Loss Is Gain

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, May 25, 2018

Philippians 3:8 – 9 I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Paul understood loss. He wrote the book of Philippians while under arrest in Rome. He had lost his freedom. While on the way to Rome he had been in a shipwreck. All possessions were lost, including the ship. But in both instances, Paul was able to state clearly and emphatically that the greatness of knowing Jesus Christ surpassed whatever perceived benefit he would receive from what was lost.

Paul may have had the shipwreck in mind when he wrote to the Philippian people. In fact, Luke’s description of that shipwreck in Acts 27 contains the only two other uses of the word “loss” in the New Testament. Paul warned the owners of the ship not to sail or they would suffer the loss of all things, and then when they hit the big storm he reminded them that he had warned them about the loss. But in the midst of the loss, Paul clung to Christ, and not a single life was lost. All their possessions were gone, but their lives were saved. So, when Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he was able to speak from personal experience that the pride and prestige of his Pharisaical position and the pleasure derived from personal possessions were rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of being found righteous in God’s eyes through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord.

Jesus spoke of such loss and gain when he said, For whoever wants to save his life must lose it: and whoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? The world’s philosophy of gain is diabolically opposed to what Jesus said. “Grab all you can the first time around,” says the world. “Make the most of today,” and “Live for the moment,” have become the purpose statements of society. But Jesus uses the verb form of Paul’s word “loss” and tells us that we will lose it all, including our souls, if we live by that philosophy. But if we are willing to lose everything about this fleshly life for the sake of knowing Jesus, we shall find true life and be fulfilled.

We have dealt with this subject before, but it must be repeated until we get it right. There are far too many things of this world that we have added to our lives as necessities to fulfillment and joy. Jesus alone is to be sufficient. Why do we continue to need human experience to validate faith in Jesus Christ? We claim Jesus, but then pursue possessions as the fullness of life. Or maybe we think we need relationships to fill what we perceive is lacking in Jesus. Is it possible that we need the world’s acclaim in addition the Christ’s? Maybe we think we need financial security along with a good dose of Jesus. What are we really saying about the nature of God when we don’t truly believe that faith in Him alone is sufficient?

Dear friends, let us fall on our knees before God and confess that we have not been willing to lose all things for the sake of knowing Jesus Christ intimately and powerfully. Then let us surrender all those things to Jesus Christ and be willing to give them up. We will praise Him for what He gives back to us, and we will praise Him for what He says is unnecessary. May our hearts be humbled to the point that we accept for our lives only what He chooses, and do nothing to provide for ourselves according to our own agenda or the pressures of society to measure up. May we symbolically toss everything overboard so that our lives can be saved.

Pastor John

Voice Recognition

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, May 24, 2018

John 10:2 – 5 2The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  3The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  4When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  5But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

Today’s devotional is a follow-up to yesterday, and answers the question so many have asked – ”How do I know it’s the Holy Spirit’s voice?”

When my first grandchild was born, I would sit with him on my lap and whisper softly into his ear. I would sing “Jesus Loves Me” to him and gently tell him I loved him. I continued to do that every time I would see him until he got old enough to begin choosing not to let me. When the second grandchild was born I did the same thing, but when she was old enough to choose not to let me do it, she still snuggled her ear up to my lips and let me talk and sing to her. I continue to do the same thing with my other grandchildren as they are born – 11 in all now. You see, I want them to know my voice, because as an infant that’s all they can recognize at first, and once they do, it is sealed forever in their hearts.

Yesterday we spoke about the weakness of our faith that demands a human explanation and experience to validate God’s Word. As our indwelling companion, comforter, and corrector, the Holy Spirit speaks the heart and mind of God to us moment by moment. But how can we distinguish His voice from all the other voices we hear? If you have asked that question as a true seeker of intimacy with God, then you are on the right path. The identification problem comes from the constant bombardment of the voices of pride, possessions, power, prestige, and people. It’s hard to clearly hear God in all that noise.

There is a very simple answer to the question of how to know it is the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking: learn to know His voice by letting Him whisper in your ear. When my 2-year old granddaughter would jump up into my arms and I would start to talk in my gentle and deep voice, she relaxed and placed her ear right over my lips. She became oblivious to anything else going on in the room. Every so often she would pick up her head, look into my eyes, and then place the other ear over my lips, and we would do it all again.  It was a time of closeness and intimacy that produced abundant joy.

That’s what I want to be able to do with God. When I hear his still, small voice, I want to relax and symbolically place my ear right over His lips, becoming oblivious to everything else in my life at that moment. Every so often I will lift my head and gaze upon His face, and then turn my other ear to His lips and do it all again.

It is in this kind of quiet intimacy that we learn to identify the voice of God in the midst of all the other voices. Just watch a child when they are in a crowd of people, like at church on Sunday. Watch how, in the midst of all the voices, mom’s or dad’s voice is easily distinguished and heard. Watch the responses of the children to those voices. They are an indication of the intimacy level of the child with the parent. The same is true of our responses to the voice of God. They reflect our intimacy level with Him.

Identifying and hearing God’s voice is a result of time spent intimately with God. Obeying God’s voice is a response of a trusting heart. Or, to say it another way, listening is love, and following is faith. It is because of our love for God and His love for us that we are able to hear Him. It is because of our faith in Him that we choose to obey Him. Both hearing and obeying are indicators of intimacy. Take some time today to evaluate your level of intimacy with God. Learn to listen to the Holy Spirit, and then obey what He says. God is faithful, and His Word is a lamp for your feet and light for the path ahead.

Pastor John

Listen, Then Act

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Philippians 3:4 – 6 If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:  5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee;  6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Recently I was talking to a friend about a really tough experience he had been through. In the course of the conversation, he admitted that as the events started to unravel he heard a voice in the deep recesses of his heart that told him the outcome would not be good and to prepare himself for the worst. But he chose not to listen to that voice and proceeded as if all would be well. Now, in retrospect, he knows he should have listened.

That got me thinking about my own experiences, and wondering how many times I have heard the voice of the Holy Spirit and ignored it because of my own desires or my lack of faith. I discovered, at least in my heart, a serious flaw in my faith. The essence of the flaw can be found in this nagging question: Why do I believe that God needs to be validated by human experience? Or in other words –Why do I believe it was God speaking only after my experience proves it?

When I read the stories of the New Testament apostles I am amazed at their level of faith to take action based on the voice of the Holy Spirit within them. Peter preaches to the Gentiles after the Holy Spirit reveals the truth to him in a dream about unclean animals. Paul refuses to go to one part of Asia because the Holy Spirit told him not to, then He travels to Macedonia at the word of the Holy Spirit in a vision. On a boat trip that is doomed to destruction and death, Paul assumes leadership because he has heard the voice of God giving him specific instructions on how to avoid catastrophe.

In all these situations, no test was performed to prove the validity of the voice: no futuristic faith was promised based on experiential outcomes. The activity of the flesh was not the basis for belief, but instead pure faith became the basis for the activity.

I am deeply convicted by the number of times I have heard the voice of God giving direction and I have not listened. I have chosen to stick to my schedule, keep my appointments, and stay in the comfort zone of my personal experience. But what I have really done is stated to God that my faith in myself is greater than my faith in Him.

Please listen to Him speak right now. Our faith has been corrupted. We have been deceived into believing that we are being wise because we analyze everything according to the criteria of our own experience. We have become nothing more than rational followers of God who serve Him only when it makes logical sense. We find a degree of encouragement and satisfaction in the stories we hear of people whose outcomes proved the voice was real, but we call people fools who immediately act in faith when they claim to have heard the Holy Spirit’s voice. We even have a name for such faith – we call it blind. Even our terminology denotes it as negative and unacceptable.

We justify our position with questions that seem valid: But how do I know it’s really the voice of God? Or What if it doesn’t turn out right? Or we loosely interpret verses from the Bible that call us to wisdom and careful planning. All these justifications avoid the real issue – Do we believe that we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and that His words to us are the marching orders of God, and that we cannot fail if we obey them?

My friends, we must become humble and admit that we have not walked by faith but we are walking by sight. We have heard the voice of God in our hearts but we have chosen to qualify it by our own knowledge and experiences. It is time to start acting on God’s Word without having to prove it. The need to prove His Word is nothing more than disbelief and distrust of who He is. We must repent of this, and commit ourselves to obedience even when it doesn’t make sense to us. It always makes sense to God, and we can trust His unfailing love.

Listen – He is speaking! Now act!

Pastor John

Profit and Loss

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Philippians 3:4, 7 If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more:… 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

I remember a wonderful trip my wife and I took many years ago. We swam in the ocean and snorkeled around the ruins of an old fort where lots of fish hang out. We collected sea shells and sand dollars. We sat on the beach and soaked up too many UV rays. We saw dolphins playing in the wake of our tour boat. We enjoyed the fellowship of people from our church and we enjoyed time alone. We had a wonderful time and we are so thankful for the opportunity to see a part of the country we had never seen before.

We also saw extravagant wealth. We stayed in a hotel that was schedule for demolition later that year to make space for beach front condominiums. There was nothing wrong with this hotel, but it would be destroyed for the sake of financial gain. When the condo towers are complete, the smallest unit of 1400 square feet will sell for $1.4 million, and the largest 4000 square foot unit will sell for $4.8 million. There will be over 40 units in all. The beach is lined with such housing options, and there are very few vacancies.

I was overwhelmed with the confidence that people are putting in wealth. I was not jealous of them; for I have a mansion that is being built for me right now that will exceed anything I could dream of affording on this earth. But I was heartbroken to think of all the people who have put their hope in what this world has to offer them. None of the problems of the world have been solved by their investments. None of their personal pain has been healed by their possessions. Their view of life has not been improved by their view of the ocean. The pleasures they experience have not released them from the bondage of fear of possible hurricanes. They try to build their kingdoms to withstand the destructive force of God’s creation, but they are willing to live that way because they believe the benefits of the immediate outweigh the risks of total loss. They have no hope that extends beyond the tangible. It is so very sad.

But then I think of the conflict in my own life between confidence in the flesh and the hope of glory. Even though the net worth of my earthly possessions is far less than those living on the beach, the temptations are the same. I also seek personal worth and value from what I do and what I have. I confess to putting confidence in the flesh. I confess to taking pride in what I can accomplish in my own strength. I confess to needing approval from people to feel valued. I confess to finding pleasure in my possessions and an unwillingness to sacrifice them for the cause of Christ. I confess to not really knowing what it means to sacrifice, because I have learned how to give only what I don’t mind giving to justify keeping what I don’t want to give up. Can you relate?

Have we, albeit in smaller proportion, adopted the philosophy of the rich and the famous that invests primarily in what the world offers rather than in the treasures of heaven? Have we erected memorials to our own accomplishments where the cross of Jesus Christ once stood? Have we made the pursuit of pleasure our god because we need immediate gratification? Have we tried to discover the meaning of life in the measure of worth?

God is calling us today to consider this: what the world offers and what we are able to accomplish is nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ intimately and completely.

Profit is what is left after all expenses have been paid. We have been duped into believing that all the bills have been received and paid, and what we have right now is ours to keep. But there is a hurricane on the horizon, and everything in this world will be destroyed. Only what has been invested in God’s kingdom will last. So whatever we have considered profit from this world is really not profit. Only what we will receive from Jesus at His coming will be ours to truly keep. All else is loss. Let’s start living that way.

Pastor John

In What Do You Boast?

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, May 21, 2018

Philippians 3:3 For we … put no confidence in the flesh—

Jeremiah 9:23-24 This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, 24but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.

We all tend to fall into a terrible trap of depending on devotionals for our spiritual growth. How many times are we guilty of skipping over the Scripture passages just so we can read a short story or illustration of a truth and hopefully learn something from it? God’s Word is our teacher – not the writings of people. I remember when I used to read the Our Daily Bread devotionals. I didn’t open my Bible and read the whole passage of Scripture that was recommended. I just read the one verse they printed and then hurried on to the story. How wrong that is! We neglect the true Bread of Life and settle for crumbs that have fallen from the lips of someone else who is eating.

I know as a devotional writer, I would love nothing better than to get an email from you saying, “Pastor, I didn’t get to read your devotional today because the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me out of the Scriptures. He taught me so much I didn’t need any more from you.” So, I hope you took the time to read all of the Scripture passages for today. If not, please do it now.

Now, if after reading them you still want more, here’s what God is saying to me. We have become enamored with our personal success. We have become addicted to the American lifestyle of prosperity. Just look at how much of our time, energy, and resources are spent on personal things. We must own a home, and then buy everything for that home that meets a socially determined standard. We justify it by claiming that we are investing in the resale value of the home, when it may be the pride of life that is our motivation. Much of what we pursue is culturally motivated and not spiritually motivated. We prefer being known by the world to being known by God. We prefer to boast about our wisdom, our strength, and our riches rather than how much intimacy we have with the Father. We prefer the safety and security of society to serving the Savior at all cost.

Jesus lived in a society that allowed wealth and prosperity. He could have used his wisdom to earn the respect of people. He could have easily bought into the social system of His day and even been considered righteous while doing it. He could have used all His power to rise to a position of leadership. He could have claimed all the riches of His day for Himself and He could have had the nicest home in the city of Jerusalem with a beach house at the Mediterranean. He could have demonstrated for us all how to get ahead in life and be successful. But He didn’t. He demonstrated something else – intimacy with the Father, modeling of the Father’s character, and obedience to the Father’s will.

In Jeremiah 9:24 we are told that the claim to fame is the same for all of us – “But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD.

In what do you boast? Your house? Your job? Your strength in the face of life’s difficulties? Your wisdom to manage life? Your wealth? Your success?

I want to be able to say, with Paul, May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 

Pastor John

True Worship

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, May 18, 2018

Philippians 3:3  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

John 4:23-24 23Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.  24God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Like any religious tradition, the activity of worship has the potential to become either a mere formality or a means of grace. One of the dangerous trends of evangelical Christianity in the last 35 years has been the creation of a worship liturgy, where music has become the means through which the “worshiper” gains access to God and garners approval for self. For many, the activity of worship in the church has become self-focused, with the “worshiper” seeking an emotional experience to validate their weak or even misdirected faith. If the emotional needs of the “worshiper” are not met, they simply look for a church with “better worship”, rather than looking at the nature of their own heart. It is a dangerous and spiritually unhealthy situation when a church places this kind of emphasis on their music ministry. It is to be criticized equally with all other religious activity that seeks to earn the favor of God.

First of all, for worship of any kind to be valid it must originate in a heart that has been transformed by the Spirit of God. Worship must be the expression of grace and truth, not the means to earn grace and learn truth. Worship is a response to the saving, keeping, and supplying power of God in our hearts. Worship is never an activity to earn grace from God, but is always an activity that expresses the character of God and our love and gratitude to Him.

According to Paul in today’s Scripture, worship is always the result of the circumcision of the heart. External religious activity that does not spring from a spiritually transformed heart is not true worship. When Paul wrote this passage in Philippians, he may have had in mind the word of the Lord from Jeremiah 9:25 – 26, which says, “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh—Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.” I believe there are a lot of “worshipers” in our churches who are not truly worshiping. They are not expressing the nature of Christ in them, but are rather seeking an emotional experience to produce what is missing.

Secondly, once we understand that worship is an expression of love and gratitude from a heart transformed by Jesus Christ and filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit, we can properly define worship as any activity or work, so long as it is done as unto the Lord. Scrubbing toilets at the church becomes an act of worship. Raking the neighbor’s lawn becomes an act of worship. Giving more than 10% of your resources becomes an act of worship. Prayer becomes an act of worship. Singing and playing any kind of music with any kind of instrumentation becomes an act of worship. Staying in your present church no matter how little emotional satisfaction you receive becomes an act of worship. Worship is not about what we get, but about what we give to God.

Evaluate your heart today, and make sure that you have not redefined worship into an activity from which you receive some personal benefit. Worship does not give you greater access to God, or emotional satisfaction, or self-validation. These are very real trends in today’s church and they are destroying true faith. Make sure that where you choose to attend church, you do so because it is where God has placed you to give back to Him and to others what He has already given you. Don’t choose a church based on personal preferences, but choose one based on God’s preference for where He wants you to truly worship Him.

Worship is first an attitude, then an activity. The attitude produces the activity. Don’t put the cart (activity) in front of the horse (attitude). If activity – the style or quality of music or preaching – is your focus, then you are really worshiping the activity and it has become your idol. True worshipers worship God alone, not the method of worship. Make sure your heart is right in this.

Pastor John

Watch Out for Dogs!

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Philippians 3:2 – 3  Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.  For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—

 Matthew 7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”

Many years ago, I was on a two-day canoe trip with a friend. We packed all the necessary supplies – food, tent, sleeping bags, etc. – and headed for the destination to drop off one of the cars before taking the other one to our launch site. We didn’t have cell phones back then, so we had left a map with our wives that gave our approximate locations during the day and our camping site at night.

The first day went great as we enjoyed the scenery and the fellowship. But we woke up early the next morning to pouring rain. We packed up camp and got back on the river, but by 10:00 a.m. we were so drenched and cold and tired that we decided to end the trip. The problem was that we were miles from our car and had no phone to call anyone. We pulled the canoe up under an overpass and I walked up to the farmhouse that was near the road. That’s when trouble started.

As I walked up onto the porch of the house and knocked on the door, two things happened. First, a loud growl came from the doghouse on the porch. I had noticed it was there but had not seen the large Blue Heeler dog inside. Then I heard vicious barking and turned to see a very large Boxer coming racing across the farmyard towards me, with his short hair standing straight up down the middle of his back. I quickly checked the door of the house and found it locked – no one was home. I squeezed between the screen door and the door and pulled it as tight as I could for protection. I was much thinner then.

The Blue Heeler remained in his doghouse, but the Boxer came up onto the porch and stood at the top of the steps, blocking my escape. He growled and snarled loudly. What was I going to do? I was immediately calmed by the Holy Spirit and He reminded me of God’s power through the Name of Jesus and that we have been given dominion over all of creation. Now I don’t carry that to any extreme of believing that we can intentionally put ourselves in harm’s way and then claim the authority to not get hurt. But in emergency situations I know that God provides for our every need. So, I prayed, and asked Jesus to give me authority over the dogs at that moment. I slowly opened the screen door and stepped out from behind it. The Boxer growled louder and took a step towards me. I firmly shouted, “Sit!”, and the Boxer sat down. I then shouted, “Stay!”, and took another step toward the dog. The dog stayed. I walked right past him and down the steps, made my way around the corner of the house, and then ran as fast as I could back to the river where my friend was waiting. We paddled to the next bridge and found a house where people were at home and had no dogs, and we made our phone call.

Not only has God given us authority over dogs, but He has given us spiritual authority over unspiritual dogs as well. Paul reminds the people of God at Philippi to beware of the vicious dogs that teach false doctrine. The false doctrine he is specifically referring to is the teaching of certain Jews that the Greek Christians had to be circumcised according to Jewish law or they could not be saved. We can apply the principle of Paul’s warning to any religious activity that the church or a preacher requires in addition to faith to bring a person to salvation. The church or preacher may even try to disguise their false teaching by saying the activity is simply an expression of your faith, but if it is required for you to be considered saved, then it is the teaching of unspiritual dogs.

Paul says that as true believers in Christ, saved by faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ alone, we have two responses to such false teachers:

  1. We must recognize them. The Holy Spirit within us gives us the ability to discern truth from error. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into the downward spiraling whirlpool of false teaching by giving in to popular trends or emotional highs. Recognize false teaching by thoroughly studying the truth of God’s Word.
  2. We must resist them. We remain true to God’s truth by remembering the effects of the truth on us. Paul says that no matter what the false teachers were requiring, we who have been truly saved have experienced a spiritual circumcision of our hearts, and that’s all that is necessary. When false teachers are discovered, remind them of God’s truth: we are the true circumcision and we have been born again by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Put no confidence in the flesh, and resist them.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must take authority over the dogs and not stand in fear of them. We are the true followers of Jesus. Get out from behind your closed doors, tell the dogs to sit down, and walk right past them into the fellowship of your true family of believers.

Pastor John