Put Christ Back

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

My wife collects nativity sets from all over the world. The latest addition to her collection is one I got delivered from missionaries in Nigeria. It is all hand-made by villagers as a means of raising money for their church.

A few years ago, I was looking for a stable to display one of the nativity sets. It’s a hand-carved one she got when we were in Swaziland, Africa. It is very special and she wanted a stable to display it.

While we were in one particular department store, we didn’t see any nativity sets or stables or mangers. We decided to ask a clerk where they might be. His response shocked us but is truly indicative of the spiritual state of things in America. He said, “We don’t have any. We didn’t even order any this year for our stock.”

Imagine that – Christmas without Christ. What’s left? Mas? What is mas? Well let me tell you what mas is in different languages.

In English, mas is a symbol used in astronomy. So? Well, if we leave Christ out of Christmas we may see and study the stars but miss the Star that leads us to Christ.

In Iceland it means chit chat or small talk, which describes the depth of relationship we experience with people when Christ’s love is left out.

People in Indonesia know mas as gold, which becomes the pursuit of everyone who leaves Christ out of Christmas. We learn to trust human resources rather than God. We become takers not givers.

The Italians use mas as an acronym for a motorized attack ship – a torpedo boat. War will be the result when leaving Christ out of culture.

Finally, in Danish, the word mas means trouble. As a verb it means to crush. When we choose to leave Christ out of Christmas we are inviting the troubles of this world to crush us. Without Christ there is no wisdom or understanding. Without the Messiah there is no direction for life – no counsel. Without the humanly powerless baby in a manger we will never experience the limitless power of His eternal presence. If we reject the Child that was given to us at Christmas we will perish for lack of knowledge.

But add Christ to mas, and in any language it means hope. It means salvation. It means life. Look at what the prophet says about the Messiah Jesus Christ.

 Isaiah 11:1-3  A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

In Latin the word mas means man. Christ the man, the Son of God. Without Christ all hope is in man. With Christ man’s hope is in the Savior of the world. Life without Christ leaves us hopeless. Life with Christ gives us everything we need – for today and for eternity. Don’t leave Christ out of Christmas.

Pastor John

The Coming Kingdom

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 9, 2019

Warning! I am NOT trying to start a political debate this morning, but would like to make one observation based on the last 50 years of my life: the bigger government gets the more problems we have. Big government means either big tax burden or big debt. Big government means less personal liberty. High taxes, huge national debt, and less personal freedom will result in political unrest that brings social injustice and violence.

However, that does not have to be the case. There are two factors that determine if big government succeeds or not – justice and righteousness. Not legislative justice or legal righteousness imposed upon the citizens, but rather moral justice and ethical righteousness emanating from the heart of those in leadership and manifested in every political action they take. Unfortunately, no such leader exists today, and never will until Jesus Christ returns to reign as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Isaiah 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his Kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

When Jesus comes back to re-establish the Kingdom promised to King David of Israel, we will have a political leader who is also spiritually perfect. He will rule with perfect justice because He is perfectly righteous.

But prior to His return, Satan himself will try to accomplish that kind of reign. He will attempt to duplicate what Jesus is about to do. He will fake a resurrection. He will indwell a human, whom He will set up as the political king of the world and then demand that the world worship him as God. Everything He does is a counterfeit of the Truth. And the world will follow him – right to destruction.

But to us a Child is born. To us a Son is given. The government of the world is promised to Him, and it will be big government. Jesus can pull it off. No one else ever could or ever will. Every political leader is ultimately bound to the injustice or unrighteousness of his own heart or the hearts of those with whom he serves and leads. But Jesus needs no approval from anyone else. He needs no compromises to accomplish his agenda. He accepts no back-stroking and never participates in back-stabbing. He is righteous to the core, and is just to everyone.

As a result, His government will have no limits, and will always – that’s right, always – be at peace. There will be no political adversaries. There will be no kingdoms to conquer or that will attempt to conquer His. There will be no social unrest. There will be no wars, no crime, no taxes, no need for a social security trust fund, and no corruption. No earmarks on legislation, because there will be no need for laws to be passed. Jesus will propose and enforce every law, and every citizen will accept those laws because they will be written into the very fabric of their heart as they surrender to the reign of One they can completely trust.

WOW! What a contrast to today. But rather than spend excessive energy to change today, we should be praying for the return of Jesus and working to bring people into Christ’s kingdom. Many who are alive today will never see such a kingdom. They will pass into a Christ-less eternity because they reject the King today. We have a huge mission. It is not to change our government. Our mission is to introduce people to the One and Only King so they can live eternally under His reign.

Let’s get to work.

Pastor John

Names Mean Something

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 6, 2019

According to a story in the publication Christian Reader, a little church in the country had a problem with the reading of the liturgy one Sunday. The person who put together the church bulletin every week frequently used technology to make the work easier. She would take computer shortcuts when possible using the “global search” feature. One week, technology backfired when she commanded the computer to change the name of the Scripture reader from “Will” to “Murray.” The reader’s name came out fine, but the “global search” did its job a little too thoroughly: in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done in earth” became “Thy Murray be done in earth”!

There is a lesson in that mistake that is deeper than the obvious ones about proofreading and not taking shortcuts.  Can my name be associated with the will of God? When people say my name, do they think of Jesus Christ? When people observe my behavior, do they see the grace and holiness of God? Does my name really mean anything?

Isaiah 9:6 …and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

So far, in just three short prophecies in the book of Isaiah, the coming Messiah has been given five specific names and one intimated name. He will be called Immanuel, or God with us. He will be the great light that shines in the darkness. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The names of the Messiah mean something.

  • Immanuel – God Himself, with no degree of diminished Deity, becomes completely human to relate to us and redeem us.
  • The Light of the World – showing people the way out of the darkness of sin and into the eternal glory of the Father
  • Wonderful Counselor – Jesus is an extraordinary consultant. That’s what it literally means. No matter what is going on in our lives, Jesus not only knows it, but He understands it because He pre-approved it for our good and for His glory. He will help us to understand and accept it as a gift of His love if we will seek His wisdom and not live according to our own understanding. (See Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • Mighty God – He is able to manage and/or conquer anything in our lives. Years ago a dear older woman in our church who is now with the Lord gave me a little sign to put on my desk. It said, There is no problem so great that God cannot handle it. Jesus personally brings the eternal power of God to us.
  • Everlasting Father – With no beginning and no end, Jesus comes to us as the complete and personal revelation of Jehovah. He is the great I Am. And as Father, he created us, then re-created us in His own image when we were saved, and now provides us with protection and provision. He alone is worthy of our love and respect as Abba, Father, our spiritual Daddy!
  • Prince of Peace – He is Lord! He is the supreme ruler of all eternity, and the product of His reign is peace. Even though for a time now the world does not accept Him as Sovereign, and we must live in the realm of the enemy, in our hearts we have set Christ apart as Lord and know the indescribable and unfathomable peace of God. We have been placed into an eternal relationship of peace with God through Jesus Christ our Lord, so that we now know the peace of God in our hearts.

May God use this very brief outline of these names of our Blessed Redeemer Jesus Christ to challenge you to think deeper about His Names and what they represent to us. May it also stimulate us to think deeply about what our name means to others, and whether or not we are trying to make a name for ourselves or representing the new name we have been given in Christ Jesus.

Pastor John

Lead Like Jesus

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 5, 2019

“The lure of power can separate the most resolute of Christians from the true nature of Christian leadership, which is service to others. It’s difficult to stand on a pedestal and wash the feet of those below.”

Those are the words of a man who once had power, and it cost him dearly. He was in the inner circle of a United States presidency. But the “lure of power” sent him to prison. The desire to be in control cost him his freedom. He later learned that true power is found in serving others. His name was Charles Colson.

Isaiah 9:6 …and the government will be on His shoulders.

There is no greater example of leadership in all of human history than the story of Jesus Christ. In three short years He transformed the world. He didn’t recruit a huge army to conquer lands and people. He didn’t start a political movement to overthrow the current administration. He wasn’t sophisticated. He wasn’t culturally charismatic. He simply started a grassroots organization called the church and became its eternal leader by serving the members and ultimately sacrificing Himself for the cause.

It is in serving others that the strength of a leader is best observed. In describing Himself, Jesus said,

“The Son of Man has come not to be served, but to serve.”

We are most like Jesus when we serve others. We are the purest reflections of His heart when we sacrifice ourselves for the sake of those we lead. Whether it be in the home or in the workplace, serving others makes us the greatest leaders. In fact, a leader does not begin to serve as a leader until he puts serving into his leadership.

That’s who Jesus was – a servant leader. It is because we know Him as such that we can be excited about the proclamation that the government will be on His shoulders. We can trust His leadership because we know He is serving us. Jesus never set Himself up above those He led. In fact, He was born in a lowly manger in strange town to an unmarried woman and His first visitors were shepherds. He came to serve the least recognized and those with repulsive reputations.

Great leaders never set themselves above their followers—except in carrying out responsibilities.

I saw that happen during a snowstorm several years ago. I saw young men and women from our church piling into a pickup and heading out onto the unplowed streets to voluntarily shovel out buried cars and plugged driveways. They did it only for the thrill of serving others with no expectations of monetary reward.

These are the future leaders of our churches, and they are already qualified. They do not serve to get ahead. They do not serve to accomplish their own agenda. They do not pre-qualify those whom they will serve. They do not stop serving because they might feel unappreciated or unrewarded. They do not quit because the job is too hard. They make whatever sacrifice is necessary to meet the needs of others, because their heart is the heart of Jesus who was focused on others and not on self.

I want to lead like Jesus. I want to always be ready to serve others, no matter who they are. I want to be ready to sacrifice anything I have, including my time, to meet the needs of others for the Glory of the One who gave His life for me. I want to become the least of the least so I am the most like the Greatest!

Pastor John

EXTRA CREDIT! Here’s a comparison between leaders and bosses. I think it will help us to lead our families, our churches, our ministries, and our businesses with the heart of Jesus.

Bosses                                                                        

  • A boss creates fear
  • Bossism creates resentment
  • A boss says, “I”
  • A boss fixes blame
  • A boss knows how
  • Bossism makes work drudgery
  • A boss relies on authority
  • A boss drives

Leaders

  • Leadership breeds enthusiasm.
  • A leader creates confidence
  • A leader says, “We.”
  • A leader fixes mistakes.
  • A leader shows how
  • Leadership makes work interesting
  • A leader relies on cooperation
  • A leader leads

 

 

 

To Us!

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,

To us.

To us.

Twice in this Messianic prophecy the words “to us” are stated as the direct object of the verbs. To us a child is born. To us a son is given. To us!

Us”. What a significant word. I am not sure I can adequately express the thrill I feel when I use the word to describe my relationship with God. Maybe this story will help. I found it in a magazine years ago and it spoke profoundly to me. It is from the memoirs of Margery Tallcott.

When our son Pete was six, it was a Depression year and the bare essentials were all we could afford. We felt we were richer than most people, though, in things of the mind and imagination and spirit. That was a comfort of sorts to us, but nothing a six-year-old could understand.

With Christmas a week off, we told Pete that there could not be any store-bought presents this year—for any of us. “But I’ll tell you what we can do,” said his father with an inspiration born of heartbreak. “We can make pictures of the presents we’d like to give each other.”

For the next few days each of us worked secretly, with smirks and giggles. Somehow, we did scrape together enough to buy a small tree. But we had pitifully few decorations to trim it with. Yet, on Christmas morning, never was a tree heaped with such riches! The gifts were only pictures of gifts, to be sure, cut out or drawn and colored and painted, nailed and hammered and pasted and sewed. But they were presents, luxurious beyond our dreams: A slinky black limousine and a red motor boat for Daddy. A diamond bracelet and a fur coat for me. Pete’s presents were the most expensive toys cut from advertisements. Our best present to him was a picture of a fabulous camping tent, complete with Indian designs, painted, of course, by Daddy, and magnificent pictures of a swimming pool, with funny remarks by me. Daddy’s best present to me was a watercolor he had painted of our dream house, white with green shutters and forsythia bushes on the lawn.

Naturally we didn’t expect any “best present” from Pete. But with squeals of delight, he gave us a crayon drawing of flashy colors and the most modernistic technique. But it was unmistakably the picture of three people laughing—a man, a woman, and a little boy. They had their arms around one another and were, in a sense, one person. Under the picture he had printed just one word: US. For many years we have looked back at that day as the richest, most satisfying Christmas we have ever had.

US! God sent Jesus to make “US” possible. How hopeless we were when the “us” only included you and me and a few friends. But God sent Jesus to “us” so we could join His “US”. We have received the greatest gift we could ever get when we accept God’s gift of Jesus who personally places us into the eternal “US”.

To us a child is born. To us a son is given. We needed it. We admitted we needed it. We repented of our sin. We were forgiven for our sin. We received God’s Gift, and now – just think of the wonder of this – now we are included in God’s glorious “US”. He accepts us. He honors us. He changes us. He lives in us. We are God’s “US”!

Pastor John

The Big Picture

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Ted Koppel, in a speech to the International Radio and Television Society, said this:

What is largely missing in American life today is a sense of context, of saying or doing anything that is intended or even expected to live beyond the moment. There is no culture in the world that is so obsessed as ours with immediacy. In our journalism, the trivial displaces the momentous because we tend to measure the importance of events by how recently they happened. We have become so obsessed with facts that we have lost all touch with truth.

Guilty.

In varying degrees we all are. We have succumbed to the Satanic deception that there is no bigger picture. We cannot see that we are playing bit parts in an eternal plan of an Almighty God. Instead, we see only the drama of our current situation. We would be greatly blessed to resolve that.

Isaiah 9:2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

The prophecies concerning Jesus in the Bible proclaim the bigger picture. Today’s prophecy of the coming Messiah is best understood in the context of the cultural era in which it was given by God. Let’s carefully read the context. It starts in the previous chapter where Isaiah is declaring his trust in the God of the bigger picture.

I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob.  I will put my trust in him. Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion. When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

This passage paints a picture of the consequences waiting for people that live only for the immediate. Distress. Anger. Despair. Hopelessness. The pursuit of the immediate with no faith in the truth of a bigger picture leaves us wondering and wandering.

But read on as chapter nine begins.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—The people walking in darkness  have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

I love that word nevertheless. It proclaims hope. True hope. What do I mean by that? True hope does not depend upon my activity. Real hope does not consider the failure of my past but the grace of my God. In this passage there are no requirements placed upon people for the earning of their freedom. The burden of self-fulfillment and self-accomplishment is removed by God’s free gift. The darkness of despair in the shadow of death is dispelled by the Light of the Lord’s love in Jesus.

When mankind was incapable of change, at just the right time in history (Galatians 4:4), God sent to us a gift we did not deserve and could never afford. God’s love for us conquered our rebellion against Him when Jesus came to save us from the sin that had overwhelmed us.

That’s incredible! I have found the Light! Now I can see the bigger picture, and it has brought me peace.

Pastor John

The Reason for the Season

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Book of Isaiah in the Bible is filled with prophecies about the coming of Jesus the Messiah. As I study them it helps me prepare my heart for Christmas. I hope the next few weeks of devotionals will do the same for you.

The first prophecy given to the people by the prophet Isaiah is this:

Isaiah 7:14  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.

Many of the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament are in the context of the current circumstances of that day’s culture. If the people had spiritual perception, they could understand the prophecy in the context of God’s eternal purpose. But if they were spiritually dull, living according to the mind of the flesh, they would see only the immediate application. In this way, God protected the integrity of the prophet, for his words were always able to be proven true, either short-term, or, as we now see from the other side, long-term.

The immediate context of today’s prophecy about Jesus is this: the Lord God is trying to convince Ahaz, the king of Judah, to trust Him with the outcome of a war. God offers Ahaz the chance to ask for a sign that proves how God is in control. Ahaz refuses, so the Lord, through Isaiah, says that He will give Ahaz a sign anyway.  In that current cultural context, the prophecy would be fulfilled through the prophet Isaiah, who would marry a young woman (see Isaiah chapter 8) and they would have a son. But according to Matthew 1:23, the angel that appeared to Joseph to announce that Mary would have a baby states that this would be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

There are several points of application to our lives.

  • When we read Scripture, we will benefit from always looking for references to Jesus. The Bible is the inerrant written revelation of God to us, but it always points to the living revelation of Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1 states, In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The written Word always leads us to the Living Word.
  • Isaiah married a young woman and they had a child according to natural procreation. Joseph was engaged to be married to a virgin who was found to be with Child by the Holy Spirit of God. The virgin birth of Jesus is absolutely essential to the Gospel because it eliminates the nature of sin from the humanity of Jesus, therefore making Him the sinless sacrifice for our sin.
  • His name will be Immanuel, which means, God with us. While being born into human existence, Jesus maintained His eternal deity. I cannot comprehend this mystery, but I praise God for the faith to believe what Jesus said – I and the Father are one. I praise God for the testimony of the Apostle John who wrote under the divine influence of the Holy Spirit of God and said, In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

For me, this is the perfect way to start this Christmas season. The truth that Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came to earth to be one of us so He could save me, is overwhelming. I am grieved in my heart by the words of the atheist’s billboard I saw in the paper which says, “You know it’s a myth. This is the season for reason.” How sad. How pathetic. To deny the historical record is one thing, but to deny the spiritual truth is devastating. It has eternal consequences.

Jesus is the Reason for the season. True reason can come to no other conclusion. God came down from glory and dwelt with us to redeem us from our sin. I praise God He has redeemed me!

Pastor John