About Pastor John van Gorkom

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

Buried Treasure

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, August 12, 2019

In 1974 I worked at a small-town grocery store in North Dakota. My boss had just bought the store from the previous owner. Inside the store was a huge safe that we were told had not been opened for years. We were told we could have whatever we found if we could get it open. The day came when I was assigned the task of opening the safe.

I was captivated by the possibilities of what was inside. What kind of treasure would I find if I could somehow get it open? I didn’t want to destroy anything that was inside, so I planned carefully how I would break into this massive safe.

I started by trying to figure out the combination. I put my ear to the door and slowly turned the dial as I listened for clicks, just like I had seen in the movies. It didn’t work. I guess you really do need a stethoscope.

Next, I dried drilling holes near the dial in hopes that I could find the tumblers and align them so the lock would release. That didn’t work either. The only other option was demolition, so I headed home to get a sledgehammer and pry bar.

After several hours of work I succeeded in working my way under the corner seam to peel back a small section of the 1/8-inch-thick metal casing of the safe, only to discover three inches of concrete. After a couple more hours of peeling back metal and chipping out concrete, I had to pry apart the metal protecting the inside of the safe.

Finally I was in. I had removed one side of this five-foot tall safe to discover what treasure was inside. At first it looked like our efforts were wasted, as all we found were old business records. But then, in one small drawer at the top of the safe, was a small black bag. Inside were two twenty-dollar gold pieces from the 1800’s. They were incredibly valuable. I’m sure my eyes popped out of my head when I saw them. I immediately gave them to my boss, and he said I could have them for all the work I did. I rushed home after work to find a safe place to keep them.

My first real treasure hunt had yielded a huge bounty. But it was short-lived. Several days later the previous owner of the store stopped in and asked if we had gotten the safe opened. I showed him the opened safe, and he immediately looked in the little drawer and asked if we had found two gold pieces. I said yes, and he asked for them back, denying that he had ever said we could have the contents of the safe if we got it opened.

I immediately went home and returned the treasure to the previous owner. No thanks. No reward. Just the satisfaction in my heart that I had done the right thing. Honestly, it took a while for the reward of righteousness to overcome the disappointment, but it eventually did. It’s hard to look for treasure and never find it, but it’s harder still to find it and then have it taken away.

Proverbs 2:1-4  My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures.

There is a treasure that will never be taken away. It is worth all the effort you put into finding it. It is the treasure of wisdom. To those who seek wisdom like treasure the Lord will grant it. It will become the permanent shield of those who walk with integrity. With God’s wisdom comes understanding of righteousness, justice, and fairness. Those who walk in God’s wisdom find the right way to go and will be kept safe. There is eternal joy for the one who seeks wisdom like a treasure.

We spend literally hours every day digging for treasures that will never satisfy – worldly treasures like success, recognition, financial security, and recreation. We invest hours in fulfilling our own dreams and the dreams of our children. We believe we and our kids are entitled to experience all that this life has to offer. We even sacrifice our service to the Lord for the sake of fulfilling our earthly dreams. We have made a choice to look for treasure where there is no treasure at all.

I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus who said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He even told two stories about it.  “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

So here’s my challenge for you – let wisdom begin in your life by choosing to hunt for treasure in the right place. May today be the day you begin your treasure hunt for God’s wisdom. May there be nothing in the world that requires more of your time or energy than the pursuit of the heart of God.

Pastor John

Fear Motivates

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, August 9, 2019

Fear is beneficial for us if properly acknowledged. Fear of being burned usually keeps us from touching fire, yet the fire itself is beneficial to us as a source of heat, cooking, light, and more. Fear of falling and breaking bones keeps us from walking too close to the edge of a cliff.  Every day in a variety of ways fear produces wisdom for decision-making.

Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

The Bible says fear is the beginning of knowledge and the key to wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 says, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” But we have changed the meaning of the word fear from what God intended us to understand. Modern Christianity has simply defined the fear of the Lord as “wonder and awe.” I do not believe that is a complete or sufficient definition. Yes, God is awe-inspiring. He is to be revered. But He is also to be literally feared.

Let’s look at the words of Jesus concerning the type of fear we are to have of God. In Matthew 10:28 Jesus said,  And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. That’s more than just reverential awe, isn’t it?

One of the thieves on the cross understood this when he turned to the other thief and said, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?” (Luke 23:40)

The beginning of all wisdom, especially the wisdom of God that comes through His grace to bring us to salvation, starts with a very real fear of God’s justice and judgment. Those who are not saved by the blood of Jesus Christ which was shed as the payment for our sins on Calvary have never faced their fear of God in a healthy way. Rather than embracing it and seeking the grace of God, they have rejected God and His wisdom, thereby making themselves out to be fools.

For those who are saved, the wisdom that comes from a true fear of the Almighty Judge transforms our fear of judgment into a reverential awe of the One who saved us from all judgment. He did that by judging His Son Jesus in our place on the cross. But both parts of fear must remain.

In the book of Acts, as the early church was getting organized, a man named Barnabas sold some land and gave the proceeds to the Elders of the church. Seeing the recognition he got, Ananias and Saphira decided to sell some land and give the money to the Lord as well. Their intention was not to help the church, but to help themselves, so they gave only part of what they earned but claimed they had given it all. This lie to the Holy Spirit of God brought instant death to both – the judgment of God on sin in the church. As a result, Acts 5:11 says, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.”

The Greek word translated into English as “fear” in this verse is the word “phobos”, from which we get our English word phobia. It is literal fear, and it must continue to be a part of a healthy understanding of God even though now we have been saved from eternal judgment. He is our heavenly Father, and in His eternal love for us He is working to bring out His best in us. That requires discipline and training, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of that training in wisdom. The fear of discipline is a Godly motivator.

So my challenge from Proverbs for today is this – restore a properly acknowledged and healthy fear of God based on His judgment and His grace, and embrace both as the wisdom that brings obedience.

Here’s what a friend said about this verse: We have lost our fear of the Lord.  Fear of the Lord should be a respectful, genuine fear of failing to please Him while also being aware of the consequences of disobeying Him.  If we listen (follow, obey) to the Lord, we will live in safety.  The ESV says we will live at ease, without dread of disaster.  Does that mean we will never experience disaster or harm? No.  It means we will not live in fear of it.  Rather, we will be at ease because we know our Lord will never leave us, nor forsake us.  He will faithfully supply ALL our needs.  Therefore, we need not be anxious about anything!  What an AWESOME GOD.

Pastor John

Healthy Fear of Consequences

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Most of us would rather forget the painful experiences of our lives. We would rather not remember the things or the people that hurt us.  We prefer to be comfortable, and never go back to the darkness of death.

At the end of his book of prophecy, Isaiah declares the word of the LORD about the political and physical status of the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. All the enemies of Jesus have been conquered and put to death. The King of eternity has descended to the earth and taken His rightful place on the throne of Israel. All the people of the earth, from every tribe and nation, will come and bow down before Him. And as a part of their worship, they will go out and look upon death as a reminder to be faithful and obedient to God.

Isaiah 66:22-24 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

This may be hard for us to accept. Why would Jesus allow the view of death to be open to all the people of His Kingdom on earth? I do not presume in the slightest way to know the full answer to that question, but I do know this – the view of consequences is a great motivator and deterrent.

During the Millennial reign of Christ, the earth will be filled with finite human beings. You and I will be in our eternal bodies, not subject to the physical laws and limitations of creation. We will have already seen Christ in His eternal glory and so we will be like Him. (see 1 John 3:2) We who are in Christ in this present age will be raptured prior to the beginning of the next age – the great and glorious reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years, and the earth will be at peace.

However, those people who are alive in the flesh during this time will still be subject to their free will, and will have the right to choose to obey the King or reject Him. The consequences of disobedience must be understood, and God requires everyone to see them. The gruesome reminder of rebellion against God will be constantly visible to all the people of the world.

We live in a time where consequences of rebellion against God are minimized rather than memorized. We intentionally choose to consider them inconsequential. We maximize the pleasure of the present while minimizing the probabilities of penalties. We succumb to the same temptation as Eve in the Garden of Eden – we choose to reject God’s truth that He alone is sufficient to satisfy every need of our lives and we choose to believe that such rejection will not result in death.

We are adept at eliminating the view of consequences of our sin. We are enamored with the pleasures and have erased the pain that has most certainly resulted from previous choices.

But God would have us constantly look at the consequences of sin. Yes, it is true that our love for God is what compels us to love and serve Him, but true love for God requires a complete view of who He is, and He has shown us that there is justice and condemnation for all who disobey Him. This fear is healthy for all His followers. Such fear elevates grace to the highest place of praise, for without God’s love for us we too would be subject to condemnation and death. By keeping the consequences of sin ever before us we appreciate the grace of God more and more.

My friends, do not forget the reality of Hell. Do not refuse to believe in the finality and eternity of punishment for sin. Do not think that because you are saved by His blood that you are not subject to His loving hand of discipline.  The visible consequences of sin are a gift of God’s grace. Embrace the view of them, for in them is found the love of God.

Pastor John

Building Hope

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

1 Peter 1:3-5 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

The words of a grand old hymn are ringing in my head.

My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness.

I long for that to be absolutely true of my life.

I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

No matter how sweet and inviting the world looks, it will not last, nor will it satisfy. I will lean only on Jesus.

On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

As I contemplated the application of the truths in that song to my life, I was reminded by the Holy Spirit of the hymn’s additional verses.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

No matter how dark the world begins to look around me, and how severe the storms of my life become, I know I stand secure in Christ. Why? Because His Word NEVER fails. His promises are ALWAYS fulfilled. In Christ our hope is secure!

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.

After renewing my commitment to live by faith in Christ alone, the final verse came to my mind. It fixed my eyes where they are supposed to be all the time – on the coming of Jesus to reclaim what is rightfully His. Since I am His, I will be a part of the Lord’s worldwide reclamation project.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

With our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who is waiting for us at the finish line, let us faithfully run the race that He has marked out for us, knowing that He is running it with us as our eternal coach and cheerleader.

Pastor John

Guaranteed Victory

Life Link Devotional

Monday, August 5, 2019

Think back to the last time you celebrated an incredible victory. Maybe it was a Super Bowl win for your team. Maybe your child won a state championship. Your excitement level was through the roof. Life seemed so satisfying. You thought that feeling would never end.

I wonder how many people woke up the next day to discover that the heaviness of life returned to their hearts? No matter how great the moment of victory, it was temporary. It did absolutely nothing to satisfy the longing of our hearts for meaning and purpose. It’s sad to realize the disappointment of putting our hope in personal accomplishments.

Isaiah 33:20    Look upon Zion, the city of our festivals; your eyes will see Jerusalem, a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken.

There is a victory coming someday that will satisfy every longing of our human hearts. For many of us the victory is already being experienced in our spirit. Others will discover the truth soon, maybe even today. Greg Jennings of the Green Bay Packers testified to it after their last Super Bowl victory. In the middle of the awe of victory, he looked up and around at all that was happening and declared in front of a worldwide audience, “Glory to God.” As great as that moment was after such a thrilling victory, it was not to be compared with the awe we have for Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.

Look up and around, for the day of the Lord is coming with greater majesty and splendor than any sporting victory could produce. Jesus is coming, and when He does He will fill the world with the spectacle of His presence. The blessings of His victory will satisfy us for all eternity.

In Isaiah 33, the Lord says the world will be different after His return. This is what we truly long for with all our hearts:

  • Peace and Permanence – verse 20 – a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved; its stakes will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes broken.
  • Powerful leadership – verse 21 – There the LORD will be our Mighty One.     
  • Protection – verse 21 – It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams. No galley with oars will ride them, no mighty ship will sail them. Broad rivers refers to the borders of the land being uncrossable by any enemy.
  • Justice and Righteousness – verse 22 – For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.
  • Complete trust in God alone – verse 23 – Your rigging hangs loose: The mast is not held secure, the sail is not spread.     
  • Plenty of provisions for every person’s needs – verse 23 – Then an abundance of spoils will be divided and even the lame will carry off plunder.
  • Perfect health and well-being – verse 24 No one living in Zion will say, “I am ill”;     
  • The forgiveness of all sin – verse 24 – and the sins of those who dwell there will be forgiven.

Go ahead – celebrate the victories. But don’t let any earthly victory become more important than the victory that is to come when Jesus returns – a victory you can pre-celebrate every day of your life and one that is eternally more significant.

Pastor John

Forget the Past

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, August 2, 2019

Many people pride themselves on their past victories, and they have a right to. I have trophies in my office from days long past and skills long lost. But to dwell on the past and believe that there is nothing more to be done is to put ourselves on the road to a meaningless existence. Resting on past accomplishments minimizes the chance of any future ones.

Isaiah 43:18-19  “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”

Don’t get me wrong – God requires memorials of His past victories in our lives. He told the Israelites to set up memorials at key times of their history. But now He tells them to forget those things and press on to the new things that He is going to do.

This teaching of the Lord has a spiritual and a corporal application. From a personal perspective many people, especially those of us who have surpassed the age of sixty, tend to spend far more time looking backwards at what we did and how we did it than we do looking forward to the adventure that God has planned ahead. We get stuck in our ways, and then get critical and bitter towards new people doing new things. This must not be!  God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

It happens corporally in the church as well. Too many times we hear the phrase “But we’ve never done it that way before.”  God says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.”

Do you think for one iota of a nano-second that when God told the people to forget what He did at the crossing of the Red Sea that He was telling them to devalue it and consider it unimportant? No way! To do that He would have had to devalue Himself and admit He was wrong. God did what God did, and at that time it was great and good. But He would not do it that way again. He used part of the method the next time at the Jordan River, but not all of it. He adapted to new situations with new methods. That doesn’t mean the way He did it the first time was wrong. In fact, it was exactly the right way to do it for that time. Now it was a new time, and God was going to use new methods to reach His people.

This really speaks to me, both personally and pastorally. I need to meditate on this today and let the Lord show me if there is anything from the past that I am still holding on to because I believe for some reason it validates my life. I need to let the Holy Spirit tell me if there is any accomplishment or method from my past from which I receive my affirmation. Then I need to confess the idolatry of that, and surrender to the new things He wants to do in and through me.

Will you join me in that process of growth and healing today by doing the same personal evaluation?

Pastor John

Never Forsaken

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, August 1, 2019

We all react and respond to difficulty differently. Physical issues are the hardest for me. Typically during a physical down time in my life I get very contemplative and emotional. For me, activity dulls the sensitivity to emotional need. That’s not a good thing, it’s just the reality I’ve chosen. Not a good choice. So when I am forced into inactivity, I get emotional. I really think it’s the rebound effect from always running on adrenaline. Also not a good thing.

Two things happen during those times: I become easily discouraged to the point of tears, and I become much more able to hear the voice of God. This sets up a huge spiritual battlefield in my mind. Satan gets a foothold in the mire of discouragement, while the Holy Spirit seeks to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of my faith. Most of the time my human nature gravitates towards the muck rather than the magnificence of the Lord. The murkiness of circumstances darkens the majesty of the Master.

Years ago my wife and I stopped at the local Christian book store because Denise needed a card for her mom for Mother’s Day. I opened the door for her and followed her into the store. I made it four steps into the store and the tears started flowing. I don’t need to buy a Mother’s Day card. I walked over to where my wife was and almost told her I needed to leave. I composed myself by walking to the back of the store and avoiding the customers that were in that area. Then I distracted myself by shopping. By the time Denise was ready to go I was doing fine, or so I thought.

When we got in the car I was overwhelmed again. Denise handed me a tissue. I drove with blurred vision caused by watery eyes. Two things had happened earlier in the day that added potency to the Enemy’s arsenal of fiery darts.  The first was some discouraging news about the ministry, and the second was a discouraging personal conversation with an individual. Satan used both to mount a full attack on my emotional need for affirmation.

My mom had been the single most influential person in my life when it came to showing me a living faith and to affirming my life in Christ. She gave me confidence. She showed me where my value came from. She helped me see the difference between being a person who bases their value on their abilities, performance, and preferences and one who finds their worth in Christ alone.  Then, in a single moment of loss coupled with two emotionally debilitating conversations, I felt forsaken. I felt alone. I felt completely unaffirmed.

Then I read these words:

Isaiah 42:16   I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

I do not believe there is anything worse that we can ever experience than the sense of being forsaken. Jesus went through it on the cross when He became our sin for us and the Father turned His back. What a horrible experience it is to have the one who has previously supplied you with all your worth and value as a person suddenly turn their back on you. It’s just as tragic when the person who was supposed to provide you with affirmation fails to do so. It’s even worse when we realize that we have been looking to someone or something other than God for those affirmations. Then we are completely alone.

Praise God that He never forsakes us! Oh how I needed that truth that day…and every day! God is in control of the ministry. God is in control of the selfish and stubborn actions and words of people. God is the one who affirms us. He will never forsake us. He will turn our darkness into light. He will guide us on unfamiliar paths. He will smooth out the rough roads. His majesty is mightier than the muck!

Pastor John