Be Gentle

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, July 20, 2018

Philippians 4:5  Let your reasonableness [gentleness (NIV)] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand;

The English language is fascinating and at the same time confounding. We have words that are spelled the same but mean different things and are even pronounced differently. For example, an arid region of the country is called a desert, but to leave that area is to desert it. The pie I have after a meal is also called dessert. So, I eat dessert before I desert the table to head out to the desert. Words can get so confusing. But they can also be rich with meaning, and sometimes one word can take many words to explain the depth of its meaning.

Such is the case with the word reasonableness, or gentleness, in today’s Scripture verse. Paul has reached the point in his letter to the Philippians where he wants to give them the practical applications of his profound teaching. He has spent substantial time on the subject of rejoicing in the Lord, even when life stinks. From his prison cell he continued to rejoice in what God was doing in and through his life, and he encouraged the people to face hardships with the same humble attitude.

Now, as is his custom in most of his letters, after teaching the truths that transform our hearts, he gives us the challenge of how to apply the truth to our everyday lives. In this letter he boils it down to one behavior that is to be evident to everyone – gentleness. After all the discussion about trials and hardships and persecution, and how we should maintain a proper attitude in the midst of them all, Paul says that gentleness is the one characteristic of our lives that will most effectively model the life of Christ to the people around us. So, what is gentleness?

In writing to one of his pastoral students named Titus, Paul encourages him to teach the people to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to do every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.  (Titus 3:1–2) In this example, being gentle means to be meek. It is interesting to note that the only place in the entire New Testament that the word meek is used as an adjective to describe someone is in Matthew 11:29, where Jesus describes Himself and says, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: Most of the modern translations of the Bible all translate the word meek as gentle. Jesus described Himself as being gentle, and the primary meaning was meekness.

What does it mean to be meek? First, it does not mean to be weak! In fact, it is just the opposite. In order to be meek, one must first have great power. The word meek literally means to have power under control. It is used in the non-biblical Greek writings of Jesus’ day to describe a great horse that has been broken and bridled. When the horse’s power is brought under the control of the rider through means of a bridle and reins, he is called meek. He still has all the same power he had before he was able to be ridden, but now that power is controlled by another and being used to serve a new master. Even though the horse has more raw power than his rider, he has submitted to the authority of the rider and only uses his power as the rider directs. When the horse was in the wild he lived according to his own will. He found his own food, moved wherever, whenever, and at whatever speed he pleased, and defended himself when it was necessary. But once he was captured by man, he became dependent upon man for his daily needs, his direction, and his defense. Every aspect of his existence was now submitted to the authority of the one who had captured him. His power was now under control for the good of others.

Therefore, our first lesson in being gentle is pretty simple yet very profound – keep your power under control! We have been captured by Jesus Christ. We still have the ability to provide for ourselves and defend ourselves. We can still make our own decisions about the direction our lives will take each day. But we have chosen to submit to the authority of the One who captured us and give Him control of our power. All our power has been bridled and Jesus holds the reins. Every ounce of energy that we expend is to be for His glory and the good of others. Just like the horse, we have given up our rights for the sake of the Master. We no longer assert ourselves over others. We no longer defend ourselves against the attacks of others. We no longer force others to do things our way. We have given up the right to be right to model the righteousness of the Master.

The world wants us to believe that we have the right to do it our way. Frank Sinatra made millions by telling people that the highest goal in his life was to reach the end and know that he did it his way. What a sad commentary on so many people’s lives. They are horses with no name, no purpose, and no legacy. But those who give up the power to do it their way, and do it God’s way, have names – like Trigger and Black Beauty – because they served a Master for the good of others.

Be gentle. Keep your power under control! Give it up to the control of God, and use it only at His direction and for His purpose. Let your gentleness be evident to all!

Pastor John

Heaven Rejoices!

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Luke 15:10 “I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Two weeks ago, we had a time of rejoicing in our church when one of our men had the privilege of baptizing his sister. It’s a long story of redemption, and we celebrated God’s work in her life.

I remember many such times of rejoicing, as people who have repented of their sin and received the forgiveness of God through Christ, made a public profession of their faith through baptism by immersion. Many times, those baptisms are held in the Chippewa River. One Sunday we even held a worship service at the park, and then baptized 5 people who had chosen to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Then just three weeks later, we baptized three more people who gave the same testimony of faith. One of the exciting elements of a baptism service is when each person is raised out of the water, the crowd explodes in a praise offering of clapping and shouts of joy. But as great as that sounds, I wonder what it sounds like in heaven?

Jesus tells us about the scene in heaven when someone gets saved. In an earlier devotional in our study on rejoicing we discovered in Zephaniah 3:17 that God rejoices over us. “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”

Jesus brings that truth home to us in Luke 15 with a couple of parables. When the shepherd finds his lost sheep and the woman finds her lost coin, both invite their friends to rejoice with them. Notice something very important: the one who had been searching and had done the finding was the one leading the celebration. Then Jesus says that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over a sinner who gets saved than over those of us who have already been saved. It’s great to think that God is rejoicing over our lives as his children, but the real party takes place when a new child is added to the family. And it’s Jesus who leads the celebration. In Luke 19:10, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Jesus is the One who has been doing the seeking and the finding, and He is the one who celebrates the loudest when a sinner gets saved.

We don’t get to celebrate like that enough in the church today. And when we do get to, it ends far too soon. I wonder how many of those who witnessed the baptism on Sunday are still celebrating the joy of salvation today? In fact, how many of us who have been saved for any period of time are still rejoicing that Jesus found us when we were lost?

I think the level of rejoicing we do or don’t do over our own salvation is directly related to the number of people getting saved in our churches today. If the unsaved cannot see that we are thrilled to celebrate our salvation, then whatever else we do to try to draw them into the church will have little or no impact. Far too many Christians are living lives of despair and discouragement. Still more are spending their energy fighting a personal war against some social sin or moral corruption. Jesus lived in a society that was as sinful and morally corrupt as ours, and yet He came to seek and to save the lost, not change the political structure. Jesus is still seeking the lost. Jesus is still celebrating when one gets found and saved. We should be doing the same.

Imagine how many lost people walking in darkness would be attracted to Christ if we were excited about being saved and let it show in how we lived every day. Imagine what would happen if we celebrated Christ as much as we celebrate a victory in a sporting event or a bargain at the clothing store. If the parties we threw for new believers were greater than the showers we throw for new babies, maybe we’d celebrate more new babies in the family of God.

Rejoice! You were lost and now you are found! Live in celebration mode every day, and others that are lost will also get found.

Pastor John

More Reasons to Rejoice…

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Philippians 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always…

OK, I’m going to give you a reason to rejoice – there are only two more devotionals about rejoicing! I know we have spent a long time on this, but it has been very important and significant to me, and I hope it has been helpful to you as well. A good friend told me that the reason I have spent so much time on the subject of rejoicing is because of the personal circumstances of my own life, and it is what God has needed to teach me. God has equipped me to persevere through the present trials of ministry and He has prepared me for the future pain I know is coming. The most important lesson I have learned from this study is this: I am not able to rejoice because I know more about rejoicing – I rejoice because I know more about God.

How much more about God do you know today than you did yesterday? If you studied the verses you were given in yesterday’s devotional about the reasons for suffering, you could have learned these things about the nature and character of God.

  1. God is merciful. (See 1 Peter 1:3 – 9) Mercy is the quality that allows God to not give sinners the punishment they deserve, so that His grace may give us new birth that we do not deserve. We must never move too quickly to present people the gift of salvation before laying a proper foundation of personal responsibility for sin. We cannot fully understand the grace of God if we do not fully understand our guilt and the mercy He has to punish Christ for it rather than us. The cross of Christ loses its power when it becomes simply the place where Jesus died for sin, rather than the place where Jesus died for my sin. When we admit to God that we are sinners, responsible for our sin and deserving of the wrath of God, we become recipients of His mercy which opens the door for us to receive His grace. Rejoice! God is merciful!
  2. God is present. (See 1 Peter 4:12 – 14) This may sound like a very simple truth, but the fact that God is present with us is deeply profound. It is the reason we are able to rejoice in the present age. Our ability to rejoice while enduring the pain and persecution of the world is directly connected to the dependence we have on the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. The times of discouragement and despair that we experience are the times when we have depended upon self for strength and solutions. Every time we choose to handle any situation according to our own wisdom and strength, we become fools, denying the presence of God. (See Psalm 14:1) Instead, here’s how God intends us to live – God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. (Psalm 46:1-3) Rejoice! God is present!
  3. God is faithful. (See Matthew 5:10 – 12) Your reward for persevering through the trials of life is waiting for you. We have an inheritance reserved for us in heaven that cannot perish, spoil or fade away. And Jesus said it is a great reward. Every work you do based on your trust in God is being recorded so it can be rewarded. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58) So stand up and rejoice! God is faithful to get you through today and He is faithful to fulfill His promises for tomorrow. Rejoice! God is faithful!

Pastor John

Suffering Serves a Purpose So Rejoice!

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Habakkuk 3:17 – 19 17Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.

Kids all go through the stage of asking “Why?” It’s healthy. It can also be irritating. Especially if the child is like one of my grandkids, who at two-and-a-half-year-old, drove his parents crazy. He has a mind that needs to know, and his response to every statement he hears was, “Why?” I mean EVERY statement. He did not accept “Because” as a sufficient answer. He had to hear a valid explanation.

We ask the same question of God about suffering. The fact that we are told in Philippians 4:4 to “Rejoice in the Lord always,” means that we must rejoice even when we suffer. “But why?” “Why are we suffering?” Why do I need to rejoice in it?”

We dealt yesterday with some of the reasons God gives us in His Word for suffering. Years ago, as I was writing on this subject, my wife called to inform me that we had water coming down the wall of the fireplace in our living room. Instant application opportunity for what I was studying. I had to go home and try to fix my roof in a rainstorm. I can’t remember if I rejoiced or not. But here are the lessons I learned.

Suffering is a test and proves the quality of our faith

  • 1 Peter 1:3 – 9 3Praise 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.  6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,  9for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Suffering brings the blessing of intimacy with Christ –

  • 1 Peter 4:12 – 16 12Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you.  13But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.  14If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler.  16However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 

Suffering reinforces the truth of our future reward –

  • Matthew 5:10 – 12 10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Rejoice! God has a reason for the struggle you are going through, and the destination is worth the trip. In fact, the trip itself can be a blessing if you keep your heart focused on Him.

Pastor John

Passing the Test

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, July 16, 2018

Romans 5:3 – 5  3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  4perseverance, character; and character, hope.  5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Rejoicing when outcomes of our circumstances are positive is fairly easy for most of us. What hinders such rejoicing is the suffering we must endure until the outcome is realized. It gets hard some days to rejoice in the hope of glory when we are surrounded by hopeless gloom. The political situations of the world seem hopeless. Wars and terrorism abound, and there is no peace. The economic crunch we are experiencing seems hopeless. Rising prices and diminished supplies hurt our budgets, while 852 million people around the world go to bed hungry every night and one child dies of starvation every five seconds. The spiritual void that is growing in our society seems hopeless. Mankind continues to hope in their own ability fix everything. We are surrounded with hopeless gloom when we should be living in the hope of glory.

If hope seems to be waning in your life, and you long for it to be restored, there is a process for you. You may not like it, but it is how God has chosen to do it. When you ask for more hope, you may think you are asking for more help to resolve your current circumstances. But God knows that to produce more hope you must become more aware of the hopelessness of this life and the awesomeness of His grace to sustain you.

The process God has chosen for the restoration of hope begins with the realization that your focus has shifted from the eternal to the immediate. We expend too much time and energy on solutions to current situations, rather than in the development of character which comes by enduring them. Paul tells us that the production of hope begins with suffering, and that we should rejoice in the promise of God to bring about that outcome.

When we suffer we have two choices: seek to remove the cause of the suffering to bring immediate relief, or use the suffering to our advantage and become stronger. We must choose to trust that the long-range outcome God has designed will be more beneficial to us than the immediate relief. (Romans 8:18 says, I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.)

If we say we understand the sovereignty of God in all things, but seek to remove the cause of our suffering, we are really seeking to remove God. Those who demand solutions and seek the removal of all hurts and hardships are demonstrating a humanistic view of God and a weak faith in His nature and character. (A proper study of the book of Job would be beneficial to such people.) But those who submit to suffering with their hearts focused on the final outcome of glory, will be filled with hope that does not disappoint them, because God has poured out His love into them.

When we learn to accept suffering as the beginning point of hope, then we will learn perseverance, which will in turn produce character, which results in greater hope. Let me illustrate. In a few weeks school will begin, and students of all ages will be entering a new grade. I remember when I went from first grade to second grade and was scared silly because I had heard the fact that in second grade we had to start taking tests. We would be moving from the first-grade worksheets that we did together in class to the written testing of our personal knowledge of facts. I wanted out of there. This was suffering.

One day, the teacher, Miss Brown, gave us the scariest news I had ever heard: we were going to have a test on science – specifically the basics of atomic theory. Yes, I know this was second grade, but we were really advanced. I’m kidding! We just had to know some basic terms, like atom and molecule and electron and neutron. I listened hard in class as she explained all the terms to us. Then she handed out the test. I quickly filled in all the answers, thinking that if I took my time I might forget something. The next day she handed back the graded tests, and at the top was a big red “A”, with a note that said, “Great job, John!” Wow! I did it. And I had earned the approval of the teacher. My fear of passing was replaced with a hope of not only passing but of passing with honors.

When Paul says that perseverance produces character, this is exactly what he is describing. The word character is a translation of a Greek word that means to have been tested and approved. The suffering that we are enduring is designed by God to test us. To continue with the analogy of school, when we can show that we have learned what God intended for us to learn about His love, grace, faithfulness, power, provision, or other expression of his nature and glory, He stamps us with a grade and passes us on to the next subject. That stamp of passing is the substance of the word character.

When we seek to avoid the suffering and not take the tests, we are held back and don’t advance to the next grade. Life gets more hopeless because we have not endured the tests, and we begin to believe we will never be able to pass a test again. But when we endure the test and prove that we have learned what God is teaching us, we are stamped with His approval and filled with the hope of passing all tests with honor. That production of hope will not disappoint us, because it ends with our participation in the glory of God.

So, don’t skip class today because you’re afraid of failing the test. God’s tests are not designed to produce failure, but to prove you are a success. To make sure He does that, He poured out His love into your heart through the Holy Spirit, whom He has given you, to teach you all things and bring everything you have learned about God to your remembrance. (John 14:26) God guarantees that you will pass the test! You just have to decide to take it.

Pastor John

Rejoice in the Hope of Glory

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, July 13, 2018

Romans 5:2  …we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

I want to assure you that we are still studying the book of Philippians, and the reason we are is to discover the splendor of learning how to overflow with joy. For the next few days, based on Romans 5:1-11, I would like to really dive into what it means to rejoice in the Lord. We are about to discover three truths:

  1. We rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God, not in this world and what it offers.
  2. We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that they develop Christ’s character within us.
  3. We rejoice in our relationship with Christ.

Let’s look at number one today. If we are going to be able to rejoice in the Lord, the first thing we must do is take our eyes off our immediate needs and focus our eyes on the future glory of God that has been promised to us.

In the book of Revelation, God’s great plan for the revealing of His eternal glory is described. On three separate occasions there is rejoicing as the plan is unveiled. Here they are:

  1. In Revelation 12, Satan is cast out of heaven after a war with Michael the archangel of God. Then a loud voice is heard from heaven saying, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! There is rejoicing in the glory of God revealed in the salvation of Jesus Christ, His power and authority over sin, and the coming kingdom of God on the earth. There is also rejoicing because the true followers of Jesus overcome Satan in their lives and are willing to go to death to stand for Christ, loving Him more than their own lives.
  2. In Revelation 18, as a part of God’s judgment of sin on the earth, the world’s political, economic and religious system is destroyed. When it is, those who had been deceived by false hope of what the world’s system offered will stand and say, “Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you!” As God’s glory is revealed, the importance of the world’s system is destroyed. As we live in the hope of God’s glory we become less dependent upon what the world offers by way of emotional, economic, or spiritual fulfillment.
  3. In Revelation 19, after sin has been judged and destroyed, it is time for the union of Jesus Christ with His bride the church for all eternity. Now we hear a multitude of voices shouting, “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” All of heaven rejoices because we have been found faithful and been kept pure, so that we can be united with Christ forever. God’s glory is revealed in the completion of the work He began in us when He saved us. He completes that work when He presents us to His Son as His bride, and we fully and eternally submit to His authority in all things. Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns!

My friends, how can we resist rejoicing when we know what the future holds? There is only one possible reason we resist – our hope is fixed on this world and not on God’s glory. The challenge today is to live according to the words of this old hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus

Look full in His wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

Pastor John

Reasons to Rejoice

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Romans 5:1 – 2  1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

This study on Philippians has been so timely for me, especially lately as we focus on the subject of rejoicing. So much of life right now leaves little reason for rejoicing for so many people. As a pastor, I get to live the hurts and pains of the people God brings into my life, and sometimes it is hard to rejoice. Add to that all the personal issues I have of my own, and life gets overwhelming at times. But I can praise God anyway and rejoice in the Lord because my hope is not in this world, but in Him and His coming glory! This study of Philippians has reinforced that faith.

So far in our study of Philippians, Paul has used the word rejoice seven times, and there is one more to come later in his letter. The overall theme of his conversation with the people of Philippi is to rejoice no matter what the circumstances. The basis for such encouragement is that our hope is not in the circumstances or the outcomes, but in the glory of God. Let’s review what he has said:

  1. Rejoice that the Gospel is being preached and that God’s purpose is being accomplished. Philippians 1:18 The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.  
  2. Rejoice that the sacrifice we make to serve Christ is producing a harvest of faith in others. Philippians 2:17-18 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.
  3. Rejoice in the Lord and not in the circumstances of your life. Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you. Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

Reflect on those three reasons to rejoice. Evaluate your level of praise. Spend time with the Lord seeking His perspective on life. When we begin to see things His way, there’s reason to rejoice. The Gospel is changing people’s lives. Our lives, lived according to God’s grace, are impacting others for Christ. And God is the One who reigns supreme, so even my circumstances are under His control.

Rejoice! And again I say, REJOICE!

Pastor John