Choices

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

The Joy is in the Fruit

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Philippians 1:11  …filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Has anyone else ever been disappointed by the amount of fruit in a Pop Tart? They are advertised as having real fruit filling, but I have yet to find any real fruit in mine. I find a jelly like paste that has a fruit flavor, but when I bite into something that is supposed to have real fruit filling, I want a hunk of fruit. If they are going to tell me that this pastry is made with real strawberries, then they’d better put gobs of real strawberries in it. Don’t mix up a bunch of stuff that has no relationship to fruit and then add a little bit of smashed berries for flavoring; that’s not real fruit filling. Why not label the product correctly? Pop Tarts – Small amounts of smashed and strained real fruit to enhance the flavor of the chemically based filling. My apologies to all of you who work for the company that makes Pop Tarts. I don’t eat them anymore, but when I did, I did it mainly for the frosting. Now I’m even more upset, because they finally put more frosting on them, and I can’t enjoy it.

We have far too many Pop Tart Christians. They advertise themselves as being filled with the real fruit of righteousness, when in fact they have added only small amounts of fruit to a concoction of worldly based activities that have no relationship to righteousness. Then they coat it all with the frosting of self-righteousness, seeking to enhance their image so they will be appealing to the spiritual consumer. They use confection on the outside to cover the concoction on the inside.

In today’s Scripture passage, Paul echoes the words of Jesus when he says that when we are in Jesus Christ, we will be filled with much fruit, and it will be to the praise and glory of the Father. This will prove that we are true disciples of Jesus.

We have been duped by the world’s system into believing that a little goes a long way. If we attend church once a month, or even once a week, that’s enough of God to get us through. There’s no reason to get carried away with religious involvement. There’s life to live and experience. Why would we ignore the immediate pleasures and benefits of the world to participate in spiritual activities that lay up treasures to inherit later? We want our treasures now. A little righteousness will suffice.

I am very concerned about the working definition of the word commitment that has become the reality of the last two generations. Unfortunately, I see it too often in the Christian community called the church. There is a claim of commitment to Christ and His Lordship, but the lifestyle choices don’t validate the claims. Some of the choices are not sinful, but they are self-serving and they interfere with the commitment we supposedly made to Christ and His ministry. We’re so busy with our careers, our relationships, and our kid’s sporting events that we put those things ahead of spiritual activities for personal growth and outreach to a lost and dying world.

What makes this new definition of commitment so dangerous is the sweetness of the frosting. All the opportunities that the world offers can become distractions to being filled the Spirit of God, so that we can be filled with spiritual fruit.  There’s a reason the fruit is called the filling. They are synonymous in Pop Tarts and in Christianity. The filling of the Holy Spirit produces the fruit of righteousness. But we have become so attracted to the  frosting that we want to taste it before we even get to the fruit. And the frosting tastes so good that we don’t even care anymore whether we are fruit filled or not.

My friends, seriously and honestly look at your life today and see if you are a Pop Tart Christian.

  • Have you elevated friends, family, career, or recreation to a position of equal priority with bearing real fruit for Jesus?
  • Are you satisfied with just a little fruit of church attendance that is easily interrupted and displaced by tiredness, inconvenience, or better frosting in another activity?
  • Are you refusing to commit to a life group because it will interfere with personal frosting choices?
  • Are you abiding in Christ and remaining in Him in all areas of your life so you can bear much fruit to the glory of the Father?

Think seriously about this today, and may the Holy Spirit touch your heart with His grace to return to a biblical definition of commitment. God wants to see some big hunks of real fruit. It’s in the fruit where the joy is found.

John 15:5, 8  5“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…8This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Pastor John

Building Blocks of Integrity

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Philippians 1:10b …and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,

I have had the incredible privilege of watching seven grandsons grow up through their first 4 years of life. I am so excited that it’s not done because there’s one more in that process right now. I also have watched three granddaughters go through the same process of growth, but there’s a reason why I am focused on the boys today, and especially on those early years.

You see, boys are different than girls. Oh my, how politically incorrect that is, but it is the truth no matter what culture says. And God created male and female from the moment of conception, and he gave each of them a set of guidelines that would enhance their ability to fulfill their God-given roles.

Every one of my grandsons did something more consistently and enthusiastically than any of the girls. We would build towers with blocks, and then they would knock them over. Each boy would ask me to help him, so I would try my best to demonstrate how to build a good tower. The blocks we used were all different sizes, and of course I knew enough to put the big ones on the bottom. If I didn’t grab those big blocks right away, they would end up in his hands as he attempted to place them on top of the smaller blocks. Sometimes the tower fell over before he had a chance to knock it down. But if not, he would not only knock it down, but knock it across the room. For me, the skill of building exceeded the thrill of falling, but not to him. He didn’t care about the order of the blocks or the design of the tower, he just wanted the excitement of watching it all fall down.

Many Christians live life the same way: they don’t seem to be concerned about the spiritual design of their lives. In fact, they may even get a thrill from watching life fall apart and the attention it brings to them as they ask for help to rebuild it. But life was not supposed to be lived in a constant state of rebuilding after crashes. It was meant to be lived according to the design of the Architect. God has designed a wonderful plan for the building of our lives so that we can withstand any storm and any attack of an enemy who seeks to knock down our tower. We are responsible to build well.

We are currently studying the building blocks of a joyful life as described to us in Paul’s opening prayer for the people in the church at Philippi. The first block we put in place was God’s grace. This is important because it becomes a foundation that cannot be destroyed no matter what happens to the building on top of it. We may have built poorly, but the foundation of grace will never fall.

1 Corinthians 3:10 – 15 (NIV) 10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.  11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,  13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.  14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.  15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

The second block that must be in place for a strong tower to endure is love, and it is to be abundant love.  We spoke of that last Friday.

On top of love we place the block of moral and ethical excellence so that our lives can be lived inside out.  That was yesterday.

Today Paul adds the next block to the strong tower of joyful living. It is the pure and blameless lifestyle of a morally excellent person.

When grace and love have taken hold of our lives, we become whole, and have no fear of transparency because the excellence of Christ penetrates to the very core of our being. Every decision we make is based on the love of God and the excellence He brings to our minds. Every word we speak models the love of God because it comes from a heart of love that seeks excellence in others. Every lifestyle choice we make honors God because He has taken up permanent residence in our lives and we cannot dishonor His temple with something less than excellence. We build our strong towers with visible integrity. People can see our faith by our works, and our works are pure and blameless.

When the building block of a pure and blameless lifestyle is added to the blocks of grace, love, and transparency, the tower of a joyful life is almost complete. But we must not quickly pass over this block of visible holiness. Take some time this day to make sure this building block of joy is firmly seated in the tower of your life.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Phil. 4:8-9)

Pastor John

1 Thessalonians 3:12 – 13  12May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.  13May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

1 Thessalonians 5:21 – 24 21Test everything. Hold on to the good.  22Avoid every kind of evil. 23May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.