Study. Shout. Serve

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Psalms 105:43 – 45 He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy; he gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for—that they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Praise the LORD.

Before you begin reading this devotional, please read the entire 105th Psalm. In case you don’t have your Bible with you, here is a link. It will only take about than three minutes, but it is important. https://www.blueletterbible.org/esv/psa/105/1/s_583001

Now, here are a couple of thoughts for you to ponder today.

First, This Psalm was written about 450 years after the events it describes. The events were significant enough that the author had learned them in great detail. It was highly unlikely that he had a copy of the books of Genesis and Exodus in his personal library. He had committed them to memory during his childhood as he was taught by one of the rabbis.

Compare that to our situation today. Most of us own multiple copies of the entire Word of God, but how many of us could give from memory the specific details of God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt? Why is it that the study of God’s Word is such a low priority for us?

Second, consider the attitude of the writer towards the events. Everything he expresses is a positive statement of God’s faithfulness to His promises. He even has a totally positive attitude towards the people of Israel, whom we know, through the reading of the historical record, had lots of serious issues and needed constant discipline and correction. But the author’s focus was on the character of God and not the failure of people. I’ve discovered that if my eyes are turned upon Jesus, and I’m looking fully in His wonderful face, that the things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. We can choose to have a positive attitude.

Here’s a cute story I heard from a former missionary from our church. A woman woke one morning to discover only three hairs on her head. “Oh good,” she exclaimed, “Braiding my hair will be easy today.” And she had a very good day. She awoke the next day to find only two hairs on her head. “I think I’ll part my hair down the middle.” And she had a wonderful day. She awoke the next morning to discover only one hair on her head. “Great! I can be a little girl again and wear a pony tail.” And she had a fun, fun day. She awoke the next morning to discover no hair on her head. “Yippee! I don’t have to fix my hair today.” Attitude is everything.

Finally, I am very blessed by the conclusion of this Psalm. Several phrases jumped out at me and hit me where I needed to be hit.

He brought out his people… Whatever wilderness you are wandering right now, God will bring you out.

He brought out his people with rejoicing, his chosen ones with shouts of joy. The people came out of their difficulties with shouts of rejoicing. When God delivers, He delivers us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, so we are able to fully rejoice in what He has done rather than dwell on what was wrong. God takes us from pity parties to praise parties.

He gave them the lands of the nations, and they fell heir to what others had toiled for… God bestows immeasurable grace upon those He delivers. Someday we too will inherit what we did not toil for. Jesus did the work of redemption on the cross. Jesus is doing the work of preparing our mansions in heaven. We did nothing to fall heir to the inheritance of eternal life and the glory of God’s presence in heaven.  Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

That they might keep his precepts and observe his laws. Based on all of God’s great work on our behalf, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, with the life-changing principles of God’s law written on our hearts. As a result, we are motivated to obey Him and serve Him – not to earn anything more, but because we have already received every spiritual blessing from God on high.

Hallelujah!

So, study God’s Word. Adjust your attitude. Shout for joy. Serve your Savior.

Pastor John

The Upper Chamber

LifeLink Devotional
Wednesday, October 17, 2017

Psalms 104:1 – 3, 31 Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works.

Shortly after hurricanes Katrina and Rita ripped into the Gulf Coast, I was in Theriot, Louisiana, working at a church out on one of the bayous. We had adopted this church as our sister church and provided assistance to them in the rebuilding process. There were so many homes that need to be raised off the ground and built up on pillars to be protected from the hurricane flood waters. The bayou is slowly sinking. Estimates are that in 30 years it will be totally under water and uninhabitable.

In the meantime, people are doing everything they can to make their homes safe from the waters so they can continue to harvest shrimp, crabs, and oysters from the sea so that you and I can enjoy eating at Red Lobster.

Looking at these raised up houses is fascinating. Large telephone poles are sunk deep into the ground into concrete, with 10 to 15 feet of pole exposed above the ground. Large beams are bolted to the tops of the poles to form the supports necessary for the floor joists. The house is built on top of these great beams. Each house becomes an upper chamber rising out of the water.

Now take that mental picture, and expand it to encompass the whole earth. Imagine poles coming out of the oceans of the world and extending to the farthest reaches of the universe. Then picture the size of the beams necessary to connect those poles to form the supports upon which the upper chambers of heaven will be built. This is the imagery the Psalmist gives us today to help us understand the splendor and majesty of God.

As you read through this Psalm you should be awestruck with the splendor of God’s creation and His sovereign control over it.

• The canopy of space is but His tent, and above that are His upper chambers where He dwells.
• The clouds of the sky are but His chariots.
• He controls all the water supply for the earth. He took the waters of the great flood and assigned them to the great underground aquifers that continue to flow and sustain all life (vs. 6-12).
• Where the mountains are so high that they cannot be watered from beneath, He waters them from His upper chambers (vs. 13).
• He provides food for all living creatures (vs. 14-23 and vs. 27).

Yet while knowing that everything in this world is currently corrupted by sin and disintegrating into death, God’s glory endures and He will restore His creation to its intended glory in the coming kingdom, and He will rejoice over it (vs. 31 – May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works).

We have a choice today and every day – to live on ground level or to climb into the upper chambers of God’s presence. The most minute detail of life is under the control of our loving Father in heaven. The waters of worry can never flood us out again (vs. 9 – You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.) Every need is supplied (vs. 13 – the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.) He fills us with joy (wine that gladdens the heart of man), He improves our attitudes (oil to make his face shine), and He gives us peace through the promises of His Word (and bread that sustains his heart).

The challenge is to praise Him for His works even when it seems everything is at work against us. We can do that if we forget not His benefits by meditating on Him and not on our situation. But that’s hard, isn’t it? It takes work, but the reward is worth the effort.

This should be our goal each day – I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. (vs. 33-34)

Meditate on the splendor and majesty of God and on His wondrous works. Then you will be able to sing to the Lord in all areas of your life for as long as you live. You will be dwelling in the upper chambers of the Lord, safe from the storms and floods of life.

Pastor John

 

Don’t Forget

LifeLink Devotional
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Psalms 103:1 – 2 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.

Several years ago, when I went through the Psalms devotionally for the first time, I gave everyone an assignment. It was to spend one week and daily read and study the 103rd Psalm. I did this for two reasons. First, we tend to rush over the benefits of being children of God, so I wanted to emphasize the importance of remembering all that God has done and is doing for us. Second, it was deer hunting week and I was on vacation so I wouldn’t be writing a daily devotional.

God taught me a lot that week ten years ago while I sat on the tree stand waiting for the deer to come by. I learned some valuable truths that have become a permanent part of my spiritual walk with the Lord. Let me share with you one important lesson that God taught me the first day of that week, and it has stuck with me.

As I sat in a tree early that morning, I began to remember all the benefits of being a child of God. The words “forget not” captivated my mind. I thought about another passage of Scripture that talks about forgetting. It’s in Philippians 3:13 – 14 where Paul writes, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

I began to think about the difference between forgetting some things and not forgetting others. I came to a simple solution – I am to forget everything that is of the flesh and not forget anything that is of the Spirit of God.

But why?

That was an easy answer for me – only the things of God are to our benefit.

Think back with me to a time that for some of us was very long ago. Go back to fourth grade for a moment, and try to remember what happened in your life at that time. Can you think of any special or meaningful events? You may come up with one or two, but overall you probably can’t remember much.
What’s the reason we can remember some things and not others? Well, it’s because we assign a personal value to every event of our lives. We make a determination of each event’s significance and importance, and within the context of that value assignment we either choose to remember it or forget it.

For example, I remember only one thing about fourth grade. We moved to a new town in April of that year, and I had to start a new school with one month to go. I only remember the playground, because it was there that I gave value to an event that would cause me to remember it until now. Two of my new classmates, both girls, would chase me around that playground until they caught me, and then they would give me a kiss on the cheek. I felt accepted. I determined to always remember the benefit of that event.

Now, the big point of application. Every event of our lives has been recorded in the incredible memory bank of our brains. We may not be able to recall it, but it’s there none the less. Apart from a mental disorder, the reason we cannot recall it is because of the value we placed upon it when it happened.

When Paul says that he will forget everything that was behind him from his past, he is saying that he will assign it a new value – a value of “0”.
Look at his words: But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ… (Philippians 3:7 – 8)

So what I must decide for myself, and you for yourself, is this: what value have I assigned to the things of this world, and what value do I assign to the things of God? Those things of minimal value will be forgotten. The things we treasure will be remembered.

I can’t remember the names of the girls on the playground. I can vaguely remember the playground. I know the story more than I remember the event. But since fourth grade I have discovered the incredible value of being accepted by Jesus Christ. I will never forget His benefits. All that the world offers is nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior.

So when Satan comes and tempts with something he says has value, I still get to determine its real value for me. I choose to assign those things a value of “0”. I choose to assign the things of God a value of “10” on a scale of “10”. Now I can forget what is behind, and forget not His benefits, and press on toward the prize of the high calling in Christ Jesus.

You can do that, too.

Pastor John

 

Hope for the Hopeless

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, October 16, 2017

Psalms 102:18 – 20  Let this be written for a future generation, that a people not yet created may praise the LORD: “The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.”

Everyone gets discouraged occasionally. Left unresolved, it can lead some to get downright downcast, leading to despair, depression, and despondency. We naturally, because of our human nature, gravitate towards hopelessness.

In those times of severe hopelessness, tragedy may strike. How hopeless life must have appeared in May of 2007 for the 25-year old mother in Texas who hung her four children and then herself. A broken relationship, abuse, restraining orders, and the worries of surviving a potential financial crisis, all may have compounded into a bleak outlook on life that justified the ending of life.

Contrast that tragedy with the prayer of an afflicted man who is also nearly hopeless. Psalm 102 is written by one who is in severe pain and fainting from the afflictions of life. He has health issues, deep discouragement issues, and serious doubt issues about God. Yet in the midst of his despair, when life is changing for the worst, he remembers one eternal truth that shines light at the end of his tragic tunnel – But you, O LORD, sit enthroned forever. (vs. 12)

Have you ever noticed how often we use the word but in our everyday conversations? Most people I know use the word to argue from the positive to the negative.

  • It’s sunny now, but it will probably rain.
  • I’m feeling good now, but I bet it won’t last.
  • I got all the bills paid this month, but I wonder what will happen next month.

On and on we go in our periods of pessimism. But the man writing this Psalm uses the word but to argue from the negative to the positive.

Life stinks, BUT God is still on the throne and in control.

Then, because he chooses to look at life from God’s perspective, he writes these words of encouragement for all of us:

“The LORD looked down from his sanctuary on high, from heaven he viewed the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners and release those condemned to death.”

The eternal God, who sits on the throne and governs all things, sees every need that we have. He hears the groans we utter under the bondage of our circumstances. He provides for a way to escape the condemnation of death. His ultimate provision for everything that seeks to destroy our lives is this – He sent His Son Jesus as our one and only hope.

Billions of people are living under the condemnation of death. You have neighbors and friends who are living in various stages of hopelessness. Maybe you are attempting to survive a crisis in your own strength and slowly slipping into serious despair. If only there was a truth that would heal and restore.

Good news! There is. God looked down from His holy sanctuary and saw our need. Then, with compassion, mercy, and grace, He sent Jesus to meet our need and give us hope.

Once we see the healing power of Jesus, the Psalmist encourages us to write the message of Jesus Christ into the everyday language of our lives so that future generations will praise the Lord. Verse 21 says, “that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise…”

The power of Jesus to save lives from the prison of sin and death is not to be experienced and then preserved: it is to be experienced and then professed.

We will all meet numerous individuals today who need Jesus. Instead of asking, “Who will tell them” we should be asking, “How will I tell them?”

God has heard the groans of the prisoners. Have we, and are we prepared to give them hope?

Pastor John

Clean Edges

LifeLink Devotional
Friday, October 13, 2017

Psalms 101:2 I will be careful to lead a blameless life—

When Denise decides it’s time to do some redecorating or painting, I’m the touch-up guy. My main job is to put the paint on the ceiling edges. In painting terms it’s called “cutting in.”

I seem to have a very steady hand for jobs like that, and I generally don’t need to use tape. But it seems uncharacteristic to most people’s perceptions of me. If I were using a roller or a big brush on the middle sections of the wall, I would get careless and sloppy, and paint would spatter and spray. Not so around the edges, where the wall and ceiling meet. Much more care is needed there, because any mistake will be obvious. It seems I really like being that careful. If even a single bristle of the brush touches the white ceiling, it will leave an ugly mark.

I remember the last time I painted and put the final touches on all the edges. In the morning, I inspected what I had done. It was pretty good, but right along the ceiling line there were spots where the new paint was slightly on the ceiling, and the line between wall and ceiling was not perfectly straight. I didn’t like it.

I think my life is a lot like that wall. For the sake of the analogy, let’s assume God is my ceiling. When I’m in the middle of my life, I can get sloppy and careless, and it probably won’t show.

Now be careful; I am not advocating carelessness, but it is the reality of our lives. We have big, open spaces of normal where we tend to get comfortable and careless. We move quickly from one thing to the next, and with just a few extra brush strokes or another pass of the roller we cover any mistakes we made, blending one area into another. Pretty soon our whole life appears to be consistent, except for that edge between wall and ceiling. That edge always shows us who we really are.

When I paint, no matter how careful I am, my color always seems to obscure some of the pure white of the ceiling. In my life, it’s when I’m at the edge of God’s perfection that my imperfections become the most obvious.
It seems to me that there are three responses we can adopt:

1. Stay away from the edges. Live life in the middle of the wall where it’s easy to blend and cover mistakes and sin. Get sloppy. Be careless. No one will know, because with a quick pass of the roller anything can be made to look like it was never there.

2. Put tape over the edges before you get near them with paint. Just cover up God’s color so that your color doesn’t bleed into His. Then, when you’ve lived your life, in your color, right to the edge, you can pull off the tape and look at the beautiful contrast between your life and God’s.

3. Paint your wall the same color as the ceiling.

There really is only one choice, you know. #3. When decorating a house this may not be the preferred way, because we want the attention to be drawn to the walls. We want the color to highlight the decorating choices we have made. We want our walls to represent our preferences and personality.

But when coloring a life, it is not our only goal to not have sloppy edges, but to let the life of God become the focal point. Our lives are to be the house of God, the temple of the Holy Spirit. If we would just paint our walls the same color as the ceiling, we would never have to worry about the edges.

The rooms of our lives can still be decorated with the adornments of our personality and passions, but they must be accentuated by the color of God all over the walls.

When you come to my house, don’t look too closely at the edges – I’m not proud of all of them.

I hope I never have to give you the same warning about my life.

Pastor John

Joy

LifeLink Devotional
Thursday, October 12, 2017
Psalms 100:1 – 5 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

Several years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to visit an amazing woman who truly lives the 100th Psalm every day of her life. She is a wife, a mother, and a young grandmother. She is living in a wheel chair in a rehab facility, trying to recover from brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The tumor has returned and is growing again, and there’s nothing more they can do. When I asked her how she is responding spiritually to all of this, she replied, with tears in her eyes, “This is the best thing that ever happened to me.” I asked her why. Her response overwhelmed me.

She began talking about all the ways she had tried to relate to God in the past through her activity for Him, trying to earn His approval. She knew what faith was, and that her faith had saved her, but she was stuck in a performance cycle of trying to earn the ongoing approval of God and make herself worthy of His presence in her life. She admitted that she thought God was only interested in what she did for Him, and that she was primarily interested in what God would do for her.

Now that she was not able to do anything anymore, she passionately proclaimed that she has discovered the secret to having a meaningful and fulfilling relationship with Christ – He just wanted to know her heart and occupy it.

She told us about a vision God gave her that will stick in my mind forever. She was on top of a big hill overlooking a beautiful meadow in the valley below. About halfway down the hill was a large pier that extended out over the valley. A little girl played in the grassy field while an old man sat on a bench at the end of the pier. As she walked out onto the pier she noticed that the old man’s shoulders were shaking gently. As she approached him she discovered why. He was chuckling with delight as he watched the little girl play. She instantly knew that she was the little girl in the meadow, and the old man on the pier was God. He was taking delight in her life.

I thought of how many times I have found myself just sitting and watching my children and grandchildren playing and being overwhelmed with joy that they are mine. They don’t need to do anything to prove themselves to earn my love.

That is how God loves us. He made us, and we are His. We are His people; the sheep of His pasture. He delights to watch us from above while we play in the meadow.

This wonderful woman of God, who has had all her ability to perform for God removed, is living the ultimate life of joy. How significant it is that her name is Joy. She has taught me a tremendous and unforgettable lesson – the Lord is good, and His love endures forever. I did not earn it. I do not need to perform to keep it. God just wants me to experience it. He desires to fully experience me. Knowing that makes me want to come before Him with singing.

Joy admitted she wanted to sing to Him also, but she can’t sing anymore. I reminded her of the verse in Zephaniah 3:17 which says, “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.”

Now she listens to God singing to her.

Pastor John

Healthy Fear

LifeLink Devotional
Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Psalms 99:8 O LORD our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds.

I get very excited this time of year. It’s the beginning of the whitetail deer mating season, and for the next five weeks my thoughts are easily distracted by deer hunting.

Earlier this week I spent a few hours on one of my stands in a new location and I saw two deer come down the hill into the bottom land of the woods. My heart raced, then fell back to normal as they turned and walked towards my old stand location.

One of my tree stands is called a self-climber, meaning that I carry it to the woods, attach it to the tree, get on it, and gradually climb it up the tree to the height that I want. It can be dangerous. I have a very healthy fear of what could happen if I do not follow all the safety precautions necessary. I fell out of that same stand several years ago. Since then I’ve added some check points to my safety list to ensure that I don’t fall again. Falls from tree stands not only hurt, but they can kill.

Fear can be a good thing. There are two kinds of fear – fear generated by perception and fear generated by reality. Fear of the dark is based on the perception of what could be lurking ready to pounce, when in reality there may be nothing there at all. Fear of grizzly bears is based on the reality of what that bear could do if provoked.
My fear of heights is based on both the reality of having fallen and the perception that at any moment while I am in the air I could fall again. The perception is immobilizing at times. That’s why my safety precautions and safety harness are so important to me. If I obey the rules and stay attached to the tree with the harness, I am safe and can climb 15 to 25 feet up into a tree so I can have a chance at a monster buck.

It is crucial that we put fear back into our spiritual lives. It has been the mission of the enemy of Jesus Christ to undermine and destroy a healthy fear of God. We currently live in an age of destructive spiritual thought within Christianity itself. The majority of people who call themselves Christians might choose to end our Scripture verse for today with the phrase a forgiving God. There has been a steady and purposeful elimination of the fear of the justice of God.

As Christians, we have bought into the perception that God is only loving and forgiving, and as a result we have thrown away the safety checklist and the safety harness. We believe there is nothing to fear from God because that’s what we want to be true.
But the reality is that God is just. He forgives sin that has been confessed in true repentance, but He also punishes any sin that is left unconfessed.
Now, to be clear, the life of a born-again Christian is free from all eternal condemnation, but the Enemy has done a magnificent job of removing our fear of the Father’s discipline of His true children. We have lost the Biblical concept of the fear of the Lord.

I spend time almost every week counseling people who are being destroyed by the consequences of sin in their lives because they don’t have a healthy fear and respect of the holiness of God. They have chosen to believe that God is only a forgiving God. They do not want to face the reality that the hardships and suffering they are experiencing may be the discipline of God necessitated by their choice to sin.

I am perplexed that so many people do not have a fear of the justice of Almighty God. The desire for immediate gratification and fulfillment of the flesh has destroyed the fear of the reality of God’s punishment. The immediate pleasure far outweighs the pain of the consequences. It is the same deception that the Serpent used on Eve in the Garden of Eden. As a result, we throw out the checklist and remove the safety harness, and then wonder why we fell.

We must bring back the balance to our understanding of God. He is a forgiving God who, in Christ, accepts us as His children; but He is also a loving Father who disciplines His children so that they might be like Him in holiness.

It’s imperative that we have a healthy fear of that reality. It’s necessary so that we will stop sinning. God has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to be holy. When we cease to pursue that holiness, He will discipline us. He does it to mature us and grow us up into the image of Jesus.

Take a look at the current hardships in your life. Then, rather than focus on a fix to the problem, focusing on fixing the sin that caused it – then stop doing it. God will answer with His love and grace.

Pastor John