Stake Your Claim

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, April 30, 2018

Philippians 2:16-18  …so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.

How well do you know American history? The Homestead Act of 1862 declared that any citizen or intended citizen of the United States could claim 160 acres of surveyed government land west of the Mississippi River, simply by going to the land and staking a claim. Claimants were required to improve the plot with a dwelling and grow crops. After five years, if the original filer was still on the land, it was his property, free and clear. Thousands of people moved west in an attempt to own a part of what they thought would be paradise, though in most cases it wasn’t. Only a small percentage of the original claimants were able to last five years and receive the full blessing of land ownership.

Imagine the excitement of that era. It appeals to the adventuresome spirit in me. I know the thrill that would flow through me if I had been there to hear about a land to the west that offered risk and reward. I know I would have been one of those going to stake a claim. Once on that land I would have worked it with all my strength and guarded it with all my heart. I would have posted the claim papers on the wall of my cabin as soon as it was completed, to remind me of my long-term objective. I would have worked hard to accomplish that goal.

In much the same way, we have heard about a land called heaven, and we have staked our claim to it by faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We did not have to work for it; we simply had to go for it. We ran to the open arms of Jesus and received from Him our ownership papers. But here’s one big difference – we don’t have to earn the permanent ownership of the land by working for it. God has granted us a permanent inheritance and it is kept for us by His power, not ours. (1 Peter 1:3 – 5 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,  5who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”)

Along with the claim to the place, comes a responsibility to act like an owner. The homesteader had to act like an owner of the land because his eventual ownership depended on it. As Christians we act like owners of the land because of the guarantee of possession of heaven. But far too many of us are not claiming all the rights that go with ownership. We have the privilege to claim the right to build, to plant, to harvest, to occupy, and to boldly proclaim our ownership, and we are authorized as owners to claim the blessings that go with it. How foolish it would have been to travel all that distance to stake a claim to a piece of land and then never do anything with it. How equally foolish it is for us as Christians to have been granted a claim to heaven and then not do anything to claim all of the benefits that go with it.

Paul says that at the end of His life, he wanted to be able to look back and boast about what He was able to accomplish for God so that his life would not have been for nothing. When we stand before the Father in heaven one day, and He reviews our lives, will He be able to say to us, “Well done! You are a good and faithful servant”?  We will not lose the possession of heaven, but we certainly will miss out on a great blessing – blessings that could have been ours if we had acted like owners and heirs.

We may be missing out on some great blessings today because we are living beneath our privilege. God has promised His heirs the blessings of joy, peace, contentment, confidence, and security. All these and more come from having an abiding faith in the work of God in our lives.

 

Paul says that even though his life is being poured out as a sacrifice on behalf of others (he was in prison near the end of his life when he wrote this), he is glad and rejoices that the people were living their lives in faithful service to Jesus Christ. He even asked them to rejoice with him over his current situation.

That’s the blessing I think we need to claim – that in the darkest times of our lives we can rejoice that we are faithfully serving God and His work is being accomplished. Stake your claim to that kind of joy, and start living like an owner of it.

Pastor John

Hold Up The Light

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, April 27, 2018

Philippians 2:16 …as you hold out the word of life…

In Philippians 2:14-16, Paul is describing for us what a Christian’s life should look like when God’s work is being done in it. Such a life will be blameless in its character and conduct, and it will shine brightly with the glory of God.

Another characteristic of a Christ-like life of joy will be boldness to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ to a lost world. Paul says that we will shine light stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life.

Notice first that we are not to hold the truth in, but we are to hold it out. When I was young I remember the camping trips we used to take as a family. My favorite part was setting up the fire pit and getting it ready for use. One of the items dad had for night time use was a kerosene lantern. This was in the “good old days” before they sold the little propane tanks that screw onto the bottom of the lantern. This one had a kerosene tank on the bottom and the kerosene had to be pressurized. He taught me how to put my thumb over the hole in the pressure pump and pump it up so that the fuel could reach the mantle and be ignited to provide light.

Then, when it was dark, we would light the lantern and hang it from a tree branch as high as possible. The object was to light up as large an area as possible. We not only wanted everyone in our family to be safe, but we also wanted anyone camping around us who might come over for a visit to be able to find us and be safe getting to us. We boldly placed our light for everyone to see.

In the same way, we are to boldly hold forth the light of the word of life. The Apostle John tells us what that means in 1 John 1:1-2. We are to proclaim Jesus Christ as the word of life. We are not being sufficiently bold when we hold out philosophies that are derived from the teachings of Jesus. We are not yet bold enough when we preach and teach principles that we have discovered from the life and teachings of Jesus. We are not being truly bold when we disguise the truth inside politically correct terminology or socially acceptable language. We are being bold only when we hold forth the truth of Jesus Christ, who is the Word of Life.

In his letter, John tells us there are 5 things that we are to proclaim about Jesus:

  1. Proclaim His eternal nature – He is God. That which was from the beginning…
  2. Declare the things we have heard from Jesus. …which we have heard…Not the things we have heard about Him, but the things we have heard from Him. Don’t share the latest trendy information about Jesus that is being promoted by man, but rather get your information about Jesus directly from Him.
  3. Testify to the things we have seen Jesus do…which we have seen with our eyes…”Aha!” you say. We can’t see Jesus. Yes, we can. We see Him every time we open our Bibles and every time we look at the marvel of our own salvation and transformed life. Jesus lives in us, the hope of glory, and we see Him.
  4. Express the intimacy of relationship with Jesus… which we have looked at… This is different than seeing. The Greek word means to “view attentively and contemplate with admiration.” There is a depth of intimacy that we have with Jesus that is available to anyone, and that needs to be proclaimed to people boldly.
  5. Announce boldly the things we have experienced because of Christ’s work in us… our hands have touched…We have been permitted to touch the life and work of Jesus, and we have much to share with others about who He is and what He can do.

The main point of all of this is that we become followers of Jesus who boldly proclaim Jesus to the world. Every opportunity we get to talk with an unsaved person must lead to a discussion of Jesus Christ.

We do not boldly hold forth words of philosophy, social reform, or tolerance, but rather we hold forth the Word of Life. May we be bold enough to proclaim Jesus anywhere we are, without fear, so people can hear the truth and be saved.

Pastor John

Clean the Lights

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Philippians 2:15  “…among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Matthew 5:14 – 16  “You are the light of the world…let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Maybe the extensive winter is finally over. Ten days ago, we had a big snowstorm here in western Wisconsin. I drove the 4-wheel drive so I could make my way around town with some ease and a sense of security. The snowplows were out early removing the snow from the road and leaving a layer of salt behind them to melt what was left. As I made my way to the various appointments I had for the day, the salty slush was sprayed up onto my bronze SUV and it began to look very white. Later that evening, on my way home, I wondered why I was having difficulty seeing the road ahead. It was as if my headlights weren’t even on. I pulled over to the side of the road and grabbed the towel I carry for such need, and proceeded to wipe the dried salt residue from my headlights. I knew I needed to remove the dirt from the lens so the light could shine through.

That is exactly what Paul is teaching us in Philippians 2:15. We have been filled with the Light of Jesus Christ, but until we remove the dirt from our lives it doesn’t get to shine very well. When our lives are on the path of purity, the light of God is visible in the darkness. When our lives are covered with the slush of the world, the light is hidden.

Take note of three important truths:

First, blameless behavior makes the light visible. Our behavior doesn’t produce the light – God is the light in us, and He is shining brightly all the time. Our behavior determines whether or not others can see the light. My headlights were on when they were dirty, and the bulb was producing a consistent amount of light, but the dirt kept it from being seen. God is at work in us and His light is shining. We are already bright; we just need to clean the lens.

Second, the light fixture isn’t supposed to get any of the glory – only the light itself. When I got back in my vehicle and headed towards home, I wasn’t thankful for the housing in which the light bulb was fixed, or for the lens that was now clean. I’m sure other drivers weren’t taking notice of the design of the reflectors in the bulb housing. We all just noticed the light, and we were thankful for it. I could see and I could be seen. But let those lights get dirty again, and all the attention is drawn to the cause, which focus all of the attention on the vehicle and not the light.

That’s exactly what happens spiritually. When we are blameless and without fault, we shine brightly and the world sees the light in our good deeds. According to the words of Jesus this causes people to praise the Light, not the vehicle. But let the vehicle interfere with the light’s brightness, and suddenly all the attention is drawn away from the Light and is focused on us.  Try this the next time you are driving at night: when a car approaches and the lights are bright, try to see inside the light fixture. Try to see the emblem on the front of the car so you know what make it is. Try to determine the color of the car. Try to see the face of the driver. You can’t, because the light is shining. Our lives are to be the same: the purer we become, the more the light shines and reduces the visibility of self.

Third, every once in a while the light fixture needs to be adjusted so the light is shining in the right direction. I just finished tightening a headlight on my car that was loose, and last night I noticed that it is not shining on the road any more. It is aimed too high and down the shoulder of the road. I can see the road signs really well. I will have to adjust the housing so that the light shines where it is supposed to. The lights looked great on the wall in my garage, but out on the road where they were needed they didn’t do the job they were designed to do.

God’s light is intended to shine in the darkness. Many of us have adjusted our lives so the light only shines in the confines of our comfort zones. We let it shine only when other light is around. We shine great when we are in the garage at church or in Bible studies, but when we are out on the road the light is not shining on the path God has us on. We direct it to shine where we want it to shine and where it benefits us. But Jesus said ”let your light shine before men,” because God wants people who are in the darkness to be drawn to the light of His love.

So, check your headlights. The light is on. Make sure it can be seen.

Pastor John

 

Claim the Promise

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Philippians 2:15 …so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation…

No one likes a braggart who makes claims about himself and then fails to live up to them. It doesn’t take long for us to discern the dysfunctional nature of such a person who is attempting to make themselves out to be more than they truly are. We are all tempted to exaggerate at times, but there is something wrong in the thought process of a person who attempts to live an embellished life.

But there is also something equally wrong with a person who fails to claim what is rightfully theirs. It is not boastful to speak and live the truth, even if that truth seems extraordinary.

God’s Word has given us an identity with certain privileges. We have the right to claim it all. (Please see the note below)

As children of God, we claim eternal life and joint kinship with Jesus Christ that results in an equal inheritance with Him in all things in glory. But far too often we overlook the claims that can be made by us in regard to our relationship with Jesus. In today’s Scripture passage we discover the first of four incredible claims that can be made by the person who is living as a child of God.

We can claim blamelessness and purity.

Because the attaining of sinless perfection is not possible so long as we are living in imperfect bodies in this sinful world, some Christians have decided to accept their current level of worldliness as normal. But the Christian life is to be a process of gradual transformation into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 3:18, Paul says,And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” Day by day we are to be reflecting more and more of the glory of Jesus, thus becoming more and more blameless and pure until one day we are fully glorified in His presence in heaven.

The Apostle Peter saw that final day of glory coming and used it to motivate us when he said, “So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.” (2 Peter 3:14)

But becoming blameless is not our work, but rather the promised work of God in our lives to transform our wills and our actions according to His good purpose. Because it is God’s work in us, we can claim the outcome based on God’s character and promises. In 1 Corinthians 1:8–9 Paul says, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

God has called us into fellowship with His Son, Jesus, who gave himself up for us to make us holy, cleansing us by the washing with water through the word, so that He might present us to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (see Eph. 5:25-27) It is God’s will for us and Christ’s work in us to make us blameless. He is faithful to finish that work. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (1 Thessalonians 5:23 – 24)

Go ahead – claim what God has promised and what Jesus is seeking to accomplish in your life: be blameless and pure as you live your life in a crooked and depraved world. We have been made to be the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus – let’s live like it!

Pastor John

NOTE: I am not advocating a “Name It and Claim It” theology. I do not believe that we can name what we want and claim it simply because we say we have enough faith to make it happen. I do believe, however, that the fear of such distorted theology has driven us to not claim what has been promised. When God clearly states a promise that is confirmed by the whole counsel of God’s Word, then we not only have the right to claim it, but we must claim it as ours and live by it if we are to be found blameless before Him.

 

Stop Complaining!

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing

 A conscientious wife tried hard to please her super-critical husband, but he could not be pleased. He was the most cantankerous in the morning at breakfast. If she fixed him scrambled eggs, he wanted poached. If she poached the eggs, he complained that they weren’t scrambled. One morning she scrambled one egg and poached another and placed them in front of him. Anxiously she awaited the long overdue approval she sought. Looking down at the plate, he snorted and said, “Can’t you do anything right, woman? You’ve scrambled the wrong egg!”

What is it that makes us believe that complaining solves our problems? Why do we think that the expression of displeasure produces pleasure? What has happened to our heart so that from it come words of criticism, fault-finding, and judgment? What are we really hoping to accomplish when we complain? Do we really believe it is possible to experience joy when we are finding fault with everyone and everything around us?

Paul makes an important point in today’s Scripture passage – to be found without fault by God we must not find fault with each other. In our short-sighted and self-centered nature, we are deceived into believing that complaining and fault-finding will bring self-fulfillment. We attempt to make ourselves look better and feel better by proclaiming the failures of others. We try to build ourselves up by breaking others down. Satan has convinced us that our value comes from comparing ourselves favorably to other people, and the best way to do that is to emphasize their flaws. And if we can’t find people to criticize, then we complain about the weather or the food or the customer service or the government, hoping that someone will applaud us for our position so we can feel good about ourselves.

Complaining, arguing, and fault-finding are symptoms of a deep spiritual misunderstanding of who we are in Christ Jesus. How can we say that we are fully qualified by God to be partakers of the inheritance of heaven, when we consistently seek to be qualified by the people of the world so we can inherit what it offers?

In the context of Paul charging us to do all things without complaining, he also says this will be the identifying mark of our relationship with Christ.  “…that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).

The Life of Christ in us should be visible by the way we behave positively in a negative world. The world is crooked and depraved, and unfortunately, at times, it is difficult to distinguish Christians from people living in under the world’s influence. Paul says there should be visible distinctions between children of the world and children of God. Paul says one of the most important distinctions should be that Christians don’t complain and argue. This distinction is the beginning point of becoming blameless and pure so that we are found to be without fault in the world.

My friends, we must let the Holy Spirit do some heart surgery today, and repent of our critical spirits. We must resolve our differences with others and stop behaving like people of the world who attempt to climb the ladder of personal value by climbing over others. Remember the words of Jesus? “Whoever wants to be great among you must be the servant of all.” Jesus said this to his disciples while they were arguing about which of them was going to be the best.

Children of the world think selfishly. Children of God don’t! Children of God are complete in Christ, and when you’re complete you don’t compete.

Pastor John

Storm Procedures

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, April 23, 2018

Philippians 2:14-16 14  Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15  that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16  holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

Several years ago I received a belated birthday gift my daughter and her husband. They had arranged for us to have center section tickets in the 8th row at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison for the Casting Crowns concert. There was some question as to whether or not we were going to be able to attend the concert because of my mother’s health condition, but God made it possible. I am so blessed that He did. Over the previous two weeks my emotions had been on a roller coaster as I dealt with the news of my mom’s terminal cancer. I was confident of God’s perfect purpose, but I was also very aware of the emotional instability that comes during the storms of life.

God was using the circumstances of my life to force me to ask and answer some crucial questions.

  • What can we do when the pressures and problems of life diminish our confidence and increase our complaining?
  • How can we stay strong in our spirit when we are so weak in our flesh?
  • How can we be blameless and pure and shine like stars in the universe when the darkness seems to be in us rather than just around us?
  • How can we hold out the Word of Life when we are having trouble just holding on to it?

These were the questions I was asking prior to the concert.

All last week we learned to work out our salvation in our everyday experience, because it is God who is working in us to will and act according to His good purpose. At the concert that night, God put a huge exclamation point on that truth for me.

Mark Hall, the lead singer for Casting Crowns, told a story about a young girl named Erin that the group had met during their travels around the country. For several years this child battled with cancer until finally the cancer won. But the courage and confidence to continue to worship God that was modeled by Erin’s mother was an inspiration to Mark, and he wrote the words to this song. This was exactly what I needed, and maybe you do too. Read the words of the song carefully and let them touch your heart as they did mine.

Praise You In This Storm
Written by Mark Hall / Music by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms
2005 Club Zoo Music (BMI) / SWECS Music (BMI) (adm. by EMI CMG Publishing) /Word Music, LLC (ASCAP) / Banahama Tunes (ASCAP) (adm. by Word Music, LLC)

I was sure by now
God You would have reached down
And wiped our tears away
And stepped in and saved the day
Once again, I say Amen, and it is still raining

As the thunder rolls
I barely hear you whisper through the rain
I’m with you
As your mercy falls
I raise my hands and praise the God who gives
And takes away

I remember when
I stumbled in the wind
You heard my cry
You raised me up again
My strength is almost gone
How can I carry on
If I can’t find you

I lift my eyes into the hills
Where does my help come from
My help comes from the Lord
The maker of heaven and earth

I’ll Praise you in this storm
And I will lift my hands
You are who you are
No matter where I am
And every tear I’ve cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
And though my heart is torn
I will Praise You in this storm

That’s how we do all things without grumbling and complaining. That’s how we shine like stars in the universe. That’s the key to keeping the darkness around us from invading us. That’s how we live blameless lives of confidence in a crooked and depraved generation. We praise Him in the storm.

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18, 16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

 Read these words from Psalm 121 that were found in the song – 1    I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from? 2    My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. 3    He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber; 4    indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5    The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand; 6    the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7    The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; 8    the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

God is always God, and I will always praise Him with confidence, because all things work together for His good purpose for those who love Him.

And I love Him!

Pastor John

Confident Living

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, April 20, 2018

Philippians 2:13  …for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Luke 12:31-32 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. 32  “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

So far this week we have discovered what I consider to be some very important truths that produce confidence in us to continue on the journey to joy:

  1. We can be confident because we know it is God who is working in us;
  2. We can be confident because we know that God is merging our wills with His so that what we want and what we choose are in constant agreement with His heart and mind;
  3. We can be confident because we know that all our activity is empowered by His presence and that we are acting in ways that please Him according to our unique position in His body called the church.

Now today, we come to the last part of Philippians 2:13, where the question of why we serve God is answered. For some of us, this is the most important point. I am a classic “why” person. I want to know how everything works, but more importantly I need to know why it was designed to work in the first place. What is the purpose? If there is no definable purpose for an action, then why participate in the activity?

Paul says in Philippians 2:13 that the desired outcome of the work of God transforming our wills and our actions is to accomplish God’s good purpose. In the process of working out our salvation, as our wills and our ways are brought into compliance with His, we are motivated by knowing that we are accomplishing God’s plan.

Have you considered how incredible that is? Almighty Sovereign God, who needs nothing outside of Himself to sustain Himself and to fulfill Himself, has chosen to include us in the accomplishment of His eternal plan, to fully reveal His glory to His creation. WOW! I am called by God to serve Him so that His kingdom can be established in all the earth. That’s a “why” that motivates me.

Here are some thoughts running through my head this morning as I consider this incredible truth:

  1. All other pursuits of life are to be subject to seeking the kingdom of God.
  2. All my needs will be met when I seek first the kingdom of God.
  3. It has pleased God to include me in the kingdom and to make me a joint heir of the kingdom with His Son Jesus.
  4. Because I know the big “why” of the final outcome of the kingdom, I can endure the times when I don’t see the little “why’s” every day.
  5. Even when it looks like I’m losing, I am confident because God has made me more than a conqueror through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory!
  6. Even when things appear bad, all things are working out for good because I love Him, and I am living according to His purpose, because He called me to do so.

Are you lacking confidence in life? Are you questioning the purpose of your life? These issues are resolved in a personal surrender to the work of God in your life. Jesus gives you an eternally valuable reason to live, plus the guarantee of victory at the end. Be bold and be strong, for the Lord your God is with you!

Pastor John