In Search of Love

Daily Devotions

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  God’s Love

Scripture Reading:   Deuteronomy 7:7-8  The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.  But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 

God does not love us because of who we are; He loves us because of who He is!

What a mountain of truth. What a stumbling block to the natural mind of man. We think we must earn love. We think love must be reciprocated. We think love is an emotional response. The truth is that love is a Person, and all that emanates from Him is motivated by His eternal nature of love.

Let the words of love God spoke in the Bible touch your heart today, and let all your cares be cast upon the One who loves you with an everlasting love. Please don’t just skim over these verses. They are the Word of God spoken to the longing heart of man. Let them sink in and transform you. They will meet the most fundamental and essential need you have – to be loved.

Psalm 36:5  Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,  your faithfulness to the skies.

Psalm 36:7  How priceless is your unfailing love!

Psalm 59:16-17  But I will sing of your strength,  in the morning I will sing of your love; for you are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.

Psalm 63:3  Because your love is better than life,  my lips will glorify you.

Jeremiah 31:3  “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”

John 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

John 15:13  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  

Romans 5:8  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Ephesians 2:4-5  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 

Ephesians 3:17-19  I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 5:2  …Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Titus 3:4-5  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.

1 John 3:1  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

1 John 3:16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 

1 John 4:7-11  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

1 John 4:19  We love because he first loved us.

Pastor John

God’s Love

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  God’s Love

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

Are you sure? That seemingly simple question began the downfall of mankind. The sneaky snake in the Garden of Eden asked that question to Eve. Knowing he would have only one chance to destroy the perfection of God’s creation, he carefully determined the weakest link in a human’s free will. With one question he cast doubt into the mind of the woman. He didn’t blurt it right out. He was subtle. But when he was done, the bottom line was this – Are you really sure that God really loves you?

Think about it. Every doubt we deliberate; every deed we dignify; every dysfunction we develop; they all stem from the evil root of lost love. When we do not know that we know that we know that we are loved, we will do anything to earn it. The certainty of the love of God is the passionate pursuit of the heart of man.

Whether you are one or one hundred, the love of God is the simplest yet most profound truth you will ever discover. Helen Smith of Wheaton, Illinois, writes in Christian Reader,

My 3-year-old granddaughter, Helen, and her parents were dining at a Chinese restaurant. At the end of the meal her parents broke open their fortune cookies and read their fortunes aloud. Helen wanted to “read” her fortune, too. “It says,” she announced proudly, “Jesus loves me!”

The simple truth explodes on the heart of a child. On the other end of the spectrum, Karl Barth was invited to deliver one of the distinguished lectureships at a theological seminary in the East, and while he was there a group of ministers and theologians and dignitaries of one kind or another sat down with him in a kind of question-and-answer period. Someone asked the question, “What is the most profound thought that you know, Dr. Barth?” This is what he said: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Four-year-old Ashton Clarke loves the movie Toy Story 2, particularly the space ranger hero Buzz Lightyear. Recently in Sunday school his teacher was explaining that God’s love has no limits. At the end of class, the teacher, reviewing the lesson, asked, “So, how much does God love us?” Quoting Buzz’s big line in the film, Ashton replied, “To infinity and beyond!”

There is no problem that you will experience today that is greater than God’s love. There is no tragedy in the world that can put to death the love of God. There is nothing in the life of His child that can separate him from the love of God in Christ Jesus. You are loved! God loves you!

I close today with the words to a wonderful old song. I can still see and hear my friend Kathy in Minnesota singing this. Let the words touch deeply into your heart.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

 When hoary time shall pass away,
And earthly thrones and kingdoms fall,
When men who here refuse to pray,
On rocks and hills and mountains call,
God’s love so sure, shall still endure,
All measureless and strong;
Redeeming grace to Adam’s race—
The saints’ and angels’ song.

 Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song. 

Pastor John

Jesus Loves Me

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  God Loves Me

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 5:7 (NIV)  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

This will be short. I hope it’s sweet. It certainly is to me.

God loves me!

God cares about me!

God takes care of me!

God’s love compels me!

Thanks to a dear friend for pointing this out. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the duty of being a Christian that we lose sight of the motivation for the duty. We so quickly fall into performance mode and accomplishment mode. We grow weary and tired far before we should because we have lost connection with the love of God and only focus on the work we have to do for Him. We have lost our first love. We are not consistently motivated by the love of God.

Excuse me for a moment while I sing a song that I know will make me cry.

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to Him belong

They are weak but He is strong.

 

Yes! Jesus loves me.

Yes! Jesus loves me.

Yes! Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

I am weak. I am worn out. I know why. I’m living to get things done, when I could be living in the love of Jesus. He is Strong. He cares for me. His love must compel all my work, or my energy will be drained. His love is endless. His strength is everlasting. His faithfulness endures forever. His mercies are new every morning.

Thanks, Aaron, for reminding me.

Pastor John

Be Humble

Daily Devotions

Monday, October 26, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  Humility

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 5:6-7 (NIV)  Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

George Vasilievich Govorov was born in 1815 in Russia in the village of Chernavsk. His father was a Russian Orthodox Priest. After years of education and seminary training, he was ordained into the priesthood at the age of 26. At that time he chose to go by the name Theophan. Later, because of the focus of his spiritual walk, he became known as Theophan the Recluse.

He became a prolific writer, focusing primarily on the inner life of holiness to which every believer is called. He believed that the admonition of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” was to be taken seriously. He believed and wrote that all spiritual life begins with the humbling of the heart and the death of the flesh. Then, as a sacred vessel before the Lord, we can commune with Him constantly.

Theophan wrote some marvelous things, and regardless of what we think we know about his theology based on his church affiliation, truth is truth regardless of the context in which it is spoken. On the subject of humility, he had much to say. One of his quotes which particularly interested me was this:

The Lord sometimes leaves in us some defects of character in order that we should learn humility. For without them we would immediately soar above the clouds in our own estimation and would place our throne there. And herein lies perdition.

Much of our lives are spent, or should I say wasted, in the pursuit of self-exaltation. The passion of the human spirit is to better oneself. It is what is conceived into each of us as a result of Adam’s sin nature. It is what contradicts the Holy Spirit’s call to humility so that God can exalt us in His time.

On three specific and distinct occasions the Apostle Paul prayed for the removal of the “thorn” in his flesh, and each time the Lord Jesus demanded humility instead of delivering healing. Why? Because Paul knew that there was a high probability that he would have taken pride the incredible level of spiritual revelation that God had given him. Paul’s estimation and evaluation of his own position would have interfered with what God wanted to do in his life.

We must humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. Notice, we do not humble ourselves under someone who is weak or powerless to control the outcomes of our lives. We do not humble ourselves under someone who cannot fulfill His promises. We do not humble ourselves under someone who does not understand our situation. No, we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. We can cast all of our anxiety upon Him. There’s no need to worry – His hand is mighty. There’s no need to fear – His hand is mighty. Or, like the dyslexic super hero said, “There’s no need to fear, UnderGod is here.”

Theophan later wrote this: Whatever you thirst for – so long as it is not contrary to the spirit of the Lord – you will find relief in Him. If you thirst for knowledge, run to the Lord, for He is the one and only light, enlightening every man. If you thirst for cleansing from sin and quenching of the flames of your conscience, run to the Lord, for He tore asunder the handwriting of our sins upon the Cross. If you thirst for peace in your heart, run to the Lord, for He is the treasury of all good, Whose abundance will teach you to forget all deprivations and despise all earthly good, so as to be filled with Him alone. If you need strength, He is almighty. If you need glory, His glory surpasses the world. If you desire freedom, He gives true freedom. He will resolve all of our doubts, loose the bonds of our passions, dispel all our troubles and difficulties, will enable us to overcome all obstacles, temptations and intrigues of the enemy, and will make smooth the path of our spiritual life. Let us all run to the Lord!

What a transforming truth – God cares for you. Humble yourself before Him, and He will fulfill His purpose for you, and someday you will stand exalted in His presence.

Pastor John

Be Humble

Daily Devotions

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  Humility

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 5:5 (NIV)  Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

One night General Ulysses S. Grant was on his way to a reception in his honor. He got caught in a rainstorm. Walking near him was a man who had no umbrella. General Grant moved closer to him and offered to share his. The stranger did not recognize General Grant.

“I have never seen Grant,” he said, “but I have always thought that he was a very much overrated man.”

“That’s my view, also,” said Grant.

The word humble in the New Testament is interesting. It means, “not rising far from the ground.” It is used in Romans 12:16 when Paul writes, Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Paul uses it again to describe Jesus in Philippians 2 when he says, And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Just prior to using Jesus as our model of humility, Paul had challenged each one of us with these words – Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Not many of us could or would say with the spontaneity of General Grant that we are overrated. I fear that most of us feel we are under-recognized and under-rewarded. What we don’t understand is that the pride that motivates such feelings is really holding us back from reaching our full potential.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon said that some in his time might have become excellent scholars had they not been so persuaded of their scholarship already. Grant, most precious God, that I may never hold so high an opinion of my own spiritual health as to prevent my being in my deeds full of your grace and fear!

In his book Authentic Christianity John Stott writes, We need to repent of the haughty way in which we sometimes stand in judgment upon Scripture and must learn to sit humbly under its judgment instead. If we come to Scripture with our minds made up, expecting to hear from it only an echo of our own thoughts and never the thunderclap of God’s, then indeed he will not speak to us and we shall only be confirmed in our own prejudices. We must allow the Word of God to confront us, to disturb our security, to undermine our complacency and to overthrow our patterns of thought and behaviour.”

If we are going to learn to live in the fullness and joy of Jesus, then we must stop trying to rise so far off the ground. We are not capable of rising into the presence of God. But Jesus is, and it is only His life in us that exalts us. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Renounce your own strength, and be reinvigorated by His!

Pastor John

I Have Great Sheep

Daily Devotions

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  Shepherds Need Sheep

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 5:1-3 (NIV)  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 

October is Pastor Appreciation Month. As a pastor of a wonderful church, I’m blessed to be appreciated all year long. But it’s especially nice to hear from people in unique ways during this month. Yesterday when I came into my office I discovered a huge box of paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper. I thought the storage closet was full and my office had become overflow. I discovered that it was all a gift to me from someone who works at a paper company. What a blessing!

In response to Pastor Appreciation Month, I want to start an appreciation month of my own. It will be called Sheep Appreciation Month. I think the flock needs to be admired more often. I want my flock of sheep to know how much I love them and what joy they bring to my heart as I serve them.

As Peter writes today to challenge the shepherds (pastors and elders) of the church, he also alludes to several things that are true of a good flock of sheep. I have been blessed to be assigned as the shepherd of God’s flock. I am honored to have them under my care, because they are willing to be cared for. They are not stubborn sheep. They like to be led and fed. It’s easy to get up every day and watch the Lord use me to move the sheep to places where they can experience a deeper relationship with their True Shepherd. The sheep God has given me are humble and willing to listen to me as a shepherd.

As an overseer, it’s fulfilling to actually be able to lead. But I have learned through the years that it’s not always easy to lead. Sometimes the sheep do get stubborn. Sometimes they don’t follow. Often they burst through the fences and wander in the world as if they were lost. But God has given me His heart to seek the lost. I am so thankful to be surrounded by other shepherds and sheep who also want to seek the lost ones. We do not do it because we must, but because we are willing. The love of Christ compels us, and it’s an awesome blessing to be surrounded by sheep that are also compelled by Christ’s love.

I also praise God for the attitude of the sheep to both serve and be served. Just yesterday I had one of the sheep come to my office with a humble heart and repent of a sin and ask for forgiveness. In the process of our conversation I discovered a financial need, and as the shepherd I was able to serve her by meeting that need. She humbly accepted that help. I know that someday when she is able, she will serve others in the same way. She will follow the example of the shepherd. I only pray that I will continue to be the right example. I never want to force others to do what I would not model myself.

There’s one more thought on my heart. Some shepherds aren’t so fortunate. Some flocks are pretty messed up. Some sheep are pretty stubborn. I’ve been the shepherd of a flock like that in the past. I’ve seen how sheep can devour their shepherds. I’ve seen how sheep can take their shepherds for granted. I’ve seen the hearts of good shepherds crushed by mean-spirited sheep. My words to those shepherds are the words of the Apostle Paul – The sheep that reject your instruction are not rejecting you but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. (1 Thess. 4:8) You are the appointed one of God. You are the humble, willing servant of the Good Shepherd. Be the example of love and grace. And no matter how you suffer, keep serving, not because you must, but because God’s call is upon your life and His love compels you. If you persevere, the Chief Shepherd will come and expose the wolves who have been masquerading as sheep, and He will purify His church.

Pastor John

Where’s the Love?

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  Where’s the Love?

Scripture Reading:  1 Peter 4:19 (NIV)  So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

Get ready to catch me. I’m about to get on a soapbox and when I do I sometimes fall. I need you to be ready to catch me. Today’s soapbox may not make me fall, but it may make you mad at me, which will feel to me like falling. But I must take the risk.

Throughout my study of Peter’s writings on suffering for the cause of Christ I have been challenged with how to make practical and personal application. How far are we to go in applying these words of Peter to our everyday lives? Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.  He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.

Today it became clearer to me as the Holy Spirit directed my mind to the things other writers in the Bible said about suffering and how to treat the people who cause it, including the words of Jesus. For example, the Apostle Paul said, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Or the words of Jesus who said, You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So why am I on this today? Well, Peter said that no matter what the circumstances or hardships, we are to continue to do good. Today I was reminded that we don’t apply that to our lives very well, and I am as guilty as the next guy. When someone has hurt us, or done something we think is wrong, we have this terrible tendency to love hate. Deep in the center of our flesh is a desire to put others down in an attempt to build ourselves up. It is a tragedy of the human heart that the biggest portion of our memory seems to be set aside for the storage of other people’s faults.

Want proof? Let me mention one name as an example – Brett Farve. Whether you’re a Packer fan or not, everyone seems to have formed an opinion of this guy. My question is – Why do our opinions of people dictate our actions towards them and our words about them? I thought as the messengers of God’s love we are to repay any and all hurt with help. I thought the Holy Spirit was clear when He said through Paul in Romans 12 that we are to consider others better than ourselves. Or later in Romans 15 when he says, We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. I am disappointed in myself and other Christians that we have so quickly fallen into the worldly habit of tearing others down rather than building them up.

Well, I think you see my point. We have not done a very good job of continuing to do good, especially when someone else’s bad affects us so deeply. We quickly fall into the trap of the flesh to build ourselves up at the expense of others. We allow our opinions of others to dictate our speech and actions. We let some perceived suffering justify the defense of our own position, and that defense usually involves some form of attack. We have moved from humility to hurt; from helping to harboring hate; from building up to butting heads; from honor and respect of others to honoring self above anyone else.

Where is the love of Christ in all of this? Why hasn’t the heart of Jesus overwhelmed us and filled us with true and consistent love? I think the reason is that we have gone from standing on a soapbox to sitting on a high horse. And that could cause a much bigger fall.

Pastor John