Daily Devotions Thursday October 30, 2008

Daily Devotions

Thursday, October 30, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Choices Prove Love

 

Today’s Scripture:   1 Samuel 3:18  “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

 

What do you love more than God? From the average Christian there would be a popular response – “Nothing.”  It would be a lie. If it was so easy to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, then God wouldn’t have made His first command to us to “have no other gods before Him.” We live in a country that calls itself Christian yet denies the very values that prove an acknowledgement of God, let alone a love for Him. Our choices and our actions tend to be determined by our own preferences and plans rather than the purpose of God. If given the choice between surrendering to the control of God or sacrificing God’s standards for the sake of self, we are too easily drawn to choose the latter. It is far too convenient in our culture to pursue the gratification of the immediate at the expense of God’s holiness. And every time we choose self-fulfillment, self-gratification, or secular prosperity over the moral truths of Jesus Christ, we deny that God is who we say we believe He is.

 

Granted, it’s not easy to submit to the Sovereignty of God, but it is essential. In the short-term, we may be unpopular. Our reasoning may be ridiculed. We may be persecuted for our position. We may be labeled as lunatics. Stand strong – you are in good company with your Lord. Nothing is more important for the true follower of Jesus than to uphold the right of God to reign supreme.

 

I challenge you to go through the story of Eli and his sons in 1 Samuel 2. You will discover that Eli, the chosen priest of God, had two sons that treated with contempt the sacrificial system God had ordained for that day. Rather than uphold God’s holiness, Eli chose to favor his sons and not correct their actions. As a result, God declared through a prophet that Eli’s family would be removed from their ministry, and that there would be a physical curse placed on all of them and their descendants that they would never live to be considered old of age. They would all die in the prime of their lives. In addition, Eli’s two sons would be killed on the same day, an event God called a sign that His justice would be enforced. The prophet who was given this message told Eli directly what God had said.

 

Now, in Chapter three, Samuel hears from the Lord for the first time, and God tests his commitment. He told him personally the same things the prophet had told Eli. When Eli asked Samuel what the Lord had said, Samuel was scared to tell him. But he knew he must tell the truth. He confirms the message of the prophet to Eli. Imagine what Eli must be thinking. As a result of the sin of his sons, and his choice to honor his sons over God, there would be ramifications and consequences placed upon his entire family tree from that day forward. I’m sure he struggled with the temptation to rebel against God, as we all would. He probably thought about complaining to God. He probably wondered I throwing a fit would help. He certainly struggled with the choice to turn to his own abilities to provide for himself and pursue alternate possibilities. But what does he say? It’s pretty revealing about his heart, isn’t it? It’s pretty revealing about our hearts, too, if we couldn’t say it. He said, “He is the LORD; let him do what is good in his eyes.”

 

My friends, every day we are confronted with choices that test the true love of our heart. Every day we have the right to choose to surrender to the Sovereignty of God and His holiness or to pursue the pleasures and prosperity of this world. Every day we demonstrate what we really love by building up treasures for ourselves on this earth or in eternity. Every day we testify to whom we really love when we strive for the security of self or we serve the Savior. Even when it meant personal loss – great loss – Eli acknowledged the sovereignty and holiness of God. I wonder how we would respond in the same situation?

 

In five days our love for God will be tested. Are we willing to suffer loss for the sake of serving the Lord? Are we willing to stand on the holiness of God and the sanctity of life or will we pursue the security of self? Is there any issue for which we should deny our love for God? Is there any loss – financial or physical – that demands that we sacrifice the spiritual? Do we really believe that what we believe about God is really real? I pray that our choices every day, not just on election day, reveal that we love God more than we love self.

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions Tuesday October 28, 2008

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Make a Connection

 

Today’s Scripture:   2 Timothy 3:14-15  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 

 

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. With the antlers a-clashin’ and white tails flashin’ I’m out with the deer. It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

 

For the next two weeks your daily devotional will be arriving at different times of the day because I’ve saved up some vacation time to hunt the mighty whitetail during the prime time of the season – the rut. So if you don’t get that early morning email from me, just remember to pray for me, so I don’t fall out of my tree stand.

 

When I was a young boy in fifth grade, our church had a program for boys called Christian Service Brigade. It was my first real introduction to the great outdoors. The head Brigadier was a man named Virgil Oldham, and he made a real difference in my life. He taught us all about living the adventure of wilderness life. We went on camping trips, canoe trips, fishing trips, and learned the skills necessary to survive in the outdoors. Mr. Oldham was a great role model. He was patient. He was consistent. He was fair. He taught with words and by example. I’m sure every boy in that ministry would tell you that they felt like they were his favorite, because that’s how he treated us. Even though he never took me hunting, I know the love he gave me for the woods and the skills he taught me were the foundation of my love for pursuing big game.

 

I learned something else important from Mr. Oldham – that God can use each and every one of us to impact someone else’s life if we will just let Him. Touching someone’s life for Jesus isn’t confined to those who preach or write. Leading people to Jesus for salvation isn’t limited to Sunday School teachers or missionaries. Giving someone value and purpose isn’t limited to professional counselors. One man, a heating contractor named Virgil, invested his love for Jesus in ministry to young boys by teaching them outdoor skills, and he changed their lives. He certainly changed mine.

 

Each one of us has skills. We all have areas of personal interest. What’s needed is for us to invest in the lives of others – especially our youth. The most important lesson I have learned from all of this is that the subject matter isn’t nearly as important as the connection. Young people need to know that they are worth investing in. The connection you make with them is far more important than the skill you can teach them. Someday, after a real connection has been made, maybe 45 years later, the real value of what you gave will be made known.

 

Thank you, Mr. Oldham, for making such a connection with me.

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions Monday October 27, 2008

Daily Devotions

Monday, October 27, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Support

 

Today’s Scripture:   1 Corinthians 16:15-18  You know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints. I urge you, brothers, to submit to such as these and to everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it. I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.

 

I am so thankful for the people of my church who have participated in Pastor Appreciation Month during October. Each Sunday one of the Elders has led a special recognition event during the morning worship services. People have sent cards. Some have included gifts. Today I will be collecting one of those gifts when someone from the church does some much needed work on one of my vehicles. It has been great to hear people tell me how their lives are being touched by the ministry of our pastors. Thanks so much, everyone. I don’t know how many people truly understand how easy it is for us to get discouraged and tired. Your encouragement helps prop us up when we are leaning.

 

One of the ways I was encouraged recently was through a story that was sent to me. It reminded me how we all need someone to prop us up when we are leaning. At his church prayer meetings, an old deacon would always pray, “Lord, prop us up on our leanin’ side.” After hearing him pray that prayer many times, someone asked him why he prayed that prayer so fervently.
He answered, “Well sir, you see, it’s like this… I got an old barn out back. It’s been there a long time; it’s withstood a lot of weather; it’s gone through a lot of storms, and it’s stood for many years.
It’s still standing. But one day I noticed it was leaning to one side a bit. So I went and got some pine poles and propped it up on its leaning side so it wouldn’t fall. Then I got to thinking about that and how much I was like that old barn. I’ve been around a long time. I’ve withstood a lot of life’s storms. I’ve withstood a lot of bad weather in life, I’ve withstood a lot of hard times, and I’m still standing too. But I find myself leaning to one side from time to time, so I like to ask the Lord to prop us up on our leaning side, ’cause I figure a lot of us get to leaning at times. Sometimes we get to leaning toward anger, leaning toward bitterness, leaning toward hatred, leaning toward cussing, leaning toward a lot of things that we shouldn’t . So we need to pray, ‘Lord, prop us up on our leaning side,’ so we will stand straight and tall again, to glorify the Lord.”

 

I need some pine poles to prop up my leanin’ side. I’ll bet you do too. I pray that today someone will be that prop for you. I also pray that we will get to be such a pole for someone else. People who refresh the spirit’s of others deserve recognition. Thanks for how you help to refresh mine.

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions Wednesday October 22, 2008

I will not be posting a devotional for the next few days. I’ll be back on line on Monday.

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Salvation

 

Today’s Scripture:   Romans 3:22-24  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 

 

Of all the stories I’ve been reading about people who made a difference in someone’s life, I’ve discovered a glaring omission. I haven’t received a single story yet of someone who came to saving faith in Jesus Christ because of the influence of another person. Now I’m convinced that there are many such stories, and you probably have one. You may even be the subject of someone else’s story of salvation because you showed them the way to Jesus. But I am concerned about something. Why, when we think of the people who made a difference in our lives, don’t we immediately think of the person who was responsible for telling us about Jesus? Isn’t our salvation the greatest gift we have ever received, and didn’t it make the biggest difference in our lives?

 

I believe the answers to these questions have serious implications in our lives today. We have become people who move about in life with very little concern for the lost people around us. We are so enamored by the blessings of our own lives, filled with pleasures and possessions, that we are blinded to the spiritual condition of those around us who are still in the bondage of sin. We would do anything and make any sacrifice to accomplish our own goals, but find it difficult to influence another life for Christ. We make plans to see a Packer game, go on a trip, buy a new car or boat or camper, or invest in any other item or activity that will perish with this world, and yet we will let lost people around us perish with it. What does that say about our personal value system?

 

Roger Storms, pastor of First Christian Church in Chandler, Arizona, tells this story: “One Sunday, a car had broken down in the alley behind our facilities, and the driver had jacked up the car and crawled underneath to work on the problem. Suddenly, we heard him scream for help. The jack had slipped, and the car had come down on top of him. Someone shouted, ‘Call 9-1-1!’ and a couple of people ran for the phone. Several of our men gathered around the large car and strained to lift it off the trapped man. Nurses from our congregation were rounded up and brought to the scene. Somehow the men were able to ease the car’s weight off the man and he was pulled free. Our nurses checked him over. He was scratched up and shaken, but otherwise okay. When this man was in peril, people did all they could to help—risking themselves, inconveniencing themselves. Whatever was necessary to save this man, they were ready to try. How we need this same attitude when it comes to rescuing those in greatest peril—the danger of losing life eternally!”

 

C.S. Lewis said, “The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.” The real business of life! So I have a simple suggestions to help us all get back to the real business of life – every day, at the close of every prayer, whether it’s at meals or in your devotions, ask God to use your life to win one soul to Christ today. How can we claim to pray in Jesus’ Name if we aren’t praying for His number one priority for our lives? We must begin to get  serious about bringing people to Jesus, and the best place for that to start is in our prayers.

 

Steve Sjogren is the pastor of a church in Cincinnati, Ohio. One Monday morning he was feeling particularly discouraged and announced to his wife Janie, “I’m quitting the ministry! And this time I mean it.” Janie had heard this kind of talk before so she suggested, “Why don’t you go for a drive and think things through? Usually that helps when you’re stressed out. And while you’re out, could you be a sweetheart and pick me up a burrito?” Steve drove around for about an hour, complaining to the Lord the whole time. Finally, he was in the fast-food drive-thru to pick up Janie’s burrito when he sensed the Lord speaking to him. He is very careful to say he did not hear an audible voice … nothing came over the drive-thru speaker. In a subtle, quiet way he sensed the Lord impressing this message on his heart, “If you open your door I will give you a gift.” Even though he felt silly, Steve figured he had nothing to lose, so he opened the car door, looked down and saw embedded in the asphalt, a tarnished penny. This is what he says about the experience: “I reached down to pry out the coin and held it in my hand feeling less than thankful for this ‘gift.’ The Lord spoke to me again: ‘Many people in this city feel about as valuable as discarded pennies. I’ve given you the gift of gathering people who seem valueless. Though these are the people that the world casts off, they have great value to me. If you will open your heart, I will bring you more pennies than you know what to do with.”

 

So start praying for pennies. Spiritual pennies. Ask God to use your life to make a difference in the life of someone else by showing them the love of Jesus and leading them to salvation. Be intentional about it. Make it a part of every prayer you pray. Before you say “in Jesus Name, Amen” you should always say “Jesus, save someone today, and use me to do it.”

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions Tuesday October 21, 2008

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Redemption

 

Today’s Scripture:   Ruth 4:13-15  So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

 

Last week we looked at the story of Ruth, a woman who stepped out of her homeland and left her own family to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi. Her personal sacrifice really made a difference. But that’s not the end of the story. Ruth meets a man named Boaz. He is a wealthy land owner. He is a relative of Naomi’s husband who died. He is about to fall in love.

 

I would challenge you to study the incredible concept of redemption in the Old Testament – something we don’t have the time or space to do here. But in short, redemption is the “buying back” of what had been lost. The social and cultural system of the Old Testament honored family names, heritage, and ownership. If a man died without having a son, a relative of the man was to marry the widow and produce an heir that would carry on the family name and ownership of property. The relative was called the kinsman-redeemer. Without a son to carry on the family name, the name would be lost, and all rights of ownership would be lost. The kinsman-redeemer was the rescuer of what would be lost.

 

Boaz was second in line to redeem Naomi’s family name and property. After following the proper protocols, he jumped to the front of the line when the relative in front of him declined the opportunity. This required him to make a financial sacrifice to purchase the land. It also required him to marry a foreign woman whom he barely (or barley, if you read the story carefully) knew. But what a difference his sacrifices would make for all of us. His willingness to become the redeemer of another person’s name and heritage brought joy to all those in the land. Naomi’s position in society was secured. She would not be left homeless and nameless. The other women praised the Lord because of Boaz. Ruth would fulfill her calling to bear a son and carry on the heritage of Naomi’s family line. You and I would be blessed by all of this because the son born to Boaz would be the grandfather of King David, whose family heritage would culminate in the birth of our Redeemer Jesus Christ.

 

I would challenge you to reflect on the story of Ruth and the need we all have for a Redeemer to buy back the lives we had lost to sin. But I also challenge you to think of the way Ruth and Boaz stepped out of their own little worlds and made sacrifices for others. I have a friend like that. He is always stepping out of his world to enter the world of others and help people. He is always ready to go anywhere and do anything that will supply a need. His name is George, and today, he needs our help. Last night a fire destroyed George and Janice’s home. They will need our help. They will need clothing. They will need help with the inventory of all their possessions for the insurance company. They will need help cleaning and sorting through all the stuff that’s left. They will need food. They may even need a place to stay for a while as they make decisions about rebuilding. It’s our turn to step out of our worlds and make sacrifices for them, the same way they have done for so many others. We get to be kinsmen-redeemers of sorts, because we are relatives in the body of Christ.

 

For those of you who get these devotionals and aren’t part of our church, please pray for George and Janice Hepfler. Then look around – there are people where you live that need help. For all of us, there are people everywhere who need a Redeemer. They will only see Him if you show Him to them by stepping out of your world and into theirs. Every one of us has been given the opportunity and the provision to participate in the process of redemption. Somewhere around you is a person who is lost and needs to be bought back. The sacrifices you make to meet their needs will be the way they see the Redeemer. It’s time we realize we are their kinsmen, and they need us.

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions Monday October 20, 2008

Daily Devotions

Monday, October 20, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Growing Together

 

Today’s Scripture:   Romans 5:1-5  “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

 

I have always hated running. I don’t mind running so that I can stretch a single into a double in a church softball game, or running down a pass thrown to the corner of the end zone, or even running up the hill of a golf course to see if the shot I just hit went in the hole. But running just for the sake of running some more has no appeal to me. But I do admire those who do love to run. I admire their endurance and their perseverance. I guess my problem is I’m not much into suffering for the sake of building muscle. I’ve had to realize that one doesn’t come without the other, both in the physical and the spiritual.

 

The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans five that we have two things for which to rejoice – the hope of the glory of God, and the suffering that produces a full understanding of that hope. I wonder if we haven’t sacrificed true hope on the altar of leisurely and luxurious living. I wonder if we need a fresh lesson in the school of suffering to teach us to persevere. Maybe then we will develop real Christ-like character and find the true hope of glory that never disappoints us because we are living under the Divine influence of God’s love rather than love for self.

 

Over the weekend I received an email from a reader of these devotionals who is not on my distribution list. She gets them through a friend who forwards them to her. She pointed out something very interesting about this passage of Scripture. She discovered that growing in character isn’t an individual activity, but a group one. Here’s her story of someone who made a difference in her life.


My high school cross country coach, Bud Swanson (whose first name admittedly was Harold, but no one would ever think to call him that) was the most unstoppable man I had ever met.  Daily he ran the long miles with the varsity team (though he always made sure to drop back to encourage those who were huffing and puffing).  Daily he told us the importance of a healthy diet (I never drank a full can of Coke after he said it would ruin an entire week of training).  Daily after practices he would have us stretch in silence and think about all the ways we could improve our mile times, all the ways we were stronger than the other teams, all the ways we were going to succeed in the next race.  He’d always say that, be it a cross-country race, a hard exam or any struggle we insecure teenage girls encountered in our lives, we could close our eyes and safely jump from any unimaginable height, as long as we had a cape in which we trusted without fail.  Bud ran right, ate right and thought right – and made sure we did the same for ourselves.

That’s why I was so surprised during my junior year of high school when he told us he had stomach cancer, and why – four months later – he died.

A little while after, I happened upon Romans 5, one of my favorite pieces of Scripture to read – only this time I read it differently than I ever had before: we rejoice in our sufferings, it says.  Not only do I have the ability to persevere through my own suffering and find hope, but because we are all connected – because we are all hands and feet and arms and legs and ears and eyes of the body of Christ – his family, his students, and I myself were able to gain character, hope and peace through Bud’s suffering, through his perseverance. 

 

Isn’t that great? We are connected, and when one part of the Body of Christ to which we belong suffers, we all suffer. And when we suffer together, we all grow in perseverance, character and hope. Unfortunately, our tendency is to become isolated during suffering, while God intends intimacy. If only we could get our eyes off of the need for immediate pleasure, gratification, or personal benefit, we could discover the incredible truth of hope growing through suffering.

 

But the needs of the individual have overwhelmed the betterment of the body. Our own personal agenda has taken priority over the building of the body of Christ. The desire to run the race has been extinguished by the dislike of training. Much of our time is spent avoiding suffering under the guise of making life better. We strive for satisfaction and stifle suffering. We pursue pleasures rather than perseverance. We chase after capital and careers instead of character. We hurry after happiness at the expense of real hope. Look around. Hope is fading. People are looking for it in all the wrong places and from all the wrong people. We may be in for a time of suffering. It is during this time that we who are in Christ will grow in perseverance, character and hope. Let’s do it together.

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions Thursday October 16, 2008

Daily Devotions

Thursday, October 16, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Sacrifice Makes a Difference

 

Today’s Scripture:   Ruth 2:10-12  At this, [Ruth] bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

 

I felt like I missed out. I regretted parts of my youth because of it. I understand why it had to happen the way it did, but I was jealous of those who had it differently. I’m glad that for the most part it’s different for me now.

 

“What are you talking about, PJ?” I’m talking about family. I grew up in a family that moved a lot. From the time I was born until the time I left home for college, my family never lived in the same place for more than four school years at a time except once. I went to two different high schools in two different states. I never developed close friendships. Every time I was settled in we would move. Yet it was in the last of those moves in the middle of my senior year of high school that I met someone who had never moved. She was classmates in high school with the same friends she had known since she was old enough to walk and talk. Extended family meant everything to her. Aunts and uncles and cousins were all close and spent lots of time together. She understood and appreciated, and still does to this day, the value of staying connected to family. In fact, it’s probably the most significant part of her life.

 

That’s why I admire her so much for what she did. She left it all behind to marry me and move out of her home state for the first time in her life. She sacrificed her closeness to family and went from seeing them consistently to seeing them only two times per year. We are so blessed to have been brought to a place in our ministry and service to Jesus that He has chosen to allow us to live close to our family. It is very important to us.

 

Yet as I have grown, I have also come to deeply respect the sacrifices made by people who don’t have that blessing. People like Ruth, who left her homeland and her family to follow Naomi back to her homeland and support her. People like Dudley and Inge Donaldson, who will soon be leaving their family and friends to go to Swaziland as missionaries for at least two years. Sure, the pain of separation still hurts: it hurts a lot. But when we look beyond that pain and let God finish the story, we find rich rewards at the end.

 

Ruth left everything to go to a foreign land to be with her mother-in-law. Who does such a thing? But word got around. People in the new land were impressed with her commitment, her sacrifice, and her love. Then, while at work in the fields one day, a man named Boaz told her how much everyone respected what she had done. Then he says this – May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” As you read that statement, what stands out as the most significant thing Boaz said to her? If we are thinking according to our own desires, then we would answer that the rewards from the Lord are most important. But if we are thinking according to our faith, we must answer that it was the fact that Ruth had chosen to take refuge under the wings of God that is most significant. Ruth made the choice that all of us must make at some point of our lives – to be committed to God above all else, even family.

 

My wife made that commitment. Thank you, Denise, for sacrificing your family to start ours. My dad made that commitment. Thank you, Dad, for following God wherever and whenever He led you. Dudley and Inge have made that commitment. Thank you, my friends, for being willing to go anywhere at anytime that God calls. You have all made the correct choice to take refuge under the wings of God. You are the people who make a difference, like Ruth did for Naomi. You are the people who look the most like Jesus, who gave up His heavenly to become one of us and save us from our sin. You are the people who truly live out the words of the great old hymn Under His Wings. Thank you!

Under His wings I am safely abiding;
  Though the night deepens and tempests are wild,
Still I can trust Him, I know He will keep me;
  He has redeemed me, and I am His child.
    
Under His wings–what a refuge in sorrow!
  How the heart yearningly turns to His rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
  There I find comfort, and there I am blest.

Under His wings–oh, what precious enjoyment!
  There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me;
  Resting in Jesus I’m safe evermore.

 

Under His wings, under His wings,
      Who from His love can sever?
    Under His wings my soul shall abide,
        Safely abide forever.

 

Pastor John