The Indescribable Gift

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, June 28, 2019

The world is caught up in a philosophical system that allows for the determination and definition of truth to be based solely on the benefit it brings to the individual. People say things like, “If it feels good, do it!” and “My truth is my truth!” This is not a new philosophy. In fact, it is as old as creation. From the beginning of man’s existence on earth Satan has attempted to convince him that there is a personally beneficial truth that supersedes God’s absolute truth. That was his strategic attack against Eve in the Garden of Eden when she was convinced that the beauty and benefits of the forbidden fruit were worth any risk of disobedience.

Since then, mankind has been searching for meaning in life based on personal gain. In the 1600’s a mathematician and theologian named Blaise Pascal wrote this, “Those are weaklings who know the truth and uphold it as long as it suits their purpose, and then abandon it.”  That describes our modern society accurately – people picking and choosing truth based on personal benefit.

But God has given us an indescribable gift – the gift of grace.

2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!

God’s grace is received at the moment of confessing the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It transforms a person from a self-centered, self-serving truth seeker into a servant of others. Today’s Scripture verse comes at the end of a statement made about people who have been transformed by God’s grace. Paul describes such people as those involved in acts of service and generosity to others, resulting in many expressions of thanks to God. Paul calls this the indescribable gift. It is a gift that dismantles Satan’s deceptive philosophy of moral relativism.

Truth is not based on personal preference – truth overwhelms personal benefit with real love expressed in giving and serving for the benefit of others. That is what Jesus meant when He said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus also said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Free from what? Free from the bondage of pleasing self to validate one’s existence. When the truth of Jesus Christ is accepted we are accepted by God, and there is no longer any need to qualify our own existence. We are free to invest in the lives of others because God has fully invested Himself in us.

The confirmation that we have truly confessed the truth is the transformation of our lives from being self-centered to others-centered. It is the obedience of serving that accompanies the true confession of faith, thereby proving the validity of one’s faith.

Spend a little time right now evaluating your life in response to this truth. How are you doing in prioritizing serving others over considering your own needs? How are you doing at giving away to others the indescribable gift that God has given you?

May we all pass this litmus test of faith – we prove ourselves to be recipients of God’s surpassing grace by becoming the servants of others. We are the delivery agents of His Indescribable gift.

Pastor John

The Power of the Cross

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, June 27, 2019

One of the unique challenges I face as a pastor is that I struggle with how to present the Gospel in new and exciting ways so that the hearers are led to a point of decision. For some reason I have become convinced that the message needs to be re-packaged on a weekly basis so that it is always fresh, exciting, and inviting. After all, isn’t that what I was called and gifted to do?

To be an effective communicator one must understand the hearer and adjust his delivery technique to meet the needs of the hearer. Unfortunately, many of today’s communicators have done more than just adjust the delivery style; they have also changed the heart of the message. It is very probable that they have done this to be more accepted and admired by their audience. I’m convinced that God has uniquely gifted some people to be effective communicators of His truth, but I am also convinced that changing the heart of the message to please the hearer is wrong.

What is the heart of the message that should never be changed or compromised by human reason?

1 Corinthians 1:17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

It is the message of the cross of Jesus Christ. No message of human wisdom or creativity has any power if it does not clearly proclaim Christ’s atoning death on the cross as the only sacrifice for man’s sin. People are not transformed by man’s stylistic techniques or politically correct language: they are transformed by the power of God, and the power of God is the message of the cross. To the unsaved it may seem like foolishness, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

1 Corinthians 1:18  For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 Let us not be swayed by the tide of public opinion or the need for the public’s approval. Let us boldly proclaim the truth of the cross of Jesus Christ in the simple and repeatable ways of the Apostles:

  1. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
  2. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord
  3. God demonstrated His own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us
  4. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

Someone you know or meet today needs to hear that message.

Pastor John

Bold and Courageous

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Here’s a question to ask to diagnose if you are suffering from the debilitating disease of apathy.

How can people be so consumed with passion that they are willing to suffer personal harm and loss for the sake of the cause in which they believe?

The person that criticizes someone else’s convictions is probably questioning his own. The person that condemns passionate belief in a cause probably has no cause of his own in which to believe. The person who hates fans and fanatics is probably suffering from pride that wishes everyone else saw life and the world the way they do. At the very least, the person who does not boldly engage the culture with his belief system is a coward seeking to protect what little value he believes he has.

The Apostles were no such people. They had encountered the resurrected Christ and been filled with His Holy Spirit, and they were boldly proclaiming the Good News with no concern for personal pain or loss.

Acts 5:40-42 They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Every day we see stories of people who boldly take action based on their belief system. One man believed so strongly in his right to be first on the roadways of our city that when he was allegedly “cut off” by another driver he proceeded to ram her car and cause an accident, resulting in his arrest and potential 5-year prison sentence.

We consistently see examples all around us of people offending others and being offended by others because of what they believe in. Fans of football teams travel to the opponent’s home field wearing the loudest and boldest affirmations of support for their team, hoping to offend and rile up the fans of the opponent, with no fear of personal pain or loss. We see people boldly and loudly stating their position on political issues without fear of retribution in the hope that they can sway another’s point of view. We have chosen our non-negotiable passions and we will fight to the death to protect them – football, politics, and personal rights, just to name a few.

But what has happened to cause the Christian to back down from the fight to proclaim the Good News no matter what the personal pain or loss? Why does the witnessing of our day not resemble the witnessing of the Apostles?

Let’s assume Peter and the other apostles were living today and had been called into court to answer to a charge of public disruption for teaching and preaching the Gospel on the steps of the county courthouse. They are convicted, and are sentenced to 30 days in jail (because we no longer flog). If we apply to them the same pattern of behavior of many Christians today, how would they act after their release from confinement?

First, they would stop talking about Jesus in public for fear of another arrest, knowing that second offenses carry a stiffer penalty. Second, they would find a church to attend that was politically correct so as not to offend the society around them. Then, as their fears continue to tighten their grip on their lives, they would change their lifestyle so that they looked like everyone else to escape any consequences of their now watered-down beliefs.

How sad it is when the witnesses of the resurrected Christ bow before the idol of society and choose to worship personal safety and prosperity. But we do it all the time. We seek not to offend, and we certainly don’t want to be offended. We want to be tolerated so we adopt the tolerance of all other viewpoints. We choose silence, and if not silence we choose a contemporary model of witnessing that the Gospel is to be viewed as just another opinion and not as the absolute truth.

We are the witnesses of the resurrected Christ. May we never stop going door-to-door and into the public places of our society with the Good News that Jesus is alive and saves people from their sin. Do it wisely, but do it!

Pastor John

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that offends, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

To Every Nation

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The United States is no longer a melting pot of cultures. A melting pot requires all the cultures to be dissolved into one. That is not happening anymore. People from all over the world have come to America and created their own little communities to maintain their language and cultural distinctions. They no longer desire to be Americanized, but they do desire to enjoy the freedoms and blessing of living in this land. This has caused some in our country to rise up in revolt against what is happening. I have heard it said, “If they can’t speak our language then they shouldn’t be considered citizens.” We are becoming a bigoted and biased people, forming barriers where they don’t belong.

As Christians we have the incredible gift of the Gospel that is able to break down all cultural barriers. We may not understand all the cultural distinctions of people from other nations, and we may not believe we have anything in common with them, but we do. We are all sinners and need to be saved, and the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is understood equally by all, no matter what their culture.

Romans 16:25-27 Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.

Paul relates to us the heart of God in today’s Scripture passage. The Old Testament references to the Messiah and Savior which seemed like a mystery are now revealed to us by the direct command of the eternal God so that all people can understand the Gospel message that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior of the world. He also states that when anyone believes and accepts the message of Jesus, God will establish them forever as His. The Greek word translated “establish” means “to turn resolutely in a certain direction and make stable, permanently fixing the position.” WOW! I like that. God is able by His almighty power to take any life from any land and turn it around so that it is fixed on Him!

That should be our starting point with all people of all cultures. Every person in the world understands right and wrong, and has the ability to understand sin and its consequences. Therefore, every person in the world should be given the opportunity to hear the Good News that sin and its consequences have been conquered, providing a way for them to be forgiven and restored to permanent relationship with God.

It may be that we will need to learn a little of their culture in order to tell them the message, but not always. When I have gone to the Philippines or to India to minister the Gospel to unreached people in the tribes, I have seen God move powerfully to touch their hearts with the simple message of salvation before I knew anything about how they lived.

We live in our land where other cultures are coming to us. Instead of spending so much time and energy trying to get them to act like Americans, let’s work hard to get them to act like disciples of Jesus Christ. We may never have anything more in common with them than our faith, but isn’t that enough?

Reach out to those whom you have considered different and unreachable. The starting point is the same for us all, and God will cause all nations to believe and obey Him if we will share the Good News.

Pastor John

Passion Determines Priorities

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, June 24, 2019

In March of 1975 the worst snowstorm I have ever experienced happened while I was living in North Dakota. It was Easter weekend, and my fiancé Denise had come home from college for the holiday. It started snowing on Good Friday, and by the time it was all done we had received over 40 inches of snow along with the famous winds of the plains, causing huge drifts that shut down the entire region for days.

I had not seen Denise for several weeks, and there was no way that I was going to stay at my home and not be able to spend some time with her, no matter what the cost. Her parent’s house was less than 3 blocks from mine, so I set out to walk over there. I put on my boots and snow pants and parka and hat and gloves and went out into the blizzard.

The snowdrifts in the streets were well over 6 feet deep, and they were not heavily packed, so my progress was slow and did not even resemble walking. It was more like stepping, sinking, digging, climbing, and sinking some more. Finally, after almost an hour, I arrived at her home, totally exhausted and covered with sweat. It was the hardest 3 blocks I have ever traveled, but it was made possible by the prize at the end.

If only we could apply the same determination to accomplishing the task the Lord Jesus has given us – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. If only we could have the same compelling of the Holy Spirit that Paul had so that no matter what the cost to personal safety, security, or secular success we would consider His purpose as supreme in our priority structure.

Acts 20:22-24 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

We do have the same compelling of the Holy Spirit, but we may not have the same surrender of life that Paul had. It is possible that many of us do not have witnessing as the top item on our priority list of things to do today. Most of us have personal goals and timelines in mind. We have jobs, families, bills, and recreation to take care of today, and with the time that is left we may consider testifying to someone about God’s marvelous grace that makes it all possible. How sad, that we give mental assent to Jesus as Lord but live as though we are lord of our own lives.

Paul considered any pursuit of his own life’s goals as worthless and meaningless compared to completing God’s task for his life. Let’s understand that our task is the same as Paul’s. Maybe we are called to carry it out differently, not as missionaries or pastors but as disciples, but the task is the same – to testify to others of the gospel of God’s grace given to us in the Person of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

Let’s rethink our list of priorities for today.

Pastor John

Start Where Jesus Started

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, June 21, 2019

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth He preached the Good News of the kingdom of heaven. In describing the kingdom and its inhabitants He went into great detail about many issues of faith, but the beginning point of his teaching and preaching is always the same. He is always calling people to repentance. In Mark’s Gospel we read, “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” It would be wise for us to adopt the same style as the Master.

Matthew 4:17-23 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria…

Unfortunately, we have been drawn into a so-called contemporary model of witnessing that is socially acceptable, politically correct, and non-confrontational. This “new and improved” model of reaching the lost has been called by different names and described by different phrases, like “seeker-sensitive”, “tolerant” and “felt needs-based”. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not condemning sensitivity to people’s needs, but in an attempt to be more acceptable and appealing to people we have put the cart way before the horse. Now the horse is running loose and not even connected to the cart any more. Let me explain.

From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He preached repentance and the Good News of the coming kingdom. He challenged people to believe in the Gospel of the kingdom and revealed three things to them through His life, death, and resurrection:

  • that He was the Way into that kingdom;
  • that He is the only Truth;
  • and that He is the only source of real Life.

The entire message of the Gospel could be summed up in this way: Man’s way is wrong, so turn from it and turn to Jesus, choosing eternal life over the temporary. Even though as time went on Jesus modeled a variety of methods to get that point across, like feeding the hungry and comforting the grieving and healing the sick, He never stopped preaching repentance. He was compassionate, caring, and a selfless servant to others, and He always addressed the real human need – repentance and faith in God.

As followers of Jesus, we would be wise to return to a message of repentance. The hard part of doing that is that it requires a focus on the wrong way of mankind. We have been focusing on making people feel good about who they are and what they are doing so that we will earn the right to tell them about a better way. When we do that, we set ourselves up to have to prove to others that our way is better, and we give them the right to defend their way as better. We spend far too much time trying to teach them a better way when we should be preaching to them the only Way!

There is a huge difference between teaching and preaching. The primary meaning of the word “teach” means “to hold discourse with another”, meaning that it is a discussion where ideas are presented. Preaching on the other hand is “to proclaim truth as a herald”. Scripture does not reveal Jesus teaching repentance, but rather He preaches repentance. It is proclaimed as a truth, but never discussed as an option. That is where Jesus started His ministry, and that is where He continued it.

We must start in the same place with people. I understand it is important for people to know we care about them and their needs, but their greatest need is salvation from sin. That’s where Jesus started with people. That’s where we should start. Yes, we care. Yes, we are compassionate. Yes, we meet people’s needs. But let it be said that first we tell them the truth. Their condition is caused by sin, and it is only in repentance and believing the Gospel that their real needs can be met. That is where witnessing must begin.

Pastor John

Restored Fans

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, June 20, 2019

In 1958 I became a baseball fan. Not only did I play it every chance I had, but I listened to it on the radio whenever I could sneak into the bedroom and change the channel on dad’s radio. I was captivated by the exploits of a certain right fielder named Al Kaline, who was at that time the youngest player to ever play in the major leagues, having made his professional debut in 1953 at age 19. He was my hero. I dreamed of playing the outfield like Mr. Kaline.

I remained a Detroit Tigers baseball fan for many years after that, and celebrated World Series victories in 1968 and 1984. Since 1987 I have lost a lot of interest in following the Tigers closely for a lot of different reasons. I stopped wearing Detroit baseball caps, and I couldn’t even tell you who started at all of the positions on their team last year, even though I can still tell you who played in 1968. If you want to know about the present or the future of Tiger baseball, don’t ask me – I’ve become an apathetic fan.

Many people are just like me as a baseball fan when it comes to their relationship with Jesus Christ. I could list dozens of people I have known over the years who as children went to Sunday School and church and professed to be followers of Jesus, but are now living in the world without any visible evidence that they still follow Him. They no longer behave in a way that reflects a personal interest in God’s plan for their lives. If you asked them they may be able to tell you some historical memories of an experience they had with God years ago, but it has no relevant value to their lives today. There is nothing presently real about a relationship with God, and they certainly give no indication that they desire a future with Him.

These are the people to whom Isaiah is writing in today’s Scripture passage. They have wandered away from following God and don’t even know that He still loves them and that He is at work to bring them back into a meaningful relationship with Himself.

Isaiah 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

People need to hear the Good News that God has not given up on them and that He is still in control. They need a messenger with the Good News to tell them about the peace that is possible in their lives when they are right with God. They need to hear the news that all things work together for good to them that are in Christ Jesus and live according to His purpose. They need to be reminded of the incredible gift of salvation and that it includes deliverance from all the emotional and physical bondage they are in. They need to hear that God still reigns.

The fascinating part of this challenge to us from God is this: when they hear the Good News, they will consider the messenger to be beautiful. We succumb to stereotyping all backsliders as unreachable. We tend to think that they are too hardened to rescue. We think a first-time hearer will listen better than a previous hearer who has turned his back on what he once heard. There is truth to the hardening of a heart with consistent rejection, but that is not an excuse for us to stop seeking out those who have fallen away to bring them the Good News that God still forgives and restores. He did it with Israel, over and over again. The Good News is that he will do it with those today who have slipped away from a previous connection.

You are the messenger God has chosen. You will be considered beautiful for taking the message of hope to a person of displaced hope. When they respond to God and return to Him, they will thank you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find someone who can tell me about the Tigers. Then I’m going to give them Good News.

Pastor John