Forever Friends

Daily Devotions

Thursday, February 26, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Friends Forever

 

Today’s Scripture:  John 15:13-15  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.   

 

Jesus continually challenged the world’s perspective on life. After thousands of years of misdirection, it needed to be challenged. Jesus literally turned the world upside down with his principles. “Thou shalt not murder” became “Don’t even hate.” “Don’t commit adultery” became “Don’t even look longingly.” “Get ahead and be first” became “Help others get ahead by serving them.” Jesus was constantly challenging us to think from the perspective of His kingdom and not ours.

 

One of the ways he shakes up the status quo of today is to invite His followers into upper management. The business world in which we live is structured for advancement and status. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Put in your time at the lower levels and prove yourself faithful and you may earn a promotion. Follow orders well enough and maybe you’ll make sergeant. But all the time you’re working hard, you’re doing so rather blindly, without any real knowledge of the inner workings of the company. You may know the corporate mission statement to help you have a minimal understanding of what you’re trying to accomplish, but you certainly aren’t invited to the CEO’s office for consultation on important decisions. You are labeled as labor, and you are dispensable if you don’t like it.

 

Then along comes Jesus, who chooses 12 men and grants them full rights of leadership from the beginning. Even the one He knew would be unfaithful was granted the privilege of being the corporate treasurer. Sure they had to go through a training program, but they were placed in their positions long before they completed it. The business model of the Kingdom was totally opposite of the world’s. Jesus knew that turning laborers into partners was the best way to do business. No one in the Kingdom of God starts at the bottom. Everyone who applies for a position is immediately hired and granted a management position. There is never a need for promotion. But be careful – demotion is possible. It is possible through unfaithfulness and disobedience to be deemed unfit for service. But that’s for another day.

 

I am fascinated by the statement of Jesus when He says, You are my friends.”  The model of business relationships that I worked under and which I managed others under for so many years was that management and labor were to remain separate. Labor would receive rewards for their work, but they were not respected or considered qualified to give input into corporate decisions. They were simply oxen yoked together to provide power for pulling the big shots around, who used them for their undisclosed purposes. But Jesus has totally redefined corporate structure. Unfortunately, in most cases, the church is the only place applying these principles. At least the church better be.

 

When anyone, no matter who they are, walks into the Kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ and is forgiven for their sins, they are immediately granted full access to everything the Father has to offer them. God’s faithful forgiveness makes them the friend of Jesus forever, with equal status to anyone who is already in the Kingdom. Need proof? Read on. Jesus said, And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; That ye may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and sit on thrones… (Luke 22:29-30) The Apostle Paul says, Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. (Ephesians 1:3) He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure… (Ephesians 1:9) And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:6) So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham. (Galatians 3:9)

 

We are not simply servants of the Master. We are not mere laborers in the Kingdom. We are joint heirs with Jesus Christ. We are children of God with full rights of sonship. Everything the Father wills for His Kingdom has been revealed to us so that we are partners with Christ in accomplishing His purpose. We do not simply obey orders to receive a reward. We cooperate with Christ in ministry as friends. We are not motivated to serve so that we might earn a promotion. We serve and obey because of the joy of our present promoted position. We are the friends of God, and He has intimately shared with us every detail of His Kingdom so that we might know Him and thereby serve Him faithfully. By faith we have been forgiven, and the Father makes us His friends. FASCINATING. We are the forever friends of God.

 

Pastor John

 

Endurance

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Endurance

 

Today’s Scripture:  Colossians 1:10-12   And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.  

 

For the last couple of days I have been at my brother’s house in Chicago. He invited me there to do some consulting work with his church. While I was there I got to see the queen. No, not the Queen of England, but the queen of endurance. Now anyone that has been around my family for very long knows that my wife thinks she is the queen of everything. But even she will admit that in this category the real queen is our niece. Her name is Elantra.

 

Yesterday morning at seven a.m. I attended a special breakfast for her at her school. She was receiving an award which recognized her as one of her high school’s students of the month. The teacher that nominated her did so because of her determination and endurance. It’s not so much the fact that she’s one of the top students of the school, or that she excels at competitive sports like soccer and track. What makes her the queen is that she is legally blind. She has Stargardt’s disease. It is the most common form of inherited juvenile macular degeneration. As a result, she has no central field of vision and only limited peripheral vision. But that doesn’t stop the queen.

 

When I left Chicago yesterday morning she was loaded up with all of her stuff for school. The night before she had helped her mother bake a king’s cake for French class. I helped her carry it to her classroom. She also had her laptop computer equipped with special magnification programs to help her do her school work. She had her small duffel bag with her track clothes, because she had a track meet that afternoon. She had her book bag filled with homework. She carried everything but the cake, and led me through the halls of a crowded Chicago suburb high school without any assistance. She is the queen.

 

I called her last night to see how she did in the meet. She took first place in two sprint events – the 55 meter dash and the 200 meter dash – and she was on two relay teams that took second place. Imagine a legally blind girl running around a track, staying in her lane, while receiving and handing off a baton to teammates. She is the queen. It was even more fun hearing about her soccer exploits as she was one of her team’s leading scorers.

 

Nothing has ever stopped my niece from pursuing her goals and dreams. In her mind she has no disability. That’s because she knows that her physical abilities and disabilities are not what define her. Her inner spirit is what defines her. She has decided to endure any and all obstacles to be her best. She is the queen of endurance.

 

In spite of her visual challenges, she sees far better than most of us. I know that there are worse things than Stargardt’s that can happen to people. But when anything debilitating happens to us, we think it’s the worst thing that could happen, and endurance isn’t the first word that pops into our heads when it does. Anger happens. Blame happens. Depression happens. Quitting happens. All of those things happen because our eyes are fixed on the immediate. We are so near-sighted. Yet the queen of endurance, who is the most physically near-sighted person I’ve ever known, has the best vision of anyone I’ve ever known. She sees the joy that is coming at the end of the race.

 

In Hebrews 12 we read these encouraging words. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 

Are you weary? Have you lost heart? Is your vision excessively near-sighted so that all you can see are the disabilities of life? Then refocus your eyes on the finish line. Someone who ran a much more difficult race is standing there waiting for you.  Start running your race of life with endurance. Jesus did. The queen does. You can.

 

Pastor John

Deliverance

Daily Devotions

Thursday, February 19, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Deliverance

 

Today’s Scripture:  2 Corinthians 1:10   He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us. 

 

In 1972, Jon Voight, Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox starred in a movie that is still a classic. It was called Deliverance. The stars play the roles of four city men who decide to leave their golf clubs behind for a weekend and take a canoe trip down a rushing river. They weren’t prepared for who they would meet along the river. After a series of encounters with wildlife and wild men which result in two murders, their nightmare is finally over, or so they thought. They may have been physically delivered from their enemies, but the mental terror of what happened will be with them forever, as depicted in the last scene of the movie. We are left with the notion that there is no real deliverance from evil.

 

Many Christians still live with that notion firmly fixed in their minds. They believe there is a day coming when we will be delivered from evil when we reach the glorious presence of God in Heaven. But for today we must live with it. What a contrast to the words of Jesus when he instructed His disciples to pray – “And lead us not into temptation, but DELIVER us from evil.” Now that doesn’t mean that there won’t be evil around us. It does mean, however, that there can be no evil in us. That means both physically and mentally. The spiritual deliverance from sin found in Jesus Christ can, if we surrender to the fullness of the Holy Spirit, overcome both the flesh and the mind with the deliverance from evil.

 

The word deliver or one of its forms is used 195 times in the New International Version of the Bible. 53 of those times are in the Psalms alone. Probably my favorite use is in Psalm 91, because it was my mom’s favorite Psalm. It says,  “’Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.’” Now that’s deliverance. God is with us in our trouble. He will deliver us from our trouble. He will honor us and satisfy us in this life. He will bring us to the completion of our salvation in eternal life. All this because we choose to love Him and acknowledge His Name.

 

The Apostle Paul knew the reality of that kind of a relationship with God. He stated clearly to the people in the church in Corinth that he had experienced terrible and tragic circumstances. He tells them, “I have been in prison, been flogged severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” But through it all continues to trust in the deliverance of God.

 

At the beginning of his letter to the church at Corinth he had laid the foundation of deliverance. In chapter 11 he was giving the specifics, but he had already told them the outcome of it all. He said in chapter 1 verse 10,  “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” WOW! He remembered how the Lord had delivered him in the past. He was convinced that the Lord would deliver him in the presence. He had set his hope – his certainty – on the faithfulness of God to deliver him in the future. No current physical circumstance could change his emotional state because his mind was convinced that God would deliver him because of his spiritual condition.

 

That is a powerful statement worthy of remembrance and application to our own lives. No current physical circumstance can change your emotional state if your mind is convinced that God will deliver you because of your spiritual relationship with Him. If you are in Christ and have surrendered your life to Him for salvation, you have been delivered from sin. As a result, the Holy Spirit of God lives in you and is constantly delivering you from the influence of sin upon your mind and your emotions. Even though sin is around you, it does not need to affect you. You can choose to listen to the sin or the Spirit. Daily deliverance comes from listening and surrendering to the Spirit of God. You are being delivered from sin and its influence today. Then one day, maybe soon, we who are in Christ will all be delivered from even the presence of sin around us when we meet Jesus face to face in God’s glorious presence.

 

There will be no last scene to your life leaving doubt as to the presence of evil. No more nightmares of terror. No more fear. God’s deliverance is complete. Start trusting it, and in case you aren’t – start living like you have been delivered.

 

Pastor John

 

Celebrate Cancellations

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Celebrate Cancellations

 

Today’s Scripture:  Ephesians 1:3   Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 

 

Cancelled. One word that elicits emotions ranging from disappointment to delight. It all depends on expectations. The cancellation of events and activities that had expectations of benefit brings disappointment. Disappointment may even become anger when the weekend getaway is cancelled because of sickness, or the ski trip is canceled because of lack of snow, or when any anticipated escape from the stress of normal life is cancelled for any reason. We mope around and pout like little kids when the golfing or fishing day is ruined by thunderstorms, or the shopping trip is interrupted by car trouble. We hate cancellations of things that we anticipate will benefit us. We wish we would have heard the word postponed instead of cancelled, because that would at least leave us with the hope that our expectations will be realized at a later time.

 

But we love cancellations of things that hurt us or that we are just plain tired of. We had snow overnight last night. How many teachers and students woke up this morning hoping for the cancellation of school? How many AWANA and youth workers in our churches are excited when the weather forces us to cancel Wednesday night activities? What if – boy this is a stretch – as a part of the economic stimulus package all taxes due for 2008 were cancelled? The cancellation of things that contribute to our stress or hurt us in some way is seen as good, and we respond with delight. We don’t ever want to hear the word postponed in these situations. We want the cancellation to be final.

 

The Bible speaks of both cancellations and postponements. For those of us who are in Christ, the cancellations are delightful. For those who are not in Christ, the postponements are destructive. Let’s look at the postponements first.

 

We have been told in Scripture that the wrath of God is coming on all those who think they are getting away with their lives of sin (Colossians 3:5-6).  People will be going about their normal lifestyles thinking all is well, when in reality the judgment of their sin by God is just being postponed (Luke 17:26-30).  Rich people who trust in their wealth may seem satisfied and secure today, but their destruction is only being postponed (James 5:1-3). It may seem like the wicked are succeeding, but their day is coming (Psalm 37:10-13).

 

Don’t worry, I won’t leave you on this downer for long. But the truth is that for those living according to the flesh, seeking to satisfy the desires of their sinful heart, and perceived success and security is false, and the ultimate consequences of their choices are only being postponed. Why? Because God is providing them additional opportunities to connect with Him and repent of their sins. Then, just as is true for us, when they come to Christ, their debt to God will be cancelled.

 

Christ’s cancellations are delightful. Let’s spend a few moments rejoicing in what God has cancelled because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

 

§  The law that made us guilty of sin has been cancelled! When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled  the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15)

§  The first covenant of sacrifice was cancelled so that we could be made holy in Christ by His sacrifice once and for all! He cancels the first covenant in order to establish the second. And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time. (Hebrews 10:9-10)

§  Death has been cancelled so that we might have eternal life! Therefore thus says the Lord GOD, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, A costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed…Your covenant with death will be cancelled.” (Isaiah 28:16-18)

§  The debt of sin has been cancelled so that we can be made heirs in the family of God! Like a will that takes effect when someone dies, the new covenant was put into action at Jesus’ death. His death marked the transition from the old plan to the new one, cancelling the old obligations and accompanying sins, and summoning the heirs to receive the eternal inheritance that was promised them. He brought together God and his people in this new way. (Hebrews 9:16-17, The Message)

 

How delightful! Everything that kept me from a fully restored relationship with Almighty God has been cancelled. Sin is forgiven. Its debt of death has been fully paid by Another. Eternal life has been granted. Christ’s cancellations at the cross have confirmed me as a child of God forever. Hallelujah! Let’s celebrate cancellations!

 

Pastor John

Birthdays and Blessings

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Birthdays and Blessings

 

Today’s Scripture:  Ephesians 1:3   Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 

 

Would you all please join me in a little song? Everyone together now – Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday Pastor Paul. Happy Birthday to you. Thank you. Today is my dad’s 84th birthday, and he is still actively involved in ministry at his own church as a part-time pastor of visitation, and still goes out several Sundays a month to preach at a couple of country churches in South Dakota. How appropriate that his birthday falls on our “b” day. I have an idea that would really bless him. I know many of you don’t have any idea who my dad is, but that doesn’t really matter. He is your spiritual brother by spiritual birth, so let’s bless him. Send him a quick email and thank him for his almost 60 years of ministry, and wish him a happy birthday. Here’s the address – pr525@wat.midco.net.

 

Birthdays are fun. The older I get the less I want to count how many I’ve had, but they are still fun. The reasons for the fun change with age as well. When we were young it was all about presents and cake. Then it became more about friends and food. Now, as we mature, it becomes more about the celebration of a life being lived well. I would much rather hear stories about how my life has touched others for Christ than to get presents. I guess I’m getting old, but the blessings of birthdays are in the celebration of a life more than in the receiving of gifts.

 

The same is true of our spiritual birthday. It is a combination of the celebration of life and the receiving of gifts. In fact, it is the gift of life that we celebrate. Real life. The life of Jesus born in us who by faith have received His gift of grace. His life is transforming. His life is eternal. His life is ours!

 

Then, as if that gift wasn’t enough, we are overwhelmed with additional blessings. In fact, the Apostle Paul tells us we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. He refers to them in Ephesians 1. Look at the list:

  • He chose us
  • He made us holy and blameless in his sight
  • In love He adopted as his sons
  • He redeemed us
  • He forgave us
  • He revealed His purpose to us
  • He planned for us to bring Him glory
  • He sealed us forever with the Holy Spirit

Are you feeling blessed yet? Need more? Here you go. We have been blessed with…

  • A heart to know God – I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. (Jeremiah 24:7)
  • Everything we need to serve Him – But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)
  • Rest and contentment – Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
  • Peace – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. (John 14:27)

 

I’m going to have a serious time and space issue here if I don’t stop right now. Did you know that there are over 500 verses in the Bible that refer to the blessings of God that He gives us? So why are we so bummed most of the time? If you tried really hard could you come up with 500 reasons why life is a burden? I think not! In the words of Psalm 42 – Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.  Why not take a good Bible concordance today and look up the words “bless” ,“blessing”, and “blessed”. Then look up the phrase “give you”. You’ll discover for yourself that the life of Christ in you has brought every spiritual blessing to you. It’s time to start counting your blessings.

 

It’s a whole lot more fun to focus on blessings than burdens. That’s what birthdays are all about, and every day is the right day to celebrate the blessings of your spiritual birthday.

 

Pastor John

Spiritual Abundance

Daily Devotions

Monday, February 16, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Spiritual Abundance 

 

Today’s Scripture:  John 10:10   I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

 

I have a granddaughter who just turned five. Three days a week she attends a wonderful pre-school in our city. Every Monday is letter day. They are learning more than just the alphabet. They are learning the sounds the letters make and words that begin with that letter. They are allowed to bring one item to school on letter day that represents the letter they are learning. I was so proud of her the other day on “p” day. She brought a purple princess purse. She has the van Gorkom alliteration gene.

 

I have an idea – let’s do our own letter days. Each day let’s study a subject from God’s Word that starts with the letters of the alphabet. Unless I hear a suggestion from you for an upcoming letter, I’ll choose the subjects. I think I can find one for every letter. Obviously, we’ll start at the beginning, with the letter “a”. I’ve chosen Abundance as our subject.

 

It seems that abundance is being taken from us – at least from a cultural and governmental standpoint. Unemployment, debt, and prices are on the rise while spendable income shrinks. Fear is captivating the hearts of people who placed their hope for the future in the financial markets. Discouragement degenerates into despair. The desire to be delivered demands and authorizes increased debt. The promise of being bailed out appeals to the need for immediate gratification, when in reality it only prolongs the problem. When seen through the lens of personal prosperity, the picture looks bleak.

 

But the Bible speaks of unlimited abundance that cannot be taken away. It is an abundance that provides hope when all seems hopeless. It produces peace when all is in turmoil. It offers security that overcomes fear. It brings spiritual prosperity that satisfies more deeply than financial prosperity. It is the abundance of life in Christ Jesus.

 

Our problem isn’t that abundance is being taken from us – our problem is that we are looking for it in the wrong places. Physical and financial abundance never produce peace and joy. They don’t motivate perseverance and self-control. They can’t, because all of those things are fruits of the Spirit of God in our lives. All attempts to use physical and financial abundance to bring security will fail, because everything physical and financial will eventually fail. Only the abundance of the life of Christ in us will never fail. Jesus warned us about this when He said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

 

However, just take a look at the abundance that is promised us in Christ.

  • An Abundance of Grace, Faith, and Love – The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14)
  • An Abundance of Mercy – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. (1 Peter 1:3)
  • An Abundance of Peace – …peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. (2 Peter 1:2)
  • An Abundance of Joy – Ask, using my name, and you will receive, and you will have abundant joy. (John 16:24)
  • An Abundance of Comfort – For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:5)
  • An Abundance of Supply – And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
  • An Abundance of Knowledge – “The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.”  (Matthew 13:11-12)
  • An Abundance of Answers and Power – Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us. (Ephesians 3:20)
  • An Abundance of Acceptance – For in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you. (2 Peter 1:11)
  • An Abundance of the Holy Spirit – Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:5-6)

 

Now that’s a lot of abundance! That should change some attitudes about life. Hey, that would have been a great word to study today – attitude. Maybe another day.

 

Pastor John