The Comparison Game

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Philippians 3:8 – 9 …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.

While Denise and I attended the Focus on the Family Pastor’s Retreat at Lake Geneva, Wisconsin to which I referred yesterday, I had an opportunity to play golf at an exclusive, professional quality golf course, Thanks to a gift from a dear sister in Christ. We had the afternoon off from the conference, and my incredible wife blessed me with some alone time to go and enjoy the Gary Player Signature Course at Geneva National. I arrived an hour early for my tee time, and went to the driving range to warm up. Next to me was a young man who looked like a very good golfer. He intimidated me a little. I heard him talking to his partner next to him about the courses they have played in the past – big name courses where the pros play their tournaments, like Myrtle Beach. Now I was more intimidated. I began to focus on my own swing, and tried to do everything I could to measure up to his.

I finished warming up and went to the practice green to chip and putt, and was glad to be able to just be me again. I began to enjoy the quality of the course and appreciate the skills I had to put the ball in the hole while putting on the smooth and slick green. When it was time to get to the first tee, I drove my cart over to the starter’s booth and checked in. Pulling up behind me in another cart were the two men I would be partnered with to play that day. Guess what? It was the two guys from the driving range. Now my mind started to work on me. I know I can play golf fairly well, but I don’t play well when I am in competition with another person. I was out there to enjoy a round of golf, and so were they, but in my mind Satan was attempting to ruin the day by causing me to compare myself with other golfers. I had convinced myself that unless I beat them I would not have fun.

When we teed off on the first hole, the self-imposed pressure to perform well overcame me. I focus on my fundamentals, and hit a long and straight drive right off the end of the short fairway into a marsh in front of the green. To make a long story short, I spent the next three holes beating myself up and trying harder, all the while scoring terribly and watching these two business professionals gain a huge advantage on me. After the third hole I stopped and prayed and asked God to forgive me for trying to measure myself by others. I asked Him to calm my heart and just let me play golf according to the skills he gave me. I birdied the next hole, and proceeded to start hitting the ball very well. In the meantime, their games fell apart, hitting balls into the water on several holes, and the weaknesses of their games started to show up. When it was all done, I had shot a three over par 75 and had enjoyed some of the most spectacular golf holes and scenery I had ever played.

How did the two other golfers respond? God used them to teach me a lesson. I never heard a discouraging or frustrated word from them all day. When they hit the ball bad, they still had something good to say. They gave me high fives for my shots and I did the same for them. I don’t know if they were Christians or not, but they sure liked my joke about pastors having a great retirement plan. These were two guys who didn’t play the competitive comparison game in life. They knew who they were and they accepted it. They didn’t try to measure up to someone else’s standards – they just enjoyed life and what they were doing. They didn’t make excuses for poor shots and they didn’t seek recognition for good ones. They just played the game and found pleasure in what they did. I really needed that.

Paul directs our attention to that in today’s Scripture. He was tired of trying to measure up to a standard of righteousness found in the law. He was tired of seeking worth and acceptance he thought would come from playing the competitive comparison game with others. He was thrilled to realize that based on his faith in Jesus Christ and not his works, the Righteous One had declared him righteous. He had learned the freedom of living because he was righteous, rather than living to earn righteousness.

Just as I had to be reminded yesterday that I play golf because I am a golfer not to prove I am a golfer, God wants us to live as Christians because we are righteous, not to prove we are. When we get this settled in our minds and resist the temptation to compare ourselves to others and to prove ourselves worthy, life becomes fun again. We will begin to enjoy whatever comes our way. I would have missed out on a huge blessing yesterday and would have had all the joy sucked from me had I continued to try to prove myself. I would have been so preoccupied with performance that I would have not taken the time to enjoy the beauty of this awesome golf course.

Resting in the declaration of God through Jesus Christ of who we are brings peace, fulfillment, and joy. Isn’t it time you started living that way?

Pastor John

Spiritual Transformation

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Philippians 3:7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Several years ago my wife and I attended a Pastor and Spouse retreat sponsored by Focus on the Family. It was held at the Lodge at the Grand Geneva Resort in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. When we arrived my first thought was “WOW!” Denise had to remind me to act like this is normal instead of like a hick, because it was a much different class of living from what I am used to.

Early the next morning, I sat with my laptop in a lounge overlooking the outdoor pool. On the other side of the pool was a spectacular view of an incredibly groomed golf course next to a lake with fountains spraying water up into the air. The lounge is next to one of 10 restaurants in the resort, each one featuring food I cannot pronounce nor pay for. The immaculate building is a Frank Lloyd Wright design. The room we stayed in was impeccably decorated and we were treated like royalty. Again, Denise had to remind me not to embarrass myself or her by acting amazed, and to pretend that we are used to this kind of living.

That morning, in that lounge, I wrote these thoughts:

Last night we listened to H.B. London from Focus on the Family. I confess my mind was elsewhere. I could only focus on one thing – the transformation that this resort has undergone. It was originally built by Hugh Hefner as a playboy resort. Here we are, 77 couples serving Jesus Christ in full-time ministry, sitting in the same room where playboy bunnies once romped in moral decadence. As I look out at the pool I don’t even want to imagine what happened in and around it. But then, in 1981, it was sold, and today its purpose is far different. An indoor water park has been built so families can come and relax and have fun together. Proper attire is required at all events, even around the pool. You can’t even play golf unless you are wearing khakis and a collared shirt – no jeans and t-shirts allowed. Today, in contrast to the past, this facility is highly respected and promotes family values.

To some degree, this is a picture of what God does in the life of a person who decides to sell out to Jesus. Prior to Christ’s saving power transforming their life, the sinner romped in moral decadence, living a life contrary to everything God intended. Everything they did was designed to promote self and discover the pleasures of life. Then, by the grace of God, they gave it all up and turned over the ownership of their life to Jesus. Everything changed. Their purpose was now not self-centered but Christ-centered. They no longer exposed the flesh but instead were clothed with the righteousness of God. They discovered a new purpose and began promoting God’s values with respect for people. What a miracle!

Today, I am asking God to use this retreat to refocus my energy and restore my vitality so that I can continue to serve Him in bringing the good news of that miracle to others. As we were reminded last night by H.B., it’s amazing that out of nearly 6 billion people in the world, God reached down and chose me to be the minister of His grace to the church and the lost. He chose you, too. He went out into the real estate market of human life and bought our sinful resort with the blood of His Son Jesus, and transformed us. He is still in the market for more property. You and I have been appointed as His real estate agents, assigned the task of finding valuable properties that need renovation. There are more miracles to be done, and there are more people who need to say “WOW! I could get used to this kind of living!”

Pastor John

Seeking Fulfillment

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Philippians 3:4 I myself have reasons for such confidence.

In 1972, I thought I knew exactly what I needed to become a man of purpose and worth. Everything about my life at that time was about immediate gratification. If I wanted it or believed I needed it, I got it. Whatever sacrifice it took, I pursued my objective wholeheartedly. My objective this time was to end my relationship with a 1968 Chevy Bel Aire that had once been a taxi cab, and to step up to a sports car with which I could establish my identity. I found just the car – a 1969 Ford Mustang convertible. In order to get it, I had to come up with some cash and a financing plan. I started down a road of very poor decisions concerning school and work that got me my immediate goal but sidetracked me from God’s purpose for my life.

One year later, I made the same mistakes again. The Mustang no longer fulfilled me, so I sold it, along with other things, to get cash. I even dropped a class at college to get more cash. I just had to have the1968 Oldsmobile 442 I found. It had more power than any young man should have under his feet. It was beautiful, and I felt fulfilled, for a time.

I was making sacrifices to get immediate benefits, but for all the wrong reasons. I was seeking to earn my worth, establish my identity, and feel loved. Later I discovered that I was looking for all those things in the wrong places. Jesus alone is able to meet all of those needs, and I had to be willing to give up everything I had to discover it. I had, like Paul, put my confidence in all the wrongs things.

In Philippians 3 Paul says the greatness of fulfillment in Christ surpasses anything else we could ever attain. Paul lists for us all the things that are not worth hanging on to:

  1. Don’t hang on to religious rituals – Paul was circumcised on the eighth day, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
  2. Don’t hang on to racial heritage – Paul was of the people of Israel, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
  3. Don’t hang on to social rank – Paul was of the tribe of Benjamin, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
  4. Don’t hang on to denominational identity – Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
  5. Don’t hang on to public recognition – Paul was a Pharisee, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
  6. Don’t hang on to good intentions – Paul was persecuting the church, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.
  7. Don’t hang on to your reputation – Paul was faultless, but it now meant nothing compared to knowing Jesus.

Whatever it was that Paul had used to bring fulfillment to his life prior to meeting Jesus, he now considered rubbish compared to what he found in Christ.

Take another look at the list and see if you are still hanging on to one of those elements of earth-based value, when you could let go of it and find the wealth of heaven-based worth. I found out the hard way that what the world offers cannot satisfy. You are finding it out right now. Go ahead, sacrifice everything you have placed your hope in, and put your hope in Jesus alone. Then you will be rich beyond measure.

Pastor John

How Does Your Garden Grow?

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, May 28

Philippians 3:8 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…

It’s Memorial Day, and while many people are camping and boating and getting away from work, it’s the traditional weekend to plant the garden and the flower beds for my family. I know some people who spend hours every week tending to their yards and their gardens. They have an established set of daily rituals they go through – pulling weeds and fertilizing and pruning – so that they can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. They are constantly doing whatever it takes to make their yard more beautiful and get just a little more enjoyment from it. But last week, as I pulled into my parking space at work, I was reminded that no one can duplicate God’s gardening skills.

Occasionally I park my car along the north side of the building, which is a gravel parking area. As I walked toward the building, I happened to look down, and there, growing up out of the gravel right in front of the car’s bumper, was a beautiful blue flower which I had never seen before. I don’t know what kind of flower it is, but I stopped and just looked at it for a long moment, thanking God for His choice to put that flower there. No person planted it, or watered it, or fertilized it, but there it was, in full bloom, bringing simple joy to my heart.

As I stood there looking at it, I thought about today’s Scripture passage. I thought about all the people who are working so hard in their spiritual gardens to try to bring beauty to their lives. They have an established set of rituals they go through because they believe it will produce a harvest of righteousness and peace and gain the attention of God. Some of the rituals have been established by their religion, while others are self-invented. Some of the rituals were imposed upon them, while others are done by their own choice. But the motive for all spiritual rituals is to produce a desired outcome – the gain of God’s grace.

Paul spoke of those rituals when he confessed that prior to his salvation he considered his religious rituals as sufficient for earning the favor of God. He reminded his readers that he had been circumcised on the eighth day according to the ritualistic standards of the Jewish tradition. This ritual had earned him a place in God’s kingdom, or so he thought.

But then, one day, while walking along a gravel road, his journey was interrupted by God. It was as if God had planted a beautiful flower in the gravel, and suddenly everything was put into perspective. Paul was blinded by the awesome beauty of the Lord, and suddenly all his work to earn God’s favor was of no value. He discovered that all of man’s rituals mean nothing to God, and the outcome of all that hard work is rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord.

Like Paul, we spend hours each week trying to create a beautiful garden of spiritual life when all we have to do is ask Jesus to be our gardener. The work God does is so much more magnificent than anything we can ever do. So much so that even those who work tirelessly in their own gardens still take drives in the country to see the beauty of what God does.

Who can duplicate the magnificence of the bluebell fields of Texas? Who can ever hope to have a garden that resembles the splendor of the prairie of western North Dakota? Who can recreate the magnificence of the hardwood forests in the fall? And who of us can match the beauty of a blue flower growing in gravel?

The secret is in the contrast. When God creates a garden, he does it in stark contrast to its surroundings, like a blue flower in gravel. When we try to create beauty for ourselves, it is usually blended with our surroundings. God’s work surpasses greatness because it brings beauty out of barrenness. He does the same in our lives.

Stop trying so hard to be a Christian, and let Jesus Christ do all the work. He prepares the soil of your heart. He plants the seeds of faith. He waters and fertilizes the seeds with His Word. He causes the plants of love, joy, peace and hope to grow. He makes them bloom in spectacular beauty for all the world to see. And when God chooses the location for the garden, he chooses the most desolate and barren spot He can find so all the glory goes to Him. He doesn’t need nor does He want our help in making the location fit for His use. He doesn’t require rituals to prepare the soil. He doesn’t even want us to determine whether it is a garden spot or not. In fact, He does his best work in places where nothing else will grow.

Let the Master Gardener do His work in you. He will bring beauty from the gravel.

Pastor John

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