Get On The Train

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Psalm 68:18   You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men…

It is fitting as we approach Christmas Day next week that the final installment of my study of Psalm 68 brings us to verse eighteen. Fitting because David’s words are given by the Holy Spirit to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter four as the basis of his teaching that Jesus Christ, God Himself, came down to earth to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose.

In Psalm sixty-eight, King David is reflecting on the awesome power of God to deliver the oppressed and save them. In fact, more than half of the thirty-five verses refer specifically to the power and might of God to save people from captivity and to conquer His enemies.

Bear with me as we look at a little history to gather some context for today’s truth. It may seem boring, but it is highly relevant. The lesson comes from verses 15 and 16, where there is an interesting metaphor used by David. It is one of those passages that on the surface probably makes very little sense, but with the Holy Spirit’s illumination it becomes very clear.

O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!  Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?

In The northernmost part of Palestine was the region of Bashan. A series of volcanic mountains lined the region, while its valleys were some of the most productive agriculture land in all of Israel. It was the territory given to the tribe Manasseh when the Promised Land was divided up.

You remember the story of Manasseh, right? He was the first-born son of Joseph, yet in spite of Joseph’s attempt to correct an error, Jacob gave the second-born son Ephraim the blessing as one of his own sons. Jacob declared that the younger son will be greater than the older and will play a more prominent role in God’s redemptive plan. In addition, he gave them a mountain slope that he captured from the Amorites – the mountains of Bashan. Later, the tribe of Manasseh would occupy that territory, and even though it was highly fertile and productive, there was a constant jealousy of other tribes who seemed to get more than they did.

Now, jump ahead a few centuries. The Kingdom of Israel has been established, and Mount Zion chosen as the place where the King would reign forever. Instead of rejoicing, the mountains of Bashan express envy that they were not chosen. The entanglement of envy still held them captive.

Envy still holds us captive as well. We are bound up in the chains of comparison. Want proof? Watch what happens when you open Christmas presents this year. The verbal and non-verbal communications will be clear. Why do they have more than me? Why did he get a bigger present than me?  I wanted that!

King David offers us the solution – not just to envy, but to the whole big picture of God’s redemptive plan. You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men…

Paul restates the case with added information in Ephesians 4. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”  (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Jesus Christ, God Himself, descended from His position and glory in heaven to set free all the captives of sin and give them gifts to be used to serve God in His redemptive plan. We have been raised with Christ and have been seated with Him in the heavenly places. Regardless of social status, inherited injustice, or current captivity, Jesus Christ has paid the purchase price for your freedom. FREEDOM!

That is God’s redemptive plan – the blood of Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection can and will set you free if you choose to believe. That’s why Jesus descended to the earth and was born of a virgin – to die for our sin. That’s why He was qualified to ascend to the throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Now, the eternal question – are you in His train?

Does God Care?

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Psalm 68:5   Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

After finally packing up the car yesterday and moving on from the scenic overlook of Psalm 68:3, I drove only a short way and had to pull over again. I was deeply moved by the view I saw at the end of verse 5 – God in his holy habitation.

One of the questions that is heard frequently in spiritual conversations with unsaved people is this – Where is God in all of this mess? It is also the reality that many saved people ask that same question.

  • Where is God when cancer strikes?
  • Where is God when people are killed either by accidents or acts of violence?
  • Where is God when natural disasters like storms, earthquakes, or famines strike?
  • Where is God when people are homeless and family-less?

I understand completely the perspective that produces such questions: we view life as an entitlement to self-satisfaction and security. I understand it because I have felt that way. It amazes me how quickly my focus can turn from trusting God’s unfailing love to trying to fix a problem because it is causing some pain and suffering. It further astounds me that the shift of perspective from God to self usually results in doubts about God’s ability and willingness to be involved.

I need to spend so much time in this scenic overlook that its truth becomes my default thought setting. I need to have the sight of this truth so emblazoned on my mind that no scene of tragedy, pain, or suffering can ever threaten to wipe it away. Here is the truth –

From His holy habitation, God is infinitely aware of every need, and intimately involved in meeting every need with eternal satisfaction.

God is the Father to the fatherless.

God is the protector of the widow.

God settles the orphan (solitary) in a home with a family.

God leads prisoners to a place of prosperity.

We need to be constantly aware of the truth that from His holy habitation, God is at work. God is not distant nor is He disconnected. Every need is known. Every person is loved and being drawn to His love through every lovingly designed event in their life – good or bad.

Those last three words are totally and uniquely the perspective of man, not God. There is no good or bad in the mind of God – only good. We add the bad, because we interpret it from our entitlement perspective. But God’s unfailing love never ceases. There is never even a split second when an event slips through that is not the expression of God’s eternal love. It may not look like love to us, unless we see it as God’s design to get people’s attention and draw them to His saving grace.

Later in this Psalm King David makes this statement – Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. (Psalm 68:19-20)

Do you see it? God IS our salvation, for He IS a God OF salvation. His unfailing love culminates in ONE thing – deliverance from eternal death. Absolutely everything else is an expression of His love to draw men to that conclusion.

David knew that. I want to know it like he did, so I can in confidence declare with him this truth –

Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God! (verse 35).

Anxiety or Anticipation?

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Psalm 68:3  But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!

Over the years I have observed the progression of rest areas. I know, sounds like I have been the recipient of a government research grant. But seriously, rest areas along the highway have changed dramatically.

When I was a boy, it was a treat to find one with running water. Typically they were just pit toilets, and mom always had a small jug of water in the car with soap so we could wash our hands when we were done.

Then came the nice wooden buildings that actually had multiple stalls, running water, and even vending machines.

Now, as I travel the interstate I recognize the old locations of the outdated rest areas that have been abandoned, and the new modern rest areas in different locations. One of the nicest ones is just north of Madison near the Wisconsin River. It is a huge rest area. I’m really surprised that a major fast food chain hasn’t figured out a way to get into these new places like the ones along the toll roads in Illinois.

The reason I lay this groundwork about huge rest areas is because Psalm 68 is a huge rest area. If you remember, my plan for going through the Psalms was to make one stop in each Psalm at a place where the Lord spoke to me. It is the “Rest Area” or “Scenic Overlook” approach to studying Scripture – just read until you come to a place that causes you to stop and take in the view.

Psalm 68 has multiple scenic overlooks and rest areas for me, so I think I will take this whole week to look at them all.

I begin in verses one through 3, where I discover the contrast between the enemies of God and the followers of Christ. It is a simple but deeply profound contrast.

The enemies of God will flee from Him in fear when He rises in judgment. Far too many people today are living in denial of their accountability to God. But the day is coming – maybe very soon – when Jesus Christ the King will come and God will demand an accounting of everyone’s life. The bottom line that determines the eternal destiny of every human is this – did you believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and did you trust His death on the cross as the basis of your forgiveness for sin which provides eternal entrance into the Kingdom of God through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ?

How horrifying it is going to be someday for those who have refused to believe this truth. Some have chosen to trust their own ability to qualify themselves. Maybe they try to earn God’s approval through doing kind deeds. Maybe they trust some sacrament of a religious group as sufficient to qualify them. Maybe they just don’t care and think that this life is all there is. But whatever their rational, when the Perfect One comes, they will all flee before Him, but they shall not escape the judgment of God.

HOWEVER, the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Those who know and love Jesus will be glad to see Him return. We are expecting it any moment. There is nothing in this life that is so attractive or necessary that we would not reject it in the twinkling of an eye to be able to stand in the presence of Almighty God and praise Him with exceeding joy.

Oh but wait. Maybe there is something that we love more than the return of Jesus. May I suggest that we spend today evaluating our lives based on the contrast between the innkeeper and the shepherds in the Christmas story?

Maybe, like the Innkeeper, we have no more room in our lives for Jesus because we are filled with the pursuits of this life. When serving Jesus and pursuing earthly goals conflict, which do we choose?

Or are we like the shepherds, who upon hearing the good news of Jesus, left their sheep – their livelihood – and immediately went to worship him?

My friends, the love of Jesus for us was demonstrated by His sacrifice of position and possessions. He intentionally took upon himself our sin so we could be made righteous.

Our love for Him and what He did will also be demonstrated by our sacrifice of position and possessions. We intentionally take on the life of Christ and live in the hope of glory, willingly denying the world and everything in it for the sake of serving the King.

Bottom line – if Jesus appeared to you today and asked you to do something for Him that required you to sacrifice what you love most about this world, would you rejoice or make excuses why you couldn’t?

Pastor John

Seek God’s Glory

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Psalms 67:1 – 2 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.

Let’s try a little experiment this morning. Try to honestly answer this question – “Why do you want God to bless you?”

To answer that question, here’s a test. As an average Americanized Christian, if you had written verse one of Psalm 67, how would you have completed verse 2?  In other words, complete this sentence –

May God be gracious to me and bless me and make his face shine upon me, so that ____ _________________________________________________________________________

Here are some finishing phrases that came to my mind –

… I can be happy  

… I can be wealthy

…I can have more friends

…I can do more things

Most of us probably finished the sentence using “I” as the subject. Using God for our benefit has become commonplace in Christianity. Our faith seems to be only so deep as the provision for our next need. Jesus has become little more than the last piece to our life’s puzzle. He has been conformed to our need of a pain-reliever and provider. We have turned the Son of God into a slave of man. We demand feel-good sermons in church with no demands for involvement or commitment any other time. Given the choice between time spent in the pursuit of God or time spent in the pursuit of personal fulfillment, we choose the pleasures of this world most of the time.

At the risk of sounding cynical, I am concerned with the state of the average Christian in America. The life of the average church-goer today is not built around Christ, it is built around their own desires and Christ is plugged in when there is time or space. When the calendar is planned out for the week, the personal agenda is put in first, then God may get added if there is time. We are guilty of protecting “our time”. Even the Lord’s Day has become primarily our day when we graciously give God 1-2 hours in the morning for church and then assume the rest of the time is ours.

King David gives us the proper conclusion to the sentence we have been finishing selfishly. God’s grace and blessing to us and the glory of His presence in our lives is for one purpose only – THAT HE MAY BE KNOWN ON EARTH AND HIS SALVATION KNOWN AMONG ALL NATIONS.

Being a Christian is not first and foremost about the benefits God brings to us; it is about the glory that it should bring to Jesus Christ. We have been called out from the routine of secular living to be spiritual beings that live the Lordship of Jesus Christ in every area of our lives. Romans 12:1 says it is our reasonable and spiritual act of worship. Jesus did not give His life on the cross so that we could use Him to live our own lives our way. Jesus gave His life for us so that we could have His life in exchange for ours. He is not an add-on to our life – He is the replacement for our life. We have been given the unspeakable privilege to be crucified to self, and to live the resurrected life of Jesus Christ every day in every way.

People all around us are dying in their sin and headed for a Christ-less eternity. This is not the time for us to continue living according to the materialistic and self-centered pursuits of our culture. It is time to know Christ, and to make Him known to the world. It is time to live by faith in the Son of God. We are here in this time by God’s eternal choice to participate in the fulfillment of His eternal purpose. Let us together do the hard work of re-prioritizing our lives according to God’s glory rather than ours.

Pastor John

No More Dropped Calls

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 07, 2015

Psalm 66:16   Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.

Communications technology is amazing. From cell phones to computers with web cams we have the ability to talk to and see just about anyone anywhere in the world in an instant. Most people I know now have smartphones that offer all of the communication and connection possibilities. With my phone I can connect to my office computer from anywhere I am and retrieve and send emails. I can download files from my computer and work on them, then upload them back to my computer when I am done. This phone allows me to stay connected to my ministry and to people at all times – from anywhere – as long as I am within range of my network’s towers. I still experience dropped calls and weak connections because of my geographical location in relation to the signal carrier. Yet I have become somewhat dependent upon it to maintain a sense of connectedness to my world. I would feel a little alone without it, wondering if I was missing something or someone.

As amazing as cell phone and computer technology is, prayer beats it by a long shot. Long before man was able to communicate with people across the continents, God was able to communicate with people from across the universe. While cell phones may keep us connected to people, prayer keeps us connected to God. Man’s communication technology has limitations; prayer is limitless. Calls to people depend on their availability; God is always available. Internet connectivity provides us with seemingly endless information based on the finite knowledge of man; prayer provides us with limitless wisdom based on the infinite knowledge of God. Man’s methods of staying connected depend upon location; prayer can keep us connected anywhere because God is everywhere.

The only point of commonality between cell phone connectedness and prayer is the reality of dropped calls. I have learned where the “dead spots” are around our city. I know that I will not be able to stay connected by phone while driving through certain locations because of geographical interference with the network tower. The tower hasn’t moved, but I have moved in relation to the tower and it interrupts my connectedness.

In exactly the same way our connectedness to God in prayer is interrupted by sin. Geographical interference – our connectedness to the world – has broken our connection with God. God hasn’t moved, we have. We have chosen to travel through a “dead spot” of sin. The screen on our prayer phone reads “no service available.”

In God’s presence there is no sin. It cannot exist there. It is not welcome there. It is by the grace of God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ that we are able to enter into God’s presence as sinners who have been declared sinless. But when we attempt to approach God’s holiness while living in intentional sin, God limits our connection. When I lose connection on my cell phone I know it, and I usually blame the phone or the network. It is usually my fault for changing locations. When we have lost connection with God we also know it, and we tend to blame God, when in reality we are the ones who changed locations. When we choose to cherish sin in our hearts, (Psalm 66:18) God breaks the connection of prayer with us. This is serious, and we have minimized its truth for too long. We have no audience with the King when we have the audacity to attempt to come before Him covered in sin rather than with His blood. And one single treasured sin in our lives is sufficient to close the ears of God. We cannot expect God to listen to any of our prayers when they are communicated from a heart that has a secret room of unrepentant sin.

So if you’re feeling disconnected from God today – like your calls to Him are constantly being dropped – then check your position in relation to His holiness. You may be living in a dead spot. Get out of there, and move to a place of connectivity again – a place of repentance, forgiveness, and restored service.

Pastor John


Praise for the Right Reason

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Psalm 65:1 Praise is due to you, O God…

Today’s Psalm is an amazing answer to yesterday’s issues. Yesterday praise was but a far-off hope. But today we are reminded that the praise of God is not based on the present circumstances, but on the worthiness of God to be praised for who He is.

I am over whelmed with the blessing of knowing that God is God, all the time. No, that is not a misprint. We often say “God is good, all the time.” But it is more appropriate to say “God is God, all the time.” He is constantly due our praise. Here are just four of God’s characteristics listed in this Psalm:

  • He is holy – verse 4
  • He is righteous – verse 5
  • He is powerful – verse 6
  • He is gracious – verse 9

When we grasp the reality of who God is, then the promises of this Psalm will also become the reality of our lives.

  • God hears our prayers – verse 2
  • God forgives our sin – verse 3
  • Satisfaction is ours as we dwell in the courts of the Lord – verse 4
  • Joy is ours in every period of life – verse 8
  • Provision for every need is guaranteed – verses 9-13

How magnificent is our God to hear our complaints one day and then to restore our joy the next day. Joy has returned in the morning.

David captures the essence of renewal and restoration in Psalm 65. God awaits the praise of a healed heart (vs. 1). God hears the prayer of a penitent person (vs. 2), and forgives their sin (vs. 3). God restores us to the fellowship of His presence where we are filled with all the good things of His grace (vs. 4). God responds to our every need with deeds of righteousness and restores hope (vs. 5). All of creation is under His control (vs. 6-7), and He declares that it will bring joy to our hearts (vs. 8)and blessing to our lives (vs. 9-13).

When I am discouraged, there is nothing more healing than the sounds and surroundings of nature. The soothing environment of a stream filled with rocks that serve as noisemakers causing the waters to roar with delight as they pass over them. The leaves on the trees applaud in the wind as the early morning choir of birds assembles and sings in their branches. In the spring, dancing drops of rain soften the dry dirt, and sprouts of new life burst through the decomposing death of last year’s growth. God’s creation not only shouts with joy, but brings praise to my heart.

What God does in nature He can do in our hearts each day. The same Lord who renews the trees with buds and blossoms every spring is ready to renew our lives with hope and courage. The same Creator who uses winter to prepare nature for multiplied growth is also using the winter experience of your heart to prepare you for a bountiful harvest of His life.

Joy is not a far off hope, but can be the present reality of life when our hearts are fixed on the fact that God is God all the time. Healing is coming. God will crown the year with His bounty; His wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy. (Psalm 65:11-13)

Join with all nature in manifold witness to God’s great faithfulness. Shout for joy!

Look Further Ahead

LifeLink Devotions

Wednesday, December 2, 2012

Psalm 64:1  Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

My muscles are sore. My knee hurts. I have a headache. My wife is very sick with a cold. I didn’t get a deer during rifle season. These are the top complaints of my life right now.

Now before you go off in your mind into all the ways that your complaints are worse than mine, and start complaining about the fact that I am complaining, I really not complaining. I’m just making a point – a point that is profoundly declared in the sixty-fourth Psalm.

Psalm 64:1  Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

I learned two lessons from today’s Psalm. First, God’s love is so awesome that He allows me to come into His presence when I am at my worst. When I am emotionally distraught and need to vent, God listens to me. He doesn’t turn His back on me. He doesn’t send me away and tell me to come back when I’m feeling better. He doesn’t reject me.

His love for me is expressed in glorious compassion and care.

In His great grace he cuddles and coddles me.

He understands my hurts.

He opens His heart.

He offers His help.

The people of Yugoslavia have a proverb – complain to one who can help you. God is that One!

Second, I learned that my complaints are usually caused by my short-sightedness. The help that God offers me in times of distress is that He reveals more of His nature, character, and purpose to me.

In this Psalm King David started out complaining, but while he did God was working to show him the bigger picture. David had become overwhelmed by the immediate and God’s answer was to reveal to Him how it all ends. David’s problem, like mine and yours, is that we sometimes don’t look far enough ahead.

Eight-year-old Frank had looked forward for weeks to this particular Saturday because his father had promised to take him fishing if the weather was suitable. There hadn’t been any rain for weeks and as Saturday approached, Frank was confident of the fishing trip. But, wouldn’t you know it, when Saturday morning dawned, it was raining heavily and it appeared that it would continue all day.

Frank wandered around the house, peering out the windows and grumbling more than a little. “Seems like the Lord would know that it would have been better to have the rain yesterday than today,” he complained to his father who was sitting by the fireplace, enjoying a good book. His father tried to explain to Frank how badly the rain was needed, how it would make the flowers grow and bring much needed moisture to the farmers’ crops. But Frank was adamant.

“It just isn’t right,” he said over and over.

Then, about three o’clock, the rain stopped. Still time for some fishing, and quickly the gear was loaded and they were off to the lake. Whether it was the rain or some other reason, the fish were biting hungrily and father and son returned with a full string of fine, big fish.

At supper, when some of the fish were ready, Frank’s mom asked him to say grace. Frank did—and concluded his prayer by saying, “And, Lord, if I sounded grumpy earlier today it was because I couldn’t see far enough ahead.”

No doubt much of our complaining is because we “can’t see far enough ahead.” Or maybe we can but we simply choose to not look far enough ahead. Don’t let the current circumstances dictate your demeanor. Look ahead – God has big plans already in the works. Look ahead into what He is going to do and rejoice.

Pastor John