About Pastor John van Gorkom

Pastor John is the lead pastor of the Calvary Ministry Center in Eau Claire, Wisconsin

Trust Brings Thanksgiving

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, November 16, 2018

1 Chronicles 16:34 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Soon it will be Thanksgiving. It seems appropriate that we move from a study of what we can learn from life’s hardships to a focus on being thankful in all circumstances.

It is possible that you misread that last statement. It does not say to be thankful for all circumstances but be thankful in them. It is a clarification that is necessary for proper application.

I am not thankful for the consequences of evil in this world that affect my life. However, I am thankful during those times of suffering because my attitude is based on the goodness and steadfast love of the Lord. He never changes, so my attitude can always be thankful.

Yet we quickly turn to complaining when circumstances affect us negatively. The heart drifts toward complaint as if by gravitational pull. Complaint seems a reasonable response to a sequence of disappointing events. Generally, we don’t have to extend an invitation for complaint to show up. It arrives as an uninvited guest. Before we know it, complaint feels right because it is familiar.

Author Jeff Manionin his book The Land Between, says that we must evict the spirit of complaint.  Here’s how he describes it:

We can discourage complaint’s residency in our lives by inviting another guest to move in with us. That new guest is trust. When we choose to trust in the face of deep disappointment, complaint has less space to maneuver. While attempting to unpack for an extended stay, it discovers that trust has taken all the drawers in the guest room and already occupies the empty seat at the table. Trust evicts complaint. Trust and complaint are incompatible roommates. One inevitably pushes the other one out.

Trust. Trust in the nature and character of God. Trust is the basis for thanksgiving.

Several years ago, God gave me a definition of trust using the word as an acrostic. It has become the basis for my understanding of the connection between trust and thanksgiving.

TRUST – Totally Relying Upon Sovereign Timing

Trust requires reliance upon God’s absolute control over all things, and that all things are working towards a glorious conclusion that will result in good for us (see Romans 8:28). When we have that level of trust, then we can also live through any hardship with an attitude of thanks.

Here’s another acrostic that reveals the connection between trust and thanks:

THANKS – Trusting His Attributes Not Knowing Specifics

I believe we have two problems that keep us from being thankful. We don’t trust anyone’s control except our own, and we don’t relax until we know all the details of the outcome. If we choose not to trust the Sovereign timing of God, then we obviously won’t be thankful unless we are in control and know the details of every circumstance. What a tragic and depressing way to live.

Here’s a simple story that helps me to understand that I can trust God with the outcome even when current circumstances seem counter-productive.

A ship was wrecked, and the only survivor washed up on a small uninhabited island. He was exhausted. He cried out to God to save him. Every day he scanned the horizon, searching for help. Finally, he managed to build a rough hut and put his few articles in that hut.

One day, coming home from hunting for food, he was stung with grief to see his little hut in flames and a cloud of smoke. The worst had happened. But later that day, a ship came in and rescued him.

He asked the crew, “How did you know I was here?” They replied, “We saw your smoke signal.”

Maybe the difficulty you have now is a smoke signal that will lead to great blessing. Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Pastor John

The Power of Thorns

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, November 15, 2018

2 Corinthians 12:6 – 10 (NLT) 6I have plenty to boast about and would be no fool in doing it, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it. I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message,  7even though I have received wonderful revelations from God. But to keep me from getting puffed up, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from getting proud. 8Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away.  9Each time he said, “My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me.  10Since I know it is all for Christ’s good, I am quite content with my weaknesses and with insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

For the third time in his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addresses the subject of hardships. In his first reference to trials and trouble (2 Cor. 1:8-9) we learned that hardship is designed by God to teach us to trust Him. In his second reference to hardships we learned that they are the measuring stick of our true Christ-like character. Now, Paul teaches us that hardships are the means by which God controls our pride and keeps us humble.

In a moment of great transparency Paul reveals to us that he struggled with pride. Paul had been granted a privilege that no other person has experienced since the ascension of Jesus into glory. He saw the risen Lord in person, and for three years Jesus personally taught him his theology. (See Galatians 1) Earlier in this chapter Paul said, Let me tell about the visions and revelations I received from the Lord. 2I was caught up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. 3Whether my body was there or just my spirit, I don’t know; only God knows. 4But I do know that I was caught up into paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be told. 5That experience is something worth boasting about.

Paul had every reason to boast about his spiritual experiences and to use them as a validation of his authority over people. Paul also knew that his pride could cause him to displace God as the focus of His ministry and draw all of the attention to Himself. So, he adds a qualifier at the end of his statement – but I am not going to do it. I am going to boast only about my weaknesses. 

God also knew that Paul would struggle with pride, as we all do, so He gave Satan permission to torment Paul with a thorn in the flesh. We are not told what it was, and that’s a good thing. If we knew what the specific thorn was, then we might be tempted to believe that because we don’t have it we are not proud and don’t need to be humbled.

The Holy Spirit is teaching us a principle – hardships are designed by God to keep us from becoming proud. Hardships reveal our weaknesses. Hardships reveal our inabilities to control life and its circumstances. Hardships reveal our need for companionship and comfort. Hardships allow the power of God to be fully expressed in us, because we are forced to admit that our power is useless to solve the problem.

According to Paul, there are two ways to live each day. First, we can live according to our own strengths and experiences, using our knowledge to determine the context and outcome of each event. In this choice, hardships are the opportunities provided to us to prove ourselves and to gain confidence in who we are.

Or, second, we can live humbly before God, recognizing that every hardship is an opportunity for God to prove Himself to us and for our faith in Him to grow.

Consider the two alternatives carefully. Paul says that the second option makes him the strongest. The rules of logic say this – if we are strongest when we admit we are weak, then we must be weakest when we think we are strong. If we try to accentuate our strengths and handle our hardships in our own abilities, we will be proven weak. But, if we admit our weaknesses, then the power of God is able to work through us and we will experience His strength.

It all boils down to what our motives are – do we want recognition or do we want the focus to be on God. Remember what Paul said – I don’t want anyone to think more highly of me than what they can actually see in my life and my message. How we let God handle our hardships becomes the evidence of our faith.

Our present hardships, whether temporary or permanent thorns, are a gift from God to keep His power fully working in our lives by reminding us of how weak we really are. Stop fighting it. Stop trying to fix it. God is using our weakness to reveal His power.

Let your faith and trust in God grow by letting go. His outcomes are perfect for His glory and your good. Trust His grace to be sufficient for you today and every day.

Pastor John

 

Visible Evidence

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

It’s a little longer Scripture passage today, but it’s important. Please read the whole passage. I’ve used the New Living Translation for easy reading without compromising truth.

2 Corinthians 6:3 – 10 3We try to live in such a way that no one will be hindered from finding the Lord by the way we act, and so no one can find fault with our ministry.  4In everything we do we try to show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.  5We have been beaten, been put in jail, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food.  6We have proved ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, our sincere love, and the power of the Holy Spirit.  7We have faithfully preached the truth. God’s power has been working in us. We have righteousness as our weapon, both to attack and to defend ourselves.  8We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are honest, but they call us impostors.  9We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. We live close to death, but here we are, still alive. We have been beaten within an inch of our lives.  10Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything.

A question was asked on one of our Christian radio stations recently. If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  Consider that question in the context of today’s Scripture passage.

Paul lists the significant evidence in his own life that convinced the world that he was a true minister of God. His list gives us a comparative standard of our own spiritual integrity as we live for Jesus in a lost world. Let each point encourage you where it can and convict you where it must.

  1. Patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind, including beatings, jail, angry mobs, being over worked to exhaustion, enduring sleepless nights, and going without food. 
  2. Prove yourselves by:
    •  your purity,
    • your understanding,
    • your patience,
    • your kindness,
    • your sincere love,
    • and the power of the Holy Spirit
  3. Faithfully preach the truth. Be a consistent witness for Jesus Christ.
  4. God’s power has been working in us. Can the people of the world see the power of God in how we live, or do they just see a powerful person?
  5. We have righteousness as our weapon. Knowing what is right and then doing what is right gives us the strength to both defend ourselves and to mount an attack against the evil of our day.
  6. We serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or praise us. We are not people pleasers but instead we honor God by serving Him and serving people no matter what they think or say about us.
  7. We are honest, but they call us impostors. We are well known, but we are treated as unknown. We do not compromise for the sake of recognition.
  8. We live close to death, but here we are, still alive. We have been beaten within an inch of our lives. The body may be bruised, but our spirit cannot be broken. We are alive from the inside out.
  9. Our hearts ache, but we always have joy. We may be emotionally drained, but the joy of the Lord is our strength.
  10. We are poor, but we give spiritual riches to others. We own nothing, and yet we have everything. The treasures of heaven outweigh the treasures of earth, and we are content.

Simply stated, the hardships of life are to become the evidence of our faith and trust in God.

So how do you measure up?

Pastor John

Despair Deepens Trust

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

2 Corinthians 1:8 – 9 We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life.  9Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Several years ago, a very good friend of mine went through a terrible hardship in his family. His daughter was diagnosed with cancer at age 18. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions that lasted for several years. Numerous surgeries were performed, each one giving them hope that it would be the last, and then their hopes would be dashed by more complications. They literally felt the sentence of death in their hearts. They knew what it was to be at the end of their rope. They translated Paul’s phrase “we despaired even of life” into a two-word statement – “this sucks.”  Please forgive the crudeness of how that sounds, but it’s true. Sometimes life hurts so bad that we can only look at it in despair. We are under such pressure that it is beyond our ability to endure, and certainly beyond our capacity to resolve.

But this family did not stay in that condition. They relied on the grace and comfort of God. They learned that in the experience of death, even if only in their minds, there is the experience of the resurrection power of God who raises the dead. The same God who raised Jesus from a death caused by the compounded effect of all mankind’s sin can raise us from the individual sentence of death we are experiencing.

Human logic dictates this truth. If it has been proven that a man can lift 250 pounds over his head, then it is entirely logical to assume that he can lift one pound over his head. Since God was able to raise Jesus from the dead, and the death of Jesus was caused by the total weight of all mankind’s sin, then it is logical to believe that God can easily raise one sinner from the dead.

That’s exactly what my friend’s family believed. Against all human logic and hopelessness, they trusted God to be their strength and courage to endure the hardship. Today they are the living examples of hardship-constructed character. The daughter is now married to a wonderful man of God who stood by her during all the years of her battle with cancer. My friend and his wife have learned what it means to trust God every day, and to use every hardship as an opportunity to rely on the God who raises the dead.

Their lives and attitudes are an illustration of today’s truth – hardship produces trust in God. Smooth sailing results in self-trust. Rough waters cause us to turn to the Master and let Him handle the storm.

Whatever you are going through right now, stop trying to control it. Stop trying to fix it. Stop trying to change it. Just look at it, and in whatever words are appropriate for you, tell God that you “despair even of life.”  Then trust Him completely to handle the situation and bring about an outcome that honors His name. Then you will be able to say with Paul, “He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us.” (2 Cor. 1:10)

Pastor John

Encouragement for Suffering

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, November 12, 2018

Hebrews 12:4 – 8  In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.  And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

The subject of encouragement we have been studying in these devotionals is essential if we are going to endure the hardships we all experience in life. The writer of Hebrews expresses the connection between encouragement and endurance when He writes about both in today’s Scripture passage. Make sure you have read it.

If the average person who calls himself a Christian was asked how he knows he is a son of God, he would probably not come up with the answer described in today’s Bible verses. Granted, it is not the only answer, but it is a significant one. In addition to the more common responses like “I obey God’s commands” (1 John 5:2), “I love the brothers and sisters in Christ” (1 John 3:10), and “I hate sin” (1 John 5:18), we should also be able to say that we know we are a child of God because He disciplines us. It may not be the first response we think of, but it is significant because the Bible has encouragement connected with it.

Hardship is a universal fact of life. Everyone suffers in one way or another – sometimes in more than one way at the same time. How are we supposed to be encouraged when we are so deeply affected by suffering?

There are two critical principles we must understand. First, God addresses us with words of encouragement as His children. And second, we must consider the possibility that some of our suffering is disciplinary in nature.

There are basically two types of suffering: that which is caused by the consequences of our own sin; and that which is caused by our stand against sin.

The Christian who sins is disciplined by God because God loves him as a son, and wants his behavior to change. This is corrective discipline. The Christian who struggles against sin and then suffers for it is also being disciplined. It is not corrective discipline but rather constructive discipline. His character is being constructed to be the character of Christ.

Both types of discipline are for our good, and it is good for us to submit to both of them. Later in this passage in Hebrews we read this: God disciplines us for our good that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Consider suffering in the context of the maturing process that should occur in all Christian’s lives. As a father and a grandfather, I would not be satisfied if my children and their children stayed at the level of needing corrective discipline. As they grow and mature, there should be less correction and more construction of character. A much higher level of intimacy is achieved between parent and child when construction of character is being accomplished.

That is to be the model for our Christian walk as well. As we grow in our faith, there should be less sin to struggle with and more strength to struggle against sin. Then we will experience the depth of intimacy with Christ that He said is possible. We will understand the fullness and abundance of life that He promised.

Do not be satisfied with sin. Do not consider it a necessary reality of human existence. You do not have to live with sin and its consequences. You can grow up into a Christian who struggles against sin rather than with sin. You will still have to endure hardships, but they will not be riddled with guilt and shame.

Sinful choices will bring painful consequences and shameful experiences.

Sacred choices may result in painful consequences which the world intends to shame us. But we have One who has given us a model to follow. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (emphasis mine).

Be encouraged. God speaks words of encouragement to you as His child. He loves you and wants you to correct what’s wrong and grow in the character of His Son. If you are sinning and suffering for it, God is disciplining you because you are His child so that you can grow up. If you are struggling against sin and suffering for it, God is disciplining you as His son to make you just like His Son. Do not grow weary of the discipline. Do not lose heart. You are being trained to share in the holiness of God. That’s good!

Pastor John

God’s Encourager

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, November 9, 2018

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.

Today is one of those days. It should be different because it’s Friday, but it feels like a Monday. I can’t blame it on anything that happened since Sunday because everything was fantastic. I can’t blame it on a lack of understanding or appreciation of my permanent relationship with Jesus Christ because I know in my heart the eternal gift God has given me by His grace. But it’s one of those days nonetheless, when I want to stay in bed and not do anything. My mind is captured by thoughts of escape from the daily routine (I wanted to say grind but that sounds so bleak). I want a day with no responsibility and no interruptions. I’m sure you can relate and that you have had days like this. That’s why I am so thankful for today’s verse of Scripture. It tells me I am normal to feel this way.

Paul states that there are two aspects to encouragement from God that are equally important in our lives. First, there is the encouragement that comes from knowing that we are eternally His and that the hope of eternity is always at work in our lives. On most days this is sufficient to keep us going. With our eyes fixed on the finish line and the rewards of glory in the presence of Jesus Christ, we press on. The knowledge of the love of God and His gift of grace to us motivate us to live faithfully in His service. But second, with an understanding of human nature and its emotional instability, Paul asks God to encourage our hearts for the everyday routine. Looking at the eternal does not eliminate the need to deal with the immediate, and God knew we would need daily help with the immediate.

The word translated encourage in these verses literally means to call near. It is the same basic word that Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit when He told the disciples that he would send them a Comforter. This morning as I lay in bed trying to motivate myself to get up, I rolled over and wrapped the down comforter on our bed tightly around me, pulling it up close to my face. It is named well. It was so comforting. I loved the feeling of contentment and security it produced. But comforters are only able to do that when we draw them near to us. Looking at one from across the room never accomplishes that.

When we came to Christ for salvation, He sent the Comforter to wrap us up with the contentment and security of our eternal relationship with God. But our daily routines draw us, as it were, out from under the comforter. The promise of glory in heaven is folded neatly on the bottom of the bed when we head out to tackle the necessary obligations of the day. Every so often we may take a look at the Comforter, and we may even long for the end of the day when we can crawl back under it and snuggle up. Sometimes we may even do that in the middle of the day. But most of the time we just look at the comforter from across the room.

But looking at eternity from across the room doesn’t make life better. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could carry the comforter around with us all day, like Linus’ security blanket, so that we felt safe all the time?

That’s exactly what God knew we would need, and He did it for every one of His children. God did more than simply wrap us up with the Comforter – He made it possible for us to have the Comforter with us every moment of every day. The Comforter indwells us and is constantly encouraging us in our everyday routine. The eternal hope of glory became our daily help for the grind. We are encouraged by His presence to carry out every good deed and word. God provides comfort, contentment, and security for the immediate while we wait for the eternal. We have been granted constant nearness to God.

Suddenly today is not one of those days anymore. It has become one of God’s days. With my eyes fixed on the finish line, I run the race that is set before me because the Author and Finisher of my faith is running right with me. His presence is not just the reward at the end of the race; it is the reality during the race.

So, take your eyes off the eternal for a moment, and look at the immediate. You’ll see Jesus there, giving you comfort, encouragement, contentment, and security. Keep running. Jesus will give you the strength because He gave you the reason for running in the first place.

Pastor John

Look Up

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, November 8, 2018

1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18 (NIV) 13Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  14We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.  15According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  17After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.  18Therefore encourage each other with these words.

There are a variety of encouraging responses we could share with a person who has just shared their hurts, disappointments, and discouragements with us. We could tell them about our own struggle with some of those same issues and how we got through it. We could give examples of other people who have survived. We could try and refocus their attention on some other area of life that is showing signs of success. Or we could just sit and listen and comfort them with our friendship and understanding.

One response that probably doesn’t get used very much or even considered in such times of suffering is to talk about the imminent return of Jesus Christ. I wonder how people would respond to us if after intimately sharing their hurts and pains we said, “I understand, but Jesus may come back today.”

At the church in Thessalonica there was much discouragement. Paul had been able to spend only three weeks with these new Christians when he planted this church. He had not had sufficient time to adequately disciple them to stand against the trials that would come because of their new faith. The people of the church were being persecuted by their own countrymen, some even to the point of death. Paul needed to get them some basic information that would strengthen them and encourage them to remain true to the faith.

In his letter to them he reminds them of the quality of their faith. He tells them how encouraged he is by the reports of their faith and works. He sent Timothy to them to encourage them, and Timothy returned with a great report of their growth and commitment. He tells them how well they have done at imitating the example of his own life of perseverance and productivity for Christ. And yet Paul knows there is still one thing necessary to truly encourage them and keep them from letting the hurts and pains of everyday life drag them down into despair. They must keep their hearts and minds focused on the return of Jesus Christ to take them to glory, or the world would quickly smother them. The imminent return of Jesus Christ to rescue us from this world of sin and suffering is the one thing that truly gives us hope and encouragement to press on.

Years ago, when I was spending time with my mother before she died, I observed this hope in her life. Not a day went by that she didn’t look for the return of Jesus. She wanted Him to come back and take all of us to glory together. Even as her body weakened and the reality of the day of her death approached she didn’t stop looking for Jesus to return. The knowledge that all of life’s losses would be totally obliterated by the gain of glory kept her smiling and at peace right to the end. She was encouraged by the promise that Jesus was coming for her, and she was looking for Him. She was not looking for man’s solutions to earth’s problems. She was looking for Jesus. She prayed for healing so that she might live longer on the earth, but she was content in knowing that the ultimate healing is to live forever in glory. One of the songs she used to sing was, “To be with Him will crown it all.” She not only sang it, she lived it.

Maybe you and I have spent too much time trying to encourage others by looking for man’s solutions to earth’s problems. I think it’s time we add some new responses to our vocabulary that can be shared with hurting people. These responses will be an encouragement to others if we truly believe them and live them ourselves.

Here are some ways to encourage others with the hope of the imminent return of Jesus. I’m sure you will be able to think of more. Don’t let Satan convince you that they are shallow or unfeeling or insensitive or that they lack true understanding and compassion. They are the greatest words of hope anyone can hear. Use them to strengthen your own faith, and then use them to encourage others.

  • It will be worth it all when we see Jesus.
  • Because He lives we can face tomorrow.
  • All this will seem so small when we see Jesus.
  • Look at the present through the promise – Jesus is coming.
  • And if Jesus comes back today why will this matter?

Let me close with the words of a great hymn written in 1955 by Jim Hill (CCLI License #545997). Be encouraged, and use this to encourage others.

There is a coming day when no heartaches shall come-

No more clouds in the sky, no more tears to dim the eye.

All is peace forever more on that happy golden shore.

What a day, glorious day that will be.

There’ll be no sorrow there, no more burdens to bear,

No more sickness, no pain, no more parting over there.

And forever I will be with the One who died for me.

What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be when my Jesus I shall see,

And I look upon His face, the One who saved me by His grace.

When He takes me by His hand and leads me through the promised land,

What a day, glorious day that will be.

Pastor John