Let’s Go on an Adventure

Sightseeing Trips are Best

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Psalms 1:1 – 2 (NIV) Blessed is the man… [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Eight years ago, following a one year devotional study of the Psalms with the staff of the church, I wrote a series of devotionals on the Psalms. I think I want to do that again. The challenge is to keep them short and relevant. Volumes of books have been written on the Psalms. Charles Spurgeon’s classic commentary on the Psalms entitled The Treasury of David is seven volumes long. But the plan I came up with back then will work again. Here’s why.

Years ago I discovered a secret to reading God’s Word so it actually had an impact on my life. I learned this system from observing the way I got the most enjoyment out of traveling in the car with my family. Most of the time I am pretty detailed about time schedules and trip planning. When we are going on a vacation or a trip anywhere I plan out everything, from the starting time to destinations to arrival times, focusing mainly on the route we will take to get there. My enjoyment of the trip depends on sticking to the itinerary. But one summer I remember a particular trip to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where I thought I was on the road I had planned to take. It turned out I was wrong, and we had gotten off onto a backwoods gravel road that took us through some wilderness territory that was a little bit scary but provided some wonderful memories. From that moment on, I developed a more adventurous spirit toward traveling. In fact, whenever we would get in the car to go anywhere, I would always plan alternate routes. Whenever I would take a road other than the main ones, my kids would say, “Dad’s on another adventure.”   They still make fun of me to this day. But I love taking the back roads and just driving without a timetable or a specific destination. I love the signs along the way that say “scenic overlook.” I love to pull over and spend some time there and see what I can see. Then, when I get home, I have something on which to meditate. I have created memories that are meaningful.

That’s how I want to read God’s Word. Most people read the Bible according to the trip itinerary method. They have a predetermined number of chapters they have to read each day so they can arrive at their destination by the end of the year. Unfortunately for most of us who have used that method we discover that when we arrive at the end of the trip we don’t remember much of what we saw along the way. When we focus on the destination the trip becomes irrelevant. But when I read God’s Word according to the “sightseeing” method, I not only learn a lot more but I enjoy the time a lot more. All of a sudden I start seeing lots of “scenic overlook” signs – verses that are just inviting me to stop and take in the full vision of what God intended for me at that moment. Sometimes my sightseeing trips through God’s word are very short, and other times I get quite a distance from my starting point – but every trip creates memories that are meaningful. I have learned to meditate on what God has revealed at each stop.

Leisurely trips are a lot more fun for me than destination based trips. I know that most of us are so busy that we don’t take very many leisure trips any more, but don’t let that philosophy enter into your devotional time. Take delight in the Word of God. You don’t have to be reading it to be meditating on it day and night. It only takes one verse to challenge your mind for the rest of the day, and sometimes longer. The key is to let God take you to His scenic overlooks. That’s what I’m going to do for the next 170 devotionals. I’m going to take a daily leisure trip through one Psalm, with multiple stops in Psalm 119, and find one scenic overlook to enjoy on the trip. As you join me in this trip, your scenic overlooks may be different than mine, and when they are, write to me and tell me what God has shown you. I love having alternate routes to take and hearing stories of new sights to see along the way.

So for tomorrow, grab your water bottles and your cameras, buckle up, and open your hearts as we start out on an adventure through the Psalms. I’m already excited about what we will discover.

Pastor John

 

How Far Will Love Take You?

Love Motivates Perseverance

Monday, March 9, 2015

 2 Thessalonians 3:3 – 5 (NIV) But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. According to Time magazine, the satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph the planet and its moons, and beam data to earth about Jupiter’s magnetic field, radiation belts, and atmosphere. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, for at that time no earth satellite had ever gone beyond Mars, and they feared the asteroid belt would destroy the satellite before it could reach its target.

Pioneer 10

But Pioneer 10 accomplished its mission and much, much more. Swinging past the giant planet in November 1973, Jupiter’s immense gravity hurled Pioneer 10 at a higher rate of speed toward the edge of the solar system. At one billion miles from the sun, Pioneer 10 passed Saturn. At some two billion miles, it hurtled past Uranus; Neptune at nearly three billion miles; Pluto at almost four billion miles. By 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six billion miles from the sun. And despite that immense distance, Pioneer 10 continued to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. Perhaps most remarkable is that those signals emanate from an 8-watt transmitter, which radiates about as much power as a bedroom night light. The signals take more than nine hours to reach Earth. The final, very weak signal from Pioneer 10 was received on January 23, 2003 when it was 12 billion kilometers from Earth.

The Little Satellite That Could was not qualified to do what it did. Engineers designed Pioneer 10 with a useful life of just three years. But it kept going and going. (How many of you just saw a bunny with a drum?) Pioneer 10 has accomplished more than anyone thought possible. It just keeps doing what it was designed to do.

When we consider the reasons we tend to give up and quit in various areas of our lives, we must dig deep enough to reach the primary cause. When we do we will discover that there is one thing lacking that has caused us to not persevere, and that thing is love. Follow along closely here. We have been designed by God to love. But let’s make sure we are defining love correctly. Love, according to the Designer, is a choice to sacrifice one’s own well-being, preferences, and pleasure for the sake of what’s best for another. God demonstrated that kind of love to all of us when He sent Jesus to die for us while we were still in our sin (Romans 5:8). Since we have been created in the image of God, and God is love, then the compelling force behind everything we accomplish is to be love. If we quit before we reach the conclusion, then we really didn’t love what we were doing. We don’t quit on what we really love.

This may sound like an oversimplification to some of you, but in reality it is as deep and complex as it needs to be. We have not persevered because we have not truly loved. We have given up on marriages, friendships, careers, and goals because we chose to pursue our own well-being, preferences, and pleasure rather than those of the person or plan we claimed to have loved. When times got tough we chose to move into self-protection mode. In other words, we chose to love self more than anything.

If Pioneer 10 had been given the right to choose, it would have had limitless options when it was launched. “Space – the final frontier.” But the designer programmed in only one course. Our Designer has programmed in one true course for us as well. When the choice was made to follow Jesus, the Designers course was to become our only course. But we have wrongly reserved the right to continue to choose between God’s course and all the optional courses offered by the world. That’s why we can’t persevere. That’s why Jesus warned us that we are not worthy to be His disciples if we put our hands to the plow and then look back at other options. We have chosen self-love as the best course for life, and we change our course as often as we change our minds. “Keep your options open” has become the buzzword of Satan that grabs our attention. The bottom line is that we are in love with us, and not truly living in the love of God.

But God has designed us for something much greater, and He has given us an earthly example to follow. Jesus Christ, because of His sincere and undying love for the Father, persevered to the point of shedding His blood to accomplish God’s purpose. In today’s Scripture passage Paul says, May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. It is love for God, and the complete trust in God’s love for us that compels us to persevere as Christ did. So the next time you’re considering giving up and quitting on a person, a goal, or on God, check your heart. You’ll probably find that you have lost your first love, and your love for self has become the compelling force that drives your decisions. Fall to your knees and repent, and come back to the Designer’s love. He knows how far you will be able to go.

Pastor John

Broken or Qualified?

Forgiving Self?

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Psalm 32:1-2 (ESV) Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Matthew 26:27-28 (ESV) And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

With age comes wisdom. With wisdom comes discernment. With discernment comes self-reflection. With self-reflection comes two possibilities: regret and shame, OR praise and progress.

Now, let’s put what I just said into context.

There is a lot of discussion today within the Body of Christ of the need to live in a constant state of brokenness. Scripture passages are quoted that seem to indicate that unless we are constantly reflecting on what we once were in our sin we will never know the splendor of God’s grace. This can cause a serious spiritual problem when it becomes so much the focus of our life that we forget to live in the victory over sin that Jesus has provided. It is very dangerous to fixate on why we are unqualified for eternal life and not live in the reality that the Father has qualified us! (Col. 1:12)

Just like anything in life, the problem becomes one of balance. The backward look at what we once were is necessary, but it must not become the standard by which we measure our spiritual sensitivities. The backward look is only necessary for one primary thing in our lives – to make us appreciate the current status of our relationship with Jesus Christ and live in the joy of our salvation.

The backward look at our past sin, when combined with the satanic influence of shame for that sin, can cause serious spiritual problems.  Yes, I said satanic influence of shame. You see, once God has forgiven our sin in Jesus Christ, ALL condemnation is removed. Shame is Satan’s weapon to condemn us. Shame is not the same as godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Shame is the chain with which Satan binds us to our past.

I hear a phrase coming from the lips of Christians far too often. It is usually used in a sentence that goes like this – “I know God has forgiven me, but I just can’t seem to forgive myself.” Nowhere in the Bible are we told to forgive ourselves. In fact, it is a deception of Satan to think that we must. It is how he holds us in spiritual bondage.

As long as we continue to look backward in a self-gratifying brokenness and believe we are still guilty and unworthy we have not truly accepted God’s forgiveness. We are choosing to look at our lives from our perspective rather than from God’s.

The person who believes they have not forgiven themselves is really guilty of not accepting God’s forgiveness. They are still trying to justify their own life and actions, when from God’s perspective they were justified in Christ and made to be His child forever. For some reason in their mind they believe their opinion of themselves is more important than God’s opinion of who they are. Their insecurities, guilt, and shame become the chains with which Satan holds them captive, and the only key he claims to have for deliverance is self-forgiveness and self-justification.

Unfortunately Satan never reveals the truth that he has no keys, and we will never be set free on those terms. Jesus said, I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. When God forgives there is no need for any additional forgiveness. The only way any of us could ever hope to forgive ourselves is for us to have sufficient resources to pay for our sin. We would have to be able to come before God and declare that we suffered the total consequences of sin and conquered it. The fact that we know we have a sin that needs to be forgiven makes us ineligible to pay God’s required price for that sin, which is a sinless sacrifice. We who try to forgive ourselves are in a hopeless state.

But the blood of Jesus Christ, the perfect spotless Lamb of God, was poured out for the forgiveness of sin. None of us is required to or capable of forgiving ourselves. We can only – and wondrously – accept the forgiveness already provided by the Father.

My friend, if you are suffering today because you are trapped in the chains of believing you must forgive yourself for what you have done, you are in a futile pursuit. You will never be free. You must realize that what you are really doing is rejecting the forgiveness God offers you. When God says you are forgiven – accept it. When God says you are justified – accept it. When God says you are worthy – accept it. When God says you are qualified – accept it. There is no need and there is no way for you to improve upon what God offers. You do not make yourself worthy of God, so stop trying to make yourself worthy of people, including yourself. When you repent of your sin, God forgives. To believe anything else denies the very nature and character of God.

REJOICE! Your sins are forgiven, and God declares you righteous. Stop arguing with Him.

Pastor John

God’s Offer of Forgiveness

God’s Offer of Forgiveness

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

 2 Chronicles 7:11 – 14 11When Solomon had finished the temple of the LORD and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the LORD and in his own palace, 12theLORD appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. 13“When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 

 The story is told of a rich Christian who had a large company of employees, many of whom owed him money. He was constantly trying to teach them something about Christianity, and one day he hit upon a plan. He posted a notice for his employees to see that said, “All those who will come to my office between eleven and twelve o’clock on Thursday morning to present an honest statement of their debts will have them canceled at once.” The debtors read the notice with a great deal of skepticism, and on Thursday morning, although they gathered in the street in front of his office, not one of them went to the door. Instead they gossiped and complained about their employer, and ridiculed the notice he had posted. They said it didn’t make sense.

But finally, at 11:45, one man jumped forward, dashed up the steps into the office, and presented his statement. “Why are you here?” the rich man asked him. “Because you promised to cancel the debts of all those who would come as you instructed,” the other replied. “And do you believe the promise?” “Yes, I do.” “Why do you believe it?” persisted the employer. “Because, although it was too much for me to understand, I know that you are a good man who would not deceive anyone.” The rich man took the bill and marked it “Paid in full,” at which time the poor man, overcome, cried out, “I knew it! I told them so! They said it couldn’t be true, and now I’m going out to show them.” “Wait,” said his benefactor, “it’s not quite twelve o’clock. The others are not entitled to any special proof of my sincerity.” When the clock struck twelve, the forgiven debtor ran out waving his receipt in the face of his fellows. With a mad rush they made for the door, but it was too late. The door was locked.

God made a similar offer to the nation of Israel through King Solomon. While the primary application of this well-known and often quoted passage is for the nation of Israel, the fundamental principles of forgiveness that that are expressed apply to each of us today on an individual basis. We all have sinned, and fall short of His glory. We are unable to pay the debt for that sin. But God has posted a notice on the company bulletin board that has a striking resemblance to a cross. It says, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will forgive their debt of sin.” It’s an incredible offer, but the conditions attached are difficult.

Humility – To stand guilty before the One who said he would forgive but who could also demand payment. Humility demands agreement with God about our condition and offers no self-defense. Humility relinquishes all rights and surrenders completely to God’s rulings. Humility trusts God’s grace and mercy. Praise God that the payment has already been made in full by Jesus Christ so that God’s justice guarantees forgiveness. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Prayer – To knock on the throne room door knowing that God will open it, we must renounce all human resources by turning in total dependence upon God, believing that He will do what He promised to do. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy. (Titus 3:4 – 5)

Seeking God’s face – To submit to God’s purpose for our lives and become a witness of God’s grace. Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  (Hebrews 10:19 – 24)

Turn from wicked ways – To repent of the sin, turning from it with a sincere heart and desire to not do it again. Continuing in the Hebrews passage from above we read, If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  (Hebrews 10:26 – 27)

When our hearts truly and sincerely reflect these four conditions, God completely forgives our sin. When we approach the throne of God with humble and broken hearts that cry out to Him in repentance of sin and submission to His will, He will forgive us completely and eternally. Hallelujah!

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalms 139:23 – 24)

Pastor John

Where Are You?

The Father’s Forgiveness

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

 Numbers 14:19 – 20 19In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.” 20The LORD replied, “I have forgiven them, as you asked.” 

 There’s a story of a father in Spain and his teenage son who had a relationship that had become strained. So the son ran away from home and fell into a life of sin. His father, however, began a journey in search of his rebellious son. Finally, in Madrid, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in the newspaper. The ad read: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the newspaper office at noon. All is forgiven. I love you. Your father.” The next day at noon in front of the newspaper office 800 “Pacos” showed up. They were all seeking forgiveness and love from their fathers.

Each of us is a Paco. We have rebelled against God. We are afraid of the consequences of our sin, so we try to hide ourselves and run away so we will not be found out.

Following the first sin ever in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve tried to hide themselves from God. They knew their relationship with their Creator was broken. They knew their guilt and felt its shame.

God came looking for them. He called out to them. “Where are you?” Now think about this. Almighty, Eternal, All-knowing God knew where they were. His question was not a fact-finding one. God’s question was an offer of forgiveness and restoration. The humans heard it with fear, but God was providing them an opportunity to respond in faith.

When the Father extends His arms of love in an act of forgiveness, we can run to Him in faith rather than run away from Him in fear. Even though the consequences of our sin may remain, the restoration of our love relationship with the Father completely overshadows any of the pain of our sin.

The human consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin were permanent, but the Father covered all of their shame and guilt with His sacrifice. His offer of forgiveness is so magnificent because the restoration of relationship with the Father far exceeds in value any of the lingering effects of our sin.

Imagine the joy you can bring to another person’s life if you were to see them the same way. They are suffering in their sin. They need to be forgiven. They need to know that someone will love them even while they are suffering the consequences of their sin.

Years ago I had a young man in my office who confessed to me that he has been stealing from local stores. He even stole a larger item from outside a business and dragged it behind his car to his back yard. He wanted to know what to do. I told him that he must immediately go and confess in person to the people from whom he had stolen and return the merchandise. He was scared. He knew that he could be arrested and charged with theft. He knew it meant paying restitution and possible jail time.

As we talked, I led him to understand that the pain of the guilt he would carry by not confessing would be much more severe than the pain of the court system. He also began to understand that his greatest need was to know that he and Jesus were in right relationship, and if that were true then nothing could separate him from the Love of God. He agreed that he wanted the love of the Father more than the stuff, and more than his image and reputation. He has confessed and faces stiff fines and jail time, but he is learning that the love of God is far more satisfying than what the world can offer.

As a part of our conversation, I promised him that I would go through this with him, and that nothing he has done could stop me from loving him and serving him. That was a key turning point. Even though he had not sinned against me personally, I was still tempted to separate myself from him until he got his act together. The Holy Spirit showed me that what he needed was someone to walk with him while he got his act together.

Maybe that’s what God is showing you also. Have you separated yourself from someone because of their sin when God may be calling you to forgive them and walk with them through the restoration process? Sure that takes time and energy, and it’s hard work that may not result in anything but more pain. But remember the cost of our forgiveness.

Go looking for that person. Call out to them as God calls out to you – not in a spirit of judgment that produces fear, but in a spirit of grace that offers forgiveness.

Pastor John

 

Another Box of Cookies

Monday, March 02, 2015

Today’s Topic: Another Box of Cookies

Today’s Scripture: Exodus 34:5-7 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.

I am in awe of the nature of God expressed in this passage of Scripture. The nation of Israel has rebelled against God. While Moses was receiving the law of God on the mountain, the people were making a golden calf to worship instead of God. Moses, in his anger at discovering their sin, had smashed the tablets of stone that had been personally engraved by the finger of God. His anger had caused him to disrespect and dishonor what God had given him. God punished the people who had sinned, and then He invited Moses back up onto the mountain to replace the engraved stones. When Moses received the first tablets they had been carved by God himself. This time Moses had to carve the tablets. With each strike of the hammer on the chisel Moses must have felt the guilt of knowing that he had allowed his anger to destroy something God had given him. He would have to carry those tablets to God with the shame of knowing that they were not God’s original design. No matter how closely he tried to duplicate the originals, they would still be man-made and not God-made. Imagine the fear and shame Moses must have been feeling as he approached the Presence of God on the mountain.

When Moses arrived, the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with Him. Then he passed in front of Moses and spoke. He did not destroy Moses’ spirit with words of condemnation and shame. He did not speak in anger. God did not strike Moses down. Instead, He declared His nature. It is a declaration of hope for us all. He said, “I Am the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” What incredible words of hope for all of us who have sinned. Spend a moment and review each statement and on the wonder of God’s forgiveness.

God is compassionate.

God is gracious

God is slow to anger

God is abounding in love

God is abounding in faithfulness

God has sufficient love for everyone

God forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin

This also makes for an incredible challenge for all of us who have been sinned against. How do we respond when someone has hurt us with wickedness, rebellion, or sin? Maybe this illustration will help us apply God’s nature to our own choices.

A small boy at a summer camp received a large package of cookies in the mail from his mother. He ate a few, then placed the remainder under his bed. The next day, after lunch, he went to his tent to get a cookie. The box was gone.

That afternoon a camp counselor, who had been told of the theft, saw another boy sitting behind a tree eating the stolen cookies. He said to himself, “That young man must be taught not to steal.”

He returned to the group and sought out the boy whose cookies had been stolen. He said, “Billy, I know who stole your cookies. Will you help me teach him a lesson?” The puzzled boy replied, “Well, yes—but aren’t you going to punish him?”

The counselor explained, “No, that would only make him resent and hate you. No, I want you to call your mother and ask her to send you another box of cookies.”

The boy did as the counselor asked and a few days later received another box of cookies in the mail.

The counselor said, “Now, the boy who stole your cookies is down by the lake. Go down there and share your cookies with him.”

The boy protested, “But he’s the thief.”

“I know. But try it—see what happens.”

Half an hour later the camp counselor saw the two come up the hill, arm and arm. The boy who had stolen the cookies was earnestly trying to get the other to accept his jackknife in payment for the stolen cookies, and the victim was just as earnestly refusing the gift from his new friend, saying that a few old cookies weren’t that important anyway.

The Apostle Paul said it this way in Ephesians 4 – Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (emphasis added).

As you have been forgiven by God, go and forgive others.

Pastor John