Behave Yourself

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, March 23, 2018

Philippians 1:27-30 So that… I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

 When I was a young boy, I remember sitting in the back seat of the car with my brothers as we would accompany our parents to the home of someone from our church. My dad would be going there in an official capacity as a pastor, and we were along because the whole family had been invited for dinner. I specifically remember the little speech we would get along the way. It included a simple admonition to behave, along with the traditional “sit still and be quiet,” and “use your manners.”

I knew what it meant to behave myself in a way that would honor my parents because I had been taught the specifics at home. I didn’t always do it (you can ask me about the time at Miss Stevens’ house), nor did I always think the expectations on me were fair. But I knew what I should be doing to conduct myself in a manner worthy of being a pastor’s son.

Paul makes sure the people in the church at Philippi know what it means to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ by telling them the conduct code. Here are the four rules of Christ-like conduct Paul gives us in this passage:

  1. Stand in one spirit firmly – Don’t let disharmony occur within the church. Keep focused on God’s purpose and plan, not your preferences. Bear with one another’s faults and failures. Encourage one another. Love and forgive one another just as Christ loved and forgave us.
  2. Share the workload fervently – Paul says, “striving side by side.” Become as one person doing the work of God. Let each member of the body of Christ do its work so that the whole body grows together to efficiently and powerfully accomplish God’s purpose.
  3. Strive for the faith fearlessly – Don’t let any opposition stop you from carrying out the ministry God has given you, both individually and as a church.
  4. Suffer for Christ faithfully – God has granted us the privilege of complete understanding of our union with Christ through our suffering like Christ. Don’t run from suffering, but embrace Christ in your suffering.

There you have it – the four fundamentals of conduct worthy of Jesus Christ. Study them. Memorize them. Be changed by them. When you wake up every morning and hear your heavenly Father say, “Behave yourself,” you’ll know exactly what that means and how to do it.

Pastor John

Conduct Becoming to Christ

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Philippians 1:27-28 27  Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28  and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.

When I was a teenager I began to be very concerned with the way I looked. (I know what you are thinking – I had a lot to be concerned about.) I took notice of what other people were wearing and the current styles of haircuts, and I wanted to look my best. One day, when I was a sophomore in high school, I was wearing a royal blue shirt, and one of the cheerleaders from the 2,600-student school I attended said to me, “You look really good in blue. It brings out your beautiful eyes.” I think I wore blue every day from then on.

In the good old days of my youth, there was a term used to describe clothing that looked good on someone. I remember my dad using this term once when describing a new dress my mom was wearing. He said, “That dress is very becoming on you.” What he meant was that the style, color, and fit of the dress brought out the best in mom, just like the blue shirt brought out the best in my eyes.

We have all taken notice of things like that for ourselves and for others. We still wear certain types of clothing and certain colors because we know they are very becoming on us.

That is the same word that the Apostle Paul uses when he says, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” In fact, the King James Version of the Bible uses the word “becoming”. Paul wants us to understand that our conduct is to be chosen in the same way we choose our clothing – make sure it is becoming.

But our conduct is chosen for a different purpose than our clothing. We choose our clothes to bring out the best in us. We choose our conduct to bring out the best of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. At least we should. Just as our clothing is a representation of who we believe we are, so our conduct is a representation of who we believe Jesus to be.

Check out these other uses of the word “worthy” by Paul:

Colossians 1:10  …so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

1 Thessalonians 2:12 …we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

Ephesians 4:1  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

The big question we all must ask and answer for ourselves is this: “Is my conduct becoming to Jesus?” In other words, when people observe my behavior, do they see the best of Jesus in me?

Here’s a thought: why not ask them. We ask them how our clothing looks on us, and we seem to trust their opinion. Let’s ask them how our conduct looks on us, so that whatever happens in life, whether good or bad, our conduct is always becoming to Christ.

Pastor John


LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Philippians 1:22-26 22  If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23  I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24  But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26  so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

Choices. We all have them. We all make them. Every day. Probably every minute of every day. Life boils down to choices. Choices boil down to motives. Motives always originate in the heart. The heart always determines our choices.

Jesus confirms this when He says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” We think we are making choices that make us look good, when those choices are really motivated by a heart that seeks value, affirmation, or personal reward. The heart must be transformed by the grace of God for the choices of life to be joyfully made.

Paul models that for us in today’s Scripture passage. He is faced with a choice. He is in prison, and is contemplating not being able to carry on His ministry. He is considering the value of staying alive and continuing to work for the Lord, or dying and going to be with the Lord Jesus forever.

Here are three principles from how we see Paul evaluate his options.

  1. He is so convinced of God’s purpose for His life that the ONLY options he considers are those that flow from God’s purpose. He considers everything about life on this earth to be an aspect of doing the Lord’s will. He does not need a list of a third or fourth or fifth option. He knows that joy can only be fully experienced when we live in the will of God and eliminate all other options.
  2. Both of Paul’s options are so right that it’s painful for him to make a choice. Paul made sure that every choice he made fit into one of these two categories: God’s will for life on earth, or God’s eternal reward waiting for him in glory. When we learn, like he did, to limit our earthly choices to these two categories, we will begin to experience consistent joy. There is no third category labeled “Personal”. If you have such a category, it is probably your joy-sucker.
  3. The choice to center his life on God’s will resulted in Paul being focused on what was best for others, not himself. Even though the choice to remain here on earth was less desirable than the option of being in glory with Jesus, he didn’t make the choice based on personal benefit. The option to stay in the flesh was considered ONLY for the benefit that would bring others. Their progress and joy in the faith was his motivation.

We often get hard-pressed between choices, but probably for the wrong reasons. We are weary from making choices between blue or red, big or small, cheap or expensive, and worst of all, between spiritual or personal. Paul reminds us to acknowledge that all choices fall into the spiritual or personal category, and that the key to joy in life is to make that fundamental choice.

Choose to eliminate all self-serving options. Choose to consider only those things that serve the purpose of Christ. Then, as Paul demonstrates, even the pain of making those choices will result in joy, because it becomes a win-win decision.

Pastor John

Never Separated from Christ

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Philippians 1:18-21  Yes, and I will rejoice, 19  for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20  as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21  For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Recently I achieved what could be considered a milestone by some, and a millstone by others. I passed into my 66th year of life. I celebrated by walking and running a mile on the treadmill in under 12 minutes. Then I lifted some weights. I am preparing to play in a three-on-three basketball tournament on Sunday with my two sons, who have enough confidence in me that they invited me to be on their team. Either that or the just needed someone to look good on the bench.

My wonderful wife is a great encouragement to me as we talk about our desire to stay around as long as possible to enjoy our family. I know I’m not in charge of the length of days of my life, but I can do my best to make every day count with a vision for the future. I want to stay in Christ’s service so long as I can.

Nevertheless, the reality of old age and eventual death has started to sink in as we reach this stage of our lives. Yet, in the midst of that, I have discovered an ever-increasing sense of joy in my relationship with my wife. The joy of our present relationship far outweighs the possibility of future realities.

Our present relationship with Christ should bring us even greater joy, because He is our future reality. Death has no sting for those who are in Christ Jesus. The fear of separation from whom and what we love is removed because death does not separate us from God, but rather completes our union with Him. We can be living today in the future reality of intimacy with Christ.

According to Paul in today’s Scripture reading, God has provided us with four things that cause us to rejoice in the present when faced with the reality of death. Here they are:

  1. The prayer support of fellow believers. Endurance is tough when we stand alone, but it is enhanced when we are supported by a band of brothers and sisters who care. Praying for one another produces solidarity by bringing all of us into unity in the heart and mind of God. When the singular purpose of God is understood through prayer, people are encouraged and strengthened to unite in accomplishing that goal.
  2. The power of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The indwelling presence of Jesus in the Person of the Holy Spirit gives us constant help and hope. The joy of the present relationship far outweighs any of the possible outcomes of the hardship.
  3. The promises of God. Paul says, “…what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage…” He had total confidence in the promises of God, using terms like “will turn out”, “I eagerly expect”, and “will have sufficient courage.” He never doubted the power of God to fulfill His promises in his life. Knowing that God was at work and would not fail gave him great joy despite the severest persecutions.
  4. The plan of God. “Christ will be exalted in my body.” That was Paul’s understanding of the plan of God for his life, and it is God’s plan for us as well. We will find reason to rejoice when we accept God’s plan, and allow Him to use our lives for His glory, whether by life or by death.

Separation is never easy. It is not easy for me to think about being separated from my children if God would call them to another place to serve Him. It may be hard for you to open up your heart to where God might call you to better serve him in some other capacity so that the Kingdom can grow. It is far easier to maintain the status quo than it is to be uprooted. But we must trust the sovereignty of God who knows these three things to be true:

  • you will grow to greater maturity by obeying;
  • you will influence others in a way God wants when you go;
  • and you will be replaced by someone whom God has prepared to do the same.

Don’t be so comfortable where you are and so afraid of separation that the glory of God ceases to be your motivation for living. Be bold and be strong, for the Lord your God is with you.

Pastor John

Knowledge is a Joy-Sucker

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, March 19, 2018

Philippians 1:15-18 15  Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. 16  The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17  The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. 18  What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

When I think from a human perspective about what Paul wrote here, I conclude that he crossed the line of common sense and spiritual purity. Let me explain.

Last week we talked about Paul’s ability to find the good in every situation, no matter how much suffering it was causing him. But I cannot relate to what he says today. His ability to find good in the false pretense of preaching the Gospel is not a part of my nature. It is my natural tendency to correct those who misrepresent the Gospel. Whether they teach direct lies, or misinterpretations, or teach with wrong motives, I somehow feel qualified and authorized to point out their error and if possible to correct them. And as I observe what is happening in Christian culture today, I am not alone in this.

I see a direct connection between the lack of joy in our lives and the abundance of criticism we have towards those who believe differently than we do. Let me be clear – the context of this passage is not Paul’s acceptance of a false Gospel. He is not declaring his joy with false teachers. However, he is clearly rejoicing that the true Gospel is being taught, even when the teacher has impure and even shameful motives.

My heart is truly breaking over the state of the American church. The things I am about to share are hard for me to say, but I must share my heart. Christians are dividing the Body of Christ over prideful pursuits of theological knowledge. We believe that our superior knowledge separates us from others in the Body of Christ who do not have the same knowledge. We move from church to church, and many times the motive for such a move is pride in what is being taught, rather than a humble, loving response to the Holy Spirit’s placement of us where He wants us to serve Jesus. We then proceed to recruit others to follow us. We are dividing the Body of Christ.

Paul warned about this in I Corinthians 8, when he wrote, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”

We have elevated theological knowledge to a position of higher priority than loving God and sharing the love of Christ.

Compare the current state of the church to what Paul declares in Philippians 1:15-18. When the Gospel of Jesus Christ is being preached, Paul rejoiced, regardless of the motive of the preacher. If Jesus Christ is being proclaimed as Savior, we are to rejoice. If the cross of Christ is being declared as the only means of salvation from sin, then we are to rejoice. If the resurrection of Christ is declared as the way Jesus secured our eternal life, then we are to rejoice.

My friends, we are guilty of not doing this.  Knowledge has puffed us up. Pride in what we believe has replaced love for those who do not yet believe. Pride in our preferences has divided us from others in the eternal Body of Christ. All of this has destroyed our joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Today, we fall on our knees before the Savior, and confess our sin, and rejoice that whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed.

Pastor John

Courageous Joy

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, March 16, 2018

Philippians 1:14  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

1 Thessalonians 2:2  But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict.

Today’s Scripture passages remind me of a documentary film about the deaths of five missionaries in the jungle of Ecuador in the mid-1950’s. Jim Elliot, Roger Youderian, Nate Saint, Pete Fleming, and Ed McCully were murdered by the Waoroni tribes people as they attempted to make initial contact with them to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of the most miraculous parts of the rest of the story is that two wives of the slain men went back to that tribe and began a mission work that resulted in the salvation of the very men who were responsible for the murders of their husbands. Today that tribe has put down their swords and has become a Christian society.

Most of us would probably stay far away from any group of people who had done something so hurtful to us. But these women, called by God and focused on His purpose, had the courage to step into harm’s way for the sake of the gospel. They chose to follow the example of their husbands, who were following the example of Jesus Christ, who willingly put Himself in harm’s way to bring God’s love to us.

I have been to the island of Mindanao in the Philippines four times, and I still desire to return to minister to the people there. But every time I begin to consider going I question the safety factor. Will I be able to be protected from the terrorists who have set up camps on that island? What are the possibilities of kidnapping and death? Is it safe to travel to the churches in the tribal areas? So, I send an email to a friend there and ask about the political situation. The potential for persecution is very real, and that has become a deterrent to me.

But this morning, as I sat on the couch and connected on Facebook with my Filipino and Indian friends who live in countries that are suppressing the Christian faith, I see pictures of people who live daily in the reality of persecution. I see the joy of the Lord in all their faces and I know the hardships they have endured for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I wonder why I feel I need to be safe. Is my desire to see my grandchildren grow more important to me than my desire to obey God if he asks me to go? What kind of an example am I setting for my family and for all of you if my need for security is greater than my heart for the unsaved, no matter who and where they are?

I do not have a clear sense of God’s leading to go anywhere right now, but today’s testimony of the Apostle Paul really hit me. Is my love for the Lord so strong that obedience to His purpose is not affected by any potential danger or suffering?

That’s a question for all of us to consider. It may not be that you are being called to go overseas to a dangerous country, but it is very probable that you see danger in speaking up for Christ to your neighbor or your boss. The fear is the same. The solution is also the same. Love God, then show people God’s love.

I believe it is time for all of us to step out of our comfort zones for the sake of accomplishing God’s purpose in the world. I believe the church of Jesus Christ needs to see some visible examples of people putting their faith on the line. I believe we need to see Christians living lives of sacrifice for the King rather than living for the safety of the kin. With the help of God, may we courageously and fearlessly speak the word of God without the fear of opposition wherever God sends us – across the sea or across the street.

Pastor John

I Rejoice Even In This

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Philippians 1:12-14 12  I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13  so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

In one of the Apostle Paul’s most quoted statements, given to Him by the Holy Spirit, he says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Paul wrote that statement prior to traveling to Rome, where he was eventually imprisoned for his faith in Christ. It was during that incarceration that he had an opportunity to apply the truth of what he had written to his own life. He wrote to the people of Philippi to tell them that even in his imprisonment God was accomplishing His purpose of advancing the gospel.

Paul had an incredible perspective on life. He found the positive in the most negative of situations. We would certainly classify Paul as an optimist. But Paul did much more than just attempt to find the good in a bad circumstance so that he could feel better about what was happening. He went into the circumstance with the expectation of seeing God do something good. He didn’t base his attitude on hindsight, but on foresight motivated by faith.

There are two key elements to having this kind of perspective on life:

  1. love for God above all else, and
  2. living for God’s purpose and not our own.

Our attitude toward life and its circumstances is dictated by whom we love and the outcomes we expect. We have two main choices when it comes to whom we will love. We will either love self, or we will love God. You may be tempted to add a third choice of “others”, but think about it. We either love others because of our love for God or we love others because of our love for self. When we love others out of our love for God, we do what is best for them. When we love others out of our love for self, we do what brings us a desired result. So essentially there are only two choices for whom we love – God or self.

Our love choice then dictates the purpose for all that we do and our attitude towards the outcomes of what we have done. If we love God above self, then we want His purpose accomplished and our attitude toward every situation is determined by that outcome. If we love self more than God, then our outcomes are most important and our attitude is determined by whether or not we get it.

Paul’s secret to joy during terrible circumstances was that he loved God more than self, and he lived his life seeking God’s outcomes so that God’s purpose was fulfilled. My problem is that I choose to live far too many days with a bad attitude because I love myself most and as a result I want my outcomes.

Paul lived in prison with a good attitude because God’s outcomes were being realized. We have the same opportunity to experience life to that level of joy and satisfaction. We have been called to salvation to accomplish God’s purpose. We can enter every situation of life with an expectation that God is at work to advance the gospel and accomplish His purpose. What a difference that will make in our attitudes. Then we will be able to say with Paul, “because of this I rejoice.”

Pastor John