Grand Opening

Daily Devotions

Monday, September 14, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Grand Opening

Scripture Reading:  Colossians 3:22-24  Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

What a fabulous morning!

Okay, now stop and try not to think about anything else except being absolutely honest right now. When you read my opening statement, what was the first thought that came into your head? Be honest with yourself – it’s the only way we grow. Some of you thought about the gorgeous weather we have been having. Some of you thought about the outcomes of football games yesterday. Some of you thought that maybe something good happened to me this morning. And then there were some of you who thought, “God must be doing something great today.” You are the people who are right.

At 7:45 this morning I stood in a circle with 13 other people outside a new business along a major thoroughfare in Eau Claire. Cars were rushing by filled with people focused on their daily routine and oblivious to what God was doing. But there in that circle, totally unaffected by the hustle of hurried people, God was blessing a new business owner and his wife as we prayed for their first day of operation. Before a single finger was lifted to work, faces were lifted to heaven to proclaim that place as a lighthouse of God’s grace and glory. What a fabulous morning.

Before we prayed, I shared some thoughts from Colossians 3. I paraphrased for the purpose of personal application. Scott, Make your work count for God. Obey Him in everything. Now that you are self-employed and own your own business, you are the boss.  Don’t be tempted to adjust your principles just to please your customers, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord, be a man of integrity. Work at your business with all your heart, because you are working for the Lord, not for people’s approval. He is the one who will reward you, even if people don’t. You are serving the Lord Jesus Christ, so let every part of your business reflect Him.

What a challenge for all of us in our daily lives at work. Whether we own our own business or work for someone else, we have a great privilege of working under an eternal boss. His work ethic will make you successful. His principles will be profitable. While some people may not understand, and others may even reject you, God’s promise cannot go unfulfilled when He says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

I am excited for Scott and Kayleen as they start their new business called Elliott’s Automotive Repair. I’m excited because I know what they both believe, and that they live it out passionately every day in honor to their Lord Jesus Christ. I know their personal integrity that will be rewarded by Jesus. I know how God will bless the business because it is His business. Being a part of getting it all started was an exceptional blessing this morning.

Now, take a moment to go back and paraphrase the passage of Scripture for your personal life. Make it your prayer for today and every day. Maybe you should write it out and post it at your desk or work station. For sure you should post it on your fridge. Every activity of every day is to be lived with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Start making that happen today. This is your spiritual grand opening.

Pastor John

Prioritize the Significant

Daily Devotions

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  How Much Time Do You Have For God?

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:3  For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 

As much as I love this time of year, I know I should hate it. Maybe hate is too harsh of a word, but I know that at the least I need to adjust my priorities during this season. It is the season of overlaps. No, I’m not talking about my waistline. I’m talking about all of the things that come together this time of the year. My Tigers are in first place and headed for the payoffs in baseball. My two fantasy football teams are in place. The NFL season kicks off tonight. Archery season for deer starts Saturday. The weather has been perfect for fall fishing. And of course, the golf courses are in pristine condition. There’s so much to do and so little time in which to do it.

The older I get, and the more aware I become of eternity, the more I realize how much of my life has been spent placing significance on the insignificant. This came home to me very clearly yesterday when I participated in the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire’s Community Connect day on campus. Thanks to the help of a couple of college students who attend our church, we set up a display about our church on the main mall area of the campus along with several other churches and businesses. The goal was to help students connect with their community while they attend college.

My heart was overwhelmed with the thought of how many of these students will go to a Christ-less eternity of suffering because they have never been directly confronted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I worked hard to connect with as many as I could in the four hours I was there. I personally greeted and handed literature to over 250 students. I don’t know how many more my two assistants spoke to. Many of the students took the material to be polite. Some were sincerely interested. Several stopped to talk. There was no mention of football or baseball. There was no attempt to build a relationship based on common interests in sports or music or any other pursuit of life. We got right to the point of spiritual need. Two young men were obviously impacted by the message. One was frustrated with the confrontation of the illogic of his position. At least six were drawn to make a commitment to attend our church. Dozens of others showed sincere interest. Hundreds have something in their hand that the Holy Spirit can use to open their hearts.

Now comes the hard part for me – making a point that will hurt. It’s so hard that the tears are already welling up in my eyes. I don’t want to sound critical, and I certainly don’t want to alienate you. But what the Apostle Peter says in the first part of today’s verse really jumps out at me and drives this point deep into my heart. He says, “For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do…” Now I know the context, and that Peter is talking specifically about evil desires. I also know that football, baseball, golf, fishing, fantasy games, video games, books, bike-riding, scrapbooking, and all of the other recreational activities of our lives are not evil. But let’s be honest – they can and more often than not do keep us from doing the will of God. We have made them more significant than they really are. Peter says that we are to be done doing that.

I’m going to get even more personal now. Yesterday, after returning from the campus, I posted some of the information above to Facebook. Of all the people connected to me, 106 in all, only three responded in any way. I cried when I saw that this morning; especially when I went on to read all of the other posts that many of those same people had made. It broke my heart to think that the majority of the body of Christ didn’t rejoice over what God was doing. Maybe in their hearts they did, but just didn’t write about it. But they did take the time to write about other stuff. I’m truly sorry, my friends. I am not trying to lay guilt on you. I apologize for the way my heart is being expressed this morning that may be offensive to you. I have gone back over this a dozen times in prayer and asked God to re-write it, but He won’t. He has assured me His people will listen. He has brought me His peace that the church will pay attention and understand that we have all placed far too much significance on the insignificant, and we are missing the real meaning and purpose of our lives.

Over the next few days we are going to hear the growing roar of football fans. Talk of football, whether fantasy or NFL, will dominate the discussions over the dinner table. Hours will be spent studying players and teams to get our fantasy teams just right, and more hours will be spent smack talking others in our leagues. Golf courses will be running fall specials and we will go there to get away from the busyness of life. We will take advantage of every outdoor opportunity because we know that winter is coming. And during all of those activities, we will have placed the most significant coming of all way down on our priority list – the coming of Jesus. That’s what’s truly significant!

It’s not wrong to play fantasy football. It’s not a sin to golf. It’s not evil to have hobbies and enjoy recreation. But why do those things become more significant in our lives than serving Jesus and sharing the Gospel? Our lives are not properly balanced. In many cases, Christ gets the leftovers of our time rather than best of what we have to offer. Let us take to heart the words of Peter. We have spent enough time in the past doing all of those other things. It’s time now to do the will of the Father and the work of Christ. It’s time to get people connected to God.

Pastor John

Living For Jesus or For Self?

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  What Are You Living For?

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:2  As a result, he does not live the rest of his earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God.

During a Peter, Paul and Mary concert years ago, in the middle of a comic skit, Paul made an insightful and disturbing observation. In the 1950’s there was a magazine called Life. Then came People magazine. Now we have one called Us. What next? A magazine called Me?

Little did he know how prophetic his words would be, for now we have a magazine called Self. How indicative and indicting of a world infatuated and preoccupied with self. How contrary to the example and life-giving principles of Jesus Christ. He clearly taught that life is not to be found in living for self, but rather in the giving of self in the service of God and others! Jesus said that only by denying self and losing this life will we find true life. It is only by being willing to suffer the loss of all things earthly that we will experience the present reality of all things heavenly. But how far are we to take this idea of suffering for the sake of Christ?

Prema limped into the South India room where Linda Olson, a short-term missionary, waited to counsel teenage girls. Prema’s brown eyes were full of tears. As she told her story, it was learned that when her devout Hindu family heard that she’d become a Christian, they beat her severely and forbade her to attend after-school Bible club meetings. Still, the 13-year-old studied the Scripture whenever possible.

“Should I obey my parents and continue to wear the vermilion dot on my forehead [symbolizing allegiance to the god Shiva]?” she asked. “Or should I refuse and risk another beating?” She raised her sari and exposed a leg badly swollen from beating.

Olson was stunned. She still had a “westernized” viewpoint of what living for Jesus meant. She really believed it should bring goodness, wholeness, success, fulfillment, and laughter. After fumbling through some now questionable advice emphasizing the Lord’s knowledge of her heart regardless of her external actions, she went back to her Indian host family and cried.

How far would you go to surrender the desires of this life to live completely in and for the will of God? What kind of life has Jesus asked us to lead if it involves beatings rather than peace? After all, Jesus told us to expect this when He said, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” But are we really willing to live our lives for the will of God rather than for the satisfaction of self?

Author Phillips Brooks wrote, “So long as a man is living for himself and honoring himself, there is an association, however remote it may be, with all the lowest forms of selfishness in which men have lived; but the moment a man begins to live in genuine adoration of the absolute good, and worship God, he parts company from all these lower orders of human life …. When you say to God, ‘O God, take me, for the highest thing that I can do with myself is to give myself to Thee,’ you sweep into the current of the best, the holiest, and the most richly human of our humanity, which in every age has dedicated itself to God.”

So let me ask you again, how far would you go to surrender the desires of this life to live completely in and for the will of God? The Apostle Peter says that result of taking on Christ’s attitude of suffering and sacrifice will be the complete sacrifice of all human desire to satisfy self. So the real question is not how far you would go to suffer for Jesus, but whether or not you want to truly be like Him at all.

Pastor John

Suffering and Sacrifice

Daily Devotions

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Suffering Destroys Sin (continued)

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:1  Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

Do not take this as cynicism. It’s about me first and foremost. I just wonder how many of you are in the same predicament. After reading yesterday’s devotional we went back to our normal routines of life and, whether consciously or sub-consciously, we did everything we could to avoid suffering and enhance our lives according to the world’s standards. We went right back to the lives we have established in the flesh, and by the end of the day we were already wondering why we aren’t done with sin. My mind has been working non-stop all night trying to figure this out. I’m getting close. Let me share with you what I’ve learned so far.

To start with, we have defined suffering incorrectly. When we think of the suffering of Christ and our willingness to do the same, we think of death. Most of us, if a gun were pointed at our head, would not deny that Jesus is Lord. As a result, we believe we are really willing to suffer for Christ. Trouble is, not many of us are actually suffering in any way. So we thank God that we live in a free country, and then we exploit the opportunities we have in this country to satisfy the desires of our flesh. We are not free from sin because we don’t really understand suffering.

Let’s look at the life of Jesus, our model of suffering and freedom from sin. Maybe we can learn something about an aspect of suffering we have denied – the concept of sacrifice.

  • As God in the flesh, He was willing to be born in a manger to poor people who couldn’t even afford a lamb for a sacrifice.
  • While being fully God in human flesh, he was willing to live an obscure life for 30 years, demanding no recognition or affirmation from the world.
  • When told by a wannabe disciple that he would follow Him, Jesus asked the man if he was sure because Jesus had no place to call home and no bed to crawl into at night.
  • When instructing His followers about the priorities of life, Jesus said that the tendency for all of us would be to worry about how we were going to feed and clothe ourselves and the family. Then He told them not to worry but to trust the Father in Heaven. If their priority was right – to serve  the King in righteousness and advance the Kingdom of God – then God would provide everything they needed to accomplish His will, not their own.
  • As a result of doing the will of the Father and speaking the words of the Father, Jesus was rejected by the people He came to save. Yet He did not live for the approval of people. In fact, He told His disciples that it was hypocritical to try to serve God and please people at the same time.

I cannot begin to list all of the ways emotionally and materially that Jesus must have suffered because of what He was willing to sacrifice to honor His Father. I also cannot begin to list all of the ways we continue to pursue emotional and material stability rather than suffering the loss of those things for Christ’s sake. I am overwhelmed with the thought of how much time is invested and how many resources we spend on satisfying the desires of our flesh, whether it’s through our possessions, our position in life, or through personal relationships. Let me say clearly that I am not opposed to success or wealth. What I am opposed to is the idea that we think we need that stuff to validate our lives as meaningful. I am opposed to anything from which we gain value that should be coming from Christ alone. And friends, we try to gain a lot of value for ourselves through our possessions, our success, and our relationships.

We have fallen prey to materialism and we don’t even know it. We claim that we would suffer death for Christ, but don’t want to be asked to sacrifice the life we now have. Yet Jesus said, “Whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” If only we would discover that the key to being done with sin is to deny the flesh and walk according to the Spirit of God. Yet the desires of the flesh still dominate our decision-making.

It’s time for change. It’s time for sacrifice. It’s time to truly prove we are people of faith in the Father by renouncing the dreams we have for this life and reclaiming the mission Jesus gave us to be the living representatives of His resurrection and victory over sin. Please don’t brush this off. This is the transformational message of the Gospel, and we should be living it.

Pastor John

Suffering Destroys SIn

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Suffering Destroys Sin

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:1  Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because he who has suffered in his body is done with sin.

I love the word therefore. It perks up my mind to make a connection between what has previously been said and what is about to be said. It is the one word which more than any other helps me to keep things in context. That’s because it is the word that helps me fulfill my insatiable need to understand cause and effect.

Cause and effect is the relationship between two things when one thing makes something else happen. For example, if we eat too much food and do not exercise, we gain weight. Eating food without exercising is the “cause;” weight gain is the “effect.” I just wish that my understanding of that would start to change me. Which brings up another cause and effect – my choice to ignore the eventual effect for the immediate enjoyment of the food is the real problem.

It is that same attitude of choosing the immediate enjoyment of sin regardless of the long-term effect that is being addressed by Peter as he begins chapter four. He starts with the word therefore, so he is connecting an effect with a previous cause. The previous cause is that Jesus Christ suffered in the flesh and was raised in the Spirit in victory over the flesh. The effect is to be that we can experience the same thing and be done with sin.

Wouldn’t it be great to be done with sin? Peter seems to be telling us that we can be. But the big question that comes to my mind is this – If I can be done with sin, then why do I still sin?  Other questions also arise. If being done with sin is the result of suffering, then why have I not suffered enough to be done with sin? What kind of suffering is he referring to? These are all legitimate questions, and they can be answered, with one contingency – that we understand that our personal choice is the real issue. None of what I’m about to teach will be of any value to anyone who hasn’t already or is will to now take responsibility for their own choices. It is not anyone else’s fault for the effects you are experiencing. Your choices are the cause.

Peter H. Davids, in his book More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, helps us to understand how to interpret this passage about being done with sin. There are five different explanations of this passage.

  1. 1.    First, it might refer only to Christ (the “he” is Christ and no one else).
  2. 2.    Second, it may refer to a Christian’s identification with Christ at his or her conversion-initiation (especially baptism). That is, when one identifies with Christ’s death, sin has no more power over that person (Rom 6:1-12; 1 Jn 5:18-19).
  3. 3.    Third, it may mean that when a Christian decides to suffer for Christ, that believer has chosen decisively to break with sin and its compromises.
  4. 4.    Fourth, it may mean that when Christians suffer, they break the power of sin over their life.
  5. 5.    Finally, it may mean that when Christians die, they will be freed from sin as Christ was.

Let’s look at some facts we already know. Unlike Paul, when Peter talks about sin it is never in the abstract, but always in reference to concrete, identifiable actions of sin. That makes options 2 and 3 not viable. Peter knows that the power and penalty of sin have been removed from the Christian’s life at the moment of his salvation, but he is talking about the presence of sin in our lives in specific forms.

We also know that Peter is not talking in his letter about martyrdom as the only means of deliverance from the presence of sin. The suffering to which he refers is social in nature, not legal. That makes option 5 out.

Of the remaining two, both are probably in Peter’s mind. As a result of His victory over sin on the cross, confirmed by God in Christ’s resurrection, He is done with sin forever. But what we must understand is that the same resurrection power that was exerted in Christ to conquer death now lives in us to conquer sin as well. What is missing in our lives is our willingness and choice to suffer for Christ so that we might experience the victory of Christ.

The law of cause and effect is at play here. According to God, the originator of cause and effect, whatever a man sows is what he reaps. Plant corn; harvest corn. Scatter seeds of selfishness; harvest loneliness. Choose sin; harvest discipline, correction, and judgment. But the flip side of the cause and effect coin is also true. Choose suffering for Christ; harvest victory over sin. God’s law of cause and effect for the Christian is this – choose to set aside any and all immediate gratification of the flesh and suffer the loss of the pleasures of this world, and He will give you victory over any and all sin.

Peter Davids is helpful again when he writes, “if Christ is really the one they are following, their great example, then suffering will separate them more and more from sinful acts, making them increasingly invested in heaven, until they come to that point when they die like Christ, and, like him, are totally finished with sin and all its effects in this world.”

“We may in fact still be sinning because we have not chosen to suffer and thereby are not done with sin. Perhaps when we come to the point of choice, we choose compromise and then wonder why we cannot overcome temptation. On the other hand, we may still be sinning because we have not suffered enough. While we have chosen Christ and are against sin and are making good progress in the battle, we have not yet died. We may be longing for a perfection that will only be ours in resurrection, not that very real maturity that is possible in this world.”

The choice is yours. Do you believe that the resurrected life of Jesus lives in you, and that the power of His resurrection to conquer sin is yours today? Or have you become convinced in your mind that we must suffer with sin in this life until we are finally taken to glory? I do not proclaim sinless perfection in this life. We will still sin. But why are we satisfied with that? It’s because we have chosen, even though we may be in denial of that choice, to enjoy the pleasures of sin, claiming that the grace of God will cover us. What a cheap grace that is! The grace of God brings us the life of Christ in all of His glorious victory. Let us not cheapen what He has done by choosing to gratify the desires of the flesh while claiming the victory He offers.

Pastor John

Baptism Controversy

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Current Study: First Peter

Today’s Topic:  Baptism Controversy

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 3:19-22  …through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

Today we take up a phrase in this difficult passage that has caused much confusion in the ranks of the religious. Peter says, “In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God.” The controversy is this – Does baptism save anyone?

Whenever we study Scripture, we must interpret it in its proper context. The context of Peter’s teaching here is still the encouragement he is giving to the saints to endure suffering for the cause of Christ. That context will carry well into the next chapter. The reference to baptism, therefore, must have something to do with encouraging Christians to endure suffering. The reference to baptism, then, becomes an analogy, just like the Apostle Paul’s reference to Moses in First Corinthians 10 when he writes, “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.” These are historical analogies of another reality, and they are not the reality in and of themselves.

When the people of Israel stood at the Red Sea with the Egyptian army bearing down on them, they had a choice – have faith in God and identify with Moses or turn and retreat back into the world from which they came. They chose to identify with Moses. They were “baptized” into Moses when they went through the sea on dry ground and when they followed the pillar of cloud and fire wherever it went. Baptism, therefore, is an act of identification.

Peter uses a different analogy to enhance the meaning. When Noah built the ark he suffered constant insults and rejection from the world. For 120 years he was made out a fool for his faith in the Father. Then it started to rain, and only those who by faith identified with the Father were saved. The suffering they had to go through to experience the fulfillment of their salvation was extreme, but they were saved the moment the entered the ark and the Lord shut them in. They were in the ark with hundreds of stinky animals for over a year. No toilets. No lower level ventilation. No outdoor recreational activities. No friends except immediate family. There was just suffering for their faith. Yet they were considered saved the whole time. The water didn’t save them. Their salvation took them through the water.

That’s the analogy of baptism. The water doesn’t save anyone. It is the identification act of a person of faith who has already been saved by the resurrection of Jesus in their lives. It does not remove sin. That can only be done by faith in Christ’s work on the cross. Baptism is a Christian’s pledge to God of a good conscience that has been cleansed by the Holy Spirit in through His work of regeneration.

For this reason, according to the truth of Scripture, only those who have made a personal commitment to Christ through the repentance of sin by faith in Christ’s work on the cross can be baptized. Infants don’t qualify. No offense intended, but we must be Biblically accurate. A baby cannot identify with Christ, and the Scriptures give no evidence or support to the idea that the identification of the parents can be applied to the child. Every person must make the decision to repent of their sin and be forgiven by faith in Christ individually.

Baptism is the act of identification with Christ’s death and resurrection. (See Romans 6:1-6) That’s why the Scriptural method was immersion, so the representation of death and resurrection is experienced. Baptism is also, according to the analogies of Noah and Moses, the beginning of suffering for Christ. It is the commitment of an individual to take a public stand for Jesus regardless of the cost. That’s what it was for Jesus, who was not baptized for the forgiveness of sins, but rather to identify himself publicly with the Father and His mission for life and death.

Your salvation will take you through the water. It will be hard walking through life by faith alone, but on the other side of the water you will be delivered. You will suffer along the way, but because you have publicly identified with Christ, He will lead you and empower you to follow. And it all starts in the water of Baptism. Take that step of faith, and identify yourself publicly with Jesus Christ. Let it be the pledge of your good conscience that Jesus has saved you by His resurrection power. 

Pastor John