We’re Not Worthy

Daily Devotions

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic: I’m Not Worthy

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:10   Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

I must spend one more day on this verse. Something deeply troubles me about the attitude of the “average” Christian in our world today. It troubles me most because it tends to be true of me. There is an epidemic disease from which most of us suffer. I call it deservism. I know that’s not an official word, but it is an official problem.

It’s clear that an inseparable relationship between grace and praise has been established by Peter. After declaring that we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God, he tells us that those truths, when properly understood, will produce praise in our lives. Then, so that we might fully comprehend His incredible grace, he reminds us to consider our condition prior to being chosen. We were not a people. We were without mercy. In other words, we were worthless.

Some will cry foul at this point. How dare I state that anyone is worthless? But the truth is, without Christ, we are.

Yesterday I used an illustration of being chosen for a sports team. The illustration falls apart at this point. You see, when a sports coach or captain chooses players for his team, he does so based on a person’s abilities and performance. In contrast, when I stand in line before God, I have nothing to offer. All my past performance is as filthy rags, says the prophet Isaiah. But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. We are not chosen by God based upon our abilities or past performance. We are chosen completely as an act of His sovereign will and by His grace and mercy.

In his mercy God chose not to give us what we deserve – the punishment of our sin. By His grace, He gave us a gift we could never earn – eternal life. But we have decided we are deserving people. Our western civilization has corrupted God’s grace. We have been told that everyone has worth. Materialism has infiltrated our basic belief system so that our salvation, while we claim it is free, is really something God owed us. Our pride, manifested in the disease of deservism, has destroyed our ability to praise.

 Here’s a simple test for you to run on yourself. Think about the last gift you received. Be honest – how truly grateful were you? How long did it take you to send a thank-you note? How enthusiastic were you about the gift? Think now – was there any level of deservism that kept you from being as appreciative as you should have been?

 Even the slightest sense of deservism will destroy a thankful heart. Deservism delivers a death blow to praise. We must go back and discover that we deserve nothing from God, and that it is only by His mercy that He was able to choose those who by their very nature stood opposed to Him.

 I found the words to a song by Curtis Stephan. I encourage you to listen to the song. You can listen to it at http://www.spiritandsong.com/musicondemand/songs/66239. Read the words carefully. Then fall on your face before the Lord and ask for healing from the disease of deservism. When we confess that we are unworthy, we will become the people of praise that God has called us to be when He chose us.

 Though I’m not worthy to see your precious face

I bow before thee pour out your holy grace

For you alone can wash my sin

And cleanse my soul so deep within.


Heal me, wash me in your mercy

Mend these broken pieces of my heart

Love me though I am not worthy

Cleanse my soul and make me whole again

Only say the word and I shall be healed.

Though I’m not worthy in your grace I long to stand

And bow before thee, stretch out your healing hand

For you alone can purify

and heal these wounds so deep inside.

Though I’m not worthy to feel your love, oh Lord

I bow before thee, my Savior be adored.

For you alone break hardened hearts

And bid old bitterness depart.

Pastor John

I’ve Been Chosen

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: I’ve Been Chosen

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:9-10   But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 Conjunctions. They are an important part of language. Conjunctions are words that connect thoughts and ideas. Sometimes they are comparative, as in the case of the word “also”. Sometimes they highlight a contrast, like “however” and “but”. Peter starts today’s Scripture with a contrasting conjunction. What he is about to say is to be considered as opposing what he just said. He has just stated that the Living Stone of Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to some, and because they choose not to believe, they will fulfill their destiny which was in them from birth because of their sin nature.

 But – there it is, the contrasting conjunction – those who believe in the Living Stone have a different destiny: one chosen by Christ Himself. He will not stumble because he belongs to God.

 Way back in the early 1800’s, Pastor John Keble, after whom Keble College in Oxford, England is named, wrote this poem –  

            Look in, and see Christ’s chosen saint

            In triumph wear his Christ-like chain;

           No fear lest he should swerve or faint;

           His life is Christ, his death is gain.

                                             John Keble (1792–1866)

 When I was a little boy, I hated standing in line while a boy much bigger and more athletic than I served as the captain of a team to which He would choose players. I hated it because I knew that my skinny, scrawny body would not appeal to him as a potential team member. I had been the last one chosen too many times, but I kept getting in that line. I wanted to be chosen. I wanted my name to be called.

 Even though it really hurt to be called last, I learned that once I was on the team, I was able to improve my skills by playing the game. I would go wherever the captain said and do my best. Soon, I wasn’t the last one being called.

 I understand and am overwhelmed by the knowledge that God chose me and then called me. He made me somebody when I was nobody. He gave me a place to belong and an identity when I had neither. Oswald Chambers, the great devotional writer, said, “‘I have chosen you.’ Keep that note of greatness in your creed. It is not that you have got God, but that he has got you. Why is God at work in me, bending, breaking, moulding, doing just as he chooses? For one purpose only—that he may be able to say, ‘This is my man, my woman.’” Oswald Chambers (1874–1917)

 I like that – God wants to say about me, “This is my man.” Peter says that my response to being chosen is that I will say, “This is my God.” We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God for one primary purpose of God – to declare His praises. Unfortunately, in the church today, most people live as though they’re frozen not chosen. I would suggest that those who act frozen don’t comprehend the magnitude of being chosen.  

 Keith Robinson, in The Encourager, writes: “When God wanted to authenticate Himself to the ancient world, He called His nation Israel as witness. ‘You are my witnesses,’ He said, testimony that ‘I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the Lord’ (Isa. 48:10). The people of God served as the undeniable proof of God.

“God’s people still offer the most basic and best proof of God. A changed life is still the best testimony of God’s power. Divine love reflected in a Christian heart which accepts, forgives and loves the unlovable is still the best witness of the nature of God. Hope that will not die is still the best proof of eternal life. Faith which cannot be shaken even in the face of death is still the best demonstration of the immutability of God’s promises.

 “We who have been granted the imponderable privilege of partaking in the divine nature, are the witnesses, the demonstration, the proof of the divine presence in the world. Books and lessons and sermons and reason may have their place, but the real test is in the lives of God’s chosen people. If that proof is not clear and constant, everything else is just hearsay.”

 I close with this poem from John Milton –

Let us, with a gladsome mind,

Praise the Lord, for he is kind:

For his mercies aye endure,

Ever faithful, ever sure.

Let us blaze his name abroad,

For of gods he is the God:

He, with all-commanding might,

Filled the new-made world with light:

All things living he doth feed,

His full hand supplies their need:

He his chosen race did bless

In the wasteful wilderness:

Let us then with gladsome mind

Praise the Lord, for he is kind.

 You have been chosen. Live like a chosen child of God.

 Pastor John

Two Stones In One

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: Two Stones In One

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:6-8   For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”  Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone,” and, “A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

 Pastor Fred Musser tells an interesting story in The Tabernacle. He writes, A few days before I left home to prepare for the ministry, my gray-haired pastor, Rev. Temple, told me this story.

 When my son was small, we often walked together out through the fields and neighboring pasture behind the parsonage. At first, the little fellow would hold onto my little finger, but he found that when he stepped into a hoof-print or stumbled over something, his grip would fail and down he’d go in the dust or snow. Not giving it much thought, my mind on other matters, I’d stop and he’d get up, brush himself off, and grab my little finger again, gripping a little harder this time.

 Needless to say, this occurred frequently until one day as he was brushing himself off, he looked at me and said, ‘Daddy?’ I replied, ‘Yes, Son, what is it?’ He said, ‘I think if you would hold my hand, I wouldn’t fall.’

 Pastor Temple then turned to me and with a tear in his eye he said, “You know, he still stumbled many times after that, but he never hit the ground. Now, as you walk with God, don’t try to hold on to Him, let Him hold on to you. You may stumble but He’ll never let you fall.”

 The one who trusts in the Living Stone, the chosen and precious Cornerstone, will never fall. They will never be embarrassed or ashamed. Our strength may fail, and we may stumble, but we will never fall because His strength cannot fail. It all depends upon whether you’re trying to hold on to Him, or if you’ve trusted Him to hold on to you. Those who trust in their own strength and works to hold on to God will find themselves flat on their faces. Those who by faith allow God to hold on to them will walk and never grow weary.

 The Apostle Paul twice quotes this same Old Testament passage from the prophet Isaiah in his letter to the Romans. It’s the passage in Romans 9 that really helps us to understand how Christ can be both a living stone and a stumbling stone. Paul says, “…the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the ‘stumbling stone.’ 
As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’”

 One stone. Different effects on people. Those who by faith alone trust in Christ for their salvation will stand on the Rock and be exalted in eternity. Those who try to earn their way into eternity by their works will trip over the Rock and fall to their doom. It is the grace of God in Christ that becomes the stumbling block for most, while for us it becomes the rock of our salvation.

 People have trouble receiving unconditional gifts. Several years ago, my wife and I stood for 45 minutes in the parking lot of a tourist attraction trying to give away tickets that we couldn’t use. Each ticket was worth $18.00. Dozens of people walked by and would not extend a hand to receive the free gift. Some just ignored us. Others asked, “What’s the catch?”  All of them refused the gift, went inside the attraction, and purchased their own tickets. Finally, one couple decided to take advantage of the offer.

 What a perfect example of how the free gift of salvation is rejected by so many because they will not believe it is truly free. How sad!

 But even after we receive the free gift, we often stumble because we are prone to be prone. We tend to take back into our own control what we claimed to have given to Christ. We trust ourselves rather than trust Him. We choose to grab God’s little finger and hang on with all our strength, when we could just let God grab our hand with all of His strength. The first step is a scary one, because it requires us to let go. But you can trust God. He is your Living Stone.

 Pastor John

Convenience or Commitment?

Daily Devotions

Monday, May 18, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic: Convenience or Commitment?

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:4-5   As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

 Right after Easter, I started a series of sermons on Sunday mornings on the topic of Knowing God Through Genesis. The book of Genesis is incredible. In it, we find not only the foundations of the world and of civilization, but also the revelation of the nature and character of God and His work on behalf of mankind. There is nothing more deeply satisfying to any of us than the knowledge of God, and so far, after only four chapters, we are becoming overwhelmed with awe at the splendor of God.

 Each week, as I study, I discover things that have real significance to me. Yesterday we spent time studying the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. One part of the story stood out to me and made a point that has been with me for days now – the sacrifices that were offered by the two brothers. One was acceptable to God, and one wasn’t. Why?

Many have stated that the reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice was because it was a blood sacrifice of an animal. Cain’s was rejected because it was grain. This belief is based on the need for a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, which God demonstrated to Adam and Eve when He clothed them with the skins of animals after their sin in the Garden of Eden. I completely see the connection and the significance of the symbolism, but I think that we stretch the meaning when we think this way. Nowhere in the passage does it say that the sacrifice they were bringing was for the forgiveness of sin. They were bringing an offering, not making a sacrifice.

 Interestingly, when God passes on His laws to Moses, grain offerings were fully acceptable. Therefore, it was not the offering that caused the problem for Cain. So what was it? It was the attitude of his heart towards the glory of God. Cain did not truly respect God as the provider and sustainer of his life. He simply came and made an offering of convenience. Abel, on the other hand, gave God the best of the best that he had. Cain brought some of the harvest of his fields. Abel gave of the fat portions of the firstfruits of his flocks. Cain did not honor God as His provider, but kept the best for himself to provide for himself. Abel showed trust in God’s provision by giving up the first born of his flock, thereby limiting his flock’s reproductive potential.

 This has deeply impacted my heart. I want it to touch you as well. Open your heart to think about this principle in light of your current commitment level to Christ. Are you offering Him only what is convenient? Do you give Him only the time that doesn’t interfere with your plans? Do you give Him offerings of resources that don’t restrict your buying power?

 We live in a modern world of convenience. Everything is about making life easier. Unfortunately, easy living comes at a huge price. It costs us our sacrificial spirit. Easy living becomes the passion of our pursuits, and the motivation of our decisions. If we carefully and honestly evaluate it, easy living is the product of our own invention and is accomplished in the strength of our own will. As a result, we make very few if any true sacrifices, because all choices are based on return value.

 Peter tells us today that together we are to grow as a spiritual house to be holy priests that offer spiritual sacrifices to God. I cannot justify convenience with spiritual sacrifices. Cain’s sacrifice of convenience didn’t represent commitment. Abel’s sacrifice of income potential did. We must each decide if our relationship with Christ is one of convenience or commitment. We may call our service in the church a commitment, while it may be nothing more than a convenient way to continue to appear spiritual.

 Sacrifices of convenience grow out of a spirit of self-fulfillment. Sacrifices of commitment come from a heart that is already fulfilled in Christ and needs nothing more. Convenience is all about gain for self. Commitment is all about gain for God. Convenience demonstrates trust in self. Commitment models trust in Christ.

 My friends, this is an urgent word for the day in which we live. We cannot any longer live as materialistic-minded people. Giving God what’s left of our time, our energy, and our finances is nothing more than convenient Christianity that benefits self. We must…I repeat, we MUST understand that God requires compliance when it comes to commitment. Anything less is an unacceptable offering. Give God your best – the best of your best. As the Apostle Paul said, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2)

 Pastor John

All You Can Eat Buffet

Daily Devotions

Thursday, May 14, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: Eat Well

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 2:1-3   Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 Today is one of my favorite days of the year. I’m up early so I can start the day right by spending time with my Savior and Lord. I’ll grab some breakfast around 7, and then I’ll head to Hillcrest Country Club for a day of fellowship with men and women who are committed to sharing the Good News of Jesus with the youth of the Chippewa Valley. We have made calls and sent out letters to raise money for Young Life, a youth ministry that reaches students through small group Bible studies. I love what they do, and I love the team of people who support it.

 When I get to the course around 7:30, I’ll head to the driving range to review the fundamentals of my swing. I’ll spend lots of time on the putting green to review the basics of putting and chipping. I deeply understand the necessity of review. There are certain fundamentals that serve as foundations that have to be in place for everything else about the game of golf to work right. I’ll spend time in review this morning.

 Peter reminds us to review in today’s Scripture passage. He starts with a word that demands review – therefore. Someone once said that whenever you see the word therefore, go back and look at what was just said so you know what is about to be said is there for. Let’s review what Peter has just said prior to chapter two. His emphasis was on two things – sincere love for others and the Word of God, which he described as living and enduring. If you want to review those subjects more deeply, read the devotionals from Monday and Tuesday.

 With the foundation laid in our lives of God’s Word and our obedience to its truth, Peter says that we are to get rid of anything that contradicts those fundamentals.

  • Malice – the desire to do harm to another person because of our anger – contradicts the fundamental of love for others.
  • Deceit – a term used to describe a decoy intended to ensnare in a trap – contradicts the fundamental of sincerity.
  • Hypocrisy – to be two faced – contradicts integrity and transparency in love.
  • Envy – to desire what someone else has so one’s value is increased – contradicts the fundamental that by God’s Word we are made alive and complete in Christ.
  • Slander – to defame another person – contradicts the fundamental of love others and building them up by putting their needs ahead of our own.

All of these things are contradictory to the very nature of God as revealed in His living Word. When they’re gone, there’s room for us to grow in what accompanies our salvation.

 I love Peter’s analogy of food. Let’s face it – I love food. Once I taste it, and if I like it, and I want more of it. Much more. It makes me grow…in all the wrong places, and that’s not good. But feeding on the living Word of God brings growth that’s good. God never intended us to stop growing. There are no spiritual diets. We can have all we want of God’s food. It’s our choice how much we want to grow. Little food brings little growth. Much food brings much growth.

 Some people claim to not have much of an appetite. What a sad predicament of their own making. Somewhere along the line, they forgot how good God tasted. They chose to not savor His flavor. They chose to seek out other sources of nutrition, none of which ever satisfies. It’s not that they don’t have an appetite; it’s just that they’ve chosen to feed their hunger with something other than God. They need to go back and discover the taste of the Lord again.

 Every once in a while I get the urge to have a mango. It truly is the world’s best fruit. I will try to satisfy my hunger for one by buying one locally. It was picked from the tree well before it was ripe, and when I did into the first bite, I am totally disappointed. Nothing beats tree-ripened fruit. Unfortunately, there’s no way to grow mangoes around here.

 I first tasted a tree-ripened one in the Philippines. The people of the mission I worked with on three different occasions understood my love for them, and provided them for me at every meal. If I want that satisfying taste again, I’ll just have to go back there. It will be costly, and take a huge commitment of time and resources, but it would be worth it.

 It may cost us to get back our spiritual appetite. It will take sacrifice, and a huge commitment of time and resources to go back to the place where we once fed on the fruit of the Tree of Life – but it will be worth it, for nothing else will ever satisfy. Let us search our memories and rediscover the place where we first tasted that the Lord was good, and let’s go back there to find all the food we could ever want. It’s time to start growing again.

 By the way – please pass the mangoes.

 Pastor John

It’s Alive

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic: It’s Alive

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 1:23-25   For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.

 In the “library” at my house is a cupboard that has a variety of things in it. One shelf of that cupboard is primarily for magazines. The selection includes In Fisherman, Golf Magazine, and a few Cabela’s hunting and fishing catalogues. I’ve been reading the golf magazines a lot lately because Thursday is the annual Young Life golf outing and I want to be ready to play my best. (By the way, if anyone has not yet had the opportunity to contribute to this important and life-changing youth ministry in the Chippewa Valley, you can contact me before Thursday.)

 One thing I’ve discovered while reading magazines about fishing and golf is that everyone has their own tested and proven technique for success. Month after month, the tips keep coming to catch more fish, add more yards to your drive, or make more putts. The problem is that in any given month there will be at least three articles that contradict what last month’s “experts” said. Where does a person go to get solid information that never fails?

 There is only one source of truth – God’s Word, the Bible. Here’s a quick synopsis of what Peter says about it in the verses printed above.

It’s alive. In Thayer’s Greek Definitions, the word living, when applied to something other than a person or animal, means, having vital power in itself and exerting the same upon the soul. Later in this same letter, Peter calls Jesus a Living Stone, and then says we are living stones also. Hebrews 4:12 says, For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Here’s the point – when something is called living, it carries the very essence of its Creator. It has the same power. It represents the same nature and character. So when God speaks, His words carry the very essence of His being. They are the exact representation of who He is. They are alive. That’s why John calls Jesus the Word in his gospel. In Hebrews 1, we read that God has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
God’s Word is alive, and will bring life to you!

  • It’s enduring.  Twice in this passage, the Word of God is said to be enduring. In the NIV version above, the second time the word is used it is translated as stands forever. The Greek word has three meanings that are significant to our understanding:
    • The first application is in reference to place. When something endures, it remains in place. When you read, study, and apply His Word to your life, it will never leave you. It becomes a part of your living soul. Actually, it is what gives you life. God’s Word will never lose its place in you.
    • The second application is in reference to time. When something endures, it never gets old. I wish I was enduring. Because God’s Word is the exact expression of His being, which is eternal, the God’s Word is eternal. It is not subject to time. It remains forever. Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.(Psalm 119:89)
    • The third application is in reference to condition. When something endures, it never changes. The Word of God never changes. It cannot, because it is the living expression of an unchangeable God. It is constant truth. James, the brother of Jesus, says, Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

 Every day we get to choose what light to let shine on our life. It may be the light of a golf or fishing expert. It may be the light of a spouse. It may be the light of a pastor. It may be the light of a boss. Every day we choose to walk in someone’s shadow. The trouble is, those lights are not consistent, and the shadows are always shifting.  But God’s Word is the one true Light. Jesus came as the Light of the world, because He is the Living Word of God.

 So the answer to our initial question is this – The Bible is where you will always find solid and trustworthy information that will never fail. Maybe it’s time you started spending more time reading it. My words are not alive. The books you are reading right now are not alive. But God’s Word is alive, and it will make you alive!

 Pastor John

Free to Fly

Daily Devotions

Monday, May 11, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic: Love Liberates

 Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 1:22b   …love one another deeply, from the heart.

 Have you ever wondered how birds teach their young to fly? Well, using various forms of the same basic method, they generally push them off their perch. Eugene Peterson tells how he saw a family of birds doing just that.

 Three young swallows were perched on a dead branch that stretched out over a lake. One adult swallow got alongside the chicks and started shoving them out toward the end of the branch—pushing, pushing, pushing. The end one fell off. Somewhere between the branch and the water four feet below, the wings started working, and the fledgling was off on his own. Then the second one.

 The third was not to be bullied. At the last possible moment his grip on the branch loosened just enough so that he swung downward, then tightened again with bulldog tenacity. The parent was without sentiment. He pecked at the desperately clinging talons until it was more painful for the poor chick to hang on than risk the insecurities of flying. The grip was released, and the inexperienced wings began pumping. The mature swallow knew what the chick did not—that it would fly—that there was no danger in making it do what it was perfectly designed to do.

 Birds have feet and can walk. Birds have talons and can grasp a branch securely. They can walk; they can cling. But flying is their characteristic action, and not until they fly are they living at their best, gracefully and beautifully.

 We have been designed to do lots of things well, but loving is what we do best. It is the air into which we were born. It is the action that was designed into us before our birth. Some of us try desperately to hold on to ourselves, to live for ourselves. We look so pathetic doing it, hanging on to the dead branch of self-worth, turning life upside down. We’re afraid to risk ourselves on the untried wings of loving others. We don’t think we can truly give ourselves away because we have never tried. But the sooner we start the better. Some day we are going to have to give up our lives, and the longer we wait, the less time we have for the soaring and swooping life of grace.

 When we love, we are most free. When we live for self, we become prisoners in our own bodies. When we seek to protect who we are and what we have, we become bitter and cynical. We hang on to for dear life to what is no life at all. If we would just let go, the nature of God in us would set us free to fly in love.

 That requires us to stretch ourselves a little – or a lot. But that’s exactly what Peter said in today’s Scripture verse. You see, the Greek word for “deeply” in this verse means, in its root form, “to be stretched out.” Peter is telling us to love each other in ways that stretch us, and to stretch out our lives to love as God loved us. Just think of how far Jesus stretched out His arms in love when He died for us. That’s how deeply we are to love others.

 I love this story which makes the point most clearly for me. Years after her concentration camp experiences in Nazi Germany, Corrie ten Boom met face to face one of the most cruel and heartless German guards that she had ever contacted. He had humiliated and degraded her and her sister. He had jeered and visually raped them as they stood in the delousing shower. Now he stood before her with hand outstretched and said, “Will you forgive me?”

She writes: “I stood there with coldness clutching at my heart, but I know that the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. I prayed, Jesus, help me! Woodenly, mechanically I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me and I experienced an incredible thing. The current started in my shoulder, raced down into my arms and sprang into our clutched hands. Then this warm reconciliation seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother,’ I cried with my whole heart. For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard, the former prisoner. I have never known the love of God so intensely as I did in that moment!”

 To forgive is to set a prisoner free

             and discover the prisoner was you.

                            To love that deeply is to be free to fly.

                                           It’s what God designed you to do.

Pastor John

Be Sincere

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Sincere Love

Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:22  Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.

 A rather well built man saw an advertisement for a job at the zoo. When he went there, he was horrified to find that the only job they had open was for somebody to play the part of a gorilla. A lot of children were coming in the next few days, and the zoo, having no gorillas, needed someone to impersonate one. Since money was tight, the man decided he would take the job.

 He arrived before sunrise, got into the gorilla outfit, and slipped into his cage. Finally, day dawned, and the children came. All he had to do was pensively pace the floor, look rather adept at swinging between trees, and eat the peanuts and bananas whenever they were fed to him. After eight or ten hours, he became thoroughly exhausted. The bananas were getting the better of him. As he swung from one tree to another, rather nauseated, he slipped and fell into the lion’s den next door.

 He shouted, “Help! Help!”

 The lion leaned over and said, “If you don’t shut up, we’ll both lose our jobs.”

 We have become pretty adept at impersonating others. Young children impersonate their parents. Teenagers impersonate their friends. Poor people impersonate the wealthy through the use of credit. Men impersonate husbands while constantly looking for other opportunities for gratification. Christians impersonate the non-Christians to avoid suffering. Non-Christians impersonate Christians to be accepted in the church.

 We all need to ask ourselves if we are impersonating anyone else right now because we believe it will bring us some measure of acceptance or value. Chances are we are. Maybe your personality is a copy of someone else you once knew, you saw the favor it brought to his or her life, and you wanted that for yourself. Maybe your current lifestyle is a choice to keep up with a neighbor down the street. Maybe your career choice was made to imitate the person from whom you wanted to gain approval. I’ll bet all of us are impersonators of some sort.

 God has a plan to expose impersonators. It’s a rather simple plan. It starts with the indwelling Spirit of Christ at the moment of your salvation. When God’s love takes up residence in us, it exposes all of our impersonation attempts. Peter states that the result of having our life purified by obedience to the truth is that our love becomes sincere. We cease to impersonate love and we begin to truly know and show love. So what’s the difference?

 The person who is a love impersonator may look like they really love someone, but if their heart were exposed it would reveal the ugliness of self-gratification. Their actions may appear to be as meaningful as the Christ-impersonator, but underneath are the motives of self-acceptance, self-fulfillment, and self-gratification. They are impersonating love to gain an advantage for themselves. It may be that they need acceptance, or worth, or meaning, but the fact that they are trying to get those things from others and not Christ makes them a love impersonator.

 Those who truly know Christ know that their value and acceptance come from Him and not from others or from self. Once we learn that truth, and surrender completely to the qualification of our lives by Christ, we will become a transmitter of love, not an impersonator of love. That’s what it means for love to be sincere. Sincere love gives to others with no expectation of return benefits. Impersonators of love always need something back from the ones they love.

 We cannot claim to love God and not sincerely love one another. The depth of our love for God will never exceed the width of our love for others. The Apostle John said, if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.(1 John 4:12)

Stanley Hauerwas said, We can risk loving as passionately as God loves. For we know that the love God makes possible is no scarce resource that must be hoarded so that it may be distributed in dribs and drabs—a little here and a little there. Love is not a rare commodity; rather, the more we love with the intense particularity of God’s love, the more we discover that we have the capacity to love.

So here’s how you can get started sincerely loving others. One of the greatest expressions of love is simply to notice people and to pay attention to them. We get so wrapped up in our own little worlds and the overwhelming busyness that results from our own selfish choices that we tend to look right past other people unless we can somehow benefit from noticing them. We are love impersonators. True love – the love of Christ living in us – makes us notice others. We don’t get frustrated with interruptions, but rather we embrace them as opportunities to truly love.

So take the mirror away from in front of your eyes. You know the one I mean – it’s the one that you pretend to being seeing through when in reality you are always looking at yourself. Get rid of it. You don’t need a mirror – you are one, and you are to be reflecting the love of God to others. He has already made you complete. You don’t need anything from anyone else. You have everything in place to become a true giver of love. So take notice of all the people around you that need God’s love, and pay attention to them.

 Pastor John

Start Dancing

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

 Current Study: First Peter

 Today’s Topic:  Faith Is Hope Dancing

 Today’s Scripture:  1 Peter 1:20-21  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through Him you believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and glorified Him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

 I need you to pretend you are a doctor today. I need a diagnosis. I have a fever. It’s been a low-grade fever for about a week now, but today it has risen to a peak. I have a few other symptoms that go with the fever. I’m sneezing. I’m anxious and jittery. I’m distracted and find it difficult to concentrate. My muscles ache a little. I wonder what I have? Do you have it figured out yet?

Before you get too worried about me, I’m talking about Spring Fever. It’s an annual event for me, but this year I’ve discovered something very significant about this malady – it’s caused by hope. That’s right – HOPE. You see, the memories of everything that I’ve done in the past when the weather gets warm form a list of all things I expect to do again. The list gets rather long, and the reason I get anxious and jittery is because my personality says that everything on the list has to be done now. That’s why my muscles ache, from trying to do too much all at once.

 My list is so overwhelming that I can’t even decide what goes on the top of the list. Fishing season is already open and I haven’t even gotten my boat and poles ready to go yet. There’s a lawn to mow, a garden to till, flowers to plant, golf clubs to swing, turkeys to hunt, and a motorcycle to ride. Hey, I did that one this morning. So much to do and so little time.

But the truth is I will get to do all of those things, unless the Lord comes back today. I hope He does. But if He doesn’t, little by little, I’ll conquer spring fever by fulfilling the hope that caused it. One thing I’ve learned is that activity fulfills hope. Spring fever is simply the anticipation of the activity.

 Consider how much faith we demonstrate when we confess to spring fever. Consider the fisherman who spends hours reading about the latest techniques and works in his garage preparing his boat, fishing poles, and lures so that he’s ready when the season opens. Consider how much faith it takes to buy all the garden seeds early and plant them in little cups in the house in anticipation of the growing season when they can be transplanted to the outdoor garden. True hope always results in the activity of faith.

 Rubem Alves said it this way in Leadership – Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it. That’s really cool! He’s really right. Our hope is in the resurrection power of Jesus Christ and the glory that will be revealed in us when He returns. Our faith is the activity of our lives today as we prepare for His return.

The hope of heaven brings a fever of faith. They are inseparable. One cannot claim to have true hope in Christ without backing it up with the activity of faith for Christ. The measure of true hope is found in the activity level of faith. Every day, our faith should be dancing to the music of heaven with good works that glorify God. So start dancing.

 Pastor John

We’re Empty

Daily Devotions  Tuesday, May 05, 2009 

Current Study: First Peter 

Today’s Topic: Emptiness

Today’s Scripture: 1 Peter 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.   

Eighty-four years ago today, high school science teacher John Scopes was arrested in Tennessee for teaching the theory of evolution in a public school. It was a contrived attempt to accomplish two goals. First, a few men from Dayton, Tennessee, had decided that their city needed more recognition, and thought that a trial of this magnitude would generate the publicity they wanted. Second, and more importantly, the American Civil Liberties Union was notified of the plan, and they agreed to pay the legal fees of any teacher who would put the Tennessee law that required teachers to teach creation to the test. They quickly agreed, running a full-page ad in the Chattanooga Times the day before Scopes was arrested.

Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution, something to which he had already admitted. But the trial was not really about Scopes’ guilt or innocence; it was about whether or not God should be the foundation of our educational system. When the verdict was announced, a vocal critic of the trial, who was also a reporter named H.L. Mencken, explained to readers of the Baltimore Sun and the American Mercury:

All that remains of the great cause of the State of Tennessee against the infidel Scopes is the formal business of bumping off the defendant. There may be some legal jousting on Monday and some gaudy oratory on Tuesday, but the main battle is over, with Genesis completely triumphant. Judge Raulston finished the benign business yesterday morning by leaping with soft judicial hosannas into the arms of the prosecution. 

Unfortunately, it was not the end. An appeal was filed. Scopes conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court on a technicality. However, that same court upheld the constitutionality of the state law forbidding the teaching of evolution. But that started a nationwide battle in multiple states, and eventually the United States Supreme Court, which resulted in not only the legalization of teaching evolution, but also the outlawing of the teaching of creation. 

On the official Library of Congress web site is this quote about the results of the trial. This would appear to be the official position of our government’s historical records on this subject. While volumes of scientific evidence support the theory of evolution, many felt that it contradicted the story of creation as described in the Bible and thus did not want evolution taught in schools…The trial did bring Dayton, Tennessee a great deal of publicity, mostly comprised of reinforcements of a stereotype of the south as an intellectual backwater, certainly not the type Daytonians had hoped to attract. 

Wow! Those who believe in creation and deny evolution are called stagnant intellectuals. The reason I share all of that with you is very simple yet very profound – we live in a world that seeks to eliminate the need for God’s involvement in human affairs, and goes so far as to eliminate the very existence of God. According to the majority of people alive today, all man needs can be found in man. If honesty were to ever prevail, people living under such a belief system would have to declare that they are empty. 

Lee Atwater, former Republican Party chairman, said this before he died: “The eighties were about acquiring: wealth, power, and prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth and power and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty.” 

I remember what Tom Landry said years ago, just after they had won the Super Bowl. “The overwhelming emotion—in a few days, among the players on the Dallas Cowboys football team—was how empty that goal was. There must be something more.” 

As we discovered yesterday, we are called to live our lives as strangers to this world. That is only possible if we come to this realization – everything in this world from which we seek to gain approval, acceptance, or acquisitions, will leave us empty. None of the things the world offers can rescue us from the empty way of life we live. Most of us claim to know that, and say we have experienced the redeeming power of the blood of Jesus Christ. HOWEVER, even though we say we know this great salvation, we continue to pursue the things of the world to fill the emptiness we claim to still feel. 

Why? Well, I think it’s truly a heart issue. We haven’t yet fully surrendered our lives to Christ. There is only one reason for a sense of emptiness in our lives – God doesn’t fill that part of our life. And as long as we don’t let Him completely fill us, and continue to pursue other means of satisfaction apart from Him, we will continue to be empty. 

Pastor John