Faith

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 31, 2018

Romans 4:18-21  Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

A striking Christmas card was once published with the title “If Christ Had Not Come”. It was founded upon our Savior’s words in John 15:22, “If I had not come.” On the card is a picture of a pastor falling into a short sleep in his study on Christmas morning and dreaming of a world into which Jesus had never come.

In his dream he found himself looking through his home, but there were no little stockings in the chimney corner, no Christmas bells or wreaths of holly, and no Christ to comfort, gladden and save. He walked out to the street, but there was no church with its spire pointing to Heaven. He came back and sat down in his library, but every book about the Savior had disappeared. The doorbell rang and a young boy asked the preacher to visit his poor, dying mother.

He hastened with the weeping child, and as he reached the home he sat down and said, “I have something here that will comfort you.”  He opened his Bible to look for a familiar promise, but there were none. His Bible ended with the book of Malachi. There was no Gospel and no promise of hope and salvation, and he could only bow his head and weep with her in bitter despair. Two days later he stood beside her coffin and conducted the funeral service. There was no message of consolation, no hope of heaven.

I can’t begin to imagine what life would be like without Jesus Christ and the hope of heaven. But wait. Didn’t all the saints of the Old Testament have to live that way? This story plays an emotional tune on our heart strings, but the truth is that it is in error. If the Pastor had the Old Testament message, but not the New Testament, he would still have the promises of God that the Messiah was coming. There would still be hope. There would still be a message of consolation. His faith could have been like the faith of Abraham, who against all hope, believed the promise of God.

The pastor in the story could not have been a true man of faith. He did not believe the prophecies of the Old Testament and he did not use them to give hope to a dying woman. He did not give glory to God by being persuaded that what was promised would someday be fulfilled. He wavered through unbelief.

We tend to do the same thing with the promises of God. We set them aside in unbelief if they have not been fully delivered. We hopelessly take our lives into our own hands when our patience to wait on God runs out. We stop seeking His kingdom and righteousness because all the other things promised to us aren’t being added to us fast enough. Our prayers are more like wishes written to Santa rather than words of faith in the promises of God. We move from event to event and day to day with hardly a thought about the imminent return of Jesus Christ to take us to glory. Life tends to be all about us and our plans. Faith calls us to make life all about God and His glory.

What would our faith look like if we were living prior to the birth of Jesus? I would like to think that we have a faith advantage by living now. But the truth is our faith is probably weaker. We may tend to take for granted what we know to be true. We tend to live primarily with the expectations of more and better for ourselves in this life, rather than in eternity. We focus on solutions to our own sad situations when we should be focused on the salvation of souls. We have subtly surrendered to sight while God is calling us to fearlessly follow by faith. The Bible is clear – without such faith it is impossible to please God.

The foundation of true faith is solely based on one’s proper understanding of God. Faith is only so valid as the object of the faith. If you want your faith to increase, learn more about the object of your faith.

The big question is this – “Who do you know God to be?” How you answer that question determines the level and maturity of your faith.

In today’s Scripture, Abraham knew God to be the God of power – power to fulfill promises. At other times of his life He knew other characteristics of God. Somewhere in each of our lives right now there is a weakness in our faith because we don’t sufficiently know the nature and character of God. He has promised to reveal Himself to those who seek Him, and in that revelation our faith will be strengthened.

Seek Him today.

Inquire of His Word and His Spirit.

Ask God to reveal something new about Himself to you, and you will see how your faith will grow, your fears will cease, and His promises will become reality.

Pastor John

God Invades the Ordinary

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 28, 2018

Luke 2:11  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

 From Christianity Today comes this story:

She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity convinced every word was revelation.

She said, “They were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat and they went a long way from home without getting lost. The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with an ox and a donkey, but the Three Rich Men found them because a star lighted the roof. Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them. Then the baby was born. And do you know who he was?”

Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.

“The baby was God.”

And she jumped in the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion, which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.

What is our response when God invades the ordinary of our lives? I experienced one of  God’s invasions into life a few years ago. Two days before Christmas, at 9:00 a.m., a man walked through the front door of the church offices and handed me a package. He said that he had been blessed by a message I had preached several weeks earlier on giving our best – our firstfruits – to the Lord. He said this package represented his firstfruits and he wanted me to have it. I slowly opened the grocery bag to look inside, and I was overwhelmed and amazed at the contents. With tears in my eyes I gave the man a huge hug and thanked him. He asked why I was so surprised and broken by his gift. I told him my story.

Two weeks earlier my wife and I had been planning the menu for our annual family Christmas dinner. It is always Norwegian in flavor based on both of our family’s heritages. We have yulekaka (pronounced you-la-kaga) and yulagret, which is now called riskrem, meaning rice cream. Some of our family members have never taken to the Norwegian foods, so several years ago we decided to add an American tradition to our meal – steak and crab meat with baked potatoes.

Denise and I were planning what kind of steak to get and how much we would need for everyone to have a small 6-ounce portion. I had an idea. Why not get a rib roast and have a slice of prime rib this year instead of the steak? We agreed to check out the price and keep that as an option. After talking to the meat guy at our grocery store, we decided we would not spend that much money on one small part of the meal. I began looking at small steak options, but something, or should I say Someone, told me not to get them yet. I would wait until the day before our meal to buy what I needed.

By now the man who had given me the package was in tears. He knew what he had brought me. When I had looked in the bag I discovered an eight-pound prime rib roast. I buried my head in his shoulder in a warm and meaningful embrace and praised God for invading my life with His glory. He whispered in my ear, “I love you. You came into my life and showed me God. You have made me so happy.” I told Him it was God who has filled him with joy, and both our eyes were dripping tears. We both got to see God.

“My God shall supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Sometimes He invades the ordinary and gives us our wants too.

Pastor John

Do Whatever He Asks

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Luke 2:33 – 35  33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

One of the most enjoyable experiences of my life is to purchase a car. It’s been a long time since I bought a brand new one (1976 to be exact), but getting a nice used car is still a thrill. I used to do it fairly often and got quite a reputation as a negotiator. If I were to go looking for a different vehicle right now I would go to a couple of places that I trust and start to check over their used car selection. I would find the one that I wanted in the price range I could afford, and after bargaining for the best possible price I would sign the papers and drive it home. One thing I would not expect from the car dealer is to have the salesman pull me aside as I head for my “new” vehicle and tell me that I can expect it to cause me all kinds of problems and cost me a lot of money to maintain. Why would he wait until after the sale to tell me this, and why would he sell a car like that in the first place?

I wonder if Mary felt a little bit like that when Simeon told her that Jesus would cause a lot of heartache for her? I know how I felt when the doctor told me that my daughter would need heart surgery when she was 2 years old. I’m sure you have experienced similar emotions in response to difficult and sometimes tragic news in your family. Here was Mary, just 8 days after the birth of the Son of God, being told that there was a time coming when the tide of public opinion would be against Him and her heart would be broken by that. The very people that Jesus had come to save would reject Him and she would not be able to do anything about it.

She got her first taste of that rejection when Jesus was about 2 years old. The reigning king of Israel tried to have Jesus killed, and the family had to flee to Egypt. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary to know and understand the truth about her Son and yet have everyone else reject that truth. Imagine the nights of loneliness and hopelessness that must have come upon her. Maybe you don’t have to imagine them because you are experiencing them. You find yourself asking the question, “What can be done?”

It is our human nature to want to fix what’s wrong and fulfill what’s right. Jump ahead in the life of Christ to a wedding Jesus was attending when He was 30 years old. The host of the wedding did not plan for enough wine and it has run out. Mary seizes this opportunity to introduce the truth about her Son to the world and suggests to Him that He can fix the problem. It was not the responsibility of Jesus to get more wine, but mom was looking for a way to show off her Son. For 30 years she has remained faithful to the truth about who He was and His purpose in coming to the earth.

Whether she was right or wrong to suggest His involvement in this wine problem is not the issue: the real issue is that the things she treasured in her heart about Jesus had not only sustained her for all of those years but had equipped her to take a step that would result in the piercing of her soul and the breaking of her heart. She told the servants to do whatever Jesus said, not what she wanted. She had learned the wisdom of living by an eternal perspective and not an earthly one.

My friends, the world will reject us when we live holy lives in honor to a holy God. Our hearts will be broken by the rejection of our spouses and children and those we love. But remember the words of Simeon – there will be those who will rise because of Jesus just as there will be those who will fall.

That was obviously Mary’s focus. That is to be our focus as well. Our defense against the sword of the world piercing our hearts with rejection is the Sword of the Word of Truth that gives us an eternal perspective. Then we can say with Mary, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Pastor John

Fill the Cart

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Luke 2:17 – 19  17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

For many people, like my wife, the thrill of Christmas continues today because the After Christmas Sales have begun. Stores once again have opened early in an attempt to close out all of their seasonal merchandise. People are getting up early to head to the stores and get a head start on what they will need for next Christmas. They will find their treasures at greatly reduced prices and store them up in their closets and basements so when the time comes for the next holiday they will be prepared. Just knowing what they bought and how great a bargain they got will sustain them through the shopping lulls caused by regular prices in the days ahead.

For me, the lull of being regular has already started. I awoke early this morning thinking “Now what?” Now that Christmas has come and gone for another year, it’s time to get back to normal. But routine sounds so boring. What treasures do I have to sustain me through the long winter months still ahead?

Then I thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her Baby has been born, the trip home has been completed, and routine has been established. People have stopped coming over to visit and to see the Baby. Relatives are finally settled down and are acting like they accept this “miraculous” birth. Joseph is back in his carpentry shop, and Mary struggles to fight off the depressing prospect of life in the regular lane.

But she is prepared to fight that battle, and how she fights it is a lesson for all of us. You see, she went After Christmas Shopping also; only she did it in her heart. She found lots of treasures, filling the shopping cart of her heart with eternally enduring truths and memories.

There were treasures like Gabriel’s announcement to her that she was highly favored by God; his explanation of the power of the Holy Spirit that would come upon her; the visit with Elizabeth and the sharing of a miraculous birth experience with her; the statement of the angel that “nothing is impossible with God;” the description by the shepherds of the glory of God in the sky and the announcement of good news for all the people; and the first time she held the Son of God in her arms and experienced the fullness of God’s grace and truth.

Mary filled her heart with all of these things and more, and they were able to sustain her for the next 12 years of regular life until another “holiday” occurred. Jesus was teaching in the temple, and once again Mary found some more treasures to store up in the closet of her heart.

She would need all of these treasures because life would be regular for the next 18 years, but when life stopped being routine she was ready. When Jesus was presented by His heavenly Father to the world as the people’s Savior, she was ready because she had done more than just put the treasures in a closet: she put them in a prominent place in the house of her heart where she could look at them every day and be reminded that life with Jesus is not regular. She was sustained because she had polished the art of meditation on God’s truth. The truths she experienced and treasured became her weapons with which she fought the battle of routine.

We have the same opportunity. We too must polish up the art of meditation: not meditation to escape life like the world teaches; but rather meditation on the truths of God to fulfill life.

When Joshua was preparing to lead the people of Israel into the battle for the Promised Land, God gave him these instructions – Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

King David says it this way in Psalm 1 – Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

It’s time to go spiritual shopping for treasures which are found in God’s Word – and they’re FREE! What a bargain – life-sustaining truth at no cost. Fill your cart today.

Pastor John

ALWAYS!

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

John 14:18-19  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

MERRY CHRISTMAS. 

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage.  About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. Here is the story they tell.

It was nearing the holiday season in 1994, and it was time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.  No colored paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown a lady had given us, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.

All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.”

“But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.  The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS.

Jesus came so that we could be His children – for always. This Christmas, remember that it’s not what you get for gifts that matters, but Who you get as a gift, and Jesus is the indescribable Gift of God.

Pastor John

Stoop

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 24, 2018

Philippians 2:4-8  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

The following is a true story: Two weeks before Christmas a nine-year-old girl was walking with her friend down the street, sliding on the ice. The two of them were talking about what they hoped to get for Christmas. They stopped to talk to an old man named Harry, who was on his knees doing his best to pull weeds from the frozen ground around a large oak tree. He wore a frayed, woolen jacket and a pair of worn garden gloves. His fingers were sticking out the ends, blue from the cold.

As Harry responded to the girls, he told them he was getting the yard in shape as a Christmas present to his mother, who had passed away several years before. His eyes brimmed with tears as he patted the old oak. “My mother was all I had. She loved her yard and her trees, so I do this for her at Christmas.”

His words touched the girls and soon they were down on their hands and knees helping him to weed around the trees. It took the three of them the rest of the day to complete the task. When they finished, Harry pressed a quarter into each of their hands. “I wish I could pay you more, but it’s all I’ve got right now,” he said.

The girls had often passed that way before and as they walked on they remembered that the house was shabby, with no wreath, no Christmas tree or other decorations to add cheeriness. Just the lonely figure of Harry sitting by his curtain-less window. The quarter seemed to burn a hole of guilt in the one little girl’s mind as they returned to their homes. The next day she called her friend and they agreed to put their quarters in a jar marked “Harry’s Christmas Present” and then they began to seek out small jobs to earn more. Every nickel, dime, and quarter they earned went into the jar.

Two days before Christmas, they had enough to buy new gloves and a Christmas card. Christmas Eve found them on Harry’s doorstep singing carols. When he opened the door, they presented him with the gloves wrapped in pretty paper, the card and a pumpkin pie still warm from the oven. With trembling hands, he tore the paper from the gloves, and then to their astonishment, he held them to his face and wept.

As I thought about that story, I began to wonder how low I would stoop to help others. Then I found this quote from author, professor, and clergyman Henry Van Dyke, who asks us some penetrating questions. “Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? How about for lifetime? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

Jesus stooped down from glory and became lower than the angels He created, so that He might personally relate to us and rescue us. He didn’t just put on the appearance of man for a time. His very nature became that of a servant. (Philippians 2:7) It’s easy for us to put on the decorations of Christmas once a year and act like we are givers. But is giving in your nature?

I love this quote from John Stott, who said, The Christian should resemble a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree! For the gaudy decorations of a Christmas tree are only tied on, whereas fruit grows on a fruit tree.

Make it your intention this year to let giving and serving be your nature, not just your decoration. When the Christ of Christmas abides in you, and you abide in Him, you will bear fruit that looks like Him.

Pastor John

Fully Surrendered

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 21, 2018

Luke 1:38  38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

A fast food chain that had previously been relatively unknown became nationally popular years ago by choosing a slogan that caught on quickly – “Have it your way!” In an attempt to appear helpful and serving, what they were really doing was capitalizing on the self-centered nature of the customer. We are constantly bombarded from secular society with the “right” we have to please ourselves by either having it or doing it our way.

In stark contrast to that philosophy stands the statement of Mary in response to the angel’s announcement of God’s purpose for her life. After asking how this miraculous event would happen to her, she fully surrenders self and accepts the role of a servant. With an attitude of total humility Mary says, “May it be to me as you have said.”

No debate. No suggested changes or adaptations to the plan. No looking around to see who’s watching this great example of humility. Just quiet and complete surrender to what God said. “Have it your way, God!”

We may be tempted to think that her surrender was easy because she was being asked to do something so wonderful. She got to be pregnant – the dream of most women. She got to bear a son – the fulfillment of her cultural responsibility as a wife. She got to participate in the eternal purpose of Jehovah to save the world from its sin. That choice seems like a no-brainer, right? But what about all the problems she would encounter by making that choice to surrender? There would be the possibility of losing her fiancé. She would be considered an adulteress by her society. Her son would have to grow up as an illegitimate child, scorned by his youthful friends. She had to know all those things, and yet she considered the call of God to be more significant than the opinion of people.

The same call of God goes out to us today. He has called us to be a part of His incredible plan to bring His grace to a lost world? He has sent His Holy Spirit upon us to overshadow self and the flesh and empower us to accomplish God’s eternal purpose. We have the choice of two responses: we can look up to God in anticipation that the King will tell us “Have it your way,” or we can look up to the King and tell Him, “Have it your way.”

In the first response there appears to be safety because we believe we can control the social fallout of our choice. But in the second response there is incomparable fulfillment, knowing that we are participating with Almighty God in His glorious plan of salvation.

Response #1 elevates self and society over God: response #2 recognizes that only God can meet the needs of self and society.

Response #1 leaves us at the mercy of man and destined to the world’s destruction. Response #2 puts us in the merciful hand of God and guarantees us eternal life.

Seems like a no-brainer to me!

“Have it your way, God!”

Pastor John