Real Relationships

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, August 16, 2019

Our circle of close friends is getting smaller. According to a 2017 survey by Charities Relate and Relationships Scotland, 13% of respondents did not have someone they were close with, up from 10% when the same question was asked in 2015. The survey found that increased dependence on social media, lack of work/life balance and the pressures of bringing up children could be affecting people’s friendships.

They also found that almost half (45 per cent) of adults felt lonely at least some of the time and almost a fifth (18 per cent) felt lonely often or all the time.

Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T. and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has spent the last 20 years studying how our “plugged-in lives” have changed who we are. She claims that all our technological devices have produced a world in which we’re always communicating but we’re seldom having real conversations.

Consider the following quotes from Turkle:

  • We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places …. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.
  • We are increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.

“The illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Wow! That so clearly describes what is going on in culture today, and it is contrary to what the Creator calls us to, which is intimate fellowship.

Here’s what God’s wisdom is:

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

God reminds us that we need friends that are willing to wound us because they love us. They will speak the truth in love, and we will call them faithful to have done it.

But how many of us allow those kinds of relationships in our lives? Rather, we prefer the illusion of friends. We can block them if they offend us, and be mad at them if they block us for what we post. We can pick and choose friends who will satisfy some deep-seeded need for attention, approval, or acceptance. After all, friends are to be used for our gratification, right? Proverbs calls those kinds of friends, enemies.

Unfortunately, when the real storms of life begin appearing on the horizon and crash in on us with life-altering force, we have no one to talk to. To compensate we’ve created a system of professional help to get us through the same issues that God intended our friends to help with.

We need drastic and dramatic change. We need face-to-face time with friends, like Moses is described as having with God.

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Exodus 33:11

I’m not asking you to throw away Facebook or phones, but I am asking you to think about the quality of relationships you have. I know I need to. I’m going start fixing that. I’m going to intentionally choose to spend time regularly with a friend; side-by-side and face-to-face. We are going to sharpen each other. And I will turn my cell phone off. No Facebook updates. No Instagram or Twitter. No games. No email. Just intimate fellowship with a friend!

Try it for yourself.

Pastor John

Strength to Carry the Load

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Colossians 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy

Thanks to some faithful readers who sent me this story. It’s just what I needed today!

The Ant and the Contact Lens: a true story

Brenda was almost halfway to the top of the tremendous granite cliff. She was standing on a ledge where she was catching her breath. This was her first rock climb.

As she rested there, the safety rope snapped against her eye and knocked one of her contact lenses out of her eye. ‘Great’, she thought. ‘Here I am on a rock ledge, hundreds of feet from the bottom and hundreds of feet to the top of this cliff, and now my sight is blurry.’ She looked and looked, hoping that somehow it had landed on the ledge. But it just wasn’t there.

She felt the panic rising in her, so she began praying. She prayed for calm, and she prayed that she may find her contact lens.

When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye and her clothing for the lens, but it was not to be found. Although she was calm now that she was at the top, she was saddened because she could not clearly see across the range of mountains. She thought of the Bible verse ‘The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.’

She thought, ‘Lord, You can see all these mountains. You know every stone and leaf, and You know exactly where my contact lens is. Please help me.’

Later, when they had hiked down the trail to the bottom of the cliff they met another party of climbers just starting up the face of the cliff. One of them shouted out, ‘Hey, you guys! Anybody lose a contact lens?’

The climber had found her contact lens. He had noticed an ant moving slowly across a twig on the face of the rock. The ant was carrying it!

The story doesn’t end there. Brenda’s father is a cartoonist. When she told him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a cartoon of an ant lugging that contact lens with the caption, ‘Lord, I don’t know why You want me to carry this thing. I can’t eat it, and it’s awfully heavy. But if this is what You want me to do, I’ll carry it for You.’

As we consider the burdens that we are carrying right now, I think it would do all of us some good to say, ‘God, I don’t know why You want me to carry this load. I can see no good in it and it’s awfully heavy. But, if You want me to carry it, I will.’

God is my source of existence. He is my Savior. He provides me with all the strength I need to function every day and accomplish His purpose for me. Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him, I am strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

Pastor John

Let Go to Know God

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Proverbs 1:32-33  For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”

He woke up early in the morning with a question burning in his heart. Could I ever convince anyone that God is real? He thought back to the many experiences of his life, and was convinced that He had never heard God’s voice, and most certainly had never seen God’s face. Yet he believed.

As he got into his pickup that morning and drove away from the farm that was home to over a dozen horses, he began to talk out loud to his heavenly Father. He asked why God had never spoken audibly like he had read about in Scripture. He wondered what he would ever tell someone who wanted proof of the existence of God. He looked at the seat next to him currently occupied by a pack of necessities and accessories for his day and stated, “God, I know you are as real as this black bag, and that you occupy this seat with me. But I want to see you like I can see it.”

As he related the story to me I thought to myself, “Be careful what you pray for.”

Later that night, after a hard day of work and an evening visit with a friend, he got back into the pickup and headed for home. He was in a hurry – too much of a hurry. Excessively exceeding the speed limit on a rural North Dakota road, he was within a half mile of home when he came over a small hill. As the truck leveled off at the bottom of the hill and the headlights raised to illuminate the path ahead he saw a frightening sight. There on the side of the road was one of his horses – the same horse that had been returned to him the night before after escaping through a hole in the fence that he had planned to fix earlier that morning.

Instantly his mind went into high gear. Isn’t the brain that God created for us amazing? The speeds at which it can process information is incredible, even though it’s not until well after the event that we realize how much information was processed. Options came to his mind. Decisions had to be made.

I can maintain control and try to go around the horse, but he will likely be spooked and jump into me and end up coming through the windshield. Which way would he jump? Which side of the road do I choose? I’d better slow down.

He slammed on the brakes. As the information processed he chose an option that was in his own words totally stupid – he jerked the steering wheel hard to the left and sent the truck into a spin and headed for the ditch.

Later he would make this statement – God’s grace covers stupid. That was lesson number one, but not the most important lesson of the night.

As the truck skidded sideways and backwards down the highway, he began thinking of more options. He knew from years of experience that the outcome of this decision was going to be tragic. He knew that as soon as the truck went off the road and down into the ditch that the wheels would catch in the dirt and the truck would flip and roll uncontrollably. At that moment he said a peace came over him that he cannot explain and that he had never felt before. At the moment of impact with the ditch he knew from the depths of his heart and soul that he should let go of the steering wheel and sit back and relax. That’s exactly what he did – he totally let go.

Later, as I stood where this accident happened, I saw the spot that the truck hit the ditch backwards and the back bumper dug into the ground and carved out a mini ravine.  That contact caused the truck to flip end to end and roll side to side. I stood on the glass-covered spot twenty feet away where the roof over the driver’s seat hit the ground and was crushed to within inches of the steering wheel. Anyone sitting in that position would have been killed. I walked up the hill where the truck had flipped again, clearing a barbed wire fence, and then rolled several more times up the hill.

Somewhere during the first flip, before the roof was crushed, the driver was extracted from the truck through the passenger door window and catapulted sixty feet through the air into the ditch, suffering multiple rib fractures, a punctured lung, hip and leg injuries which required surgery, and multiple bumps and bruises. When he regained consciousness, he tried to make a call to a friend for help. In a nightmarish moment his phone battery died. But the black bag in the truck contained an extra battery. It was his only hope for life.

As he pushed himself up to his feet he was amazed at the power of adrenaline. He felt no pain, and was able to walk slowly to the barbed wire fence. Somehow, with all of his injuries, he was able to hoist each leg high enough to get over the fence and make his way up the hill to the truck. In the dark, as he circled the truck, he saw the shadowy image of the black bag in the pasture grass.

After replacing the phone battery he made seven calls before he finally got someone to answer. By now he barely had any breath left because of the punctured lung. The pain was beginning to overpower the adrenaline. Weakly he asked for help and was barely able to say, “I’m south of the farm.”

As he shared the story with me and took me to the place where it all happened, he declared several eternal truths:

  • I never fully experienced God because I had never totally let go.
  • Our control of our lives limits God’s presence and power.
  • God is revealed only in our weakness, not in our strength.
  • God became as real as the black bag and my only hope for life is in Him. I may only see shadows of His presence, but He is there, and in Him is found the rescue for human sin and for human stupid.

Be careful what you pray for – but be assured of this – God hears you, and will reveal Himself to you according to the level of your surrender. Let go, and know God!

Pastor John

Accept Correction

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Within each of us is a terrifying enemy of God. Not terrifying to God, but to us. Unfortunately, we have embraced this enemy and signed what we think is a lasting peace treaty with it.  However, this treaty is a lie, and sooner or later we all discover that the enemy has deceived us and brought us to destruction.

The enemy I refer to is Pride. God hates pride.

  • Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure. Psalm 101:5
  • The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Proverbs 8:13
  • Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. Proverbs 16:5

Pride manifests itself in a variety of ways in our lives. If time and space permitted I would tell you all the ways it comes gushing forth from me. On a recent trip to see friends there were several instances where my desires and wishes tended to dominate the decisions that were being made. I was embarrassed and ashamed, and repented both to them and to the Lord.

But the single most prominent way that pride reveals itself as both the enemy of God and the enemy of my life is this – I reject correction. When confronted with a wrong and a challenge to change, there is an immediate rise in my pride pressure, and just like an exaggerated rise in blood pressure, my heart is at risk when it happens.

Pride makes be believe it is protecting me when it is actually causing me harm. Pride will ultimately destroy me heart. Just as high blood pressure is an indicator of hardened or constricted arteries, so high pride pressure is an indicator of a hardened heart.

King Solomon says that pride is conquered only when we respond humbly to the reproof of God when He lovingly disciplines us for our sin.

Proverbs 1:23  If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.

How we respond to God’s correction reveals the nature and extent of pride in our hearts.

Those who embrace the perceived benefits of pride’s self-protective responses will find themselves alone, abandoned, and absorbed with awful consequences.

Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices. (Proverbs 1:29-31)

But to those who humbly seek the Lord and embrace His correction comes the abiding Presence of God in the Person of His Holy Spirit. He brings us a constant understanding of God’s Word, along with His purpose for our lives and the power and provision to accomplish it.

There’s a clear contrast between living by pride or humbly walking in the Spirit of God. Pride results in only what we can do for ourselves. Accepting correction results in experiencing what God can and will do in us.

Today, and every day from here forward, while I know I am weak and pride is strong, I choose to read God’s Word not for knowledge, but for transformation. I will humbly call for God’s reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. 2 Timothy 3:16

How about you? How do you respond when someone tries to correct you? What does that say about the enemy of God in you? What will you do about it?

Pastor John

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