United

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z      

Today’s Topic:   Unity

Today’s Scripture:  Psalms 133:1 – 3 (NIV) How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

 

 

A story in a magazine caught my eye. A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin, 5, and Ryan, 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, he would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake. I can wait.’” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!”

 

Today’s Scripture is a call to unity, which requires personal sacrifice. In Exodus 28 and 29 we read the historical account of Aaron being ordained as the first high priest of Israel. This required a great sacrifice on Aaron’s part. He was giving up his rights to herds and flocks and personal wealth. He was giving up his right to ownership of land. He was surrendering his entire life to the service of God in the tabernacle. He was doing the same for each of his descendants as well. Why would he make such concessions? Because he saw the bigger picture of God’s plan for personal relationship with His people. He was willing to do whatever God asked him to do to bring unity between God and man. At the end of Exodus 29, after all has been accomplished and the precious oil has been poured on Aaron’s head, God says, “So I will consecrate the Tent of Meeting and the altar and will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve me as priests. Then I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. They will know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of Egypt so that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.

 

If unity is to be accomplished in the church of Jesus Christ today, it must begin with the precious oil of sacrifice. Unity with God is possible because of Christ’s sacrifice for us.  It is at the point of His sacrifice where God bestows His blessing, even life forevermore. Unity is only possible among people if they are first united with Jesus in His sacrifice. We must be in tune with Christ to be in harmony with one another.

 

God’s Spirit is quenched where people are divided. A bone of contention has no place in the body of Christ. We are called to cooperate in a higher purpose than our own personal pursuits. Opinions are not options. Personal preferences are not mandates. Anything that satisfies self must be sacrificed to the singular purpose of God. True unity is found only in surrender to His Spirit.

 

Unity, however, does not necessarily mean uniformity. By that I mean this – unity focuses on goals while uniformity focuses on methods. We must all have the same goals – those given to us by our King. We are united in our passion to accomplish God’s goals. We must not demand uniformity of methodology. Just look around the world and take notice of all the examples we have, like team sports. Every team is made up of individuals with a common goal – win a championship. Each individual is united with his teammates in his pursuit of the goal. However, each individual has a specific function on the team. How many football games have been won by a kicker who comes off the bench as a David among Goliaths and becomes the hero? While all the giants are out there play after play banging heads and battering their bodies, a little guy does one thing and gets all the glory. But they won, and that’s all that mattered.

 

God has placed each of us as individuals on His team with unique skills and responsibilities. Unity requires that we share a common goal. Unity requires understanding of distinct methods. Unity is accomplished through sacrificial cooperation. Unity is not possible in a group of one. Remember the banana? Every time it leaves the bunch it gets skinned.

 

How good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters in Christ live together in unity – all made possible by one sacrifice, which becomes the model for each one of us. When we turn our focus from self to Savior, the LORD will bless us with unity.

 

Pastor John

 

For further study, refer to the series we did in 2006 on unity from the book of Philippians in these devotionals –

http://calvaryeauclaire.org/Devotions/2006/022706.htm

http://calvaryeauclaire.org/Devotions/2006/022806.htm

http://calvaryeauclaire.org/Devotions/2006/030106.htm

http://calvaryeauclaire.org/Devotions/2006/030206.htm

http://calvaryeauclaire.org/Devotions/2006/030306.htm

Turkey Calls

Daily Devotions

Monday, March 30, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Give Thanks!

 

Today’s Scripture:  1 Chronicles 16:8-10   Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.

 

Two weeks ago I was sitting around our dining room table with my entire family and a birthday cake in front of me. Five of the six grandkids gathered around me (one isn’t old enough yet) to help blow out the candles that had been arranged in two groups of five and six  to represent my age. Yes, that’s right, I’m now 56 years old. Then the kids delivered presents to me. They were all very well thought out and met a need I had mentioned in the past. One of them was especially fascinating. It was a rectangular box about ten inches long and three inches wide. I wondered what it was.

 

When I peeled off the wrapping paper I found something inside I had never needed before. I had talked over the last couple of years about doing it, but had never really thought seriously about it because I didn’t have all of the equipment necessary, some of which costs hundreds of dollars. But thanks to my favorite hunting buddy – my son – I was now set up with the first piece of equipment. I took it out of the box and tried it right away. I was incredibly attracted to it. The sound it made resonated in my heart. For the first time in my life I owned a wild turkey call. Thanks to another hunting friend who will loan me a shotgun, and my son who has arranged for us to hunt together on a friend’s land, I will be trying my luck calling in one of those big Toms and having deep fried turkey this spring.

 

Turkey always reminds me of Thanksgiving. I know we’re on the wrong side of winter to be thinking about that holiday, but we’re never in the wrong part of the year to be thankful. In fact, expressions of thanks are to be a prominent part of our communication. But it isn’t, is it? I’ve discovered a severe lack of thanksgiving in my personal life. Getting a turkey call for my birthday made me realize that. As I’ve learned the meaning of all the different sounds turkeys make, I’ve discovered that I’ve not even been a very good turkey. I’ve done a lot of cackling out warnings and I’ve gobbled in pride about my position in the flock, but I’ve done very little clucking of contentment. Even when others around me are softly purring their satisfaction with group life, I interrupt them with gobbles that draw attention to me.

 

The spirit of thanks is destroyed by the philosophy that everything is about me. I think that philosophy started with the very way in which we are taught as children to be thankful. I’m a victim of it, and I know I’ve done it with my kids and grandkids. We require them to say “thank-you” when they receive something, but we don’t take the time to teach them how to be thankful. We have taught them to say thank- you because it pleases us, gets us off their backs, and gets them what they want. But it doesn’t do anything to teach them the attitude of thankfulness. Maybe instead of telling them to say thank-you, we need to ask them how the gift made them feel. The attitude of thankfulness and its verbal response of thanks is generated only by a sincere appreciation for what was done. We’ve learned to say thanks without really being appreciative.

 

What it really boils down to is a lack of understanding about grace. We only really appreciate what we know we didn’t deserve. We are only truly thankful for what we never expected. That’s why we should be overwhelmed with thanksgiving for God’s unmerited gift of salvation. That’s why when I arrived at the office this morning and unlocked the door, it took me five minutes to enter because I was so overwhelmed with the beauty of the day. I stood outside and looked into the blue sky and praised God for the birds singing. I thanked Him for the wonder of forgiveness. I cried tears of joy as I recalled all the expressions of grace in my own life that have brought me undeservedly to this point of ministry. I gave thanks unto the Lord.

 

As I entered the door, I found myself singing an old, old chorus. I was singing it loudly, and I’m sure the guys in the warehouse next to our offices could hear me. “Thank you, Lord, for saving my soul. Thank you, Lord, for making me whole. Thank you, Lord, for giving to me; Thy great salvation so rich and free.”

 

That’s the call I want this turkey to make all day every day.

 

Pastor John

Short and Sweet – I’m Saved

Daily Devotions

Thursday, March 26, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Short and Sweet – I’m Saved!

 

Today’s Scripture:  Zephaniah 3:17   The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

 

I really don’t like being obvious. Unfortunately, most people who know me tell me I am. I don’t hide things well. My thoughts become spoken words too quickly. My facial expressions are clear windows to my heart. My tears flow easily. There are days I wish I could hide more. Today is not one of them.

 

If I were to take a poll of all of the readers, I wonder how many would say that the most obvious “S” word of the faith is “salvation”? Now, if we took that same poll of people outside the faith, how many would answer with the word “sin”?

 

Here’s my simple point to ponder for today. When the people of the world think about Christianity, what word comes to their minds first – sin or salvation? What do we talk about the most when referencing people of the world – sin or salvation? What is the most frequent topic of our conversations with one another – sin or salvation? What is most obvious to people about our theology and doctrine – sin or salvation?

 

Uh-Oh! Here come the tears…

 

I’m saved!

 

Our God is mighty to save! He takes great delight in us. In the midst of any storm, He quiets us with his love. When He looks at us, He rejoices over us with singing. Let it be obvious in me all day and every day. I am saved!

 

Pastor John

Are You Ready?

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Are You Ready?

 

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 3:15   “Always be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”

 

Last night our connection group – that’s the small group ministry at our church – watched the next to last session of the Truth Project. It was all about our jobs and how labor and work are designed by God for His glory, for our fulfillment, and for the benefit of serving others with a generous spirit. During his presentation, Dr. Dell Tackett said something that really hit me hard. In essence this was it – If work and labor are to reflect the nature of God, then shouldn’t Christians be the most valued of all employees in the workplace? Why are employers not specifically seeking Christians to fill their vacant positions? Why are they not rejoicing when they find out they hired one?

 

That got me thinking about what most Christians believe about work. To many it is a necessary evil, and because of that they display attitudes that are less than Christ-like while they are in the workplace. But to God work is an opportunity for us to present the secular world with a vision of God’s grace and love. People who see work as a part of God’s plan to reveal Himself to the world will have very different attitudes and responses to the hardships that we all endure at work and in society. And you all know that we are in tough times right now. They will get tougher. How will you respond?

 

How do you respond to hardship? What kind of attitudes do you display when things don’t go your way? These are questions that we may tend to avoid answering. They can cut too deeply into our hearts. They force us to face issues we may have kept buried for too long. But we must answer them. If we don’t learn how to respond to difficulties with the grace of God, then we will not be fulfilling our mission of presenting Christ to the world. Whether you are an employer, employee, or customer, your life is to be the constant reflecting of the grace, mercy, and compassion of Christ. Unfortunately far too many Christians don’t look or act any differently than an unsaved person when they are living in society. That’s because far too many Christians are still motivated by pride. Deny it all we want, but our actions prove differently.

 

When we grumble and complain because things are tough, we are not looking at the finish line of faith, but at our immediate need for gratification and satisfaction. That’s PRIDE. When we speak poorly of other people and withdraw from them because we think they are doing something contrary to our preferences – that’s PRIDE. When we get gloomy and depressed about our finances, we cannot be standing on the promises of God but are standing on our own desires. That’s PRIDE.  When we participate in the negativity of conversations about our government, it’s officials, and the impact their decisions have on our lives, we are placing our hope in this world and not in Jesus Christ. That’s IDOLATRY.

 

Pride is idolatry. Think about it. We are to worship God alone as the one who provides us with position, purpose, and provision. He alone is the one who qualifies us and gives us value. Anyone or anything else, including self, that we allow to validate our lives is an idol. Pride is idolatry.

 

I know things are tough in life. But that’s the exact context into which the Holy Spirit inspires Peter to write today’s well-known verse. But to fully appreciate it, you must read what’s before it. Peter is talking about tough times and how we as God’s people are to respond in stark contrast to the way the world responds. Here’s what he says – But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Do you see it? Of course you do. How much tougher can it get than having to suffer for being right? But when we do, we do not respond as the world does – with fear. Why? Because we have set Christ on the throne of our hearts. We recognize Him as LORD, and we have surrendered to Him in faith. Our suffering becomes the proving grounds of our faith, and our proper response to the suffering is to be hope.

 

Here’s how the Apostle Paul says it in Romans 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.

 

My heart is breaking today because of the number of people with who are not living lives of hope, and yet they call themselves Christians. They react to difficulties with hurtful words and shameful behavior. Their pride is showing, when the hope of glory should be. I can guarantee one thing from Scripture – unless they repent and change they will never be questioned about the hope that is in them, because it doesn’t show.

 

We live in a most opportune day. It is a day in which the world is falling apart on many levels. It is a day in which we ourselves are suffering. It is a day in which our hope should shine because by grace we stand in the presence of Almighty God. When times get tough, we rejoice in the hope of glory which will never disappoint us. If we are living that way, get ready – we will be asked to explain the hope that we have, and people will get to hear good news instead of grumbling.

 

Pastor John

 

 

Be Quiet!

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Quietness

 

Today’s Scripture:  Psalm 131:2  “I have stilled and quieted my soul.” 

 

There is yet a deeper meaning to the idea of being still before God that we may know Him. It is reflected in two passages of Scripture, one which we have above. As we learned yesterday, it must be our priority to let down our guards and be still before the Lord that we may hear Him. But hearing Him is not enough. We must be doers of what we hear. That is the idea behind King David’s statement that he not only stilled His soul, but he also quieted his soul.

 

What’s the difference between being still and being quiet? I already alluded to part of the answer. To be still means to be able to listen. But the Hebrew word for quiet goes deeper. It means to not only be silent, but to make it permanent. It is used in a couple of places in Scripture to refer to the silence of the grave. In this case in Psalm 131, David refers to the silence of the soul. By that he means this – when I am still before the Lord so that I may hear Him, I also need to put my own desires, wants, and needs (my soul) to death so that I may respond in obedience to what I hear.

 

It is the nature of our soul to be self-sufficient because of sin. Our natural tendency is to weigh all information on the scales of personal benefit and then make our decision. We even do that with what we hear from God. We are proud people, and pride is the enemy of quietness. Before David makes his statement about being still and quiet he says, “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty.”(verse 1) He knows that pride is not the companion of obedience. It is not sufficient to be still and listen – that can be done in pride. Listening may be nothing more than courtesy without commitment.  We may already have made our minds up about what we will do with what we hear. At the least, we tend to reserve the right to obey until after we have heard all the information. We have been still, but we have not quieted our soul.

 

This brings a whole new level of understanding for me to the book of James in the New Testament. James says, Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 
Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 
But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

 

James continues later by saying What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? There’s more. Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. Our pride causes us to claim faith but not act upon it. We have not quieted our souls. We have not died to self so that we might live for Him who saved us. We continue to struggle with sin because we have not surrendered to doing what we hear. James says it really boils down to surrender to God – to quiet our souls before Him. He says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

 

Do you struggle with obedience? With sin? It may be because you have not set aside those things as worthless and meaningless to your life. You have chosen to believe, to whatever degree, the lie of Satan that says those things have some value to you. You have chosen to believe that sin will benefit you in some way. You have heard God’s word, but you have chosen to weigh those words on a scale that lies. Satan has his thumb on the scales of your soul, and he will not release his grip until you submit to God by quieting your soul. Put to death whatever it is of the flesh, and choose now to obey whatever God says. Be still, and be quiet. Put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever. (Psalm 131:3)

 

Pastor John

Priorities

Daily Devotions

Monday, March 23, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Priorities

 

Today’s Scripture:  Psalm 46:10  “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 

 

I feel overwhelmed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who does. Life just doesn’t let up. Even breaks from the routine turn into energy-sapping, brain-draining events. When we do something to relax, we aren’t really relaxing because we are doing something. We end up just as tired after recreation as we do after work. And if we just sit and do nothing, the guilt of inactivity wears out our emotions. I’m exhausted just writing about exhaustion, and that’s no exaggeration. Where’s my coffee? I need caffeine. I must keep going.

 

Even the Bible convinces me that I must keep going. Over and over I read in Proverbs about the consequences of being slothful. My very character is brought into question when I read verses like “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.”  It is easy for me to jump to the conclusion that anything that isn’t work is ultimately destructive, when in reality the opposite is true.  In fact, the word slack in that verse is the exact same Hebrew word as “still” in today’s Scripture verse. Seems contradictory, doesn’t it. We’re wrong if we’re slackers but we can’t know God unless we take time to be still.

 

I want to challenge you to do something. It’s going to be hard for some of you. I’ll give you some information that will help you get started. I want you to read the first chapter of Ezekiel. Here’s what you will discover. Ezekiel has a vision of the glorious Presence of God. As you read it within the context of my theme today, you will discover that the four living creatures represent you and me.  At first they appear to be all-powerful and self-sufficient. They are imposing beings, just as we try to be. They have the faces of men, but also have the faces of a lion, an ox, and an eagle, representing authority, power, and vision. That’s pretty revealing of our own prideful nature, isn’t it? We claim to have all the authority, power, and vision we need to make life work. At the end of that paragraph you’ll find a verse that perfectly describes most of our lives – The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. Work hard. Play hard. Die hard. That’s us.

 

The next thing you’ll see in the vision are the wheels. The wheels represent our work and our culture. The wheels moved in conjunction with the creatures. In fact, it tells us that the spirit of the creatures was in the wheels. How true is that? We pour our entire being into what we do. When we move, everything moves with us. Our lives are wrapped up in our activity. We must keep the wheels turning. Moving wheels make lots of noise. Noise proves function. Function proves value. Movement proves worth. These are the lies we have been led to believe.  

 

Then the truth is revealed. Read this carefully, starting in verse 24. When they stood still, they lowered their wings. (The Hebrew word for still and lowered is the same word used in Psalm 46:10.) Then there came a voice from above the expanse over their heads as they stood with lowered wings. Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking.

 

WOW! I don’t know about you but that truth has powerfully affected me today. It’s time for me to let down my wings and quit flapping. When I do, I will hear the voice of God. I will realize that behind everything I do is His power. Behind everything I think I am is His Presence. Behind every turn of the wheels of life is His authority. Every direction I move is controlled by His vision. Oh Lord, let me be still, and know that You are God.

 

Pastor John

Opinions Are Dangerous

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

 

Current Study: A to Z         

 

Today’s Topic: Opinions

 

Today’s Scripture:  I Samuel 15:24-26  Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the LORD’S command and your instructions. I was afraid of the people and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the LORD.” But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD, and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!” 

 

Opinions have always been dangerous. Yet today we live in a world where they are respected as truth. It’s a problem that has existed in the hearts of man since the beginning.

 

It was an opinion that caused the first sin. Eve was asked to make a judgment about the consequences of eating the fruit of a specific tree. She made her judgment based on misinformation. That is the basis for the definition of opinion. According to dictionary.com, an opinion is a belief or judgment that rest on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty. It is a personal view, attitude, or appraisal. Another dictionary I have says that an opinion is a belief no so strong as knowledge. In other words, opinions are not necessarily truth.

 

Eve got into trouble when she moved from standing on the truth to forming an opinion about the truth. That’s what makes opinions so dangerous – they are usually based on something other than absolute truth.

 

We form opinions because we have the capacity to think and reason. That thought process is tainted by our sin nature which forces us, apart from Christ, to seek self-fulfillment. When not formed and based in truth, opinions are nothing more than our attempt to promote and enhance self. We form opinions based on what we think we need or on what makes us feel most comfortable. Our opinions can be motivated by the need for acceptance, as was the case in King Saul’s life in today’s Scripture reading. Our opinions are powerful, and can be used to influence people for good or evil. But the bottom line is that unless the are continually regulated by God’s truth, they become dangerously selfish.

 

I don’t know about you, but I’m really tired of public opinion polls. I understand their usefulness in determining some political policies so that our representative form of government is maintained. Where I have my problem is when public opinion is elevated to the place of truth in denial of God’s truth. In politics, the majority rules. Not so in the Kingdom of God. And not so in the church.

 

Personal opinions and preferences have long been the deadliest weapon of Satan against the body of Christ and the accomplishment of His mission. We now live in a church culture that is the product of allowing personal opinions to be validated as truth. It seems that the basic truths of God’s Word have been supplanted by the need to be accepted. Opinions have become the message that tickles the ears of hearers who are offended by the truth. We teach and preach what is politically correct. Even when we do present truth we sugar coat it so it comes across as opinion, because opinions are not offensive. We’ve been taught to tolerate opinions. Unfortunately, we no longer tolerate truth.

 

My friends, we must guard our hearts from allowing opinions and preferences to dictate our actions. When we allow that to happen, we become inward focused, and we cease to be effective at reaching others for Christ. I think we would be shocked if we would seriously reflect on the number of personal opinions we have allowed to govern our lives. We must return to building our lives, our attitudes, and our actions on truth rather than opinion.

 

So take some time today and reflect on your life. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the areas in your walk with Jesus that you have surrendered to personal preference rather than truth. Let Christ show you how His church is being hurt by the promotion of personal opinion rather than truth. Let Him show you how you are a part of that. Let us get out of ourselves, and into others. Let us proclaim the truth, and not let personal opinions pass themselves off as truth in our lives.

 

Pastor John