Share the Good News

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Luke 2:10 – 12  10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Last year, as I was leaving one of our larger department stores in Eau Claire, I passed by a couple of teenage girls who were ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. I dropped some money in their collection bucket and one of the girls said, “Thank you, and happy holidays.” I responded with “Merry Christmas to you.” As I turned to walk away I heard her say to her friend, “Oh man! That’s another one I could have said ‘Merry Christmas’ to.”

My heart is gripped with sadness when I stop to realize that the sharing of the Good News of great joy is no longer for all people, but only for those who will not be offended by it. We have caved in to the public notion of political correctness. We pre-qualify our audience and pre-determine our words, and the consequence is that the world doesn’t know in whom to believe. They do not call on Jesus because they have not heard of Jesus – at least not in the way they should hear about Him. They have not heard of Jesus as Savior because those who know Him have stopped sharing the Good News. Have we forgotten our commission for Christ?

I know that we know that Jesus sent us to share the Gospel when He gave us the great commission, but do we truly understand the authority behind the sending? Not authority as in the power to enforce a command, but rather the authority to be set apart for a purpose and be supported while we do it.

God did not use His authority to issue a decree and then demand obedience. He used His authority to completely satisfy our need so that we need nothing from the world. He did not leave us to fend for ourselves and suffer the consequences alone. He did not under-equip us for the task. He did not demand our obedience but rather inspired our cooperation.

We need to understand that when God sent us to preach the good news of great joy He did not intend for that to be a joyless experience for us. How convincing is our message of joy when delivered with voices of fear coming from faces of obligation?

Yet that is how many of us respond to the opportunities to share the good news: we fear the consequences of people’s responses more than we rejoice in the promises of God’s authority.

The telling of the good news is an outpouring of the love and joy we have personally experienced from God through our Savior Jesus Christ. His authority has fully equipped us with security and strength so that the people of the world can have no effect on our status before God. His authority has already conquered the enemy, so we need not fear.

Look at these incredible words from Hebrews – 14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 

Death has been conquered. Fear has been destroyed. We have been set free by the authority of Jesus so that we need not fear the responses and reactions of the world.

The angels announced good news of great joy, and they did it with authority. The shepherds spread the word about what they had seen and heard, and they did it with authority. Anna, the prophetess, told everyone she could about the arrival of the Messiah, and she did it with authority.

Everyone who has a personal encounter with Jesus receives the power and authority of the Holy Spirit to share the good news.

Start sharing.

Pastor John

Overcoming Fear

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Matthew 2:1 – 3 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Life can be routine and even mundane most of the time. There are occasional high points of energy and enthusiasm, and low points of pain and disappointment, but overall, as time passes, life levels off. We want our lives to be level because we find security in the predictable and the known. We don’t like the fear of the unknown, and we certainly don’t like anything that threatens the status quo.

We accept the reality that mountaintop experiences don’t last. We work hard to get life back in order after we’ve been in the deep valley of desperation. We protect everything that makes life seem normal. We have adopted the philosophy that saneness is achieved through sameness, so we resist change. Change will invalidate our past and force us to redefine who we are and what we believe. Please Lord, just for today, can everything stay the same, so I can feel safe?

If that had been true of the wise men from the east they would never have come searching for Jesus the King. These scientists, probably astrologers, had done well for themselves in their professions. They were obviously wealthy and very intelligent. They had obviously studied a wide variety of writings, including the prophets of Israel, because they knew that when the star appeared in the sky it meant that Jesus was born. But unlike so many people who would seek to protect the security of their positions and possessions, these men were willing to sacrifice it all to find the One True King.

What a contrast to King Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem who were disturbed by the news announced by the wise men. Why? Because it threatened the status quo of their lives.

King Herod’s position was being threatened. All he had worked so hard to accomplish for himself could be lost. I can imagine his thoughts. “All of my power will be stripped away. Everything I own will be given to someone else. I will become a person of no value. I must destroy this threat.”

What about the people of Jerusalem? Were they disturbed because they feared Herod’s response to the news or because they feared the changes that a new King would bring to their lives? Would a new King change their economic condition? What about the political ramifications with Rome? The fears were real, and they forced action – actions to eliminate what they perceived to be the source of their fears.

On the one hand, we have a king and his followers who seek Jesus to destroy Him because they think it will eliminate their fear. On the other hand, we have a group of wise men who seek Jesus to worship Him and thereby have all their fears eliminated.

All of us fall into one of those two categories. The fear of change drives people to eliminate Jesus from their lives. Sinners in the bondage of fear don’t want their motives questioned, their pursuits invalidated, their possessions devalued, or their position threatened. They may claim to want to worship Jesus but are really motivated by worship of self.

But saints, acting in faith, leave the security of all they have in the world to seek the true King and worship Him.

In which group are you?

Pastor John

Humility Honored

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Luke 2:8 – 12  8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

It is an unfortunate tendency of human nature to become self-sufficient. The accomplishment of goals leads to pride in our abilities. The accrual of resources leads to dependence upon those resources. The pursuit of social status becomes the means of measuring success. We are never quite satisfied with the essentials, so we choose to live by faith in self rather than faith in God.

The shepherds were different. Their profession was religiously despised in their culture. Because of their constant contact with the animals they were not allowed to participate in any religious activities and were certainly never allowed inside the temple to worship. They were forced to live in the fields with their flocks, never owning their own homes or achieving an acceptable level of social status. Such conditions would cause most of us to develop a new life plan or hire a new life coach. We would look intently and lustfully at the greener grass on the next pasture, and it would not be for the benefit of the sheep.

But these shepherds were different. They had not only accepted their position in society, but they worshiped God where they were. They had some good examples from their culture’s past to follow: Moses spent 40 years tending sheep before he was called by God in a burning bush to lead Israel out of Egypt. David was a shepherd boy who had a heart for God and accepted his position. Psalms 78:70 – 72 says, God chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

These shepherds lived the greatest faith anyone can ever live – God-sufficiency. God saw their humble state and He honored them with the first and only public announcement of the birth of Jesus.

Humility is the prerequisite of honor.

But we must be careful, because honor can destroy humility. Honor can become the means we use to set new goals and seek new status. But these shepherds were different. After they had gone and seen the King and worshipped Him in person, the Scriptures say that they returned to their flocks and carried on where they were. We never hear of them again. There was no attempt to use their personal experience to advance their personal status in any way.

That will be true of all who are humble, no matter how they have been honored. Why? Because the humble understand that it’s all about Jesus and His glory, and not about us and our glory.

Jesus honored the humility of the shepherds 32 years later when He spoke these words: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

One day Jesus will honor all of us. Be careful of trying to honor self. Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The shepherds were different. They did nothing to get noticed. God found them and honored their humility.

He will find you!

Pastor John

Humble Beginnings

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 17, 2018

Luke 2:1 – 7 1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world.  2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  3And everyone went to his own town to register. 4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.  5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.  6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born,  7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Las Posadas is under way. This Mexican festival dates to the 16th century when a priest first used an Aztec celebration to teach about the birth of Christ. This nine-day festival beginning on December 16th re-enacts the search of Joseph and Mary for lodging in Bethlehem. Every family in the neighborhood sends their children out into the street. As a group the children walk from house to house and sing a song with words that beg for lodging. The owner of each house sings a song of refusal back to the children, until the children reach the house that has been predetermined by the parents to be the inn with the manger. The parents all gather at that home and begin a party while the children must remain outside for a time. Eventually they are invited in for a short worship service followed by a party which includes the traditional piñata in the shape of a star.

This process is carried out every night until Christmas Eve, when the processions end at the church for their Christmas Eve mass. Variations of the festival have developed, and San Antonio, Texas is world-renowned for its 9-day Las Posadas event every year.

When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem there was no pretending about finding a place for lodging. The town was filled with all the people from all over Israel who were descended from King David.  They had come under orders from Rome to register to be taxed. Joseph had arrived late because of the difficulty of traveling with a nine-month pregnant wife. Every room of every inn was already occupied.

Joseph’s every attempt at providing for his wife was met with failure. He ended up taking Mary to a stable. They were surrounded by all the horses and donkeys that had brought the people to Bethlehem, people who were now safe and warm inside the inn.

Suddenly Mary grimaces in pain. Her face reveals the fear and questions in her mind about what is happening. There are no blankets except the one they had used on the back of the donkey. The bedding straw used for the animals became the bed upon which Mary lay to give birth to the Son of God. There was no water for bathing the baby except for what was is in the feed troughs for the animals. There were no clean clothes for the baby, so strips are torn from their own clothing and Jesus is wrapped in them. Straw is laid carefully in one of the feed troughs to make a bed for Jesus.

Mary lies down on her straw bed to recover from the birth. Joseph wonders where he failed and what he could have done differently to provide better for his new family. God reassures them both that this is exactly what he planned. His Son, the Messiah, would be born in obscure humility in the worst of conditions so that His glory could be revealed.

God reveals His glory in the weakness and failures of man. It is in rejection by the world that complete acceptance by God is found. It is when we are not able to announce ourselves to others that God sends angels to announce Himself to all. It is when we are at our lowest that we experience the highest glory. When all human provision is removed, God reveals Himself.

Do not be afraid that your plans are not working out. Do not be worried about the rejection you are experiencing. Do not fear the loss of financial security. Do not fret over being brought lower than you think you deserve. Every step downward into humility brings you closer to the day when God will exalt you.

Why should our lives be lived any differently than Christ’s? Why do we believe we deserve better than Jesus? Why has Jesus become our means to prosperity rather than our motivation to humility? We are missing the fullness of God’s grace because we are so filled with ourselves.

God gives grace to the humble. Embrace the rejections and failures of your life. They are the moments God designed to reveal His Son to you. Move out of the penthouse and into the stable. It is where you will find Jesus.

Pastor John

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