Learning to Praise God

Lifelink Devotional

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Ephesians 6:18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Let’s play a game of word association. When I say a word, think about the first word that pops into your head. Here we go. Pray…So what word did you think of first? Was it the word ask or one of its synonyms? We tend to think that praying is primarily asking God for something. But if that were true, then why does Paul distinguish between praying and petitions or requests in today’s Scripture passages? What are we missing in our understanding of prayer?

One of the greatest joys of being a parent is to spend time communicating with my children. But I remember too well the teenage years when the only communication initiated by the child was asking for something. Dad, can I have the car? Dad, can I have ten dollars? Dad, can I stay out past eleven tonight? Dad, can I go out with my friends to the game? If I wanted more information about their life, I had to ask them for it, and their responses would be short and to the point, forcing the asking of more questions. It was hard to not have a deeper and more intimate relationship with my kids during those years.

Reflecting on that helps me to understand how God must feel about our relationship when it seems all we do is ask for things. What God longs for is intimacy that comes from sharing every aspect of life with us. Paul says in Ephesians 6:18 that we are to pray with all kinds of prayers, indicating that there are many styles of communication with God. There are many styles of communication with God, and we are missing the blessing of intimate fellowship with the Father if our only prayers are those of petition.

Over the next few days I want to look at the various types of prayers we should be praying. I’m sure this list will not be complete, because I cannot claim to know how to be totally intimate with God or even people. But this should give us a good start on building deeper intimacy with God.

One type of prayer is Praise. One of the biggest detriments to learning to praise God is the phrase Praise the Lord! I used to think that when something good happened to me I should say Praise the Lord! When someone else would tell me something God had done for them I would say, Praise the Lord! When I would write a thank you note to someone or would hear of an answered prayer, I would write, PTL!

But saying that phrase is not praising God. For example, I believe a vital part of raising children is to praise them. If every time one of my children or grandchildren did something commendable all I said was “I praise you,” it would mean very little to them. What I must do is tell them why I am praising them, and that means recognizing and acknowledging their character. But this has become hard for us. We are much better at recognizing behavior than character. We acknowledge performance, but don’t seem to do a very good job of acknowledging character. Recognizing deeds is not praise – it is thanksgiving, and we’ll talk about that tomorrow. Praise is the recognition and acknowledgment of the nature and character of God, and we must learn to do it.

I first discovered this was a problem a few years ago when I asked people in church one Sunday following a time of musical worship to spend a moment praising God out loud for who He was. There was silence. First of all, it was unheard of to ask a conservative Baptist congregation to make any noise in church let alone any non-uniform noise. But I also discovered there was a huge problem of not knowing what to say. If I would have asked everyone to thank God for something He had done, there may have been a few who would have spoken. Or if I would have asked them to say, Praise the Lord in unison, they would have done it. But for each person to individually praise God out loud in their own way, that was beyond their capabilities. How sad, I thought to myself, and then I realized that I had trouble doing it also.

Why is it so hard to truly praise God when there are over 300 references to praising God in the Bible? If our relationship with God is not based on our recognition of His nature and character, then what kind of a relationship do we really have? Certainly not an intimate one. I have been so blessed in my relationship with God since I started personally acknowledging His character to Him. It is vital to our relationship with God to start each prayer with a statement of praise for who He is. He is holy. He is loving. He is compassionate. He is merciful. He is just. He is sovereign. He is…and the list goes on. Every request we make of God is based on our understanding of some aspect of God’s nature and character, so we should verbalize the basis for our request. Just as in your relationships with people, intimacy with God is accomplished only through recognition, acceptance, and acknowledgment of His nature and character.

Start practicing praise. Tell God what you know to be true about Him, and that you appreciate knowing it. Tell Him you’re glad He’s holy, loving, merciful, just, forgiving, in control, etc. Let Him know that you know Him. That’s what praise is, and that’s what brings intimacy.

Pastor John

Sit, Listen, and Learn

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, July 30, 2018

Philippians 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

I grew up in a pastor’s home, and entertaining people was a big part of my dad’s ministry. I especially remember the holiday open house my mom would put on every Christmas. Everyone in the church was invited to a huge spread of Christmas goodies. The house would be decorated to the max and all the best silver and china was used. The old antique dining table was spread out to its full length and every inch of it was covered with platters of cookies or salads or hardtack with meat and cheese. Mom had spent hours, for days, getting everything ready. She put her best efforts into using her spiritual gift of hospitality.

A few weeks before my mom became bedridden with cancer, we went to visit her. We made it clear that when we came we would take care of all of the meals and any other household chores. But when we arrived she had already thought through all the meals and prepared several of them in advance. She was still fulfilling her God-given role as caregiver and the servant of others. It was a role that satisfied her. It was how the Holy Spirit had gifted her. She loved her ministry to people.

There is a story in the life of Jesus of a woman who begged for help with hospitality. It is found in Luke 10.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

My mom would never do that. She never begged for help like Martha. In fact, she usually made sure she was so well organized that others could relax and enjoy what they wanted to do. Unlike Martha, she truly thought about what was best for others.

On a later visit, when mom was bedridden, she was still managing to have input into the kitchen from the bedroom. Dad had run out of coffee, and a new can needed to be opened. He was having trouble with the electric can opener because the can was so large. I tried to help him, but I couldn’t get it to work right either, so I ended up using an antique can opener that pried open the lid with a sharp edge. Suddenly my wife appears in the kitchen and says, “Mom said she’s the only one that can open the coffee cans. You have to bring the can opener to the edge of the counter and let the can hang over the edge to release the pressure on the blade and then it will work.” Mom was still taking care of us.

We noticed a transition in her during those last weeks of her life. She was becoming much more like Mary. She stopped asking about the laundry and the meal preparation. She no longer wondered whether the things she put in the freezer for meals were being used. She wasn’t concerned with the dusting and the vacuuming of the house. She didn’t even ask about her flower garden, which she loved to care for. She spent those last weeks simply sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what He was saying to her. I know that her physical condition forced her into that situation, but you must also understand that my mom always took time to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. Now she was doing it continuously.

There is a huge lesson in this for those of us who are so busy with the details of our lives. Like Martha we are distracted from spending time with God by the work we want to be doing for God. It becomes so serious for some of us that we beg for others to help us with the work just so we can do more work. The work itself may be necessary, it may be spiritual, and it may be an expression of our spiritual gifts, but if it hinders the personal time spent in intimate fellowship with Jesus, then it is not the best thing we could be doing. Sitting at the feet of Jesus is the best thing!

Stop fretting about the details. Stop worrying about the outcomes. Don’t get anxious about what others are doing or not doing. Lighten up and let it go! Give it all to Jesus with thanksgiving that He can and will manage the outcome. Then sit down for a while and listen to Jesus. You’ll be amazed at how everything takes on a new perspective and how much more productive you will be. And make sure its quality time that produces intimacy. I know the temptation to sit down to have devotions and just quickly skim an article in Our Daily Bread or lightly read this devotional. In both cases you probably skipped right over the Scripture readings. What was really on your mind was the next task you had on your to-do list. Come on, sit down at the feet of Jesus and forget everything except what He is going to teach you. Listen to Him, and let it transform you. Fall in love with your time with Him. Make it your priority every day. It is the better thing to do. It will strengthen you for the work you must do and it will stifle the worry you don’t want to do.

Pastor John

Plans for a Bigger Harvest

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, July 27, 2018

Philippians 4:5 The Lord is near.

James 5:7 – 8  7Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming…be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

Across the street from my house in Wisconsin is a field that usually produces corn and soybeans for a farmer who lives down the road. But one year there was a different kind of farming taking place in that dirt. The highway construction that took place adjacent to that field needed tons of fill dirt to build the road, and the farmer has allowed the highway department to get it from his field.

First, the crews stripped off all the valuable black dirt and piled it up on one end of the field. Then they started stripping away the sandy soil from underneath and transporting it to the road site. All summer long there were huge bulldozers and graders working on the land. Finally, they had their fill of fill, and they began replacing the black dirt. The hill that was once beside our road is no longer there, but the newly leveled topsoil looks ready to plant crops in again. Depending on what he decides to plant, the farmer may get to work preparing that soil yet this fall so that in the spring it may produce a crop.

I wonder how the farmer felt having his normal routine interrupted for a season? He stood by and watched as someone totally transformed the contours of his land. He was forced to look for feed for the cows from sources other than his own productivity. He had to adjust. Granted, he had chosen to enter into this contract and was probably paid well for it, but he still had to change his routine and step out of his comfort zone.

I think we can understand it to a degree because it happens to us in our lives as well. Our normal routines are constantly being interrupted. Outside influences are stripping away our productivity. Sometimes we make the choice to do it, but other times we are forced out of our comfort zones. Let me suggest to you that most of the time it is God who has initiated the disruption of our routine. God knows all about our dirt. God loves to dig around in the dirt of our lives. But He never destroys the productivity of the topsoil. He may need to strip away some of the fill we have underneath, but His purpose is always to create a greater harvest.

When the farmer prepared his land for the highway department, he decided that this would be a great opportunity to make his field more productive by increase the size of his harvest. A large portion of the hill that was to be removed along the road was covered with trees. He hired a crew to come in and harvest the lumber. After the trees were removed, the highway department dug out more fill for the road, and the farmer was left with a few extra acres of level tillable land.

That’s what God does with our lives. He sees potential for areas we think are nice enough as they are. We may like the trees we have planted, a greater reward in cutting them down and re-purposing that part of our life. But it takes a total transformation of the topography. God may not ever change, but He sure knows that we need to. It may feel like the shelter of your trees is being removed and the topsoil of your life is being stripped away, but God is doing it to transform you into a more productive person.

There’s one more lesson. When the work on the land was completed, I was awakened one morning by a terrible smell coming through the window. As the wind started to blow lightly out of the north, the strong smell of freshly spread cow manure came rudely into the room. It really stunk. In preparation for next year’s growing season, on his newly leveled land, the farmer was spreading natural fertilizer.

Maybe today your life stinks because someone is spreading manure all over you. Remember, God is using that to prepare your life to yield a greater harvest than ever. Be patient. The Lord is near, and He knows what He is doing. Let Him plow up your dirt, because when the rains come and mix the manure with your soil, you will produce a harvest of righteousness.

Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12 (NIV)

Pastor John

Songs at Daybreak

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Philippians 4:5 The Lord is near.

1 Peter 4:7 The end of all things is near. Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

I awoke early this morning to the sound of birds welcoming the new day with their beautiful songs. There was cheering in their chirping as they announced to me that the sun was about to rise. As I lay in bed and watched the sky begin to brighten I thought of the beautiful songs my mom used to sing. I wish I could be there to hear her singing before the throne of God as she praises her Savior. She always sang songs for her Savior, but now she is doing it face to face.

In the last few years of my mom’s life, she learned a new song that became her favorite. It was the theme of her life. I had the wonderful privilege of introducing this song to her when I sang it in her church while she was in the audience. She asked me for the words and music so she could adopt it as her favorite expression of her love for Jesus.  It was our common bond of praise and adoration of our Lord. I will always cherish it. Here are the words:

He promised us that He would be a counselor
A Mighty God and the Prince of Peace
He promised us that He would be a Father
And that He would love us with a love that would not cease.

Well, I tried Him and I found His promises are true
He’s everything He said that He would be.
The finest words I know could not begin to tell
Just what Jesus really means to me.

For He’s more wonderful than my mind can conceive
He’s more wonderful than my heart can believe
He goes beyond my highest hopes and fondest dreams.
He’s everything that my soul ever longed for
Everything He’s promised and so much more
More than amazing, more than marvelous
More than miraculous could ever be
He’s more than wonderful, that’s what Jesus is to me.
I stand amazed when I think that the King of glory
Should come to dwell within the heart of man
I marvel just to know He really loves me
When I think of who He is, and who I am.

For He’s more wonderful than my mind can conceive
He’s more wonderful than my heart can believe
He goes beyond my highest hopes and fondest dreams.
He’s everything that my soul ever longed for
Everything He’s promised and so much more
More than amazing, more than marvelous,
More than miraculous could ever be
He’s more than wonderful, that’s what Jesus is to me.

We should all have a song that we sing every morning to announce the beginning of a new day and the soon approaching rising of the Son. He is near, and when He returns there will be no more night. What song of praise to your Savior will you sing to begin your eternal day?

Pastor John

The Lord is Near!

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Philippians 4:5 The Lord is near.

1 Peter 4:7  The end of all things is near. Therefore, be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.

It has long been a passion of mine to study the prophecies of Scripture concerning the end of this world’s present system and the coming of Jesus Christ to establish His kingdom on earth. I was motivated by my grandfather, who taught on it for years in churches all across the country. I don’t claim to have figured it all out, but there are some things that make perfect sense to me according to the Bible.

Probably the most significant and irrefutable fact that needs to be considered is this – Jesus is near! We cannot neglect the abundance of evidence based on the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles. All Christians are to be looking up for the return of Jesus at any moment. The Apostles believed it would happen before they died. The early church at Thessalonica believed it to the extent that they even quit their jobs and huddled together in homes waiting for it. The imminent return of Christ was prominently taught in the early church, and it motivated their evangelism efforts.

As the years have passed, many have lost the urgency of living Godly lives in preparation for Christ’s return. We have fallen into a spiritually lethargic lifestyle while seeking to be energized by worldly pursuits. We have traded the desire to be with Christ forever for a desire to have everything this world offers.

Go back in time with me to the early church era and let’s see what they believed. In Romans 16:14 Paul greets a man by the name of Hermas. It is believed by most scholars and the early church historians that Hermas wrote the book Pastor of Hermas.  The Pastor of Hermas was one of the most popular books, if not the most popular book, in the Christian Church during the second, third, and fourth centuries. It occupied a position in that time similar to that of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress in modern times. Some of the early church historians report that there was an effort to include this book as one of the inspired books of Scripture. Here is a quote from the book concerning the urgency of living for the return of Jesus.

 “You know that you who are the servants of God dwell in a strange land; for your city is far away from this one. If, then, you know your city in which you are to dwell, why do ye here provide lands, and make expensive preparations, and accumulate dwellings and useless buildings? He who makes such preparations for this city cannot return again to his own. Oh foolish, and unstable, and miserable man! Dost thou not understand that all these things belong to another, and are under the power of another? … Have a care, then, ye who serve the Lord, and have Him in your heart, that ye work the works of God, remembering His commandments and promises which He promised, and believe that He will bring them to pass if His commandments be observed. Instead of lands, therefore, buy afflicted souls, according as each one is able, and visit widows and orphans, and do not overlook them; and spend your wealth and all your preparations, which ye received from the Lord, upon such lands and houses. For to this end did the Master make you rich, that you might perform these services unto Him; and it is much better to purchase such lands, and possessions, and houses, as you will find in your own city, when you come to reside in it.”

I know, the language is old, but read it again. It is rich with meaning and application.

Times haven’t changed much have they? People’s propensity to pursue possessions and provide permanence on this planet was the same 2000 years ago as it is today. If only we would fix our eyes on preparing for Christ’s return to take us to our true permanent home He is preparing for us. It is unfortunate that while Jesus is preparing a place for us to dwell with Him for all eternity, we are spending our time and resources preparing to live here as long as possible. We are pilgrims here, and the plan is for Jesus to come back at any moment and take us to our permanent home. Let’s start living like pilgrims, and that process begins with a renewed passion for the return of Jesus.

I will not make predictions about when that will happen. I will not attempt to read more into current events than the Bible does, although much of what is happening today can be viewed as a sign of His imminent return. What I will do is to live in the expectation that Jesus Christ will return at any moment to take us into His presence forever. And knowing that He could return at any moment, I will do whatever I can to help as many as possible prepare for His return.

Pastor John

Charitable Gentleness

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Philippians 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Another facet of being a gentle person is to be charitable. One of the Greek definitions of gentleness is being satisfied with less than one’s due. If we are to live so that our gentleness is evident to other people, then we will be charitable, and charity is motivated by being willing to be satisfied with less than we think we deserve. I believe there are three specific areas of application for our lives where we need to be satisfied with less than we think we need.

First, recognition. A gentle person is satisfied with less recognition than they may think they are entitled to. Jesus modeled this, and also taught it to His disciples. In fact, He not only was not recognized for who He was, but He was actually recognized as the opposite, and then killed for it. Jesus allowed Himself to be recognized as a sinner when He was sinless. The reason He did this was that He was living for the glory of another. That’s what gentleness does – it makes us charitable. Stop working so hard for recognition, and start letting God be recognized in you.

The second way to be charitable is in rewards. As I helped my parents get through the difficult days of my mom’s cancer, I was blessed beyond measure to be able to use my skills to accomplish the tasks that needed to be done. During my last trip to their home, on the day I was scheduled to meet a very good friend for a time of recreation on the golf course, I went into the basement and stepped on a water-soaked rug. Upon investigation I discovered the bottom of the gas water heater had rusted out and was spraying water all over the furnace room. I immediately called my friend and cancelled our time together so I could spend the rest of the afternoon installing a new water heater. Of course, the new one was a different design so all of the gas and water lines had to be re-plumbed, but I was up to the task because of previous experience in such matters. When I was all done, my dad tried to give me a check for my work, which I refused. It was nice to be recognized and rewarded, but I was more satisfied with the opportunity to help than with the reward.

Too many times the motivation for our service is the reward. This may even be the case spiritually. It is easy to pump ourselves up to do something for God when we remember that it earns us a reward in heaven, but it should be sufficient motivation to remember His awesome gift of salvation. If God never did another thing for us, what He did on the cross is more than adequate motivation for lifelong service. Stop working so hard for additional rewards when God has already blessed you with every spiritual blessing from heaven.

The third way to be charitable has to do with responsibility. The marketplace of society teaches us that when we are recognized for the work we do, one of the rewards is additional responsibility. We work hard to achieve additional responsibility because we know it will bring additional rewards. Responsibility brings rewards, which bring recognition and greater responsibility – it’s the world’s unbreakable circle of success.

But God has a better and more fulfilling plan. It’s the plan my mother followed. She was given the reward first in her salvation, being recognized by God but having done nothing to deserve it. She accepted the responsibility that went with the recognition and became a servant of Jesus Christ, humbly doing His work without any need for public recognition. She served faithfully alongside dad in small churches, struggling to survive financially raising four children, yet continually sacrificing her own desires for the sake of others. She was a true servant, and deserves to be recognized. But for her, the only recognition that will matter will be when she sees her Savior face to face and He greets her with a heaven-sized hug and the words, “Well done!” Nothing my mom ever did was for earthly rewards or recognition, because she had accepted the responsibility of being a servant who worked for the honor and glory of another. She was satisfied with less than her due in this life because she had her heart and mind fixed on the rewards of heaven.

That’s what it means to let your gentleness be evident to all. But it’s not our gentleness; it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us. (Galatians 5:22-23) We have no gentleness except the character of Christ in us. Let His gentleness be seen in how you live charitably towards others as an offering to your Savior.

Pastor John

Faith in God’s Faithfulness

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, July 23, 2018

Philippians 4:5 (NIV) Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Twelve years ago, during a difficult time in my life, God taught me an important lesson about gentleness. He showed me how faith in His faithfulness facilitates my gentle response to life’s circumstances. Here’s how it happened.

In August of 2006, I made a trip to South Dakota to move into my mom and dad’s house so I could help out during the last days of my mom’s life. Her pancreatic cancer was getting much worse and she was getting very weak. At the time my dad was 81 years of age, and while he was doing a great job of being a caregiver, he needed help. I was so blessed to have the support of my church family to allow me to leave and be with my parents as mom’s coronation day approached.

On the way over to South Dakota, I stopped in Rochester, Minnesota to visit a young couple from our church who have a 4-month-old daughter who was born with some serious heart defects. She had to be taken into emergency open-heart surgery to try to repair a serious condition that had developed. As I sat in the hospital with the parents, I shared with them the truth that God is still on the throne.

I needed to hear that as much as they did.

It is the confidence we have in the absolute sovereignty and goodness of God that gives us hope no matter what the circumstances of life. Whether it be the critical health conditions of a baby or a mother who has lived a full and faithful life, God knows their every need and will not fail to bring glory to His name through the results.

Faith in the faithfulness of God. That’s what we need to carry with us an attitude of gentleness that is evident to all. When we have such faith, the attitude of gentleness will manifest itself in three specific ways as we encounter the diversity of life’s circumstances.

First, our faith in God allows us to lighten up about things that are happening in the present.

Second, our faith in God allows us to let go of the things that have happened in the past.

And third, our faith in God allows us to be free from worry about things that might happen in the future.

Our faith in the faithfulness of God gives us victory over the past, the present, and the future.

So, let your gentleness be evident to all by doing three things:

    1. Lighten up
    2. Let it go
    3. Don’t worry

God is in control, and He never fails!

Pastor John