New Birth

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 14, 2018

Luke 1:35  35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.

I had the wonderful experience of watching my wife go through three pregnancies. I have watched as my daughter and my two daughters-in-law have each had babies. I marvel at the wonder of conception and birth, as God uniquely creates from His infinite mind the precious baby that we love and cherish.

But no matter how much it means to me, it cannot compare with what it means to the mother who carries that life within her for those nine months before birth. To watch the expressions on their faces as they feel the baby move is only a glimpse of the awe they are feeling in their hearts. As a man, we cannot know what it is like to give birth to a new life.

Or can we?

The angel’s statement to Mary declares the details of the miraculous birth of Jesus – God Himself in the flesh. But Mary is not the only one who gets to experience that. His statements are true for all of us who experience the spiritual birth of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Mary understood the problem of sin and her unworthiness to bear the Holy One. She also understood her physical limitations to be pregnant, for she had not been in an intimate relationship with a man.

Like Mary, we also need to understand our unworthiness and inability to physically bear the likeness of Christ. Our sin has kept us from an intimate relationship with God. We are not able to produce any seed capable of birthing salvation. But God has an answer for Mary and for us – The Holy Spirit will come upon us and the power of the Most High will overshadow our sinfulness so that the Holy One can be born within us.

When Jesus was talking to Nicodemus in John chapter 3 He said, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

Paul says it this way in Titus 3:5-7, “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

The Apostle John describes it this way, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

The same power of the Holy Spirit that came upon Mary and created the physical life of Jesus Christ in her womb is the power that each of us experiences when by faith we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. The power of the Most High overshadows all our sin, and the Holy Spirit creates in us the spiritual life of Jesus.

Paul calls this an explained mystery in Colossians 1, where he says, “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Jesus Christ has been birthed in us, and that experience is to be more precious to us than any physical birth.

So the next time a woman says to you men that you don’t know what it’s like to give birth, use it as an opportunity to witness. Tell her that you have experienced birth, and the wonder of spiritual birth far exceeds the wonder of natural birth.

Pastor John

Ask Good Questions

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Luke 1:29 – 34 29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  31You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  32He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  33and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

 Almost from the time he could say the word “Mama”, our first grandson was asking questions. His first question was, “Wha dat?” He would ask it about everything he saw, and he fully expected an answer. Soon after the question became “Why?” and he asked it over and over and over again. I love the natural curiosity of children who need to know what things are and how they work. I love being the one who can tell them.

When God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit and as we read His Word, it is not wrong for us to ask questions. We must, however, ask the questions from a position of faith and not doubt. Earlier in Luke chapter 1, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, questioned the angel Gabriel after being told he would have a son. His question asked for proof before he would believe – “How can I be sure of this? – and for that he was disciplined with a speech impairment until the son was born.

But here, in Mary, we have a question of faith. Mary did not doubt the angel’s words by asking how she could be sure of it, but affirmed the angel’s promise by asking, “How is this going to happen?”

We have two options for the kinds of questions we can ask God when He speaks to us – questions that seek faith or questions that affirm faith. We have the same two options when life’s circumstances change. We can ask questions that reflect doubt that God is really in control, or we can ask questions that state our faith in God’s promises. There is a huge difference between asking, “God, how is this ever going to work out?” and “God, how are you going to work this out?”

God hears both questions, but one carries consequences and one carries blessing. Questions of doubt will extend and deepen our suffering, but even that suffering is God’s way of deepening our faith. Questions of faith also deepen our faith because God the Perfect Father loves to answer them and show us the “how” and “why” so we know Him more deeply and trust Him more fully.

I assume you want to grow by asking the right questions instead of the wrong ones. Ask questions from a foundation of faith, not one of doubt.

Pastor John

Favored

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Luke 1:26 – 28  In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

When I travel through states like North Dakota I am struck with the immensity of God. When I leave the beauty of the forests and hills of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, the topography changes radically to flat and almost treeless plains where one can see for miles. The next farm is barely visible, and the horizon seems unattainable. I imagine what is beyond, and my mind swirls as it swims in the depths of infinity. My limitations overwhelm me in the attempt to visualize the limitlessness of God.

That is the way my mind is responding to the incredible grace of God depicted in today’s conversation between the angel Gabriel and the soon-to-be mother named Mary. The great and overarching theme of Christmas is the grace of God. There is nothing that overwhelms my finite thoughts more than an attempt to comprehend the wonder of God’s grace. Our minds are befuddled when we try to quantify that which qualifies us. We who measure others and ourselves by finite qualifications cannot fully comprehend the unconditional qualification of imperfect people by a perfect God. Yet that is what God does by grace.

Have there ever been sweeter words to the ears of any person than to be told that they have found favor with God? Mary was puzzled by this greeting, as are all of us when we are told that we are fully and unconditionally accepted into relationship with God. Yet those are the words that we long to hear. It is the deepest desire of our hearts to be accepted and to know that our lives have purpose and meaning. Yet we doubt the authenticity of the message. We are troubled by the thought that God can draw that close to us because we know the depths of our sin and unworthiness. But can you think of anything you would rather hear than the voice of God calling you His child, His heir, and His friend?

Why should we believe that God’s favor rests on us when the message was delivered to Mary? When God directed Gabriel to tell Mary that she was highly favored, He chose a word that in the Greek language is used only one other time in all of Scripture. Its use is significant. It is found in Ephesians 1:6, and literally translated says, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”

We have found, in Christ Jesus, the same favor of God that was proclaimed to Mary. We have been accepted into the beloved. Hallelujah!

What a great message of encouragement for not only us but for all of those millions of people still seeking acceptance. We have the Gospel of Grace. We have experienced God’s unconditional forgiveness and acceptance. Let’s go tell the world that they too can be forgiven and accepted – and it’s FREE!

Pastor John

The Gift of Light

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

John 1:9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
Luke 1:79 …
to give light to those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

When God created the heavens and the earth, they existed in their raw form in darkness. God’s first creative act of transformation was to say, “Let there be light.”

After six days of God’s creativity, man lived in a perfect world as a perfect being created in the image of God. He was in constant and intimate fellowship with the Father because he was living in the light.

But one day he chose to believe that the darkness would actually give him more light. The result was not what he had hoped for. He was plunged into darkness and the shadow of death.

As his descendants, we have inherited the same darkness and death. We still often choose to believe the deception that somewhere in the darkness we will find light.

At His chosen time, God again uttered the creative words “Let there be light.” Jesus stepped out of eternity to bring salvation to the world. The Son of God stepped into the darkness and became the light of the world. In one divine person, God combined His total glory with humanity so that we could see the light of salvation and be set free from the darkness of sin and death.

For more than four thousand years the people of the world had walked in darkness. There were incredible moments of light when God revealed Himself to the people, but they were always followed by a return to the darkness. Man was capable, for the short-term, of changing his outward condition, but he could not overcome the darkness of his heart. The war of sin raged on in his soul.

But when Jesus came, the power of sin was broken when He rose from the dead and conquered death once and for all for all who will believe. When the Light of God is turned on in our hearts, there is no returning to the darkness.

Back when electricity was first being introduced in a little Scottish village, almost everybody switched from propane lanterns to electric lights as soon as they could be connected to the power. One old and miserly man lived at the end of the road, and it was quite some time before the power lines reached his house. When the day finally arrived that his power had been connected, his neighbors all came over for the joyous event. The man waited until it was extra dark, and then flipped on the switch. Light filled the room, and everyone cheered. The man went over to the table, picked up the propane lantern, and exclaimed, “This sure makes it easier to light the lamps.” As soon as he had the lantern lit, he turned off the electric switch.

Sometimes we are just like that. We miss the true light because we are hanging on to the dark ways of our past. We are still convinced that somewhere in the darkness of sin we will find enough light to satisfy us. We believe that the light of Jesus Christ is only necessary to light our path back into the darkness of our past.

But the True Light came to destroy the darkness in us and lead us on a new path. Jesus came as the light of the world so that we could live as children of light in the light of God’s glory. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. (John 1:10 – 13)

Don’t be like the miserly old man who only used the power available to him to make the old ways easier to enjoy. Live every moment of every day in the light of God’s glory. The power has been connected. It is your privilege to turn on the light and let it shine.

You have been delivered from the darkness of sin and death. Live like it.

Pastor John

The Greatest Gift

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 10, 2018

1 John 4:7  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.

I know, the gift of love wasn’t on your list either. There’s a reason I didn’t originally include it. When I did my research, I looked for all the uses of the words gift, gave, or give in the New Testament, and they are never used in the same verse with the word love except in John 3:16, which speaks of God’s gift of His Son as a result of God’s love for us. So I didn’t include love as one of the gifts.

But then I started thinking. God is love. Jesus is God. When God gave His Son Jesus He gave His love to us. The gift of love needs to be on the list.

Romans 5:5  God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
1 John 3:1  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!
1 John 3:16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

Look at he truths we find in these verses:

  1. God poured out His love into our hearts as a gift to us.
  2. He lavished His love on us.
  3. We can only know what love is by seeing it modeled in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.
  4. True love only comes from God.

Did you know that the word love is used 200 times in the New Testament alone? It is elevated in importance above faith and hope when the Apostle Paul says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

We are commanded to love God above all else in our lives, and to love others with the same intensity.

Love is the visible testimony of one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

No matter what skills we have, if we do not act in love we accomplish nothing of real value.

No matter how much faith or knowledge we have, if we do not act in love we are considered arrogant and relationally worthless. Even acts of kindness and sacrifice are meaningless if they are done for personal gain and not out of true love for others.

True love is patient and kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.

The challenge is that we are to love one another as Christ loved us and gave Himself for us.  That requires the same sacrifice Jesus made – to give up self for the sake of another.

May God bless you as you become the giver of the greatest gift given to us – the gift of love!

Pastor John

The Gift of Self

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 7, 2018

Titus 2:11 – 14  11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  12It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,  14who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

At dawn on Sunday, December 7, 1941, naval aviation forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the United States Pacific Fleet center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack was almost a complete tactical success. This sneak attack against Hawaii brought an immediate reaction of unprecedented unity from the American people. Families from every class sent their sons and daughters to war, women joined the industrial work force, and no one was untouched by the effort to bring all U. S. resources to bear upon the war effort.

Young men and women signed up with the armed forces to protect their country against any further attempt to destroy their liberties. They were trained and commissioned to serve under commanding officers who would direct their every action. They were ordered into harm’s way, and they went. They went to Midway. They went to Normandy. They went to Guadalcanal. They went to the Philippines. They went to Okinawa.  They went to Iwo Jima. They went anywhere the enemy was entrenched and fought to liberate the people under the enemy’s control. They went because they had given themselves to the fight for freedom. They went because they were committed to a cause. The commanders only directed their actions. They had already given their hearts to obedience and their lives to a purpose.

In the spiritual world, when the enemy of God invaded God’s territory and took God’s people captive, God gave a command to His Son to go and set them free. God knew that His command meant certain death for His Son, but He sacrificed His Son for the cause.

Jesus was not an unwilling order-taker. He was not drafted for His duty, but rather He volunteered because He was committed to the cause. He submitted completely to His Commander, not out of obligation, but rather out of participation. He gave Himself for us. The Apostle Paul says in Galatians 1:3 – 5, Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. Jesus gave himself to rescue us.

The war against liberty rages on in many arenas. Young men and women are still volunteering to give themselves for the cause of freedom. They are willing to die for you and me. They have chosen to give the greatest gift – self.

The spiritual war also rages on. Men and women of all ages are volunteering to give themselves for the cause of spiritual freedom in Christ. They are willing to put themselves in harm’s way to liberate people still caught in the bondage of sin and under the control of God’s enemy. They witness to their friends. They live according to God’s holy character and not the world’s social standards. They willingly go to dangerous lands and cultures to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. They put themselves at risk of financial loss, personal pain, and emotional rejection for the cause of Christ. They do not obey their Commander out of obligation, but out of love. They fulfill their commission given in Ephesians 5:1 – 2.

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children  and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

They are the heroes of the faith. Are you one of them?

Pastor John

The Most Important Gift

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Ephesians 2:8 – 9 (NIV) 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast.

I have a consistent and irritating flaw in my life – I don’t put things away after I’m done with them. I may put them out of the way, but I don’t usually put them back where they belong. My garage is a hodgepodge of scattered tools and hunting clothing. If I need a pair of pliers or a screwdriver, I must stop and think about the closest hiding place to the last job I did. It doesn’t pay to go look in the nice tool cabinet I have. Each drawer of the cabinet is neatly labeled with the type of tool that is supposed to be there – but the drawers are almost empty. The tools are wherever I put them after my last project.

Some of the most fulfilling days of my life are spent organizing my garage and putting everything away. I get such a sense of satisfaction from seeing it all organized and knowing where everything is. But it only stays that way for a short time. Every project is an opportunity for me to improve, but I don’t.

This flaw has caused another serious flaw – the inability to find things, even when they are right in front of me. It is so embarrassing to be looking in a drawer for a utensil or a tool and then, after asking my wife for help, to have her find it right where I had been looking. I have a huge blindness for the obvious. I waste more time looking for things because I didn’t put it back, and it has conditioned me to not see what is right in front of me.

Yesterday I failed to see the obvious as well. I gave you a list of 31 gifts that God gives us when we come to Him for salvation, and I failed to include in the list one of the most important and fundamental gifts of all – faith. Please change your lists and add #32. In all my research to find all of the gifts, I overlooked the one gift that is necessary for the receiving of all the others. Without faith it is impossible to please God and it is impossible to receive the grace of God. Faith is the gift God gives us that brings light to the darkness of our sinful flesh.

Helen Keller understood darkness, being blind to any and all physical light. But her faith gave her all the light she needed. These are her words – Dark as my path may seem to others, I carry a magic light in my heart. Faith, the spiritual strong searchlight, illumines the way, and although sinister doubts lurk in the shadow, I walk unafraid toward the enchanted wood where the foliage is always green, where joy abides, where nightingales nest and sing, and where life and death are one in the presence of the Lord.

We all at one time were stranded in the dark wilderness of sin. We were lost and without direction or hope. The vehicle of our life was without fuel and the battery was drained dead. But God reached down and gave us a fully charged portable GPS unit. (That’s Grace Providing Salvation unit) The destination already programmed into the unit is heaven, and the route we are to take has also been pre-programmed.

The first screen that appears instructs us to get out of our vehicle and walk in the direction of the light. We look around from our driver’s seat and don’t see any light. But the unit says to get out and we will see it. We open the door, step out into the darkness, and in faith close the door on our old life.

In that instant a light appears. Not just a light in the distance, but a light that illuminates everything in front of us. We turn to look back at the vehicle we exited, and we cannot see it, for the light does not illuminate behind us, only in front of us. There is no reason to go back. We can now clearly see the direction we should go. We have been saved from the darkness. We are no longer lost.

Now that we are in the light we look at the GPS unit and engraved into the top of it is the word FAITH. Scrolling across the screen are the words “Saved by faith, walk by faith.”

A map appears, and it gives us the directions for today’s leg of the journey. We try to advance the screen to see where tomorrow will take us, but nothing appears except the words “Do not worry about tomorrow. My grace is sufficient for today.”

We set out on the journey towards heaven, with our GPS unit in hand. So long as we follow the directions revealed to us on the screen we walk in the light and the One who gave us the gift of faith is more clearly and intimately revealed to us.  Each day of the journey we discover more of the fullness and abundance of life that we long for, and each day our gift of faith gives us all the direction we need to stay on course.

What in incredible gift! I’m going to make sure I never misplace it again.

Pastor John