A Hero Is Born

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Be a Hero

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:8-10 (NIV)  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.

Everyone loves a hero. We honor them for their bravery. We commend them for running into places from which others run. They are the good news of an otherwise depressing media. Heroes are the subject of our legends. We construct monuments to commemorate their lives.

Few of us truly believe we have what it takes to be a hero. In fact, according to a current television show entitled Heroes, we have been led to believe that true heroism is somehow confined to the supernatural. Average people living average lives do average things, none of which results in recognition for heroism. Occasionally an average person does something spontaneously heroic in an emergency, but rarely do they ever admit to being a hero. For some reason we don’t want to accept accolades for rising above average even momentarily. We really want to remain anonymous.

The problem as I see it is that we have a poor definition of heroism. I think we could agree that a fundamental element of heroism is a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for another. That’s not the problem. But what does it mean to sacrifice one’s life for another? If we confine our answer to that question to the realm of physical life and breath, then we have missed a huge portion of what true heroism is. We must come to the realization that sacrificing life means more than the death of body, but also includes the death of self.

Jesus is a hero for both reasons. He gave His physical life for others. But before He did that, He also died to self and became the servant of others. I love the way former professional tennis star Arthur Ashe says it – True heroism is undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.

In July of 1980, at the International Youth Triennium in Bloomington, Indiana, Professor Bruce Riggins of McCormick Theological Seminary shared a story. He had met a very dedicated Christian woman who was working in an amazing way with the underprivileged people in London, England. He wanted to know what inspired her Christian faith and action. She shared her story with him of how seeing another Christian’s faith in action led her to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of her life.

She told the professor she was a Jew fleeing the German Gestapo in France during World War II. She knew she was close to being caught and she wanted to give up. She came to the home of a French Huguenot. A widow came to that home to say that it was time to flee to a new place. The Jewish lady said, “It’s no use, they will find me anyway. They are so close behind.” The Christian widow said, “Yes, they will find someone here, but it’s time for you to leave. Go with these people to safety—I will take your identification and wait here.” The Jewish lady then understood the plan; the Gestapo would come and find this Christian widow and think she was the fleeing Jew.

As Professor Riggins listened to her story, the Christian lady of Jewish descent looked him in the eye and said, “I asked her why she was doing that and the widow responded, ‘It’s the least I can do; Christ has already done that and more for me.’” The widow was caught and imprisoned in the Jewish lady’s place, allowing time for her to escape. Within six months the Christian widow was dead in the concentration camp. This Jewish lady never forgot that. She too became a follower of Jesus Christ and has lived her life serving others. She met God through the greatest love a person can give—personal self-sacrifice.

An authentic Christian living by faith serves others.  That’s how the life of Christ is expressed. Jesus said that He came to this earth not to be served but to serve. The Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus, though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a servant and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:5-11 NLT)

He became a servant first. He gave up His rights and privileges to serve others. He sacrificed self before He sacrificed His life on the cross. He was a hero long before He died, because it is in serving others that real heroes are born. Become a hero to someone today. Sacrifice self, and use whatever you have to serve them.

Pastor John

The Wrong Use of Time

Daily Devotions

Monday, September 28, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  The Wrong Use of Time

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:8-10 (NIV) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 

We live in a time when our most precious commodity is time. We love fast food. We frequent convenience stores. We get our cars serviced at jiffy lube places. We travel on freeways well above the posted speed limits. We use microwaves to cook our food. We have picture-in-picture televisions so we can watch two shows at once. Most of our time is spent trying to conserve more time.

If one hundred people were asked why they live in such a rush, there would likely be one hundred different answers. I believe wholeheartedly that not one of those answers would be the right one. We are in denial about the real reason for our preoccupation with time. We don’t want to face the truth about our perceived need for more time. We justify the passionate pursuit of time by placing blame on our culture, our employer, or our financial needs. We stop short of getting to the heart of the issue, which is our heart.

Just stop and think for a moment, if you dare to take one. If you do, you will discover that an extremely high percentage of the activities you list as your priorities are completely self-serving. We want more time for recreation. We want more time to make more money. We want more time to spend with family. We want more time to finish projects. We want to spend more time just being quiet and relaxed. All are justifiable. Most are necessary. None are to be our first priority.

Jesus told us what our first and second priorities are to be – love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself. These two things are to be the pursuit of our lives. Any attempt to organize our time so we have more time is to be motivated by the love of God and love for others. I understand completely the need for personal space and time. But read the Gospels again, and put a percentage on the amount of time Jesus spent alone versus the percentage of time He invested in others. Why has our focus changed so drastically and dangerously? It’s because we are more self-focused than we dare to admit.

One of the serious consequences of our fast-paced lifestyles is the loss of the biblical concept of hospitality. We spend almost every spare minute we have trying to catch up. The problem is we are catching up to a list that has been created to fulfill the desires of self. It is not to be so. The time we have is to be spent investing in the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of self. Our first priority and our first option for the use of spare time should be to somehow minister to the needs of others, not self.

The Holy Spirit makes this very clear when he writes through Peter, Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. It may appear that we do this, but usually only in big ways. We give extra money to help people who are in need. We gather in groups to roof houses, help people move to a new home, or provide help in an emergency. But be honest – when was the last time you just had someone over for ice cream and fellowship? We’re too busy, right? And if we’re too busy to do it to those in the family of God, how will we ever find the time to reach out to the lost?

I want to share with you something I read in church yesterday. It’s from my dear friend Dudley Donaldson, who is now on the mission field in Swaziland. He writes:

If only people could get the proper perspective.  Time is slipping away, people are dying without Christ, while we Christians are analyzing the current financial situation, trying to figure out how to make our lives more enjoyable here on earth. Can’t wait for the next special effects movie to come out. Looking for the newest electronics product. Making sure our kids experience everything possible there is to experience in this world. Upgrading cars, bikes, houses, phones, ipods, you name it.  It’s mind-boggling how invested we are in this wicked world when there are people all around us who are desperate to invest in something real.  SomeONE real.  We know God wants us to reach them with the gospel.  We say we believe God will provide, but…
Giving everything to God is a relatively new experience for me. But my experience in giving all to God is this: there is no better place to be than to have nothing of this world and all of Christ.  As Christians we have bought into the world’s philosophy of needing to be people of power, people of excellence, people who are winners through positive thinking, having faith in ourselves.  But Jesus taught us a different way.  He taught the way of surrender and selflessness.  If only people could truly grab hold of those teachings.  There is nothing in this world that is more important than the souls of people all around us on their way to hell.  And we’re concerned about what’s on TV tonight.
I’m living in the real world here in Swaziland.  American is not the real world.  It’s a fantasy land.  In America we are too bombarded with false messages to hear and comprehend Christ’s message to us.  His message is: “Get busy, time is short. People are dying without me.”

“What keeps you from giving now? Isn’t the poor man there? Aren’t your own warehouses full? Isn’t the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry man is dying now, the naked man is freezing now, the man in debt is beaten now—and you want to wait until tomorrow? ‘I’m not doing any harm,’ you say, ‘I just want to keep what I own, that’s all.’ Your own! If everyone took only what he needed and gave the rest to those in need there would be no such thing as rich or poor.” (A quote from St. Basil)

I know this was long, and it took more time to read than usual. But isn’t the time invested in spiritual things worth much more than what you are hurrying off to do after you’re done with this? Maybe your mind is already gone from this. Well get it back, and let’s work together to get our priorities straight. Let’s learn to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and to love our neighbors deeply. Let’s practice hospitality. Let’s start using everything we have to serve others and not ourselves.

Pastor John

People Over Pride

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  People Over Pride

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:8 (NIV) Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 

I have a problem. It’s serious. I don’t think it’s unique to me. I will tell you what it is if you promise to examine your own heart as well. Thanks.

When conflict arises, I tend to become solution oriented rather than people oriented. But that’s only half the problem. If that’s all there was to this, it wouldn’t be quite so bad. But when you add the other half, which in most cases is probably more than half, the issue becomes very serious. You see, in addition to becoming solution focused, I become focused on my solution. It’s so bad that my natural tendency is to pursue my way rather than make sure other people are heard and satisfied. Now that’s serious!

Obviously I don’t do that all the time, but I have to fight it all the time. My pride is huge. My identity is far too closely connected to my performance. Winning is far more important than it should be. Pride attempts to overwhelm love. (Don’t forget your promise to examine yourself.)

As I look back over the past few years of my life, I am ashamed by the number of times that conflict arose because I was more interested in sharing my point of view than truly listening to someone else’s. I am amazed, shocked, and horrified at the number of times that conflict resolution came down to winning at all cost. My spirit is stifled by the realization that pride is at the center of it all.

I’m embarrassed by the number of times I have clammed up and withdrawn because I didn’t feel my voice was being heard. I’m equally embarrassed by the number of times my voice gets louder just so I can be heard. I’m ashamed of how many times I’ve been tempted to run away because I didn’t get my way. I’m shocked that I’ve actually done that. Pride attempts to paralyze love. (Don’t forget your promise.)

I have a long way to go to discover the marvel of loving others deeply, because I still love myself too much I want to be so convinced of God’s approval on my life that I never need the approval that comes from winning. I want to be so fully grounded in the Father’s love for me that I could live without the love of others. I want to be so infused with the love of God that I will put other people’s feelings ahead of my fleshly need for getting my way. I want to consider others better than myself. I want to be able to look beyond the conflict and see the heart of someone Jesus died for.

The most important words of all to me today are the first two – above all. I know there are times when I must fight for what I know is right, but never at the expense of love. There are times when I must engage the conflict and bring a solution to the table, but never without love. There are times when people will say I was wrong, but may they never say I didn’t love. Sometimes people will even walk or run away because they suffer from the same problem I am fighting, but when they get far enough away to rationally evaluate what happened, may they look back and realize they saw love.

God is working on my problem. God’s love is softening my heart. Now, about that promise you made…

Pastor John

Jesus is Coming!

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Jesus is Coming!

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:7 (NIV) The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 

It’s been almost two-thousand years since this was written, and still the end hasn’t come. What’s up with that?

Maybe this is just a false prophecy of Peter spoken in an uninspired moment. But other writers of the New Testament affirm its truth. James says You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. (5:8) Paul says it in Romans – The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. (13:12) The writer of Hebrews says Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (10:25) It’s not a false prophecy. It is an unfulfilled one. The fact that the end is coming is one of the foundational motivators of holy living.

Peter understood from the Lord that when people lose sight of the coming of Christ, they turn to worldly living. In the next letter he writes he says, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. (3:3-4, 10) Those who live their lives without an acknowledgement of the coming of Christ will live according to their own evil desires.

But contrast that with what Peter says will happen in the lives of those who are anxiously awaiting the Lord’s return. They will be clear-minded and self controlled. That’s because they’re not living for the present world but the coming one. They control their passions because those passions conflict with God’s purpose.

People who are expecting the return of Christ are also able to pray. That’s interesting. When Jesus taught us to pray he said, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, holy is your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We cannot pray in the will of God if we do not have our eyes fixed on the coming of the Kingdom of God. The prayer lives of most people are ineffective because they don’t want the purpose and plan of God accomplished but rather want their own goals realized. Only when we surrender to the coming of Christ and the reality of His present kingdom will we be able to pray effectively.

Jesus is coming. The Apostle Peter lived life as if it was near. The Apostle Paul lived as if it were the next thing to happen in history. It is to be always in the forefront of our thinking as well. It is to be the one motivator of our lifestyle choices and decisions. We are to be in fellowship with Christ and not the world. The Apostle John said it this way – And now, dear children, continue to live in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. (1 John 2:28 NLT)

So instead of looking around and getting discouraged and filled with earthly passions, look up, and be encouraged with the imminent return of Jesus. He’s coming, and those who are looking for it will go with Him. And while we wait, we will live for Him.

Pastor John

Face to Face

Daily Devotions

Monday, September 21, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Face to Face

Scripture Reading:  Isaiah 41:10 and 13 (NLT)  Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. I am holding you by your right hand—I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I am here to help you.’

During my freshman year in college, I would get regular letters from my grandfather, Dr. J.A. van Gorkom. He was always encouraging me in my faith. At the bottom of every letter he would write out God’s promises in Isaiah 41:10 and 13. He didn’t just put the reference there and hope I would read it. He wrote it out for me so I would be sure to catch it. Every letter had the same verses.

Those verses came to my mind today when I was writing an early morning email to a hurting friend. Yet after all these years of knowing those verses and applying their promises to my own life, I learned something new this morning.

The promises of verse 10 include courage, strength, assistance, and support. They are fulfilled in our lives because of God’s presence and because He holds on to us with His powerful and victorious right hand. But what I had not seen before is that with His right hand He is holding onto our right hand. That’s incredible to me, because I’ve always seen myself walking side by side with Christ, my left hand in His right. I’ve pictured myself stumbling and falling and His right hand lifting me back up by my left hand.

In the past I’ve seen my relationship with God as shoulder to shoulder. But if my right hand is in His right hand, we must be face to face!  This puts an entirely new perspective on walking with Jesus. We have been taught to follow in His footsteps, and that creates a mental picture of seeing the back of Jesus as He leads the way. Now I see Jesus walking backwards, facing me.

He is God, so His omniscience (all-knowingness) allows Him to know every step He is taking while His eyes remain fixed on me. His hand eternally grasps mine in a handshake of friendship. He guards me and He guides me.

There can be no fear of what’s ahead, because all I can see is His face. My fears melt into faith as I gaze into His eyes of love. There can be no fear of attack from behind, because He is looking in that direction.

Dear friends, no matter what you are going through in your life today, Christ is in front of you. He’s facing you. He’s holding you. Do not be afraid. Do not be dismayed. Jesus is your strength. He is all the help you need. He will support you and sustain you through whatever lies ahead, because He is putting His feet down in that place first and preparing the way for you. Look into His eyes, and feel the firmness of His grip on your hand. You are in fellowship with God. 

Pastor John


Daily Devotions

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Accountability

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:5 (NIV) But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 

Most people are in denial about their personal responsibility for their choices and actions. None of us really believes, at least not in our flesh, that we are accountable to anyone, especially God. Since the Garden of Eden Satan has convinced the human race that they are accountable only to self.

Christian recording artist Steve Green has an interesting way of expressing that truth. He says, “Accountability to me is unnatural. My tendency is to only let you know enough about me to give you a good impression. I am a recovering hypocrite.”

The loss of our sense of responsibility and accountability to God is a serious problem. Even the unsaved recognize it. Television journalist Bill Moyers, in an interview with The Washington Post, says, The single greatest loss in my time has been the idea that we are moral agents. Religion helped a great deal here. Religion taught that we are accountable for our own actions. Tribute is still paid to it today, but all that we have been talking about indicates that nobody really expects it anymore.”

Nobody really expects to be accountable anymore. Yet in at least thirteen other passages in the Bible we are directly told that God will judge every word and every deed of every person. In case you want to look them up, here they are:

Psalms 1:6; Ecclesiastes 12:14; Ezekiel 18:30Matthew 12:36Matthew 25:31-46Luke 16:2;  John 5:22, 23, 28-30Acts 10:4217:31Romans 14:12;  2 Timothy 4:1James 5:9Jude 1:14, 15 

The denial of accountability to God is the essence of sin. I learned that in a devotional from Oswald Chambers when he wrote, “The essence of sin is the refusal to recognize that we are accountable to God at all.” Such denial results in moral anarchy in society. The average person in our world today believes that they get to make their own rules. Anyone who opposes them is abused, just as Peter explained in the verses prior to today’s. If only people would come face to face with their responsibility to God, they could be saved. Pastor Bill Hybels tells an interesting story that emphasizes this point.

I met a man who was deeply involved in the New Age Movement for over five years. I asked him, “What caused you to second-guess what you were involved in?” He said, “It was the moral anarchy. I became part of a group, and we used to sit around and talk about what ‘my truth’ was. One person would say, ‘My truth is doing what is right and best for me.’”

Convinced of that, he got the idea that the wife he had been married to for many years was not as beautiful and wonderful as another person in the group, who said her truth was that they ought to get married. He said, “I thought about it more, and after a while I decided that was my truth, too. So we got our truth together. I divorced my wife. She was very upset about that, but I told her, ‘Honey, this is my truth.’”

See! How are you going to argue with that? And he said it was only a short time after that that someone from the New Age Movement said, “There’s a New Age church in Barrington. Come out to it.”

He came here to Willow Creek, walked in, and thought, “This is wonderful. I didn’t realize there were so many in the movement!”

He said, “That day, you gave a message about human beings standing morally accountable before a holy God. While you were talking I became conscious for the first time of my sin. I knew I was playing games. I was just making up the truth. That’s all I was doing; manufacturing the truth I wanted for myself so I could live the way I wanted to live. The next morning I fell on my knees, and I received Christ and received forgiveness.” He pleaded with me: “You don’t—you’ll never—know, if you haven’t been involved in the New Age Movement, the grip, the power that it can have over you.”

Not many of us will admit to being a part of the New Age Movement. Yet every day we make choices based on what’s best for us, with little or no concern for our accountability to God. We may be more New Age than we believe. But it’s not really New Age – it’s the same old lie of Satan that convinces us that we are number one. Someday, no matter how we deny it, we will stand before Almighty God and give an account of our lives. When the truth comes out about how we lived and what motivated our actions, may it bring honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Pastor John


Stand Up and Be Counted

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Stand Up and Be Counted as Christ’s

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:4 (NIV) They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 

 (NLT)  Of course, your former friends are very surprised when you no longer join them in the wicked things they do, and they say evil things about you. 

In 1987, I met a man for whom I still pray. He was part of a group of men with whom I played golf every week. It was a rare experience for me as a new pastor in this town to be invited into this group of businessmen, and I saw it as a great opportunity to be an influence on their lives.

It was very hard at first: downright abusive. The first day I arrived at the course to meet them I was overwhelmed with the smell of cigar smoke and alcohol. Two strokes into the first hole I was literally shocked by the coarseness, crudeness, and corruption of the language. I was really out of place. But it’s exactly where God wanted me.

Through the years of playing with them, the strangeness of my behavior began to be accepted by them. One man in particular, the one to whom I referred earlier, stopped making fun of me for not swearing or cursing and for not drinking. He even gave me the option of choosing for him which form of abusive language he would stop using while I was around. He had categorized his language into three types. There was cursing, meaning the using of God’s name in vain or the damning of things or people. Then there was vulgarity, or crude and inappropriate language generally of a sexual nature. And finally there was profanity, which included all of the four letter words. Each week he would declare that it was impossible to stop the use of all of them, so he asked me to choose which one he could have for that day. My answer to him was always the same – Do not live your life to please or impress me. Do what is in your heart, and if your heart tells you it’s wrong, get your heart right with God.

After several years, we actually started to have some spiritual discussions. The abuse he had heaped on me for not validating his lifestyle turned into a desire to know more about what made me live the way I did. He started calling me to go to other golf courses at other times, and he would pick me up so we would have more time to talk in the car. He was a hard case, steeped in existentialism. Our discussions were healthier for me than they were helpful for him.

Then one day God opened a door. The man called me one afternoon and wanted to go golfing. I broke away from all of my other responsibilities because I could hear the hurt in his voice. During the forty minute drive to the course he shared with me that his wife was leaving him. Understand that he went to a different church in town, and that was only for appearances. He had other friends in town that made the same lifestyle choices he did. But when his life fell apart, he called me. We talked for hours that day, and in the days to come. He never gave his life to Christ, but he listened to wisdom. Even thought the divorce became final, he kept listening. Today, he and his wife are reunited. But that’s not the ending I want, or that God wants. He wants them to be reunited to Him, and for that I keep praying.

My friends, when you take a stand for Jesus, and separate yourself from the behaviors and activities of a sinful world, you will be considered strange. You will probably be abused. You will suffer, as Peter mentioned earlier. But when the day comes that those people have to face the realities of their own responsibility for their choices, they will turn to God and to His people for the help they need. That’s when all the suffering brings reward.

So stand up for Jesus. Don’t think you have to look and act like the world to avoid suffering. Be willing to suffer for Christ, and be encouraged to do so by reading what Peter says in verses 12 and 13 – Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—because these trials will make you partners with Christ in his suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.

Pastor John