Be Holy

Daily Devotions

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Be Holy

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:14-16  As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 

The concept of holiness sometimes scares me. The call of Scripture to match the holiness of God is frightening, because I am so incapable of doing it. But I’ve discovered that the fear I feel is not from God, but is an attack of the enemy of my soul. And now I also think I know the reason why Satan has been able to bring such fear against me. It’s because I have looked at holiness from the wrong perspective.

 

For most of us, the word holy is synonymous with sinless. Yet sinlessness is not the definition of holy. God is not holy because He is sinless; He is sinless because He is holy. Freedom from sin is a product of holiness, not the cause. My fear of the call to holiness is because I have been convinced that it is a call to sinlessness, when it is not. That’s when Satan gets to pile the guilt and shame on me, because I know my sin. His definition of holiness has kept us in bondage and kept us from being holy.

 

Of course, the more I understand what holiness is, the more I will find victory over sin. But in this life, I will never attain perfection. Yet I can be holy. The key is to understand how God is holy and how He calls me to be holy.

 

The word holy simply means to separate, and carries with it a sense of such perfection of separation that it produces incomprehensible awe. In the context of that definition, God is holy for several reasons:

·         He is separate from creation. He is the Creator and sustainer of all that exists. He is not dependent upon anything outside of Himself for His existence or sustenance.

·         He is separate from corruption. He has the knowledge of sin, as do we, yet the perfection of His separation from it means there has never been an experience of it.

·         He is separate in His character. This is the key for me to understanding how I am to pursue holiness. God’s character is separate from mine in this – the various aspects of His character can never be categorized or cubbyholed. Every aspect of His nature and character are absolutely inseparable. It is the inseparableness of His character  that makes Him holy and thus separate from us

 

My nature and character are divisible. I can in one instance be set apart for God’s purpose, and in the next be pursuing my own interests and desires. God cannot. He is eternally constant. He never wavers. He never ceases to perfectly express His glory. Every thought and action of God is done as an expression of the totality of His nature in perfect integrity. His characteristics are never in conflict with one another.

 

My goal then in pursuing holiness is to become more separated for His purpose and more consistent in living it. The pursuit of holiness is the pursuit of integrity. The call to being holy as God is holy is a call to eliminating the conflicts that exist in our character.

 

Jim Elliot, the martyred missionary to the Aucan Indians in Ecuador, said it this way: Oh, to be holy! Just to sense for a moment that I have somehow, however small, simulated some measure of Thy character, Lord Jesus. The simulation of God’s character is to become consistent. It is to become set apart for God’s purpose alone, and live that purpose in every part of our lives.

 

When we begin to see holiness as being set apart for God with integrity of character, instead of as sinlessness, we will see it from the positive rather than the negative perspective. Seeking to become sinless is scary because it’s impossible in this life. But striving for consistency of character is stimulating, because it satisfies every longing of our hearts, the primary one being to have integrity of identity. Our identity is inconsistent because in sin it seeks to please self. When we pursue true holiness, the integrity of our identity is restored because it is found in Christ, and thus reflects the character of God.

 

There is so much more to say about this subject, but I must stop for now. I pray that the Holy Spirit – called Holy because He is perfectly set apart to consistently and completely fulfill the will of the Father – will increase your understanding of this great truth. We are called to be holy as He is holy. We are called to be separated unto Him and to live consistently for Him. When we pursue that call, we will be holy in all that we do, because we will be doing all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and for His glory, not ours.

 

Pastor John

 

Get Ready For Action

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Be Prepared

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:13  Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

 

In just 14 days, I will get to do something I’ve never done before. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing for it. I’ve watched several videos of the activity, and every chance I get I turn on the TV to the channel that carries such programming and try to learn some more. I’m practicing what I learn. I borrowed the equipment I will need and checked it all out yesterday so I knew how to use it. But I still have more preparation to do.

 

I have to dig out all the clothing for the activity that has been safely stored since last fall. It’s the same clothing I use for another similar activity. I still have to plan my location and approach. I still need to watch a few more programs about the activity. I want to know all I can about what I’m going to do so I can be as successful at it as possible. As I discussed yesterday, I have a need to know.

 

In this instance, my need to know will result in activity. I am preparing for action. I’m going turkey hunting. I can’t wait to see that first big tom turkey come lumbering towards me as I imitate a hen with my call. I am so excited about raising that shotgun to my shoulder and bringing home a family dinner.

 

Some people may laugh at such preparation. They are the same ones who don’t expect much action. People who expect action get prepared for action. Abraham Lincoln once said, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first hour sharpening the ax.”

 

That principle has a spiritual application as well.  Donald Grey Barnhouse (1895–1960), pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from 1927 until his death in 1960, and founder of Eternity magazine, said, If I only had three years to serve the Lord, I would spend two of them studying and preparing.

 

The Apostle Peter knew well the need to prepare for action. He had entered a spiritual battlefield unprepared once before. His mind had not been ready for real action. He thought he was, but the arrest of the Lord proved that his focus had been more on himself than on his Savior. When the action heated up, he denied even knowing Christ.

 

Now, with his focus firmly on faith, and his hope fixed on the return of Jesus and the culmination of his salvation, his need to know prepares him for action. He prepares his mind so that he thinks spiritually. He prepares his body so that it is self-controlled. He prepares his heart so that his hope is always on the finish line of faith rather than on the present world. He is ready for action.

 

His ministry partner Paul said the same thing in Romans 12:2. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is.” (NLT)

 

It all starts with the need to know. But knowledge is of little value if not put into action. The knowledge of God will change the way you think. As it does, God will give you knowledge of His will and purpose for your life. Get ready. You are being prepared for action. You may not feel like you’re able to do much today, but get ready for action. You may feel pretty obscure, but God is preparing you for action. My favorite preacher, Chuck Swindoll, said it this way –  

Learn your lessons well in the schoolroom of obscurity. God is preparing you as his chosen arrow. As yet your shaft is hidden in his quiver, in the shadows . . . but at the precise moment at which it will tell with the greatest effect, he will reach for you and launch you to that place of his appointment.

 

Get ready. You’re about to be launched into the action of God’s will.

 

Pastor John

 

The Need to Know

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  The Need To Know

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:10-12  Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.

 

We all have a need to know. It may be more exaggerated in some of us, but as beings created in the image of God, who is all-knowing, we all have a need to know. Someday, in the presence of God, that need will be fulfilled. The apostle Paul reminds us of that fact in 1 Corinthians 13 when he writes, “Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.”

 

My need to know can become overwhelming sometimes. Recently we upgraded a bunch of software on all of our church computers. We even purchased some new software that we will begin using this Sunday for all our media presentations. Several people have volunteered to learn to use the software so it can be most productive. I have had to fight to stay focused on important ministry activities and study because my need to know distracts me constantly and drives me to also learn the software. Why is it that I think I need to be as proficient as those who are actually going to use it? It’s the need to know overblown by pride.

 

But pride can also cause us to restrict the need to know. Our need to know can also be controlled by our need for personal benefit. At times, when we have been exposed to something new, we decide not to pursue any additional knowledge of it because we don’t believe it will bring any practical benefit to us. Our need to know is often restricted by our need to experience.

 

This can cause serious issues when applied to the way we study the Bible. Our desires can dominate our devotions. We pick and choose the things from Scripture that we want to study because they accentuate our current attitudes. We choose not to study those things in God’s Word that bring conviction and change. Our need to know all of God is restricted by our fleshly desire for personal benefit.

 

Imagine if the Old Testament prophets had allowed their need to know to be so restricted. What if, upon receiving the initial word that the Messiah was for a future generation, they had stopped writing what the Holy Spirit was teaching them? What if, when the going got tough and they were persecuted for their words because their message conflicted with society’s choices, they stopped declaring the truth? What if, because they were told that the message did not directly apply to them, they simply stopped studying and exploring the Scriptures to try to understand the truth? What if they were so selfish that they never considered those of us who would live in the age of grace and stopped preparing the way for it for our benefit?

 

The prophets of the Old Testament were told that the Messiah, Jesus, would bring salvation to the world by grace through faith. They did not understand it. The angels still don’t. But their need to know drove them to study intently all that God had previously told them so they could understand this magnificent truth. They wanted to know all they could about God’s plan to save sinners and bring about the spiritual fulfillment of His kingdom.

 

We have become complacent about learning the truths of our salvation. We have taken for granted that we know just enough to be content. This complacent contentment that minimizes knowledge has resulted in weak witnesses. One of our biggest hindrances to sharing our faith is that we don’t believe we know enough. Well, whose fault is that? (How’s that for pointing a convicting finger?) We have suppressed the need to know with fleshly needs for acceptance and approval of the world. Yet the longing of the Holy Spirit in us is to teach us all things. He wants to fulfill our need to know.

 

In Peter’s second letter he writes, Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness… grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are commanded in Scripture to pursue the need to know. In fact, our very spiritual health and effectiveness for Christ depend on it, as Peter reminds us when he says, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledgeand to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Emphasis added)

 

Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop studying. The Holy Spirit in you is producing the need to know. Don’t stifle His work. Get started today, and pursue the need to know God!

 

Pastor John

Believing is Receiving

Daily Devotions

Monday, April 27, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Believing is Receiving

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:8-9  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 
for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.. 

 

Anne Steele was born in 1716. She was the eldest daughter of William Steele, a Baptist pastor at Broughton, England. In her teenage years, Anne demonstrated a beautiful gift for writing. Her teenage years were also the beginning of a hard life that could have turned her into a bitter woman.

 

First, her mother died. Then a fall from a horse rendered her permanently disabled. Because of her natural beauty and the more important beauty of her spirit, she was able to attract and fall in love with a wonderful young man who proposed marriage. Just hours before their wedding ceremony, her fiance drowned in the river where he was bathing. She spent the rest of her days, until she died at age 63, in the quiet seclusion of her father’s home. But she did not live in despair. In fact, she was described by those who knew her as “cultured, pious, and beautiful.”

 

From the moment of her fiancés death, she began to write. Her poetry was filled with hope and joy because of her faith in Jesus Christ. Finally, at age 41, she decided to have some of her writing printed. Her father’s diary contained this entry – “Nanny sent part of her composition to London, to be printed. I entreat a gracious God, who enabled, and stirred her up to such a work—to make it useful, and keep her humble.” Perhaps it was this emphasis on humility that compelled “Nanny” to write under a pen name, “Theodosia.” The proceeds of all her works were donated to charity.

 

Anne Steele never married, and her already feeble health was aggravated by the shock of her father’s death in 1769. She lived the last 10 years of her life alone. Yet despite her many trials, “Nanny” wrote 144 hymns and 34 psalm versions. She published Poems on Subjects Chiefly Devotional in two volumes in 1760, and a third was produced after her death. Her hymns received wide acceptance, and her poems were reprinted in America. More than a century after her death, it was written that she “stands at the head” of all Baptist hymn writers.

Her most famous hymn was written right after the death of her fiancé. As you read the words of this poem, even though written in Old English, you will understand what Peter means when he says, Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy. The hymn was entitled “Father: Whate’er of Earthly Bliss.”

 

Father, whate’er of earthly bliss
Thy sovereign will denies,
Accepted at Thy throne, let this
My humble prayer, arise:

Give me a calm and thankful heart,
From every murmur free;
The blessing of Thy grace impart,
And make me live to Thee.

Let the sweet hope that Thou art mine
My life and death attend,
Thy presence through my journey shine,
And crown my journey’s end.

 

May we live our lives in that kind of faith – faith produces joy. The world chooses to believe only what they can see and what makes them happy. We believe God, even though He is unseen, and as a result, we are filled with true joy. Let His joy overwhelm you, no matter what earthly bliss is denied.

 

Pastor John

 

 

Times are Tough, So Rejoice

Daily Devotions

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Times are Tough, So Rejoice

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:6-7  In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 

 

I know my brain is working because I am both thinking and writing. But I can’t seem to process my thoughts this morning. My mind is filled with ideas but I can’t organize them. I am at once both sharp and dull. I am a living oxymoron. I may be just a moron.

 

Oxymora are interesting. (Oxymora is the plural form of oxymoron.) The very word itself is a combination of two Greek words – oxy, meaning sharp and moros, meaning dull. Thus, even the word oxymoron is an oxymoron.

 

An oxymoron is a word or combination of words that represent opposing and contradictory ideas. For example, we eat jumbo shrimp. When we are uncomfortable in a social situation, we might try to appear invisible. Some people get really tired of constant change. Women spend millions of dollars on natural makeup. Journalists report that someone was found missing. Governments equip soldiers to be a peacekeeping force. We have cultures that have legalized mercy killing.

 

It appears that Peter was guilty of using an oxymoron in today’s Scripture reading when he refers to joyful suffering. He is clearly stating that in the life of a Christian there are two opposing emotions constantly intertwined in our lives. We are filled with joy because of our new life in Christ and the hope of glory. At the same time, we are experiencing grief because of all the sufferings of this sinful world in which we live. Joyful suffering. Glorious grief. Christian oxymora.

 

This may not come as good news to you, but the constant tension of joy and grief is intentionally designed by God for our good. Paul Brand, the missionary surgeon to India wrote this in his book entitled, Pain: The Gift Nobody Wants: I have come to see that pain and pleasure come to us not as opposites but as Siamese twins, strangely joined and intertwined. Nearly all my memories of acute happiness, in fact, involve some element of pain or struggle.

 

It would be much more appealing to us if we could just teach that grief and suffering go away when we come to Christ, but that would not be the truth. The fact is that God intentionally uses the trials and troubles of life and our emotional grief as a means to refine our faith. In as much as you rejoice in your salvation now, you will rejoice even more as the joy of your salvation conquers the grief of your troubles. Trials prove the reality of faith.

 

Be careful when you read this passage. We are not told to rejoice about the suffering – we are told to rejoice about our salvation while we are suffering. The foe of our faith would have us fix our focus on our failures. We tumble into his trap when we tremble in our trials. But there is an alternative – we can choose to be vocal about our victory in Christ.

 

Each one of us has the right and power to determine our own attitude. Our choice to rejoice or grumble boils down to one determining factor – our focus on long-term rewards or short-term benefits. One is the truth and the other is a lie. The truth is that we have guaranteed long-term rewards based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The lie is that there are any short-term benefits to wallowing in our grief. Faith is not refined in the fires of grief, but in the praise of God who is greater than the flames. (Remember Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Read Daniel chapter 3)

 

Genuine faith rejoices in salvation that is permanent regardless of temporary trials. Sure things get bad – even unbearable at times. But nothing – neither trouble nor hardship nor persecution nor famine nor nakedness nor danger nor sword nor death nor life; neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. In this you can rejoice!

 

Pastor John

 

 

 

 

Get Behind the Shield

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  He Is Our Shield

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:3-5  through faith [we] are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

 

In June of 2008, Deputy Malachi McCoy of Tampa, Florida, was reading the Bible and came upon Psalm 28:7. It reads, The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.” He was immediately drawn to one line in the verse: “The Lord is my shield.” Using a silver paint pen, the son of a preacher inscribed those words on the black steel plate of his bulletproof vest.

 

Later that same week, during a gunman’s rampage in northwest Tampa that left three people shot dead and two county sheriff’s deputies wounded, his “shield” did its job. McCoy said his faith — and perhaps the Bible verse he wrote on his vest — has helped him through the ordeal. “I just thought it would be kind of neat to write that on the steel plate,” he said.

 

Deputy McCoy serves as an example of having the proper object for our faith. Ultimately, his faith is in the power of God, who is His eternal shield. Practically, in everyday life, he wears a bulletproof vest.

 

There is a great battle going on all around us, and it involves us. Bullets are flying fast and furiously from the number one criminal of the universe, and they are aimed at those whose faith is in Christ and not him. But this one thing is guaranteed – none of those bullets can end our spiritual lives. Through faith in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection from the dead, we are shielded by God’s power. We are eternally His!

 

However, we can be wounded, as were the two other deputies in the Florida shooting spree. They were wearing vests, but the bullets struck them in unprotected areas. Fortunately, their wounds were not lethal.

 

Every day we walk into a world that is filled with flying bullets and flaming arrows of temptation and sin. It is our choice whether to walk into it fully protected or not. In the case of police officers, they have chosen to protect the vital organs, hoping to survive a wound to a non-vital part of their body. But sin is not like bullets, which damage only the part they hit. Sin is progressive, and behaves more like a deadly virus. It spreads to areas we thought were protected, because it gets in behind the shield. While it can’t end our eternal life, it can and will destroy our physical life.

 

God has given us all the armor we need to be fully protected from the deadly effects of sin. His Word is filled with instructions about putting on our armor, and with warnings about what will happen to us if we don’t. Here’s an example. Paul is writing to Timothy and says, People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 

 

Later He writes again and says, Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

 

Those are just two of the admonitions to live behind the shield and be protected from Satan’s traps. He will trap us with money, and he will trap us with pride in our position. Every day our enemy is setting traps for us in an attempt to destroy our faith in Christ and our public witness for Him. We must take action. We must guard against complacency based on the security we have in Christ for eternity. We must be on guard continually against the attacks of the enemy. It should not be enough to simply wait for the day when we will be finally rescued from this sinful world – we should be living the joys of heavenly victory today, and every day.

 

So take up your shield of faith, and get every part of your life behind it. Don’t let down your guard for a minute. Any and every part of your life you allow to be exposed to the enemy will be wounded. It will become infected. It will spread. If it already has, then repent and ask for God’s forgiveness. You will be restored. Then trust in Him and not the world. He is your strength and your shield!

 

Pastor John

 

I Will Rise

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  We Will Rise

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:3-5  Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 

 

Life gets pretty tumultuous at times. This morning is a perfect example. I arrived at the office and sat down to start my devotions when the phone rang. It was my wife, and she sounded a little bit frantic. “What are you doing for the next hour or so? I really need you to come home and help. I have to take Liam to Urgent Care.” Liam is our youngest grandson, and he’s sick with some kind of virus that produces a lot of congestion, and this morning he was have a lot of trouble breathing.

 

I jumped in the car, raced home, and helped get Liam and his brother ready to go to the doctor. Now any of you who know me know that I can get pretty focused when an emergency arises. I go into serious problem solving mode. Not just normal serious mode, but extreme, high energy, tension-filled, hurry up and let’s get moving mode. I would not have been a good ER doctor.

 

Just as we were preparing to leave, another daughter-in-law called, and when she heard what was going on she volunteered to watch Liam’s brother at her house. That was a blessing. So I took off in one direction with one boy, and Denise took off to the doctor with little Liam. After I dropped Aidan off at his cousin’s house, and as I drove back to the office, my favorite new song from Chris Tomlin came on the radio and brought me back to a place of emotional balance. The Holy Spirit’s timing was perfect, not only for this morning, but also for the application of the truth I would present in this devotional.

 

Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, we have been guaranteed an inheritance that can never be taken from us, no matter what the circumstances of life and how hectic they get. We have been born again into a living hope that is being shielded by God’s power, and that fact brings us to a place of unfathomable peace.

 

That’s what the song reminded me of – the anchor for my soul found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. I hope the words to “I Will Rise” will be just what you need for today as well.

 

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”

And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

 

Pastor John