Trapped!

They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them… Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?

Galatians 4:17, 21

Let me share a parable of Jesus… Matthew 12:43 “Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. 44 “Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. 45 “Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”

What is so striking about this parable of Jesus is the condition of the man at the end of it. No happy ending here. He finds himself in a worse place than he began. Instead of cursed by one evil spirit, he is spiritually destroyed by eight evil spirits! He is trapped.

Paul’s warning in Galatians 4 is equally passionate. He points out that those who attempt to live their lives by their own righteousness (and not the sacrifice of Christ Jesus alone) will suffer from two fatal flaws: their heart is unchanged, and they are embracing a new type of slavery. Because their heart is unchanged, they are not interested in the salvation of souls. They are actually interested in creating a group that looks just like them. They want power. Self-righteousness is seductive. We think it is an answer to our sin problem. Yet, it is a trap.

This new type of slavery is why Paul asks an important question. He asks, “Aren’t you paying attention to what the law demands?” The trap of the law is its demands. The law declares that if we seek life through the law that we must live by every jot of the law. There is no sliding scale if we live by the law. There is no grading on the curve if we choose to live by our own righteousness. Self-righteousness requires complete and total obedience to the law or we are declared guilty!

Our lives are like Jesus’ parable. If we do not intentionally embrace the cross, every type of spiritual charlatan can take up residence in our life. Those charlatans will then enslave us to their philosophies and control. Then, the guilt and hopelessness of this type of living will make our experience of Christianity worse that our experience of lostness.

Freedom is found in Jesus. It is not found in good deeds done in Jesus’ name. It is not found in following a list of guidelines that we can support from the Bible. Freedom is found in the cross of Jesus alone. His death, for me. His life in exchange for my life. God has given us freedom. So, embrace that freedom and become truly free. Either for the first time or as a renewal of God’s call on your life, receive what Jesus has done for you today. Never let it go.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Starting Anew with Hope

Think back for a moment to this annual event: going back to school. Every year children gear up for school in August.  Mom’s are getting their youngest ready for kindergarten. Students are planning what they and their friends are going to wear for that first day. There is a sense of excitement in the air.  Students are looking forward to seeing friends, meeting new teachers, and getting to learn new things.  The teachers are also looking forward to sharing knowledge, challenging their students, and seeing their students’ minds grow.

I know that the sense of excitement this year that family’s feel about the start of a new school year has been muted because of the pandemic, but it was still there. I think that there is something about that “starting anew” that is truly good for us. So, even when we knew it would be bumpy, families that were heading back into school this fall had a sense of anticipation for the school year. That is a good thing. Sometimes I think that we all need something like going back to school to get us excited again. Starting anew helps us notice what we are missing. It helps us think through what we want our relationship with God to be. Have we lost the sense of excitement in learning new things, in following the call of God in our lives?  Have we lost the sense of expectancy in our lives that children have every year?

I think we need that sense of the “new” in our lives.  We need to know, like the weeping prophet Jeremiah, that God’s mercies are new every morning. He said,

22 The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

Life doesn’t have to be just the same thing every day.  God is doing something exciting in our lives.  He is working!  Yet, does our sense of excitement equal the hope that God’s work in our lives should give us? What keeps us from living in that excitement, that hope?

Perhaps we need something that starts us over with God.  What will it be for you?  I have used conferences or a special trip to start anew with God.  I have been encouraged by our local retreat center to come out for a weekend to focus on God.  It doesn’t have to be much – but it has to mean something to you.  It needs to be something that you anticipate.  Whatever it is, do you know that you need it today?

I think that we feel reticent about having times that we start over because we are no longer kids.  However, kids have this part easy.  They have to start over every year.  It’s required of them! Perhaps we are out of practice. Instead of feeling uneasy about starting over with God, we need to consider it a necessary part of growing. Farmers do this with their fields. They start fresh with new seed every year. There is new hope that this year is full of possibilities. Every new project begins this way. The craft project, sewing project, model airplane project, or wood working project all begin with a plan and a hope that something good or amazing is just about to begin. This hope is what we need in our relationship with God. It is the hope of new possibilitites.

So, start over this fall or winter with God.  Perhaps you will use Thanksgiving or Christmas as your “starting anew” point! Notice the work that He is doing in you.  Enjoy the closeness that you’ve been searching for.  Rejoice today that His mercies truly are new every morning.  He is faithful! He is working in us!

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Until the Job is Done

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

– Hebrews 12:1
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Imagine with me: A man is running a hard race.  He is in the lead by a hundred feet.  He is just a hundred feet from the finish line.  He has been running for miles.  He sees a friend cheering him on.  Suddenly, he stops.  He walks to the line of spectators and just sits down in front of them.  He gives no explanation except, “I’m done.”  He doesn’t finish the race that he started.  He doesn’t win.  He just quits early.

That is not what God has in mind when He says ‘run with endurance,’ is it?  He has in mind a people who finish what they start.  They have endurance to the end.  They keep fighting the everyday things that could discourage them. They keep fighting sin. What is different between our race and the hypothetical race I described above? The runner above could see the finish line. It is rare for us to see the finish line.  Isn’t that the reason that we are tempted to quit?  We don’t see the line.  We don’t have any way to tell how far we have come or how far we have to go.  So, instead of enduring to the end, we are tempted to quit when we feel like it.  We quit early.

I am deeply concerned about how often I see Christians quit early in their races.  I see it between people when forgiveness is no longer offered.  I see it in churches when a church stops reaching out to its community.  I see it in families when loving commitment doesn’t last through the present struggle.

What do we miss out on when we quit early?  We miss out on the miracle that God produces through endurance!  We miss out on seeing God’s truth bear its fruit.  We miss out on knowing that God can work even in the most difficult situation.  We never see God restore to us what the locusts have eaten. We miss out on being that witness that leads a stubborn sinner to the feet of Jesus.

Let me encourage you today.  Don’t quit early.  Reset your understanding of the length of this race. The race is not over until God calls you home. It’s not over when there are bad seasons. It’s not over when we make mistakes. It’s not over when tragedy strikes. There will be both hills and valleys in your race. Don’t give up because you are in a dark valley. Use the glorious views from the hills to spur you on. If you have a race that is mostly valleys, let the finish line of God’s glory spur you on. God has promised that we will see results if we endure to the end.  So, endure.  Don’t quit.  See God’s hand in your life!

Something to think about,
Pastor John

I don’t usually do this, but consider the following scriptures to encourage you…

James 1:2-4 2  Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, 3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces  endurance. 4 And let  endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be  perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Hebrews 12:7-11 7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Joel 2:25-27 25 “Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust and the gnawing locust, my great army which I sent among you. 26 “You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied and praise the name of the LORD your God, who has dealt wondrously with you; then My people will never be put to shame. 27 “Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and there is no other; a

nd My people will never be put to shame.

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Live by the Spirit

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.

– Galatians 5

This week I want us to think about how God’s transformation works in us.  I do mean transformation.  God isn’t just wanting to tweak us.  He is wanting to transform us.  Yet, how does He do it?  We know that He saves us by His grace. How does He transform us? We see the answer in Paul’s message that is captured here succinctly in Galatians 5: walk by the Spirit. We have been made alive by the Spirit of God.  Now, do we live by that Spirit in our everyday lives or do we go back to living in the flesh?  We were made alive by God’s Spirit. What kind of logic is it for Spirit born people to live in the flesh?

Paul says in Colossians, “in them you also once walked, when you were living in them…since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him.”  We, “once walked,” in the flesh.  Now?  Now, we are living (walking) in the Spirit.  We have put on the new self.  We are being renewed by the true knowledge of Christ.

What is our part in this renewal?  Our part is a choice: do we live our life day to day as people who walk in the Spirit? In other words, do we live like God’s purposes, God’s power, and God’s values are the things that matter? Or do we live as people who still do things for only natural reasons? Do we do things because of what we see, how we feel in the moment, and what we think will get us what we want?

Doing things for natural reasons is familiar, even comforting.  Yet, does living by the flesh make us better?  Does it make us more in step with Christ? Are we more connected to the things that really matter when our thoughts are just natural?  Of course, the answer to all of these questions no.  We need the Spirit so that we can be more than natural.  We need the Spirit to connect us to the things that really matter.  We need the Spirit to give us power, strength, hope, peace and life.  God asks us to choose to walk by the Spirit.  He has made us alive in Christ for eternity.  He wants to make us alive everyday. Paul challenges us to walk by the Spirit. 

How do we do it? Three things really. First, know, really know the Word of God as it relates to Christian character. Second, base your decisions for everyday living on those truths. Third, consciously pray in every emotional and moral situation that the Spirit will direct your actions for Jesus to be lifted up by what you are doing. Thus, you will be walking in the reality that Jesus truly matters.

Walking in the Spirit is really the only good choice. Living in the flesh as a Christian makes us hypocrites. We have said that in Jesus there is life. So, why would we go back to the flesh? Living in the flesh only leads to death. It is because of the flesh Jesus had to die.  So, live by the Spirit and see life come into your everyday walk.

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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The Transforming Power of Grace

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

2 Corinthians 5:17

Today we think of the power of God’s grace. To me the power of grace is both extremely encouraging and seriously convicting.  The encouragement of grace is that God promises to transform us.  God has created us for a purpose.  Sin may mar and corrupt that purpose.  Sin may make us feel hopeless and purposeless. God’s promise is that grace will transform what sin has twisted.  Grace will take a life of no purpose and fill it with purpose.  Grace will transform what is marred and make it whole.  That is quite a promise. The most encouraging part is that Paul declares it in the present and past tense. It has already happened and is currently happening. You and I have purpose and are right now being restored!

Now for the conviction – how often do I continue to wallow in my brokenness?  How often do I stay with my destructive patterns and habits?  How often do I fight God for something I don’t really want rather than take from His grace the thing that I know I need?  How often do I stay with a comfortable counterfeit life when God offers real life?  This convicting, of course, comes to those of us who believe.  I think we cling to our old ways because we start believing that the transforming power of grace is only for the young believer.  We start believing that once you are an older Christian you kind of get set in your ways – just like the stereotype about older people.  Have you bought into that lie?

My scripture for this week’s thought is most appropriate here.  If we are in Christ, we are a new creation.  New!  Not new 20 years ago. We are new today! That newness is the secret to the transforming power of God’s grace.  We aren’t just recycled.  We aren’t just redone.  We are new!  We weren’t just new when we became a believer. We are perpetually made new in Christ. Christian, may that be more than just a convicting statement for you.  May this also encourage you.  If you have felt that your growth in Christ is somehow limited by your life history or habits, know that God has made you completely new. If you have felt set in your ways, know that this newness can be yours even now. It can now be your joy to discover what that newness will mean for you in your life.  Look for it.  Discover it.  Rejoice in it.

Something to think about,
Pastor John

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Protecting the Gospel

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel.

Galatians 1:6

Desertion. That’s a pretty tough word. It brings up all sorts of thoughts of abandoned families or soldiers who abandon their posts. It speaks of failure. It speaks of giving up or giving in.

This is the word Paul uses to describe people who add something to Jesus in order to be right before God. He doesn’t just say that they are misguided. He doesn’t say that they had made a mistake. No, he says that they had deserted Jesus who had died for them.

How precious this gospel is! It is life to us. It is the only way to God. In fact, the gospel is not just a teaching to believe. He is a person. He is Jesus. No addition is necessary. Any addition is worse than unnecessary. It is a betrayal.

Our encouragement today? Protect the gospel. Protect that relationship from any addition. It is Jesus alone that we trust for salvation. It is Jesus alone that we live our life in and live our life for. Let nothing come between you and Jesus. His is a relationship worth protecting.

Something to think about,
Pastor John

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You Bought a Coffee Shop! What?!

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Yes, Pastor John and Amy bought a coffee shop! The usual response is – Congratulations! Why did you do that? There is excitement, but there is also a certain confusion. Why would a pastor buy a coffee shop? For our devotional thought this week, let me answer that question in three ways.

Glorify God

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 –

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

This is what we long to do. We long to glorify God in everything we do. Since we feel led to invest in our community in this new way, glorifying God is what we will seek to do. A shop on the square will let us glorify God by supporting the other community members around us. By doing the best job we can, we can glorify God by being an asset to the community. We will also seek to glorify God by being ambassadors for Jesus while serving the community in this new way.

In the context of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul was talking about the difference between what was forbidden and what truly blesses us. What made it a blessing? The things that truly bless are the things that are done for the glory of God. So, this new endeavor will be one which seeks to glorify God. In quality coffee, in quality service, and in great conversations we will strive for Jesus to be glorified.

Be a light

Jesus said…

 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 5:14-16

I (John) challenge our people to be light in their personal world all the time. I’m a preacher. It’s what we do. Although I get to do that on Sundays and Wednesdays through our services, I hear Jesus’ words about having our light under a basket and it challenges me to be in my community as well as in my church. Yes, I can do that through getting involved in a community group or volunteering in some way. However, as God closed some of those doors this year, the open door to this way to be a light kept opening up. I was left with this question: Do I put my light under a bushel while I wait for the world’s circumstances to change, or do I walk through the opportunities that God puts before me? I want that light to shine. So, here we walk.

There is something about challenging God’s people to do something (be a light) that makes me ask this question: How will they know how to do that unless they see it being done? This, too, is being a light. So, if I am going to talk about being a light in family life, work life, and community life, then I want to live it out with my people. I can’t live in an ivory tower dispensing wisdom from on high. I must live out what I am preaching in a very real way. If I can do that in the community, all the better!

Be in the community

This isn’t a career change. It is an extension of who we are as believers and as a pastor’s family. Pastors are not just ‘wide-eyed’ idealists. That type of idealist is not who we are, and mere idealism is not what the truth of God is. The truth of God (to put it simply) isa different set of values that determine what is important in your life.  It is a different way of thinking about this life. The truth of God is a centering of our life around Jesus and making what is important to Him grow in importance to us. Since it is a different set of values, our culture doesn’t reinforce such thinking. This makes me think – if anyone is going to see what that means in everyday life, it has to be lived out in front of them. Pastors don’t have to just be people who tell others how to make Jesus important in their lives. Pastors also can show it. Living life for Jesus is essential. It’s what I preach. It must be what I live. Finding ways to take Jesus further into my community is a clear next step.

Paul says,

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:20

All Christians are ambassadors. The desire to reach out and see the people in our community come to know the transformed life found in Jesus must be our heart. As Amy and I have prayed about that in our own ministry, we have become convinced that ambassadors live in and are active in the country in which they are stationed. So, that is what we long to do – to live in and be active in my community so that we can be ambassadors for Jesus. We want to appeal to the people in our community to be reconciled to God. This is the door that God has opened up for us to love people more in the name of Jesus.  How could we not walk through it?

The coffee shop is a new opportunity to shine for Jesus in love of others. There, we can provide a listening ear, get to know and support fellow believers, and have an open door to minister and share in the center of our community. Here is my question today: in what way are you seeking to glorify God and reach out in the name of Jesus? What doors are open to you? Will you go through them? It is so easy right now to see the doors that are closed to us. However, we must be always looking for the doors that are open. When we find them, we must go through. That has always been the path of faith. Through what doors will you go for Jesus?

Something to think about,

Pastor John

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Our Redeeming God

Today I want to think a little deeper about our struggle with grace. In fact, I think that this part of grace is something with which we all struggle. I know that some people struggle with the fact that God’s grace is for them. However, that isn’t the root of our struggle. I know that some people struggle with adding works to it. Yet, I don’t think that is the root of our struggle either. I think almost every one of us struggle with the how all-encompassing it is.

Think about it. Before we become followers of Jesus, many of us struggle with wanting to climb up to God on some ladder of our own righteousness. When we are there, we then struggle with the truth that God will receive us ONLY by grace. Yet, in an ironic twist, once we get over that hurdle and become His followers we find ourselves again struggling with trying to work for God’s approval. At that moment we are struggling with the idea that God STILL receives us by grace alone. Then comes some personal failure. In that moment we struggle believing that we CONTINUE to be covered by His grace. We say things like, “God will not forgive that,” or “I need to make this right before talking to God.”

Oh, such struggles! Yet, God’s Word is clear – God’s grace is abundant! If you read the Scripture above, did you underline the phrase, “and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ”? Those two words – reign and abundant – describe the great breadth of God’s grace toward us.

Abundant describes how much. It is a grace that is enough to completely cover our sin. It is not like a cheap blanket that only covers part of you. You don’t have to pick between covering up your feet or covering up your head. It is enough.

Reign describes how powerful. The gift of righteousness is a powerful, unstoppable gift. It cannot be stopped by some scheme of man. It cannot be undone by the demons of hell. Grace reigns supreme. It will cover you.

So, wherever you find yourself – before responding to Christ’s invitation to follow Him, in the midst of following Him everyday, or coming back to Him after a period of foolish rebellion – know that His grace is sufficient to cover you. There is no work that you must do to receive His grace. Just live in it. Just give your life to praise Him for it. Just marvel in the grace of God that covers you today!

Something to think about,
Pastor John

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The Unity and Consistency of God

What Does Deuteronomy 6:4 Mean?


Although I am aware that Deuteronomy 6:4 is talking about the fact that there is only one true God, it gets me thinking about how often I treat God as if He is several beings. Let me explain… When I pray, I think about God’s love. When I feel guilty, I think about God’s holiness. When I worry about the future, I am NOT thinking about God’s power.

It isn’t unusual for us to feel especially close to one of God’s attributes during a time of great need. Yet, we have to be careful that we don’t make that attribute the only way that we think about God. It can be tempting to only see God in that single way. We see Him as loving when we need love. When we want justice, we emphasize His holiness. Yet, does God’s love ever come to us without His holiness? Does His holiness ever act apart from His love?

Perhaps it is easier for us to think of God in simplistic terms. It makes us feel safe. But that’s not really God, is it? He loves when He expresses His holiness. He establishes holiness as He is expressing His love. God is unified in His being. He is not inconsistent. He is always Himself.

Would we really want it any other way? If God wasn’t always Himself, wouldn’t that make Him capricious? Wouldn’t He then be moody or untrustworthy? Wouldn’t He then be like us? What kind of God is that? That is a God who changes on a whim. That’s not the God of the Bible. Nor is it the God we would want. We wouldn’t want a God who turns on and off His attributes.

Consider this… how wondrous is it to know that God is always God? He doesn’t change. He doesn’t lie. He is who He says He is. Doesn’t this give us a point of reference? Doesn’t this give us a point to interpret and understand our life? Doesn’t this give us confidence to face uncertainty and an understanding of the life we live? We may not realize it, but all of life is based upon who we think God is. We make moral decisions based upon that fact. We determine if our past decisions were right or wrong based upon that fact. We face the future with confidence based upon how we understand God.

Seeing God as wavering or inconsistent is going to change how we interpret our life. Essentially, we will see God as untrustworthy. How can faith grow in that type of environment? How can faith be strong if the object of our faith cannot be depended on? My encouragement – build your faith and understanding of God upon the reality that God doesn’t merely feel or have His attributes. He is His attributes. He is love, holiness, power, and the rest all of the time. It may not give easy simple answers to the problems of life. But it will give dependable ones. God’s consistent character will call you to trust Him. It has always been how the faithful people of God have built their trust. It will help us face our life everyday.

Something to think about,
Pastor John

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At Calvary – Ep 34 – Having Confidence in God in Everyday Life

Psalm 46:10 declares that we should, “Cease striving and know that God is God.” What can we learn about having confidence in God from this Psalm? Let’s think deeply about trusting God in the midst of the storm.

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At Calvary – Ep 34 – Having Confidence in God in Everyday Life At Calvary!

Psalm 46:10 declares that we should, “Cease striving and know that God is God.” What can we learn about having confidence in God from this Psalm? Let’s think deeply about trusting God in the midst of the storm. On Android … Continue reading →
  1. At Calvary – Ep 34 – Having Confidence in God in Everyday Life
  2. At Calvary – Ep 33 – Fighting without Sin? Is It Possible?
  3. At Calvary – Ep 32 – A Crazy Man Praises God
  4. At Calvary – Ep 31 – Who Cares about Political Conventions?
  5. At Calvary – Ep 30 – Backpacking with My Youngest
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