much of a tip! 

 

But that’s the opposite of what it means to be a child of God.  As God’s children, we are called to wait on God.  A waiter/server intentionally strives to come into the presence of his/her customers and to serve them attentively.  We are called to do the same thing in our relationship with God.  We are called to come into God’s presence and to serve Him attentively.  And that is especially true when we find ourselves in times of extensive waiting when we feel like we are in a holding pattern.  Such times provided special opportunities for waiting on God.

 

Often, in our instant gratification, high productivity culture, it may seem like waiting is wasting time.  We fail to realize that our times of waiting are opportunities for us to pause and consider if we are living as if the world revolves around us, or if our lives and our world revolve around God.  If the former is true, then we will live like everyone else, including God, should be waiting on us and serving our needs.  If the latter is true, then we will live like we were designed to live.  We wait on God by coming into His presence and serving Him.

 

How we come into the Lord’s presence seems clear.  The time we spend in God’s Word, in worship, in prayer are the primary ways we come into His presence.

 

But what about serving Him?  How do we do that?  By serving others in His name.  Often, our times of waiting are divine appointments that the Lord has set up for us to serve Him by serving others.  In Matthew 25, Jesus says what will happen when He returns in glory:

 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

 

Such waiting on the Lord by waiting on others is sacred waiting. But the waiting on others doesn’t make us sacred.  It is our thankful response to the One who made us sacred.  Our inheritance, the kingdom prepared for us since the creation of the world, was paid for by the One who served us and saved us—our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

As those who have been served by Him, we can wait on Him by coming into His presence.  And as we do, He prompts us to see the opportunities He has placed before us to serve Him by serving others.  That is sacred waiting!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson


“Knowing What to Discard”

MAY 9, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 


Did you grow up playing card games? Maybe you have dusted off a deck of cards during this extra time at home and started playing some of those games again. 


I grew up in a family that enjoyed playing lots of different card games, and that tradition has continued to this day. 


One thing that is true about some card games is that they involve discarding. 


In some card games, after you draw a card, then you must decide if you should keep the card or discard the card. If you are lucky enough to keep the good cards and discard the bad cards, you can find yourself in a good position to win the hand! 


The game of life is like a card game. Through each age and stage of life, in fact through every day of life, we decide what we are going to keep and what we are going to discard. 


Especially in challenging times like these, we have an opportunity to look at our hand and decide if we have been holding the right cards. There are only so many cards we can hold, so some must be discarded. But which ones? 


Are there things you were keeping in your playing hand before the COVID-19 pandemic that you are now ready to discard? What are they? Are there things you are still keeping in your playing hand even though you know you should discard them? 


Through the writer of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit gives us some good advice: 


“Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.” (Hebrews 12:1) 


Have you been reluctant to throw off, to discard, some sins and other things in your life that have hindered your relationship with God? Now is as good a time as any to discard those things. But how? 


By confessing them to God. 




If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify

us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9) 


Pretty amazing, isn’t it? When we discard our sins by confessing them to God, He discards our sins by throwing them at the foot of the cross, where Jesus covered them with His forgiveness. And with our sins discarded, He gives us a new hand to play! 


As you discard your sins, may you rejoice in your Savior’s forgiveness, and respond by playing your hand for His glory and for the benefit of others! 


In Jesus’ name. 


Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

MAY 8, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

When you think about the words in the title of today’s message, your memory probably takes you back to Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.  In each episode, Fred Rogers would sing the song with those words asking us to be a neighbor.

 

But that request to be a neighbor didn’t begin with Fred Rogers.  It began with Jesus in His parable of the Good Samaritan.

 

An expert in the Jewish law was testing Jesus.  He asked Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” 

 

Jesus could have responded, “Wrong question!  There is nothing YOU can do to inherit eternal life!”  But Jesus played along with this self-righteous saint.  He asked him what the law said.  The man responded:

 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)

 

Jesus told him, “You have answered correctly.  Do this and you will live.”

But the man wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:28-29).

 

The man had the right answer, but he didn’t have the right heart. He was only concerned with making Himself look right before God, not with doing the right thing for others.

 

So through the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus showed the man that your neighbor is anyone who is in need.  The Good Samaritan understood that and acted on it.  Jesus told the expert in the Jewish law, and He tells you and me, “Go and do likewise.”(Luke 10:37)

 

I’m grateful for the many ways that God’s people at Faith Community continue to be like Good Samaritans for our neighbors in need. 

 

       Food pantry donations to the Balm of Gilead are feeding hundreds in Las Vegas.

 

       Rice support in Liberia is feeding hundreds of our brothers and sisters who would have starved otherwise.

 

       Mats for the homeless have softened the surfaces where they are sleeping.

 

       Masks for health workers and others help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 

       Individual gifts and assistance given to countless people have brought them from despair to hope.

 

       To the question, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” Faith Community has answered on many occasions with a loud,“YES!”  

 

As some of you have heard, Faith Community was invited to partner with some Christian Churches and Medical Clinics in Las Vegas to offer Drive-through COVID-19 testing for our community.  The coalition is called CityServeLV.

 

We see this as an opportunity to be a good neighbor to our community in several ways.

 

1)       We can provide a safe, free test for people concerned they have symptoms.

 

2)      We can increase the volume and speed of the testing that is needed to meet the level that is required by our state leaders, and help the people of our community to get on with their lives again.

 

3)      Most importantly, we can share the peace and love of Christ with people in our community who are living with fear and uncertainty at this time.

 

May 16th and 30th are the initial dates when Faith Community will be offering its parking lot to be used as a Drive-through COVID-19 Testing Site.

 

This is another way we are saying to our community that we are willing to be their neighbor, in Jesus’ name, to help others in their time of need. 

 

If you feel called to be a neighbor to our community through CityServeLV, please check out our website (faithlasvegas.org) for more information.  Whether you are a medical professional or not, there are ways you can help us be a blessing to our neighbors.

 

May our answer to Jesus’ question, “Won’t you be a neighbor?” be “Yes” so others will be invited to know Him too.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What’s on Your Bucket List?”

MAY 7, 2020


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 
While re-reading Jeff Manion’s book entitled, “Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption,” I was reminded of the 2007 film, “The Bucket List.”
 
In the film, two men, from very different backgrounds, and with very different personalities, were sharing a hospital room as they both battled terminal cancer. Carter (Morgan Freeman) was a mechanic, and Edward (Jack Nicholson) was a multi-millionaire.
 
As their friendship grew, so did their desire to escape the cancer ward and spend what time they had left crossing off adventures from their bucket list—things they wanted to do before they kicked the bucket. They chased after and indulged in all kinds of adventures they had always dreamed of but had never taken the time to pursue.
 
On this National Day of Prayer, I wonder if there are things on your bucket list you pray you will be able to do before you kick the bucket? Places you want to see? People you want to meet? Adventures you want to experience?  
 
What’s on your bucket list? Maybe you had things on your bucket list, but a little virus that caused a big pandemic has led you to erase some things from your Bucket List.
 
In the book of Proverbs, part of the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament, there is a man named Agur who has an interesting Bucket List.
 
“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.” (Proverbs 30:7-8)
 
Agur asks two things of the Lord in his Bucket List Prayer.
 
First, Agur wants to live a life of sincerity.
 
Agur prays that his life will be marked by integrity, and people will not remember him as a man of dishonesty and deceit, but a man of sincerity.
 
Second, Agur wants to live a life of simplicity.
 
Agur prays that his life will not have too much prosperity or poverty. He desires to live a life of simplicity, trusting that God will provide what he needs for each day.
 
It’s no wonder Agur’s words are found in the Wisdom Literature in the Bible. Agur understands very well the nature of human nature. Agur’s desire is to stay on the road of godly wisdom, and he prays he won’t go into the ditch on either side.

“Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.”
 (Proverbs 30:9)
 
Material prosperity can lead to spiritual poverty. In times of prosperity, it is easy to forget that God is the great Giver, and focus instead on worshiping His gifts and taking the credit for them. And when we forget to thank the Giver, we often fail to be givers ourselves, generously sharing from the abundance of God’s generosity towards us.
 
Material poverty can lead to spiritual poverty as well. Instead of trusting in the Lord and His promises, and putting our needs into His hands, we take things into our hands (literally) and bring shame on the name of our God in the process.
 
What is at the top of Agur’s Bucket List? He wants to live a life in harmony with God and His will. He wants to live his life sincerely and simply, trusting in the Lord each day until he kicks the bucket.
 
What’s on your Bucket List? Are the items focused more on your personal pleasure or on things that bring God pleasure?  
 
On this National Day of Prayer, and every day, may Agur show us a wise way to pray to God concerning the items on our Bucket Lists.
 
In Jesus’ name.
 
Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Penned In”

MAY 6, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

In preparation for my sermon this coming Sunday about listening to and following Jesus, our Good Shepherd, my study took me on a delightful detour that focused on the nature of sheep pens.  What is it like when sheep are “penned in” and how does that apply to our lives?

 

Sheep pens are not pretty places.  They aren’t lush and green and picturesque, unless they have been abandoned for a long time. These enclosures of stone and sticks and bricks  are barren inside, filled with a buildup of dirt and debris and dung.  Any grass that had been in the sheep pen has been killed by the trampling hooves of the sheep.  And just imagine the odor after a rain or in the heat of the summer sun. 

 

But for the sheep, it is a safe place for them to be quarantined at night.  If left out in the open, they would be subject to all kinds of dangers.  Predators could kill them.  Thieves could steal them.  The landscape could injure them.  The darkness could confuse them and cause them to wander off from the flock and get lost.

 

The sheep are quarantined at night in a sheep pen for their own safety and protection.  Then, at the light of dawn, the shepherd calls the sheep out of the sheep pen and into the pastures where they can find food and drink and rest.

 

Sometimes, as sinners living in a sin-broken world, we create sheep pens for ourselves.  Sometimes we do it to protect ourselves from those outside who would intend to harm or destroy us.  Other times we do it to protect ourselves from allowing God and others to see the dirt and debris and dung that has accumulated in our lives. 

 

Changing and challenging times like these often cause us to examine our lives and to consider what has accumulated in our sheep pens.

 

Our Good Shepherd, who knows us and calls us by name, wants what is best for us.  He doesn’t want us to stay in our sheep pens.  He wants to call us out of our sheep pens and to lead us to a better place where we are free to enjoy His presence and His pleasures in the pastures of His grace.

 

It takes trust to leave the sheep pen of our safety and security and seclusion—no matter how smelly it is--and to follow Jesus as our Shepherd.  Sometimes our fear of the future and of letting go of our need to control keeps us trapped in our smelly sheep pens.

 

But we have a Savior in Jesus who has earned our trust.  Our Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God who paid the penalty for our sin on the cross so we could be forgiven and free to follow Him.  If He was willing to do that for us, we can trust that He wants to leave our sheep pens so He can lead us to pastures filled with His blessings. 

 

Perhaps no one describes our Shepherd’s blessings better than David in Psalm 23.

 

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

 

Wouldn’t you agree that this sounds much more inviting than a sheep pen!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Recalculating”

MAY 5, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Several years ago, my family traveled to Oregon and back.  After visiting lots of family in Oregon, we headed down the California coast and headed for the wine country.

 

Amy wanted to visit a particular winery so she entered it in the GPS.  It didn’t take long before we started feeling like we were getting bad directions.  The GPS took us off the main road and onto a gravel road.  Even though we doubted a famous winery would be off the beaten path, we kept following the directions we were given. 

 

Eventually, we were led up a windy, curvy, narrow, hilly dirt road. We had been waiting for some time for the GPS to tell us, “Recalculating” but it never did.  Finally, when our GPS spoke, it told us something I had never heard before:

 

“You have reached your last navigable point.  You must now proceed on foot.”

 

What?!  There we were in our van on a hilltop, with a camper.  We had figure out how to turn the van and camper around so we could end this crazy search for a winery and get back on the road again.

 

Five minutes after we got on the main road, we passed by the winery we were looking for.  We didn’t stop.  The delightful detour we took trying to find it was enough.

 

After the children of Israel were delivered from their slavery in Egypt, they found themselves on a delightful detour.  God’s Positioning System seemed to malfunction and send them in a crazy direction too.

 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.  Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’  And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.” So the Israelites did this. (Exodus 14:1-4)

 

At first glance, it seems God was doing to the Israelites what our GPS did to us.  He was making them wander around the land in confusion and away from their desired destination.

But God had a reason for that delightful detour in the desert.  He said to Moses:

 

“Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’  And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them. But I will gain glory for myself through Pharaoh and all his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.”

 

God recalculated the journey for Moses and the Israelites so that He would gain glory through the Israelites’ enemy and so their enemy would know once and for all that God is the Lord.  His detour was by design.

 

In many ways during this challenging coronavirus season, it seems we are like the Israelites, wandering around in a land of confusion. Just when we think we know what direction we need to go, based on the latest press conference about what phase of reopening we are in, we recalculate, only to find out things have changed again. We feel like we are hemmed in by the desert, not knowing which way to go.

 

But in the midst of all the chaos, confusion, recalculating and redirecting we are going through, God promises to be with us and to lead us through it, for His glory, and for our good.  And as He does, the world will see that He is the Lord! 

 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

(Proverbs 3:5-6)

 

Wherever you are, trust in God’s promises and He will guide you all the way to the Promised Land of Heaven.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“How Low Can You Go?”

MAY 4, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Are you feeling kind of low right now?

 

All because of a microscopic virus, your lifestyle, and possibly your livelihood, have been altered dramatically.

 

You are told where you can and can’t go, and what you can and can’t do.

 

You are to isolate yourself from others for their protection and yours.

 

And you are sinking, financially, emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually.

 

How low can you go?

 

If you are feeling this way, there is an Old Testament prophet who can relate to you.  And He can show you how to respond in such times.  His name is Jonah.

 

Now Jonah found himself going lower and lower because of his rebellious disobedience.  God told him where to go and what to do.

 

“Go to the great city of Ninevah and preach against it,

because its wickedness has come up before me.” (Jonah 1:2)

 

What was Jonah’s response?  I’m not going up there!  Instead, Jonah started going down as he tried to flee from God and His mission for him.  Whenever we try to go away from God, we begin a downward spiral.

 

Jonah went down to Joppa so he could get a ship and sail away from God.

 

Out on the waters, when God caused a fierce storm to overwhelm the ship, Jonah went down below deck to sleep and escape.

 

When it became clear to the pagan sailors that Jonah’s disobedience to God was the cause of this storm, Jonah offered for them to throw him overboard so he could go down into the waters and escape from God.  

 

Jonah was willing to go as low as he could go to escape God and His mission for Jonah.

 

But God wasn’t done with Jonah!  He commanded a large fish to swallow Jonah.  But even though he was rescued from drowning, he continued to go down lower and lower. 

 

Jonah couldn’t escape from God.  With the help of a giant fish, God caught Jonah and had a captive audience.  As Jonah continued to sink down lower and lower inside the fish, he reflected on his situation and looked up to his God.  

 

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the Lord his God. He said: “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.  From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.   You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers
    swept over me. 

 

I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’  The engulfing waters threatened me,the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head.  To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. 


But you, Lord my God, brought my life up from the pit.  “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

 “Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.


But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you.  What I have vowed I will make good.  I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’”

 

And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

(Jonah 2:1-10)

 

God allowed Jonah to go as low as he wanted to go, and then took him even lower.  And in the process, as Jonah continued to sink down, Jonah realized that his only hope was to look up to God with prayer and praise and promises and the proclamation, “Salvation comes from the Lord.”

 

And just like that, the isolation was over.  Jonah was no longer in solitary confinement.  God commanded the fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land to begin a new chapter of life and servie.

 

As you reflect on the words of Jonah’s plight, can you relate?

 

As you reflect on the words of Jonah’s prayer, can you repeat?

 

Is God using this time of isolation to have you consider how you have been running from God and His will for your life?

 

Is God using this time of isolation to have you consider how you can recommit yourself to the God of your salvation?

 

When this time of separation and isolation is over and you are “vomited onto dry land,” you may not have seaweed wrapped around your head.  But you will probably have lots of hair wrapped around your head!  Well, some of you.  

 

You won’t smell like a fish’s gastric juices because you’ve at least been able to shower during your time of isolation.

 

But will you be different?  Will this time have brought you closer to the Lord of your salvation?  Will this time have you praying and praising and promising and proclaiming your Savior?

 

I hope so, because that means God has been working in you during this time, and He will use you in the next chapter of your life—whatever that will look like—to invite more people to know Him.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“What’s Essential?”

MAY 2, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

There has been a lot of talk these days about what’s essential. What businesses are essential?  What employees are essential? What health and safety precautions are essential?  What grocery items are essential?

 

Life is filled with distractions that can keep us from focusing on what’s essential.

 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, what distractions in your life were keeping you from focusing on what’s essential?

 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, what distractions in your life are keeping you from focusing on what’s essential?

 

No matter what may be happening in our lives and in our world, it’s so easy to get distracted by what’s urgent, what’s popular and what’s seemingly important, that we lose sight of what is truly essential.

 

Such was the case when Jesus arrived at the home of Mary and Martha.

 

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at

the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42)

 

Martha and Mary were both wonderful, faithful followers of Jesus. They loved Him and were honored to have Him in their home. And Jesus used His visit there as a teachable moment for them and for us.

 

Martha did what’s important.  In that culture, showing gracious hospitality towards visitors was expected and customary.  And with Jesus as their guest, Martha would feel even more obligated to make Jesus feel at home.  What Martha did for Jesus was important.  But it distracted her and distanced her from her Lord Jesus.      

 

Mary did what’s essential.  She focused her time and energy on being with Jesus.  She sat at His feet and listened to what He said.

 

When Marth protested over Mary’s actions, Jesus said to her:

 

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 

Jesus told Martha what’s essential—spending time with Him so you can get to know Him and learn from Him.  Everything else, no matter how important, is non-essential.

 

This time of shutdown is a good time to reflect upon whether you have been living more like Martha or Mary.  It’s a good time to sort through what’s essential and what’s non-essential in your life. 

 

That’s not to say that you should ignore the many important things you need to do in life.  But be careful that you don’t get so distracted by all the preparations that you miss out on time with Jesus in the process.  Busyness is one of Satan’s favorite strategies for keeping us distracted from spending time with Jesus.

 

When this life ends, all the preparations that distracted us so much will mean nothing.  The only thing that will matter, the only thing that’s essential, is that we know Jesus as our Savior and Lord.

  

Let’s choose what is better, knowing it won’t be taken away from us.

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Taking a Risk”

MAY 1, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Since the COVID-19 virus appeared on the radar screen, people around the world have been encouraged or directed or ordered to stay home and not take any risks that could lead to catching the virus.  

 

This extra time at home has led me to ponder many things.  Among them is the reality that it is impossible to live a risk-free life.

 

No matter what you do or don’t do in life, there are risks involved. Whether you are isolated and locked in your own home, or skiing down a dangerous mountain, or something in between, you are taking a risk.  You never know what can happen.  Risk is real and risk is relative.

 

The August 6, 2019 issue of Forbes online had an article by Dr. Lance B. Eliot, a world-renowned expert on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML).  The article was entitled,“Thinking Logically About the Risks of Self-Driving Cars.”

 

Eliot states that there are not as yet any true self-driving driverless cars on the road.  But there are different levels of cars, with a range of autonomous, semi-autonomous and conventional cars, which vary in terms of who or what is doing most of the driving,

Artificial Intelligence or a human being. 

 

As you and I know from experience, whenever a human being is driving a car, risks are involved.  And in some cases, human drivers cause huge risks to themselves and others when they drive!  I’m sure you have names for such drivers. 😊

 

Would there more or less risk involved if a car were autonomous or semi-autonomous?

 

I know the goal is that semi-autonomous and autonomous cars will be less risky than conventional cars with human drivers.  I don’t know about you, but I still prefer to be more responsible for the driving risks than Artificial Intelligence!  And yet, I realize that, just as an autonomous or semi-autonomous car can’t predict or react perfectly to every possible scenario, neither can I.  But I would still rather be the one that is truly in the driver’s seat.  How about you?

 

Have you ever seen a bumper sticker on a car with the words, “God is My Co-Pilot”?

 

You may not be comfortable having God as your Co-Pilot because you wouldn’t want Him to see how you drive and where you drive to, or what you say while you are driving!

 

Or maybe you are comfortable having God as your Co-Pilot because you want the assurance that He is with you and you are open to suggestions He has for you while you drive your car down the road of life.

 

But what if I told you that God doesn’t want to be your Co-Pilot? What if I told you that God wants to be in the driver’s seat of your life?  How comfortable would you be taking that risk?

 

Would you be willing to switch seats with God?  Would you be willing to let Him steer your life where He wants it to go?  Would you be willing to let Him determine when to slow down or speed up or stop your life?  Would you be willing to let Him decide when you go forward or in reverse or stay in neutral?

 

My guess is that if you are like most human beings, you would either want to get back in the driver’s seat, or you would want to make sure you could tell God what you think of His driving!

 

And that’s because as human creatures we think it is less risky for us to drive our lives than for our Creator God to drive our lives. But is it worth the risk to not trust God and let Him take the wheel?

 

“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)

 

When we release the tight grip of our hands from the steering wheel of our lives and let God take the wheel, we aren’t handing over our lives to some Artificial Intelligence.  We are handing over our lives to the One who creates us, saved us and dwells within us. 

 

He knows where He is leading us, and there is no possible scenario that might catch God off guard and cause Him to wrongly react as He leads us to our destination.

 

In uncertain times like these, we are tempted to try harder to be in control.  It’s better to let go of the controls and admit we never have been in control as we hand the controls over to the One who is in control of our lives and all of creation.

 

It’s worth the risk!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“From Groaning to Glory”

APRIL 30, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 

A pastor friend of mine recently posted the following prayer on Facebook.

Are you familiar with this prayer?  Have you been praying it often lately?  Me too!  Sometimes my prayers come out as a jumbled mess.  Our hearts and minds can be so overwhelmed at times that we don’t know what to say when we pray.  God’s response is, “That’s ok.  Pray anyway.  And I will help you.”  I’ll explain how in just a moment. 

Romans, chapter 8, is filled with hope and encouragement to carry us through the struggles and sufferings we face in this sin-broken world.  One part of Romans 8 specifically refers to groaning and glory. 

 

How does that apply to your prayer life?  You will see.  But first, we need to look at the references to groaning and glory in this part of Romans 8.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:18-22)

 

These verses remind us that all of creation is groaning under the weight of human sin.  When Adam and Eve fell into sin, the curse fell on all of creation, and continues to do so.  And all of creation will continue groaning until the Last Day when it joins the children of God in the glory of the New Heavens and New Earth!

 

 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.  For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25)

 

These verses remind us that even as children of God, we are groaning as we look forward to the Last Day when Jesus returns in glory.  Until then, in our groaning, we live in hope and assurance that we will be transformed to live forever with the Lord.

 

Until then, we groan and we pray.  And as we do, Someone groans with us and helps us.

 

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

 

Even when our prayers are nothing but a jumbled-up mess, God hears and understands and answers our prayers!  That’s because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us and groans on our behalf, translating our confusing prayers and thoughts and emotions, and presenting our prayers in accordance with God’s will to the throne of grace.

 

Even as all of creation groans and we groan in this sin-broken world, the Holy Spirit  groans with us.  And the Holy Spirit will continue to do so until our groaning is replaced with the joy of being in God’s glorious presence!  That’s why St. Paul began this section with these words:

 

I consider that our present sufferings (and the groaning that goes with them) are

not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

 

Because of our Savior Jesus, we will one day go from groaning to glory!

 

Until then, keep praying, even if you don’t know what you are saying!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“A FLOATING QUARANTINE”

APRIL 29, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

“Stay Home for Nevada.”

 

That is what Nevada residents are being told by government officials and others.  The same is true in many other states as well.  And for weeks, except for essential workers, that is what we have done, for the most part.  Nevada has stayed home.

 

Have you found that because of “Stay Home for Nevada,” what you are experiencing in your home isn’t exactly “Home Sweet Home”?

 

Have the rooms gotten smaller?  Have the tempers gotten shorter?  Have the stress levels gotten higher?  Have the finances gotten tighter?  Has your “Home Sweet Home” made you feel claustrophobic?

 

Thankfully, some of us can still leave our homes for a while in order to do or buy something essential.  But only if we follow proper procedures.  

 

Whether you can leave your home or not, you are no doubt looking forward to opening the doors of your home to a new beginning.   

 

Noah didn’t have the option of leaving his home.  “Get in the Boat and Float” was God’s directive to Noah, his wife, his sons and their wives, and all the animals on the ark that would repopulate the earth.

 

Before the waters rise too much, let me back up and remind you why God had Noah build a boat in the first place. 

 

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.  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.”  (Genesis 6:5-7)

 

The human race had gone down such a wicked and evil path that the Lord was grieved that He had made human beings and His heart was deeply troubled. 

Humanity and creation needed a new beginning.  That was its only hope.

And that new beginning would require God’s judgment and mercy.

 

The judgment would come in the form of a flood that would destroy all that were not on the ark.  The mercy would come in the form of the ark. 

 

And that mercy began when the door was closed on Noah and the others in the ark.  After all the people and animals were in the ark, as God had commanded Noah, “Then the Lord shut him in” (Genesis 7:16b).

 

In an act of mercy, God shut Noah and his family and the animals in the ark.  Not just for forty days.  That’s how long the flood came on the earth.  But for over a year!

 

Now you may be wondering, “What’s so merciful about being cooped up together with your family and all those smelly animals for that long?” 

 

By shutting the door on all the passengers on the ark, God saved them from the flood of His judgment and allowed them to pass through the storm, until it was time for God to reopen the door to a new chapter of salvation history.  They would be God’s new beginning for creation!

 

During this pandemic, as you continue to be shut in, could God be saving you from something?  Could it be that your life was headed in a destructive direction?  Could God be using this time to redirect our life and to give you and others a new beginning in Him when the door is reopened?

 

Just as Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord, because of Christ’s saving work, we have found favor in the eyes of the Lord too.  The ark was a temporary solution for sin.  The final solution for sin would be the cross of Christ, where God’s justice and mercy came together so sin could be judged and sinners could be forgiven.  And three days later, the stone that shut Jesus’ dead body in the tomb was removed, opening the door to a new beginning for us with our risen Savior! 

 

In Baptism, it all comes together. 

 

In it (the ark) only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God.  It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right

hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. (1 Peter 3:20b-22)

 

Quarantined in an ark for over a year, Noah and his family were saved by God’s mercy and given a new beginning as God’s children.

 

Quarantined in our homes for a time, we have the assurance that we were saved by God’s mercy in Baptism and given a new beginning as God’s children too. 

 

As you wait for God to open the door for you, may you thank your merciful God!

 

In Jesus’ name.

 

Pastor Craig Michaelson

“Built on the Rock”

APRIL 28, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

The Great Flood of 1993 occurred from May through September along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and their tributaries.  Major flooding occurred across North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Illinois, resulting in over 50 deaths and $15 billion in damages.

 

Amy and I were living in St. Louis at the time, and images of that flood still come to my mind.  As the water levels running down the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers increased, levies broke and flooded thousands of acres of land.   Giant barns were rolled down the Rivers like they were cardboard boxes.  Many farms and communities faced mass destruction.  One entire community was destroyed and had to be rebuild on a bluff. 

 

Storms in life come in many forms.  Pandemics.  Recessions.  Accidents.  Hurricanes.  Earthquakes.  Tornadoes.  Deaths.  Lost businesses and jobs.  Divorces.  Wars. Foreclosures.  There are probably other storms you could add to the list as well.

 

The storms of life can shake us to our very foundation.  And they force us to re-examine the kind of foundation upon which we have been building our lives.

 

Which is why Jesus urges us to make sure we have our lives built on the right foundation, the foundation built on Him, our rock and our salvation.

 

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:24-27)

 

We live in a world that is constantly trying to get us to build our lives on foundations that are nothing but sinking sand.  And if we follow the world’s advice, when the storms of life come, we will fall with a great crash.

 

Jesus offers us a better foundation.  A rock-solid foundation.  A foundation that is built on hearing His words and putting them into practice. 

 

Unfortunately, too often we choose to listen to the world’s words and put them into practice instead.  It’s hard not to.  The world bombards us with its words 24/7/365.  And their frequency and volume make it difficult to hear the still small voice of the Lord and put into practice what He says.  And before we know it, the storms of life hit, we find ourselves in sinking sand.

 

Thankfully, Jesus is our rock and our salvation!  He came to be the rock-solid foundation we need to stay standing through the storms of life.

 

But in order to do that, He had to face storms of betrayal, denial, abandonment, hatred, rejection, injustice, torture and crucifixion.  After those storms were over, He was placed in a tomb, and a rock was rolled in front of His burial place.  It seemed as if the storms were just too much for Jesus. 

 

But on the third day, the rock was rolled away from the tomb, and Jesus came out of the tomb alive!  Jesus withstood the storms He faced and He stands as our rock-solid foundation to help us withstand the storms we face.

 

If you are not feeling too sure-footed right now, let Jesus lift you from the sinking sank and onto the rock-solid foundation of forgiveness and salvation that He won for you.

 

And in this difficult time, let world’s noise be muted and tune in to the Lord’s words in the Gospels.  As you read them and put them into practice, you can be assured that your rock-solid foundation will hold you, because that foundation is Jesus!

 

In Jesus’ name.

"Detours"

APRIL 26, 2020

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ:

 

Where I grew up in Iowa, we had two seasons—winter and road construction!

 

One of the good things that is coming out of the coronavirus is that road construction work continues while we are off the roads, and hopefully most of it will be done when we get back on the roads!

 

With road construction comes detours.  Some detours only require brief, minor lane changes.  No big deal.  Other detours require long, major changes in order to get to our destination.  A big deal!

 

The detour we are on right now because of the coronavirus is a big deal.  And we have no control over what detours government leaders, health officials and others may require us to take.  One thing is for sure, the journey to our destination has been a rough one, and it may lead us to places we never expected.

 

When I think of detours in life, I can’t help but think of Joseph and his journey in Genesis 37-50.  Joseph experienced all kinds of detours that were out of his control. 

 

What began as a smooth ride as Jacob’s favorite son became a very bumpy ride indeed!

 

Joseph’s older brothers were jealous of Joseph and despised him for the special

treatment he got as the youngest son.  Once, after Joseph shared a couple of his dreams with his brothers, they hit the breaking point and decided to kill him.  But then their hearts were changed and they decided that wouldn’t be the brotherly thing to do.  So they sold him to a slave trader who was passing by on his way to Egypt!

 

Once in Egypt, Joseph was purchased by an Egyptian official named Potiphar.  From favored son to rejected brother to slave.  Talk about a detour!

 

But something amazing happens in Potiphar’s house.  “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered” (Genesis 39:2).  Potiphar recognizes that everything Joseph does benefits Potiphar and his household, so he puts him in charge of his household.  Joseph is back on a smooth road once again.

 

But then Potiphar’s wife pushes Joseph off the road, first by unsuccessfully trying to seduce him, and then by wrongly accusing him of making advances towards her.  Potiphar is enraged and has Joseph imprisoned.  It seems Joseph has come to the end of the road.  Not at all the destination he had planned.

 

But something amazing happens in prison.  “But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him, he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (Genesis 39:21).   And the next thing you know, the prison warden puts Joseph in charge!

 

Fast-forward and the Pharaoh is having some sleepless nights and weird dreams.  He invites Joseph to come to him and interpret his dreams.  God gives Joseph the interpretations of the dreams, which warn that there will be seven years of plentiful harvest followed by seven years of famine.  Pharaoh is pleased with Joseph and promotes Joseph to second in command in Egypt to oversee the entire food program.  As a result, the Lord blesses Joseph and Egypt.

 

If the story ended here, it would be a happy but unexpected ending for Joseph.  In his wildest dreams, Joseph could have never imagined that his life’s journey would somehow lead him to be second in command in Egypt!  Talk about a smooth road!  

 

But wait!  There’s more!  Joseph’s journey reaches its climax when his brothers come Egypt in search of food.  They had all but forgotten their brother Joseph and had no idea they would be coming to Joseph to get relief for their family during the famine.

 

Talk about a great opportunity for revenge!  Just think of all the dastardly detours Joseph had to take because of his brothers’ actions.  He had the power and position and right to turn them into slaves, or worse!  And when his brothers realized who Joseph was and the position they were now in, they feared the worst.

 

But there is an amazing ending to this life of detours that Joseph faced.  Joseph turned to his brothers in love and forgiveness and said, “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).

 

Through his journey full of detours, Joseph recognized the faithfulness and presence of His God.  Time after time, God met Joseph at places he did not choose to be, and blessed Joseph and others.  God didn’t remove Joseph from those detours, but He was faithful to Joseph in the detours.  And Joseph was faithful to God in the detours.  

 

When Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers, he thought he had hit bottom.  The detours of his life would prove otherwise.