Daily Devotions for Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Plant A Seed This Christmas

 

Today’s Scripture:   Matthew 13:23, 37    But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown…The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.”

 

This may not seem like an appropriate passage of Scripture to have for devotions just two days before Christmas, but follow me on a journey today.  The journey has some twists and turns, and is a little long, but I think it will bless your heart. It starts in the Philippines.

 

Two weeks ago I received an email from a friend there. Her daughter is getting married. The father of the bride will watch the wedding from the presence of the Lord. His name was Victorino. He was my friend and one of my closest spiritual brothers. When he died of liver cancer he left a wife and four daughters behind. Several years ago I had the privilege of being asked by one of the daughters to be the stand-in father and walk her down the aisle for her wedding. What an honor it was to be there for that blessed event. Now the youngest daughter, Lily Grace, who calls me “Papa John”, is getting married on January 9th. She has invited me to come, but it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to go. I will never replace her real dad, but I am honored to be a part of this family’s lives as they serve the Lord faithfully where they are.

 

When I got the email I began to think of Victorino again, and the times of preaching we shared as we travelled to the remote villages of the Philippines together on two different occasions. I thought of the seeds of the Gospel that were planted and the harvest that has been experienced. Then I realized what “seed” made those trips possible. That seed was planted at Christmas in 1989, when another dear spiritual brother came to me with a large gift of money to finance my trip to the Philippines. He told me that his family had agreed that they would give up their Christmas gifts that year so that the gift of the Good News could be sent to those who have never heard. I was overwhelmed. It was with that seed money that I made the trip, met Victorino and his family, and saw dozens of people come to Christ. It was with that seed money that I paid for the tuition of two young people to attend Bible College, and both are in church planting ministry in the tribes today. It was with that seed money that I helped dedicate the land for a new church on a remote island where there were no churches, and preached the life-changing message of Jesus Christ in an open air meeting in the town square. I will have to wait until eternity to know the results of the seeds that were planted, and the full extent of the harvest. But I know this for sure now – every seed planted in good soil – soil prepared by the Holy Spirit – produces a crop. I am overwhelmed with the harvest God has allowed me to see.

 

Then I thought of another seed that was planted and is producing a harvest. The planting of that seed happened a couple of years ago. At that time my Associate Pastor, Dennis Pond, was living in the church parsonage next to the church. A man who had been rescued from gang life in Chicago through the work of Pacific Garden Mission was now living in Eau Claire, and staying with Pastor Pond. His name is Dennis Smith. Dudley Donaldson, whom we mentioned yesterday and is on his way to Swaziland to plant more seeds, was the seed-planter in Mr. Smith’s life. (I hope you’re not getting lost on this journey. I do have a map of where we are going.) Well, one day Mr. Smith saw a man pull up with a moving van to a duplex across the street from the church. With the true Christ-like heart of a servant, he went over and offered to help him move in. In the course of their conversation as they worked, Dennis shared the Gospel with him and invited him to church. The very next day John Brown and two young boys were at the men’s prayer breakfast at church, and the following day they were in church. Soon Mr. Brown’s live-in girlfriend Jessica was attending with her daughter and two sons. Several months later, John, Jessica, and their oldest son walked to the front of the church and knelt to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. They were married a short time later, and are now raising a Christian family.

 

But the journey isn’t over yet. You see, Jessica Brown’s sister died. The Brown’s have taken her two girls into their home, along with the other three children that are theirs. Last summer, at our annual tent event on our new property, Jessica’s daughter came to me and received Jesus as her Savior. Then last Sunday, at the conclusion of the service, the youngest son and the youngest niece came forward and received Jesus Christ as Savior. But the journey’s not done yet. Several months ago another young man named Jesse came to live with the Brown’s. John called me last night to tell me that Jesse wants to receive Christ as well, and will publicly profess his faith in Jesus at our Christmas Eve service tomorrow night. But we’re still not done. At the conclusion of the Christmas Eve service I will have the privilege of baptizing all of them as we celebrate the birth of Christ in their lives. All because of one seed that was planted by one man who simply helped another man move furniture.

 

You see, seeds produce a harvest. Your seed will produce a harvest. Your seed may seem small, but God’s Kingdom is governed by the principle of multiplication. Jesus Christ is God’s Seed. He was planted on the earth on Christmas morning. You and I are a part of the harvest. We have been given more seed to plant. There is more to be harvested. Why not start a new Christmas tradition this year, and then turn it into a daily practice. Do something, either by yourself or with your family, to plant a seed of the Good News in someone else’s life. Then get ready to reap a harvest that is guaranteed.

 

Pastor John

 

 

 

Daily Devotions for Monday, December 22, 2008

Daily Devotions

Monday, December 22, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Sacrifice Doesn’t Hurt

 

Today’s Scripture:   Matthew 11:28-30  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

This morning was tough. My wife and I stood in the dining room of our home at 5:40 a.m. and said goodbye. Not to each other, silly. But it was almost as hard. We held hands and prayed with our dear friends Dudley and Inge Donaldson. They left this morning on the first leg of their journey that will eventually lead them to Swaziland for at least two years of missionary service. Of course, we cried.

 

On Saturday, as Dudley and I were working to put some of their remaining belongings into storage, we had a great talk. I say remaining belongings, because they have so little left. In preparation for their move to Africa, they gave away most everything they owned. In fact, all of their possessions now fit inside an eight by ten storage locker, and it’s only half full. Other than the few boxes of precious memories at our house, they are starting over.

 

Today and tomorrow they are travelling in their mini-van to Canada to see family. They will give away their van, and the remainder of the possessions in the van, before they fly next Monday to Swaziland. They will have two, fifty-pound bags of luggage and a carry on bag on the plane, and that’s how they will start their adventure following their Lord and Savior to the uttermost parts of the earth.

 

About that discussion Dudley and I had – it was about sacrifice. I told Dudley how blessed I was to have been a part of his life, and how much it meant to me that God would partner us in his work for the time they were at our church. I told him how much it meant to me to see the way he so willingly made whatever sacrifice was necessary to be obedient to God’s call on his life. Then he said this – “It doesn’t feel like sacrifice.”

 

That really made me think. Why does sacrifice hurt for so many people? Why do we fight God’s direction in our lives? There is a simple answer. It will hurt more than the sacrifice. The reason sacrifice hurts is that we love ourselves more than we love God. OUCH! But it’s true. Think about it. Being asked to do something by someone you truly love more than self cannot even be defined as sacrifice. It is only sacrifice if you love what you are giving up more than you love the one for whom you are giving it up. It is only sacrifice if you don’t trust the promises of the one for whom you are releasing control. When obedience hurts, it’s not motivated by love, but by obligation. That’s not what Jesus had in mind when He said “I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” It’s certainly not what He meant when He said, my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

I watched the living proof of my point over the last 9 months as Dudley and Inge obeyed God with joy. They are at rest in His plan and His provision. They have been called according to His purpose. They are confident of His promise that all things will work out for good and the Glory of God. That’s what their lives are about. I learned from watching them.

 

When I got up this morning, I saw some neatly organized stacks of paper and cards on the table. Inge explained to me that they were from Dudley. On Sunday my wife had received a similar stack from Inge.  In my stacks were gift cards, punch cards, and coupons for three free car washes, a free loaf of bread from Great Harvest, four free dinners at the Great Wall, a free sandwich at Mancino’s, a free lunch at T.G.I Friday’s, a free lunch at Culvers, and some other various discounts at different stores. My wife had received several gift cards from clothing and specialty stores. All of these cards and coupons had been given to them or earned by them, yet they gave them all away. They have no need for them any more. Now I get the blessing of seeing who God will bring into my life to share them with. They are not mine. They are God’s. It will be a joy to use them to help others. It will not be a sacrifice to give them away, because I don’t own them.

 

Living like this is fun. It’s fulfilling. Anyone want to go to lunch? Dudley’s buying.

 

Pastor John

Daily Devotions for Thursday, December 18, 2008

Daily Devotions

Thursday, December 18, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: He Robbed Us

 

Today’s Scripture:   2 Corinthians 5:21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

 

Last Sunday in church our worship team introduced a new song to us. The words to this song really touched my heart. They are so deep with meaning. They were written by Michael W. Smith, and the song is entitled Welcome To Our World. Read these words carefully, and when you’re done, I want to point out a truth from them that is powerful and really impacted my heart.

 

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You’ve been promised, we’ve been waiting
Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

 

Hope that You don’t mind our manger
How I wish we would have know
But long awaited Holy Stranger

Make Yourself at home
Please, make Yourself at home

 

Bring Your peace into our violence,         
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking heaven’s silence
Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

 

Fragile finger sent to heal us,

Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us in born
Unto us is born

 

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world

 

Look at that last verse. In it is the entire Gospel message. Jesus wrapped our injured flesh around Himself and became man. He walked among us and experienced everything we experience, from the emotional distress of the death of a friend to the temptations to sin. Yet He did not sin. He was fully God while fully human. He was undeserving of death. Yet He robbed us of our sin. That line just captivated me. Jesus robbed me of my sin. He became a sin-stealer. To rob someone means to take from them what does not rightfully belong to you but does rightfully belong to them. Think about that in relationship to sin. Our sin rightfully belongs to us, as does the consequence of that sin – death. Jesus, who, as the perfect Son of God had so sin, became our sin for us. He who was undeserving of death died for us. He robbed us of our sin.

 

But think some more. When you are robbed, what you had no longer is yours. It becomes the possession of the robber. You may claim ownership to it, and if it were ever found it would be returned to you, but while in the possession of the robber it is his. Our sin is gone. It is in the hands of the sin-stealer. He has buried it in the deepest sea, and removed it from us as far as the east is from the west. We will never get it back. For that we shout HALLELUJAH! But He has not left us wanting it either. In return for our sin He has left us with His holiness. We are experiencing the abundant life of Christ Himself. Again, shout HALLELUJAH!

 

Let me offer you one more challenge this morning. Next time you are in church and participating in worship, try paying attention to what you are singing. Think about the words and their meaning. Spend that time truly worshipping God. Forget those around you and what they are doing. Don’t worry about what you sound like. Don’t worry if you must be silent and meditate on the words instead of singing them. Just get into God, and let Him fill you. I think you’ll be surprised by the power of His Spirit as He ministers to your heart and mind.

 

Pastor John

 

Daily Devotions for Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Live Christmas Every Day

 

Today’s Scripture:   Philippians 2:2-8  …be like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,  did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,  taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

 

The following is a true story: Two weeks before Christmas a nine-year-old girl was walking with her friend down the street, sliding on the ice. The two of them were talking about what they hoped to get for Christmas. They stopped to talk to an old man named Harry, who was on his knees doing his best to pull weeds from the frozen ground around a large oak tree. He wore a frayed, woolen jacket and a pair of worn garden gloves. His fingers were sticking out the ends, blue from the cold.

 

As Harry responded to the girls, he told them he was getting the yard in shape as a Christmas present to his mother, who had passed away several years before. His eyes brimmed with tears as he patted the old oak. “My mother was all I had. She loved her yard and her trees, so I do this for her at Christmas.” His words touched the girls and soon they were down on their hands and knees helping him to weed around the trees. It took the three of them the rest of the day to complete the task. when they finished, Harry pressed a quarter into each of their hands. “I wish I could pay you more, but it’s all I’ve got right now,” he said.

 

The girls had often passed that way before and as they walked on they remembered that the house was shabby, with no wreath, no Christmas tree or other decorations to add cheeriness. Just the lonely figure of Harry sitting by his curtainless window. The quarter seemed to burn a hole of guilt in the one little girl’s mind as they returned to their homes. The next day she called her friend and they agreed to put their quarters in a jar marked “Harry’s Christmas Present” and then they began to seek out small jobs to earn more. Every nickel, dime, and quarter they earned went into the jar.

 

Two days before Christmas, they had enough to buy new gloves and a Christmas card. Christmas Eve found them on Harry’s doorstep singing carols. When he opened the door, they presented him with the gloves wrapped in pretty paper, the card and a pumpkin pie still warm from the oven. With trembling hands, he tore the paper from the gloves, and then to their astonishment, he held them to his face and wept.

 

 

As I thought about that story, I began to wonder how low I would stoop to help others. Then I found this quote from author, professor, and clergyman Henry Van Dyke, who asks us some penetrating questions. “Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? How about for lifetime? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

 

Jesus stooped down from glory and became lower than the angels He created, so that He might personally relate to us and rescue us. He didn’t just put on the appearance of man for a time. His very nature became that of a servant. (Philippians 2:7) It’s easy for us to put on the decorations of Christmas once a year and act like we are givers. But is giving in your nature? I love this quote from John Stott, who said, The Christian should resemble a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree! For the gaudy decorations of a Christmas tree are only tied on, whereas fruit grows on a fruit tree.

 

Make it your intention this year to let giving and serving be your nature, not just your decoration. When the Christ of Christmas abides in you, and you abide in Him, you will bear fruit that looks like Him.

 

Pastor John

 

Daily Devotions for Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: Keep Your Promises

 

Today’s Scripture:   Titus 1:2-3   a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light…

                                     Hebrews 9:15   For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

 

How many promises have you broken in your life? Far too many, I suspect. I know I have. Promises are costly. They are more than just words. They demand action. They require an investment of ourselves. They reflect our character.

 

Singer Michael Card wrote a song called The Promise. The words are marvelous.

 

The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough

The Promise was love and the Promise was life
The Promise meant light to the world
Living proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus

 

The Faithful One saw time was full
And the ancient pledge was honored
So God the Son, the Incarnate One His final Word
His own Son, was born in Bethlehem
But came into our hearts to live
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give
What more could God have given
Tell me what more did He have to give

At last the proof Jehovah saves
For the name of the Promise was Jesus

 

Michael wrote a little Christmas devotional on the theme of his song. He noted, “Christianity is founded on a promise. Faith involves waiting on a promise. Our hope is based on a promise. Promises are made with words. … .that part of myself that goes with every promise is given to you through my words…. Our God is the great maker of promises… His word, our Bible, is a collection of the promises… most of these concern Jesus, who came to be known as “the Promised One”. Through all these promises, God was trying to give something of Himself to Adam, and to Israel, and finally to us. The Bible tells us that when the Promised One came, the Lord poured all of Himself into Him. What a costly thing it can be to make a promise – it cost Jesus His life.

 

Go back to the start of this devotional and read the Scripture verses again. Then rejoice in your salvation. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to you. Thank Him for keeping His promises.

 

Pastor John

 

Daily Devotions for Monday, December 15, 2008

Daily Devotions

Monday, December 15, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: His Love Makes A Difference

 

Today’s Scripture:   1 John 3:17  If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person?

 

Wow! Only 10 days until Christmas. Are you feeling the crunch yet? My wife and I finished up all of our shopping last week. Now we’re just waiting to see how God interrupts us with other opportunities to give. I think that we miss a lot of real giving chances when we wait until the last minute to do our shopping. We get so busy thinking only about ourselves that we don’t see the people around us and fail to share the love of Jesus with them. Let me illustrate my point with a true story.

 

It was only five days before Christmas. The spirit of the season hadn’t caught up with Roger yet, even though cars packed the parking lot of his Houston area Target Shopping Center. Inside the store, it was worse. Shopping carts and last minute shoppers jammed the aisles. “Why did he come today?” he wondered. His feet ached almost as much as his head.

 

His list contained names of several people who claimed they wanted nothing, but he knew their feelings would be hurt if he didn’t buy them something. Buying for someone who had everything and deploring the high cost of items, he considered gift buying anything but fun. Hurriedly, he filled his shopping cart with last minute items and proceeded to the long checkout lines. He picked the shortest line but it looked as if it would mean at least a 20 minute wait.  In front of him were two small children – a boy of about 10 and a younger girl about 5. The boy wore a ragged coat. Enormously large, tattered tennis shoes jutted far out in front of his much too short jeans. He clutched several crumpled dollar bills in his very dirty hands. The girl’s clothing resembled her brother’s. Her head was a matted mass of curly hair. Reminders of an evening meal showed on her small face. She carried a beautiful pair of shiny, gold house slippers.

 

As the Christmas music sounded in the store’s stereo system, the girl hummed along – off key but happily. When they finally approached the checkout register, the girl carefully placed the shoes on the counter. She treated them as though they were a treasure. The clerk rang up the bill. “That will be $8.09,” the clerk said, as the boy laid his crumpled dollars atop the stand. He searched his pockets and could only come up with $3.12.

 

“I guess we will have to put them back, “ he bravely said. “We’ll come back some other time, maybe tomorrow.”

 

With that statement, a soft sob broke from the little girl. “But Jesus would have loved these shoes,” she cried.

 

“Well, we’ll go home and work some more. Don’t cry. We’ll come back,” he said. Quickly Roger handed the cashier a five-dollar bill. These children had waited in line for a long time. And, after all, it was Christmas. Suddenly a pair of arms came around me and a small voice said, “Thank you, Sir.”  

 

“What did you mean when you said Jesus would like the shoes?” Roger asked. The small boy answered, “Our mommy is sick and going to heaven. Dad said she might go before Christmas to be with Jesus.” The girl spoke, “My Sunday school teacher said the streets in heaven are shiny gold, just like these shoes. Won’t mommy be beautiful walking on those streets to match these shoes?”   Roger’s eyes flooded as he looked into her tear streaked face. “Yes,” he sputtered, “I’m sure she will.”

 

I hope we can all let God use these children to remind us of the true spirit of giving. Christmas is not about the amount of money paid, nor the amount of gifts purchased, nor trying to impress friends and relatives.  Christmas is about the love in your heart to share with those as Jesus Christ has shared His love with us. Please show this love to others this Christmas. Keep your eyes and ears open. There are opportunities around you every day, even while you’re shopping.

 

Pastor John
 

 

Daily Devotions for Thursday, December 11, 2008

Daily Devotions

Thursday, December 11, 2008

 

Current Study: People Who Made a Difference         

 

Today’s Topic: We’re His Forever

 

Today’s Scripture:   John 14:18-19  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 

 

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage.  About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. Here is the story they tell.

 

It was nearing the holiday season in 1994, and it was time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

 

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.  No colored paper was available in the city.

 

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown a lady had given us, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.

 

All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

 

Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.”

 

“But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

 

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.  The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS. 

 

Jesus came so that we could be His children – for always. This Christmas, remember that it’s not what you get for gifts that matters, but Who you get as a gift, and Jesus is the indescribable Gift of God.

 

Pastor John