Tuesday, February 28, 2012


There is a powerful scene near the end of the movie The Kingdom of Heaven. Orlando Bloom plays the part of Balian, a blacksmith turned knight that has come to defend Jerusalem against the Muslim hoard that seeks to overthrow the Christian held city in the 12th century. All of the other knights have either fled or been killed and he is left to fight for the holy city with a few hundred  old men and teenage boys against the thousands and thousands of warriors of Saladim, the Muslim war lord. They have prepared the walls as best they can, fortifying the gates, putting cauldrons of boiling oil on top of the parapets to pour down on the attackers, and now they wait for the battle of their lives.
The priest, who is the weak, cowardly character in the movie says to Balian, “We must surrender the city. We cannot defend it. We have no knights.” Balian turns to a frightened teenage boy in the center of the ragtag band of men. “Kneel,” he commands him. And then to the whole group, “Kneel.” They sink to their knees with the priest and the scared women and children looking on. Balian bellows to the entire band the oath that he had taken as a blacksmith just a few months earlier. “Be without fear in the face of your enemies. Be brave and upright that God may love thee. Speak the truth always even if it leads to your death. Safeguard the helpless and do no wrong. That is your oath.” Whack! He backhands the teenager across the face and says, “And that is so you will remember it.” Then he screams at the boy and at the group, “Rise a knight. Rise a knight.” You can see the change come over the face of this motley crew as his words sink in and they stand with a courage and character inside them that was not there before.
The naysayer priest is not satisfied. As Balian is walking off he yells after him, “Who do you think you are? Will you alter the world? Does making a man a knight make him a better fighter?” Balian spins around and  glares at the priest and then at the brave band of men that he has just addressed. He looks back at the priest and in one word, almost a whisper he says, “YES!”
The Holy Spirit comes to us to do many things. Perhaps the most powerful of those things is to remind us of who we really are in Christ. We are sons and daughters of the King. We are children of God. It does not matter where we have come from or how heinous our past. When we are baptized in the blood of the Lamb “we are new creatures in Christ Jesus,” (II Corinthians 5:17) and “His Spirit bears witness with our Spirit that we are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:16) Whack! Don’t you ever forget it. God has done something deep inside of you if you have given your life to Him and you are no longer who you used to be. You are now who He says you are. That is amazing. I don’t live in fear about the future. I don’t cower in the face of my circumstances. Finances, relationships, physical ailments are nothing compared to what the Holy Spirit of God is doing in me. I am somebody. You are somebody. You are a knight or a knightess or whatever…. You are filled with the power and presence of God.
Beth Moore has done such a great job of teaching that message with her five fingered object lesson. She starts with her thumb and holds up one finger at a time. (Do that now. Go ahead. Nobody is watching.)
                1. God is who He says He is.
2.  God can do what He says He will do.
4.  I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13)
5. The Word of God is living and active in me.
Whack again! Rise a knight. I’m ready to battle the world after saying that. Aren’t you?  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus says, “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) The Holy Spirit is saying to you right now. “You are a world changer. You can overcome this event in your life. You will be used greatly by me. YOU ARE A CHILD OF GOD!”
Yea, yea, that’s all well and good but what difference does it make. It’s just words on a page. I’m not sure it changes anything. Does saying I can do all things through Christ make me a better person?
YES! YES! It does change you. So say it. I can do all things through Christ…now rise a knight.
(To read more messages by Mike and to be get his weekly blog sign up at www.mikecourtney.blogspot.com

Friday, February 17, 2012


He came to earth as a baby, knowing that someday he would be the savior of the world. His “earthly” parents took him to a small little town where he was raised in obscurity, almost secretive, growing stronger everyday and waiting for the right time to reveal his strength and special power to the world. Finally, the day came when as a young man, having grown strong and having learned about who he was and where he came from, he was ready and the world was ready for him. He stepped out onto the stage, ripped open his shirt and exposed a large red “S” on his chest. His name is Superman. That is who you thought I was talking about isn’t it?

I wonder what it was like to be the young Superman? Knowing you are called to a mission but not sure of the power within you to pull it off. Waiting for the strength to show up and the muscle to mature. Sitting on the sidelines while the world wondered if you were worth the fuss.

In Acts 19 there is another group of guys that have waited. They were baptized by John the Baptist maybe 25 years earlier and now they wait. They have a message and a mission but no muscle. They know they were called for a purpose but they lack the power. So the Apostle Paul comes to them and asks, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” They are disciples (the NIV says so), they have bought into the story of Jesus, but there is nothing in their life to reflect the passionate, purposeful, powerful, ABUNDANT life that Jesus promised. Sound familiar?

For many of us we know Jesus as the forgiver of our sins and the saver of our souls. Thanks to Him we are going to heaven and not headed to the other place, (H E double hockey sticks). We have fire insurance and that’s about all. Where is the power? Where is the supernatural, out of this world, change the planet strength that we thought we’d have when we went to an altar at church camp or were baptized as young adults? Where is the ABUNDANT life? We have waited, wondering, weak and worrying. Is this as good as it gets?

Paul comes to the men at Ephesus and asks, “Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed?” That question brings up a problem for me.  Aren’t Jesus and the Holy Spirit one in the same? Can you get Christ and not get the Spirit? I don’t think so. Maybe that’s why Paul writes to them years later and reminds them that there is “One Lord, one faith, one baptism; One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6) So, rather than get all theological about this let’s just say that if you have Jesus in your heart you’ve got the Holy Spirit in you as well. That must mean that there is a way of living that fails to recognize and exemplify the power of God in the life of the believer. Something about these guys made Paul ask the question. “What’s the deal? You’ve been hanging around 25 years and I don’t see much going on? Did you receive the Spirit?” The rest of the story is pretty cool. He tells them about the Holy Spirit, baptizes them in the name of Jesus, lays his hands on them and they have a praise Jesus meeting to beat the band.

Now here is what I make up about that. We get two things when we get Jesus. (Well, we get a lot of things; eternal life, peace that passes all understanding, joy unspeakable…) But two things really stand out. We get His Presence. All of the presence of God is ours. Not just a part, not just an itsy bitsy slice, all of God is in Jesus and He is in us. Colossians 1:19 says “For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him.” And all of that fullness dwells in us. Listen young Superman, you are not in this thing alone. He is with you. Every trial you face, every struggle you have, every step of the way the Creator of the Universe is right there inside you and He promises to “Never leave you or forsake you.” I can handle that!

The second thing we get is His Power. We are not some mealy mouthed, mamby pamby, hope we can make it another day kind of followers. When you invited Christ into your life He came with great POWER. Go get in front of the mirror right now. Unbutton your shirt and look at that t-shirt. (Okay, check that. I remember what my skinny chest and sloppy belly looked like in the mirror this morning.) Maybe we should just imagine the blue tights and the bold, red S on our chests. We are supermen and superwomen, filled with the presence and power of God and able to do more than we think or can imagine. Even Jesus said to us “Anyone who has faith in Me will do what I have done. He will do greater things than these.” (John 14:12) Are you trying to reach your friends for Jesus? Are you wanting God to work in your marriage? Are you looking at a ministry and wishing you could tackle it? YOU HAVE GOT THE POWER IN YOU. All you have to do is start operating In the Name of Jesus.

Next week we’ll talk more about what that looks like. For today the lesson is this. You can do anything because Jesus Christ lives in you and gives you strength. (That would make a pretty good Bible verse.) Maybe you have been waiting around for a long time for God to come and make you strong. Maybe you have been on the sidelines hoping someday He would give you something special. He already did. It’s a done deal. The power of His presence is in you now. You are a world changer. You are a hero. You are Supersomebody and He is ready to do a mighty work in you. That fires me up!

One final note. Acts 19:7 says there were 12 men. After 25 years only 12 men. Waiting around, hoping for some power, not accomplishing much. A few years later Paul writes to the Ephesians “Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus, and your love for the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you.” (1:15-16) There are so many there that Paul doesn’t even know them. The church at Ephesus is a power-house for evangelizing the Gentiles. They have taken off. When the power comes stuff happens. So you, this week, slip into a phone booth somewhere, rip open your shirt and begin to serve God with POWER. You will be amazed at what He starts doing through you.

This is the 3rd of a six week series on the Holy Spirit.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lessons Not About Whitney

She was as pure a voice, and as lovely an entertainer as we have seen; at least in her early days. The unmistakable influence of her gospel mother and her soulful aunt combined into a jazz/rock vocalist that took all of the world by storm. We who were believers embraced her because of her wholesome appearance and the fact that she started her singing in the church choir. Doris and I still listen to “I Love the Lord,” from the Preacher’s Wife soundtrack.  And this weekend she died.
There will be a hundred epitaphs and a thousand blogs, ten thousand, written about Whitney Houston. Some will confer sainthood on her immediately and deify her music and talent. Others will use this opportunity to vilify her life and life style in the hopes of evangelizing some wayward youth and rescuing them from a like demise. I guess both approaches are fair game when a life has been so public for so long.
But my thoughts this morning are not so much about Whitney Houston or Bobby Brown, or even that girl that had blue hair last night. My thoughts are about me. (Now there’s a surprise!) And about what I am offering a hungry world that is desperately seeking a hero. Granted my world is much, much smaller than Ms. Houston’s. And my impact will certainly not gain the same press, good or bad. But I do have a sphere of influence, a small community of travelers in the same lane, moving in the same direction as me for a while. And I have a window of opportunity to be a model of some sort to them.
Paul says, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” To the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 1:6 he said, “You became imitators of us and of the Lord.” Now there’s a sobering thought that there is a part of my world that is watching to see how I do it, making their decisions about how and if to live for Christ based on what they see in me. They watch how I start. They judge me in the middle. And they will be there to make observations at the end. Even if my “entourage” at the very end is no more than my wife and sons and grandsons it is a staggering responsibility to know that they will pass out my Grammy Award.
So, this morning I am not thinking about Whitney nearly as much as I am thinking about me…and them. What will I leave them? What am I telling them now? What lessons will they use of mine to shape their own destiny?
Here are three fast and simple ideas that I think I hope they get:
1.       Life is short. It goes so fast that there is not a lot of room for waste. Now that is all the more reason to relax and enjoy it by the way. Time is too short to be fretting all the time about getting it perfect. But having said that, my father-in-laws adage is true, “Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
2.       Our battle is not for anything on this planet. Don’t get me wrong. I want fame and wealth and a new pick-up truck as well as the next guy. I sit around at night and look through the Bass Pro Shop catalogue and dream. I watch Charles Stanley on TV and wish that was me. (Being on TV, not looking old and wearing thick glasses like Charles Stanley.) I want to have more than I have and be more than I am. But I am always drawn back to the fact that that is not the battle. “Our battle is not against flesh and blood…..but against the spiritual forces of evil.” Ephesians 6:12 We are in a fight for our lives, literally, and the lives of those we care about and it won’t be won with glamour and glitz. We saw that this weekend.
3.       All we have to do to win is finish. Can you believe that? We are in a race where the outcome has already been decided. Guess what? We win. Some of us will cross the finish line in a blaze of glory with cheering crowds and adoring fans. Some of us (read that ME) will probably crawl over  in the dark of the night, just happy to have survived. It doesn’t matter. In my devotions this morning the Psalmist said, “I waited patiently for the Lord, He turned to me and heard me. He lifted me up out of the slimy pit…..He put a new song in my mouth.” Psalm 40
Listen I am no Whitney Houston or Bruno Mars or that guy that looks like Mickey Mouse. But I can SING! I know what is important. I know what I have to do to get there. And I know that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords both sings over me and sings through me every step of the way. Now that’s the lesson I want my peeps to get. Word.  (I really just embarrassed myself. I don’t know what that means.)

Friday, February 10, 2012

The Majestic Life

        There is a feel good movie from about 10 year ago called The Majestic. Jim Carrey played an amnesiac screen writer who stumbles into a small, depressed, down beaten town in Northern California. There are two prominent features of this little town, the dilapidated old, out of service theatre that once dominated the main street and the absence of any kind of hope because the war, WWII, has taken its youth away. That hopelessness is focused on the loss of one young man in particular, Luke, the larger than life, hero type favorite son of the community and of the theatre owner. And in a plot that only Hollywood can come up with, apparently Jim Carrey is a dead-ringer look-a-like for Luke, the missing in action son of the town. The whole story of the movie is the transformation that takes place in the community, the theatre, and the people when they believe that Luke has come home.

In the upper room Jesus is fully aware that his imminent departure is going to devastate His little band of followers. Not just the disciples but the small community of believers, His entourage, they are probably gathered there as He teaches them one more time about the significance of the Passover meal, about Branches and Vines, and about Abundant Life. Remember He has just said,” I have come that you might have abundant life.” John 10:10. And now He says, “It is important for you that I go away.” John 16:7

Really Lord? Okay, I’m really confused now. Are you going to give us something that makes us happy wealthy and wise? Is it going to be all ice cream and roses from this point on with lots of singing and laughter, and generally feeling good? I mean are we going to have abundant life like you promised? Or? Are you leaving us in our darkest hour? Is it true that we are going to be misquoted, misunderstood, and mistreated? Are we really going to be kicked out of the church? Even killed in your name? Really? Which one is it? Abundant life or miserable death? Good times or bad times? To which Jesus replies…you guessed it, YES!

The reason I am leaving He says is so that the Holy Spirit can come. Now we can have a great fun discussion about the theological physics of the Trinity. Was there some time and space edict, like Back to the Future, where Marty Frye and his father couldn’t occupy the same space at the same time? Was it necessary for the physical body of Christ to be gone so that the universal body of Christ could be receptive to the Holy Spirit of God? Well, my deep theological answer to that is…I don’t know. But I do know that Jesus says, “I have to go away. But when He comes….Well, when He comes that is going to be a game changer. Life will hit this town again, the lights of the theatre will blaze once more. Like Luke in The Majestic, His coming (The Holy Spirit) will put pep back in the step of everyone who recognizes Him.” (Believe it or not, that’s not an exact quote.) The Abundant Life comes to us when we fully recognize, invite, and embrace the Holy Spirit in our world, our lives, and our hearts.

Here’s the deal. The Abundant Life is not a thing that we get. It is a Person that we engage. The Abundant Life is a life immersed in the Holy Spirit of God, given over to Him, and His leading, and His presence in a way that perhaps we have never dreamed possible. When we allow Him to live in us like that, the old theatre comes alive in a new way and the lights come. Our life becomes….. Majestic.

I am not sure everything that this means but, the Perfect Presence of God, the Divine Doer of all that is good, and right, and noble, the King of the World and the Creator of the Universe, somehow steps inside my skin and lives in me.  Wow! That changes everything. Listen, remember our conversation last week? I don’t mope around in fear. I don’t keep my fingers on my spiritual pulse to see if I’m still breathing. Jesus says, “I will leave physically so that I can come spiritually and live in the form of the Holy Spirit inside each one of you.” Paul says it another way in Colossians 1, “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Do you get that? Christ, the Holy Spirit, actually living in you and in me. Well, that is downright Majestic.

That means at least three things to me. All three of them are about taking the pressure off of me and allowing me to just live the Abundant Life.  First, He keeps me on track. “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: “ ( John 16:8) Jesus uses the word “righteousness.” Dikaiosune is the Greek word that we might translate as right-ed-ness, to be put in a right relationship with God. We are like a mirror trying to line up correctly so as to produce an accurate reflection of God to the world. It is the Holy Spirit that is saying, “Easy, easy, a little more to the left, now bring it in just a smidge. Perfect.” He is at work in us to help us point our compass to True North.

Second He continually teaches me. “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.” (John 16:13) I don’t know about you but I am in a perpetual state of remedial life. I constantly need refresher courses. And the Holy Spirit gently but firmly teaches me all day long, each step of the day. I don’t have to cram for some cosmic final exam. I am just enjoying lessons all along the way about grace, and patience, and trust. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John14:26)

The final thing the Holy Spirit does, He keeps me focused on what really matters, or better yet, who really matters. “All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” (John 16:15) I can get distracted with the best of them. I fret about finances, fuss about family, fume over the future. But when I listen to Him in me, the Holy Spirit says, “Hey, you’re missing the big picture. You need to focus on me and see all of the marvelous things I am doing. (And going to do!) You see that bad doctor’s report? Watch how I step in there. Are you looking at that pile of bills on your desk? Let me show you something about providing. Do you have your eyes on that kid that’s breaking your heart? See what I can do with prodigals.

When my focus becomes Him rather than the stuff around me life gets Abundant. The dread and drudgery turns unto delight. It’s like magic. Instead of doom and gloom the lights come on and everything around me is joy and peace. The Holy Spirit, living in me, when  I get out of the way turns the dark screen into a 3-D, multi-view, surround sound, Cineplex. And I can sit back and enjoy the show.

In the movie, The Majestic, Jim Carrey’s make believe father is telling him about re-opening the theatre. His voice is full of passion and his hands gesture toward the dusty old screen. “That's why we call it The Majestic. Any man, woman, child could buy their ticket, walk right in. Here they'd be, here we'd be. "Yes sir, yes ma'am. Enjoy the show." And in they'd come entering a palace, like in a dream, like in heaven. Maybe you had worries and problems out there, but once you came through those doors, they didn't matter anymore. And you know why? Chaplin, that's why. And Keaton and Lloyd. Garbo, Gable, and Lombard, and Jimmy Stewart and Jimmy Cagney. Fred and Ginger. They were gods. And they lived up there. That was Olympus. Would you remember if I told you how lucky we felt just to be here? To have the privilege of watching them. I mean, this television thing. Why would you want to stay at home and watch a little box? Because it's convenient? Because you don't have to get dressed up, because you could just sit there? I mean, how can you call that entertainment, alone in your living room? Where's the other people? Where's the audience? Where's the magic? I'll tell you, in a place like this, the magic is all around you. The trick is to see it.” The Holy Spirit is at work in you today. The trick is to see it.


(This is the second blog in a six part series on The Abundant Life. To read the whole series, or to find the complete manuscript of the lesson to our staff from which it came, go to www.mikecourtney.blogspot.com)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

All In The Abundant Life

I spent my high school years in Myrtle Beach. Back then it was a sleepy, empty town about 6 months of the year that exploded into a people polluted tourist trap from March to September. The first wave of tourists were the Canadians that began trickling in about late February and arrived in earnest by mid March. Now in early March the air temperature is usually in the 70’s during the day in Myrtle Beach. My friends and I used to love to sit on the white, sandy dunes of the Grand Strand and watch the unsuspecting Canadian guests hit the beach for the first time. They would pile out of their vans, peeling off parkas, and mittens, stripping down to their swimsuits on the dead run across that flat, pristine shore. They would be laughing and yelling to each other, so excited for their first dip in the mighty Atlantic. Sun on their faces, warm breeze in their hair, they would hit the edge of the water and dive. (Let me pause right here with our heroes in mid-air to remind you that in March the Gulf Stream has dipped all the way down to Miami, Florida allowing the waters of the Atlantic to come from..you guessed it…CANADA!)

They would hit the water that was about 50 degrees, do unbelievable finger walks across the tops of the waves and then stand shivering on the edge of the sand shouting French-Canadian obscenities to we locals rolling in laughter in the “cheap seats.” Too cold to go in, too hot to stay out, they would mill around in hoards waiting for something to change. Finally, one or two brave souls would get up the courage to dive all the way in. Before you knew it, the whole crazy lot was immersed in the blue-green water having a great time.

The Kingdom Life of the Holy Spirit is like that. It is miserable when we are standing on the edge. We tip-toe around, hearing about the anointing of God, seeing His marvelous blessings, but still being overwhelmed by defeat and discouragement, depression and disappointment, too cold to go in and too hot to stay out. We taste just enough of the Power of His Presence to make us hungry for more but never really sit down at the table and let Him fill us with the Bread of Life.

Over the next six weeks I am going to write and read and teach and learn about what it means to go all in. In fact I am calling it “learning out loud” because I am not sure I know much about being totally immersed in the Spirit of God. I started this week by teaching the counselors and staff at Branches. Each week I plan to write a (hopefully) short little blog highlighting the idea and linking you to the complete text of the Bible study that we do as a staff, if you’re interested.

This week, the place to begin seems to be with the great confession of Jesus in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly.”  Abundant life, one translation says “Life in the fullest.” I don’t understand that completely but it sure sounds like letting go and diving all the way in to me.

He begins that chapter talking about the sheep and the sheep pen and the sheep rustler who tries to slip in over the fence. He says the sheep rustler doesn’t know the sheep intimately, like the shepherd does, and they don’t know him so he has to steal them. In fact, in the first half of verse 10 Jesus says the sheep rustler wants to “steal and kill” the sheep. What is that all about?

Well, the sheep rustler sure sounds like the devil to me. If that’s true (and it is) then the way he tries to steal us is by telling us we can be in control. Remember his words to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:5, “You won’t die (if you eat the apple). You will be like God.” Read that…IN CONTROL. Even his lie to Jesus in the wilderness was about being in control. “Turn the rocks into bread, jump off of the temple, claim your kingdom.” All of that is about taking control.

Now here’s the point for today, the abundant life, really immersed, all in, totally sold out life that Jesus promises us is about giving up control. It is about surrender, trust, faith, dependence, “letting go and letting God.” Stuff like, “Trust in the Lord with ALL your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5. Or Matthew 6:25, “Do not worry about life, what you will eat. Or you body, what you will wear.” The real abundant life is one that is fully laid in the hands of God for Him to do with, and make of, what He chooses. Isn’t that ironic? A life full of the power of God is one that has given up its own power and relies on and relaxes in The Higher Power.

Over the next few weeks we’ll look at that more. For today let me remind you of one thing. When you start living that way it is going to look strange to some people who are setting on the sidelines. Like me and my mocking buddies in Myrtle Beach, there will be those that just wait for you to take the dive so they can laugh at you when you fall. Well, I’m ready to go all Canadian on them. No more messing around the edges for me. I am hungry for the Bread of Life, thirsty for the Living Water. I am all in for the Abundant Living that Jesus promises and I can’t wait to see what the water feels like. How about you? Are you with me? Take the dive and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. “I am crucified with Christ. Nevertheless I live. Yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who LOVES me and gave His life for me.” Galatians 2:20 …… Now, where are my swimming trunks?                              Mike

The full manuscript of the Thursday message will be posted on Saturday evening at www.mikecourtney.blogspot.com. While you’re there please sign up to follow the blog so we know how effective this medium is. Grace and Peace.