Panoramic Love

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, February 14, 2020

I love panoramic views. Standing on the top of a high hill and looking out over miles of wonderland is exhilarating. I know that if I looked closely with a critical eye, I could find something in that scene that would bug me. But I choose to ignore the mosquitoes buzzing around my head or the ants crawling over my toes because the overall scene is so breathtaking. Never mind the few pieces of litter strewn along the fence line, or the buffalo pies scattered across the prairie next to the flowing river. The beauty of the sun glistening on the dew at the base of the snowcapped mountain across the valley far exceeds any imperfection my mind tempts me to observe.

On this Valentine’s Day, I ask you to join me in taking a panoramic view of those we love.

Ephesians 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

I dedicate myself to seeing only the splendor of love’s big picture rather than the imperfections seen through the binoculars of a critical spirit. I choose to live according to the policy of love established by this woman years ago, from a story related by Carl D. Windsor in his book entitled On This Day.

“Even the most devoted couple will experience a ‘stormy’ bout once in a while. A grandmother, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary, once told the secret of her long and happy marriage. ‘On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,’ she said.

“A guest asked the woman what some of the faults she had chosen to overlook were. The grandmother replied, ‘To tell you the truth, my dear, I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!’ “

That’s love’s scenic overlook. That’s how I choose to live not just today, but every day.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Pastor John

Be the Bride

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Are you a bride? (Hang on men, this will apply to you also.)

There are several possible answers to that question:

  • “Nope, and I never want to be.”
  • “No, but I want to be.”
  • “Not yet, but I’m going to be soon.”
  • “YES!”
  • “I was once.”

The saddest answer that can be given to the question of “Are you a bride?” is the last one – “I was once.” The first answer sounds sad also, but there are some people, according to God’s Holy Word, that are able to remain single all their life so as to serve the Lord wholeheartedly. But when a bride reaches the point of not considering herself a bride any longer, that is sad.

Sometimes that point is reached through the death of a husband, or through the God-hated practice of divorce. But the greatest tragedy is when a wife, while married, loses the delight of being a bride.

Okay men, you’ve waited long enough: how does this apply to us? Well, according to the words of the angel in Revelation, all who come to Jesus Christ for salvation are considered the bride of Christ – male and female alike. God uses the picture of human marriage to depict our spiritual relationship with His Son Jesus.

Isaiah 62:4b …for the LORD will take delight in you, and your land will be married.

Following this statement, Isaiah declares, “So will your sons marry you.” Jesus Christ, the son of Israel, the eternal Builder of the family name, will marry you. You are a bride.

Notice I said that you are a bride. If you are in Christ, saved by grace through faith, forgiven through the repentance of sin, you are the bride of Christ. The problem is that some of us give the saddest answer of all when asked if we are a bride – we say that we were once.

How tragic that the bride of Christ has lost the delight of being the bride. Here’s how you can know if that’s true of you.

  • You may have lost the desire to constantly talk about the coming of the Groom. I have posted watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest, and give him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth. (verses 6-7) The Bride of Christ cannot help but look for the Groom and wait for His appearing.
  • You may be distracted by the world and giving your heart away to sinful practices. “Never again will I give your grain as food for your enemies, and never again will foreigners drink the new wine for which you have toiled; (verse 8). Once a marriage has occurred, all the attention of the Bride is to be focused on the Groom. Wandering eyes are not permitted. Thoughts of cheating are never present. Attempts to serve self are blanketed by the unconditional love of God which produces attitudes and actions of service to the Groom.

What is true of marriage is true for us in our relationship with Jesus. We are the Bride of Christ. May the Lord Jesus Christ, in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit of God the Father, restore unto each of us the delight of being married to Jesus!

Pastor John

A New Name

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Isaiah 62:2  The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.

As I read Isaiah 62:1-2 this morning, I was drawn to one phrase – you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will bestow. For those of you who first think theologically, I know that these verses apply specifically to the restoration of the nation of Israel. But the truth of a new name expands into the church age as well.

When Jesus had the Apostle John write to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, He declared to two of them that those who overcome and remain faithful would receive a new name.

In Revelation 19, when Jesus returns to earth with the armies of heaven, He has on Him a Name known only to Himself – the Name given to Him upon His exaltation to the right hand of God following His resurrection. It is the Name above all names at which every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.

Every time a sinner repents and is saved there is a new name written in the Lamb’s book of life in heaven – a name that is written in the blood of the Lamb and can never be erased.

When was the last time your church celebrated a new name being written down in glory? Personally, I want to see a lot more of that happening in the future of our church. I believe that in these last days, those of us who stand up and speak out the true Gospel will be blessed with an increasing harvest of souls saved from their sin by the power of the cross. Yes, there will be persecution. Yes, there will be suffering. But the blessing of praying with someone who is repenting of their sin, crucifying the old nature, and being reborn into eternal life in Jesus Christ is worth any hardship.

Do you believe that? Will you live that way?

I am reminded of one of my favorite old hymns of our faith.

I was once a sinner, but I came
Pardon to receive from my Lord:
This was freely given, and I found
That He always kept His word.

I was humbly kneeling at the cross,
Fearing naught but God’s angry frown;
When the heavens opened and I saw
That my name was written down.

In the Book ’tis written, “Saved by Grace,”
O the joy that came to my soul!
Now I am forgiven, and I know
By the blood I am made whole.

There’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine!
And the white robed angels sing the story,
“A sinner has come home.”
For there’s a new name written down in glory,
And it’s mine, O yes, it’s mine!
With my sins forgiven I am bound for Heaven,
Never more to roam.

Pastor John

SAVED!

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Isaiah 62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

Remember yesterday’s challenge to Speak Up? With permission to share this, here’s what happened when I spoke up. It’s long, but it’s eternally worth the time you will spend to read it.

One Sunday after church, a young lady from our church came to give me a hug after the service. I had been praying for this teenager for a couple of years. Occasionally I would ask her about her readiness to make a commitment to Christ, and I would get a polite but cold response. The Holy Spirit directed me to ask her again.

As I looked in her eyes, I challenged her again to consider her commitment to Christ, and she said she would, and that she would contact me later in the week. Now I really started praying.

Her 16th birthday was during the week, and I sent her a note of congratulations. At 8:30 that night my phone buzzed. It was a text message from her. It read, “Hey Pastor John…I’ve been thinking about the baptism on Sunday n I wanna do it.” My heart leapt into my throat with excitement. I quickly texted her back and asked if I could call her, and she said yes.

At this point many pastors and even many parents would simply assume that the person is saved and ready for baptism, but that is completely wrong! Am I ever glad I didn’t do that.  I spoke up, and it resulted in an eternal salvation taking place. With absolutely no offense intended to this young lady, I have her permission to share the context of our conversation.

As we talked, I discovered something very significant – she didn’t really understand the Gospel. I have been aware of the false Gospel being promoted in churches all over the world for a long time and have been trying to warn people about it, but when someone in my own church is not understanding salvation even though the truth is preached, I realized the depth of the deception that is going on in our so called Christian community.

I asked her when she got saved, and she didn’t know what that meant. I asked her about her commitment to Christ, and she said she wanted to try harder to change her life. God was working on her heart, but she was putting everything into the context of her efforts to become fit for God. She didn’t understand repentance and trusting Christ’s efforts on her behalf. Just as many others are, she had been deceived into thinking that knowing about God and following God are our responsibility, and if we work at it hard enough, we will be successful and He will save us. HOW FALSE THIS IS! If you believe this, you are still lost. I’m only speaking up because I love you.

I took her back to the Garden of Eden and God’s original creation. I showed her how man sinned and rejected total intimacy with God and placed their trust in their own wisdom and understanding. With every new foundation of truth I asked her if she understood, and the Holy Spirit was opening her eyes and her heart as she said yes!

I asked her if there was anything in her of worth that she could offer to God as payment for her sin, and she said no. I proceeded to tell her that God so loves us that He wants to save us. So I asked her what God had given us so that our sins could be forgiven. She said “Baptism.” Ouch. My heart was pierced with the perversion of the Gospel again. I simply said, that wasn’t right, and I asked the question again. This time she said, “Communion.” The knife twisted again in my heart. How many people all over the world are being led directly to an eternity in Hell because they believe that an activity of man can bring them forgiveness? It breaks my heart to think of it.

When I told her again that her answer was incorrect, I could hear the nervousness in her voice. I reassured her that this was all necessary so she would really know the truth and be saved, and we continued. I began quoting John 3:16 to her –  For so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…and I stopped. She immediately finished quoting the verse for me. I asked her if it said that whoever is baptized shall have eternal life, and she of course said no. I did the same with communion, and she again said no. I emphasized the truth to her that whoever believes on Him – Jesus Christ and His work on the cross – shall have everlasting life. The light of truth was being turned on for her.

I said very simply to her that there were three things she needed to believe:

  1. That she is a sinner and incapable of ever doing enough to earn her salvation from sin. (See Romans 3:23 and Titus 3:3-7)
  2. That God sent Jesus to the earth to completely pay the price for our sin by becoming our sin and dying voluntarily on the cross, and that God proved His satisfaction with the sacrifice by raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him to the right hand of God in Heaven, guaranteeing eternal life those who believe in Him. (Hebrews 10:11 – But when [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.)
  3. That all she needs to do is believe in her heart that Jesus died and was resurrected from the dead for her sins, and confess with her mouth that Jesus is Lord, she will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10) In that moment of belief and confession, your sins will be forgiven and you will be saved for all eternity.

I asked her if she was ready to do that and she said yes. YES!!! What a moment. We prayed and she confessed her need of forgiveness. She confessed that Jesus had died for her sins. She confessed she could do no works to earn salvation. She accepted God’s forgives and surrendered her life to Jesus Christ and asked Him to change her from the inside out. Hallelujah, it is finished! Her debt was paid by Jesus. She experienced another birthday on her birthday!

She was baptized on Sunday as a believer, not to earn anything, but to proclaim faith in Jesus Christ. She was baptized as an expression of her personal faith in Jesus Christ, not as a means of entering into faith. She was baptized because she already had sufficient grace for salvation, not to receive more grace.

That is the Gospel. Don’t be deceived any longer by teaching that focuses on our efforts. There is only one way, one truth, and one life. Jesus put forth all the effort needed to save you. And until I die, I will speak up about it.

Pastor John

Speak Up!

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, February 10, 2020

I love it when someone asks me to speak at an event. I am a verbal person. Verbose maybe. Annoying sometimes. But I love to talk. The question is, why?

With sincere repentance in my heart I must admit that for much of my life the motivation for my communication was selfish. It is still a difficult struggle. I get to tell my stories. I get to watch people’s reactions and hear their responses.  When I talk, the attention is on me, and I like that. Come on; look deep into your heart. It may be true of you too.

But why is it that when words will benefit someone else, we find it difficult to speak them? It’s amazing how we speak when we should be silent and we are silent when we should speak. Personal benefit motivates our activity more than we dare to admit. Fear of rejection and fear of retribution cause us to go silent.

Isaiah was in a tough place. The nation to which he had been called as a prophet was rejecting the word of the Lord. He had two choices – shut up and stop telling the people what God wanted and thereby stay safe, or speak up and proclaim the truth no matter what the consequences. What would motivate any of us to do the latter?

Isaiah 62:1  For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.

The answer is…LOVE! What we love the most determines our activity. Isaiah loved the people that God loved, because he loved God. For the people’s sake he could not keep silent. If it was for his own sake, he would have run away and never been heard from again. But he had determined in his heart that his love for God and for God’s Word would produce a love for people who needed God, and he could not remain silent. Regardless of the consequences, love always dictates action, and Isaiah had God’s love for people, so he acted on it.

Oh that we would do the same! We who love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength cannot remain silent when surrounded by so many people who need to see and experience the love of God.

Today, for their sake, I will not keep silent until righteousness is revealed in their lives and their salvation has been accomplished.

How about you?

Pastor John

 

Grow Up

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, February 7, 2020

Isaiah 61:11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

Eight years ago I was in Bayou DuLarge, Louisiana on a mission trip. At the time we had a sister church there that we were helping rebuild houses that had been destroyed by two hurricanes. When I returned from that trip, I was surprised that summer had already arrived in Wisconsin. While on the Bayou the temperatures were only 3-5 degrees warmer than here, but the humidity levels were a lot higher. I’m glad to have the warmth without the wetness.

As I looked out over the back yard at my house, I saw so much work that needed to be done. I knew it was far too early, but the open gate to my garden was inviting me to enter and begin preparing the soil for planting. As foolish as that would be, it was very tempting. I am amazed after all these years that I still get thrilled watching seeds that I’ve planted begin to germinate and grow, and that one day I will harvest a crop of delicious vegetables.

As I read through Isaiah 61 again this morning, my attention was drawn to the gardening metaphors.

  • We will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. Isn’t that exciting – we…you and me…are planted by the Lord so we can display His splendor to the world! How’s that going for you? Does the world see us despairing over the sufferings of life or displaying the splendor of the Lord? Do we bend, sway, and snap off at the storms of life, or do we stand tall and strong in the face of what life blows at us?
  • For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. This metaphor confused me. I understand the soil part of causing a seed to germinate, but since when does a garden cause seeds to grow? Seeds will grow outside of gardens as well, won’t they? Then it hit me – the Lord is the soil; He is the garden. We are the seeds. When we are planted in Him, in the soil that He has prepared, and when we remain in Him, within the boundaries of His garden, then we spring up as righteousness before all the nations and praise Him.

I like that. Life started in a Garden, where everything was good, and righteousness and praise continually sprung up. Even though that original physical garden is gone, destroyed by man’s sin, there is a spiritual garden in which each of us can be planted to spring up with righteousness and praise. I am reminded of the words of Psalm 1 –

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

I wonder if the reason we don’t spring up with righteousness and praise more often is that we are drawing our water from the wrong place. The water of the world will bring disease and death to any seed, but the water from the River of Life brings a harvest of spiritual prosperity.

God has prepared a garden for each of us in which we are to sprout up and spring up with the splendor of His grace. It is a well-watered garden, and in it we will flourish. The world has a garden also, but just beneath the soil that looks fertile is the blight of death. Enter the open gate of the garden of God, and spring up with life.

Pastor John

Delightful

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Isaiah 61:10 I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

What an interesting word – delight. When heard, read, or spoken it immediately creates an emotional response. Yet at first glance it appears to be an oxymoron. To de-light means to make dark, yet the general use of the word means to brighten. So I looked up the etymology of the word.

I discovered delight is not the word light with the prefix de. The original word is French – delit – from the word delitier which means to please greatly. Until the sixteenth century it was spelled delite, so when you see it used that way in advertising it’s okay – let it go.

Okay, enough about the word. My love for words got the best of me and this is a word I love. Try it. Say it out loud right now. Look around. How many people are looking at you? They heard you say it and I bet there’s a smile on their face, right? They are either smiling because they think you are crazy, or they are smiling because the word you said affected them. I know it has affected you already. What you are feeling is delight.  It’s delightful, isn’t it?

I wonder what really gives us delight. What is it in our lives that instantly lifts our spirits and pleases us greatly? I take delight in a perfectly cooked steak. The beauty of a sunrise glistening on the water of a glassy lake as a screeching eagle soars overhead is even better. But the smile of a grandchild running to greet me with a hug is more delightful. There’s something deeply pleasing about the look on a child’s face as they smile back at me when their eyes meet mine. It is delightful when another person delights in us.

Delight is reciprocal. It’s contagious. It’s that way with people, and it’s most certainly that way with God. Did you know that God desires to delight in you? Our delight in Him always results in God delighting in us!

The Scripture is filled with motivation for us to delight in the Lord.

  • We are to delight in His salvation – Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation. (Psalm 35:9)
  • We are to delight in His Word – I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. (Psalm 119:16)
  • We are to delight in God’s commands – for I delight in your commands because I love them. (Psalm 119:47)
  • We are to delight in the fear of the Lord – and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:3)

And when we take delight in the Lord, He takes delight in us.

  • For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. (Psalm 149:4)

That reminds me of my favorite verse of delight in the Bible. It’s found in the book of Zephaniah, chapter three, verse seventeen.

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

That’s delightful! Who dares let the snow or politics or financial crisis discourage them when the Lord Himself sings over us with delight because we have taken delight in Him. He has clothed us with garments of salvation and arrayed us in robes of righteousness. That’s delightful!

Pastor John