Christ Builds the Church

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, June 14, 2019

I suspect that there is a common thread of thinking throughout much of evangelical Christianity today that goes like this: “Let’s build the church.” While many would make that statement referring to people and not to buildings, far too many are swayed by image-consciousness into measuring their success as a church by material standards. We like sports, so the church must have a gym. We like music, so the church must have a great sound system. We like fellowship, so the church must have a great kitchen. We like pulpits, so the church must have a traditional platform. Very quickly the focus of what we want in a building becomes an expression of personal preference rather than a desire to effectively bring people to Jesus Christ for salvation. Kitchens and sound systems and gyms are all ok in a church, so long as the reason they are there is to bring more people into the kingdom of God and not just to meet our own personal needs.

But that’s not even the real problem with the statement “Let’s build the church.” Compare that statement to Christ’s words in our scripture passage for today.

Matthew 16:15-18 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

Doesn’t Jesus clearly say that He will build the church? Yes, He does! We have taken ownership of something that doesn’t belong to us. We are not in charge of the harvest. We are only called to be laborers in the harvest field, and we have been equipped to be witnesses. Follow along with my understanding of Scriptural truth.

  1. Peter was commended for declaring a God-given truth that did not originate in human reason: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. His confession was not deduced from human logic or human teaching, but was understood only by direct communication from God. He states that Jesus is the complete and perfect revelation of God in human form sent to earth to save people from the bondage of sin. He may not have fully understood the theology of his statement, but later it was revealed that he clearly proclaimed that Christ, the Messiah, would make possible a spiritual kingdom and provide a way of entrance into that kingdom for all mankind.
  2. Next, Jesus stated that it is on this truth that the church will be built. Peter was not declared to be the founder of the church. His name was changed to Peter at this point so that we would be reminded of the true foundation – Jesus Christ.
  3. Finally, Jesus declared that He alone is responsible for building the church. In other places He invites His followers to participate in the process, but never does He put us in charge of the harvest. We are given responsibilities of planting and watering and gathering in the crop, but we are not in charge of producing the crop. When Jesus invites us to participate in the process, He says He will send the Holy Spirit upon us to equip us for our particular task, whether it is planting, watering, or reaping. He describes all those activities by one word – witnessing. He says in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Please notice carefully that we have not been given power to build, but to witness. Jesus Christ alone is responsible for the building. Our responsibility is singular – tell the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

Understanding these truths is what makes it possible for people to travel to the other side of the world into sometimes dangerous situations as missionaries. They understand that Jesus will build His church, and the gates of hell will not be able to stop it. We are empowered to be the messengers of the Good News of the kingdom, that Jesus Christ saves lives from sin!

Pastor John

Give God Your Best

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, June 13, 2019

As a sophomore at Bethel College in St. Paul, I really wanted to play basketball. I had tried out for the college team as a freshman and made the team, starting several games, but my heart really wasn’t in it and I quit midway through the season. I was never an athlete that enjoyed training, but wanted the thrill of competition. I soon discovered that the thrill of playing was not what it should have been for me. Rather than it being an expression of who I was it became an attempt to earn favor from others. When I couldn’t measure up to the standards I had set for myself to validate myself, I quit.

The next year my brother came to college, and we started an intramural team to compete in the intra-school league. Not only did we have to play against other student teams, but we also had to play against the coaches of the team I had quit. I remember that first game with them. It was halftime, and we were losing. I was the tallest member of our team, and the head basketball coach at Bethel was 6’8”. Needless to say, I was not measuring up. I was not being aggressive, and the other team was winning the inside game. My brother came to have a talk with me and said, “John, your heart isn’t in it. You’re doggin’. You are better than him, and the team needs you to step it up.”

I decided right then and there that I would get with it. Not just for that game, but for my whole life. I decided that I would put my heart into everything I did. I played my heart out in the second half, and not only did we win that game, but we won a lot of games that year, and if my memory serves me well I believe we were the league champions. I concluded that serving self was not working and that serving others would be a much better way to live.

So what part of what my brother said really motivated me? It certainly wasn’t the criticisms. I just needed to hear that someone believed in me. I needed to know that I was accepted for who I was rather than for whom I thought I should be. And when I discovered that, I was able to put my whole heart into what I did. I still had a long way to go, and I still messed up in a lot of ways, but my journey of faith to serve God with my whole heart and soul began at halftime of a basketball game.

Deut. 10:12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to…serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

The God of all creation has singled you out to be a unique and precious part of His Son’s body called the church. You have been specifically equipped to serve Him by the Holy Spirit. He has poured out His love into your heart and accepted you and qualified you to be a partaker of the inheritance with all the saints in glory. You already measure up, and God believes in you because His Son lives in you. Give Him your whole heart and serve Him with all your strength.

There is a worship song that we sing that goes like this:

Lord, I give You my heart, I give You my soul,

                        I live for You alone

            Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake

Lord have Your way with me.

May that be your prayer today and every day as you walk by faith.

Pastor John

Identified by Love

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

So far in our study of a disciple’s job description, we’ve learned to have:

  1. an awesome reverence of Him for who He is even when circumstances don’t seem to reflect His nature; and,
  2. a lifestyle that reflects the character of Christ so that we walk in life as He walked when on this earth.

The next requirement of God for His followers is simply stated this way – to love him.

Deut. 10:12 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to…love him,

2 John 1:6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

These two passages of God’s Word show us the connection between walking in all His ways and loving Him. Love is declared to be a walk of obedience to God’s commands. As we look further we discover Jesus summarizing all of God’s commands with one command – that we walk in love.

Our human nature leans heavily upon performance. We find ourselves trapped by the belief that being a Christian can be reduced to obedience to a list of rules and regulations. We measure our spiritual maturity by the number of checkmarks we have next to items on the list, with each checkmark representing a “victory” over what we call sin. Don’t smoke or drink – that’s two checkmarks. Don’t dance or play cards – two more checks. Read only the King James Version of the Bible – another check. Don’t go to movies and don’t associate with anyone who does any of the things on our list – check, check, and more checks. These lists are nothing more than a self-imposed standard of righteousness designed to artificially inflate our spiritual value in our own eyes.

The natural progression of such a performance-based mentality is that we elevate our own spiritual position even higher by comparing our list and the number of checkmarks on it to the lists of others. We become critical and judgmental of all who have not “achieved” what we have “achieved”.  We become exactly like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time whom He called “children of their father the devil”. If we are ever confronted with the possibility that we could be like the Pharisees, we storm out of the church and flood the community with criticisms of the pastor and people. We inflict irreparable damage and pain on the Body of Christ. Somehow, we believe we are satisfying the Spirit of God and being obedient to His commands.

We have but one path to walk to be in complete obedience to God – LOVE! Jesus breaks it down into two parts, but it is still all love. We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Why do we so quickly fall into comparative spirituality with fellow humans when the standard of love and righteousness is Christ and not man? How can we get so deep into self-validation that we diminish and destroy the work of grace in the life of another person? Here’s why, because we love self more than we love God. That is the simple truth, yet we deny that it is true for us.

We deny that we are attempting to earn love from God by our checklists. We deny the spiritual bondage that exists in our life that causes us to self-validate our spiritual maturity through comparisons with other Christians. We do not yet understand the marvelous message of Grace: all are sinners, all can be forgiven equally by Jesus Christ, and all who are forgiven are unconditionally and fully accepted by God and qualified as an equal heir with Christ of all things! There is no distinction!

Hallelujah! That’s love. And because of that love we can love God and love others. The lifestyle of love will create an atmosphere in our lives where the Holy Spirit will be able to generate the character of Jesus Christ, which will then be reflected in our lifestyle choices. Those choices will be motivated by love for Christ, not the desire to earn love from Christ, and certainly not from the desire to appear more spiritual than someone else.

The only distinctive characteristic of the Christian’s walk is love. Nothing more is required. Nothing less is desired by those who truly know Him.

Let love be lived!

Pastor John

Learn to Walk

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

In the 1970’s a British television show became a kind of cult hit in America. It became so popular that they even produced a full-length motion picture using the same cast. The tv show was called Monty Python and the Flying Circus, and they did some very crazy and radical things to get a laugh. One of them was a skit about men who were applying to the government for grants to develop a unique and crazy style of walking. The men would knock on the door of the Bureau of Crazy Walks and proceed to demonstrate the unpolished walk they were trying to develop. They would swing their legs in wild and wacky ways, taking two steps forward and three steps backward, complete with hip hitches, hippity hops, and hang time. Some of their requests would be rejected because the “new” walk was too similar to one already registered. Some requests would be granted. and the developer would be given a huge amount of money to continue to perfect his walk. In one scene, all the men are “walking” down the street on a busy day attempting to convince other people to join them in how they were walking. It was chaotic and a little dangerous as people crashed into one another, and little progress was made.

The irony of this tv sketch is that every day we are all attempting to develop our own personal style of walking through life that both pleases us and draws attention to ourselves. We look to the government and even the church to validate our particular style of walking, and we seek to rally others to our sides that walk in the same way we do. We have become a society of diverse walks with no common model, and in the name of unity we have been told to tolerate one another no matter how much confusion or how many collisions it causes.

Yesterday we began a study of Deuteronomy 10:12-21 to discover what it is that God requires of those who choose to be His followers. After telling us to fear God above all else, Moses tells us to walk in all his ways. In other words, the walk we are to walk has already been registered and perfected by Another who becomes our model. Just read these verses:

Colossians 1:9-10 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

John 8:12Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”

Romans 6:4Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

Galatians 5:16But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.

Ephesians 2:10For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

Ephesians 5:1-2 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us,

1 Thess. 2:12so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.

1 Thess. 4:1Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more.

1 John 2:6 – the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.

Walking through life is simple. Imitate Jesus. We don’t have to discover the right way to walk. We don’t have to develop our own style and figure out our own identity. We simply walk as has been already modeled for us by Christ Himself. The work has already been done. All we need to do is imitate the walk of Jesus. I don’t mean to make that sound easy. If it were there would not be so many biblical admonitions to do it. But if you are going to expend a lot of energy learning to walk, why not learn to walk the right way?

We don’t need any more crazy walkers. We need Godly walkers.

Like you.

So why not excel at it?

Pastor John

Faith’s Job Description

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, June 10, 2019

One of the most basic questions asked by any job applicant to the potential employer is this: “What will I be required to do?” When I was in business years ago as a manager of retail stores, I was responsible for all the hiring and firing of employees. During the interview process for a new employee I would not volunteer a lot of information about the specific responsibilities of the job because I wanted to see if the applicant had the initiative to ask what they would be required to do. If the applicant was primarily concerned with a paycheck and not with responsibilities, they were not likely to be considered for the position. As an employer I wanted to know I was hiring a person who was ready to do what the manager expected.

Before he turned over the leadership of the nation of Israel to his successor, Moses wanted to know that the people understood and were ready to fulfill the responsibilities to which God had called them. I think the tenth chapter of Deuteronomy is incredibly important in understanding our position in Christ and what God requires of someone in that position. This week we will unpack verses 12-22 and discover the spiritual job description of a dedicated follower of God.

Deuteronomy 10:12-13 And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God ask of you but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the LORD’S commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?

 Our first faith principle to unpack is found in the answer to this question – What does it mean to fear God?

First, it means to revere Him and to be in awe of Him. This is the primary meaning of the word based on its use in other parts of Scripture. For example, in Psalm 139:14 we read, I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God was not scared to make me, but He made me in such a way that we are in awe of how complex we are. Psalm 111:9 says, holy and awesome is his name, with the word awesome being the same word for fear.  These are just 2 examples of the over 250 times this word is used that way in the Old Testament. To fear God means to hold Him in the highest reverence and awe.

However, we tend to evaluate the awesomeness of God based on the human response to God’s activities. God is deemed awesome when His actions are seen as awesome and beneficial to us. Our awe and reverence of God is diminished when circumstances of life hurt us and those whom we love. This is where we fail to understand the true meaning of fearing God. God is God no matter what the circumstances of life. Yes, there are tragedies that take our hearts and crush them like dried rose petals, but God is still on the throne. He never changes, and His love never fails.

I remember the day I received news of the death of an 18-year old daughter of a church family due to a serious infection in the brain. This beautiful life taken so tragically caused questions to be raised in our minds. But let us never question the character of God. He remains faithful and true. He is abounding in love. His mercy and His grace extend to all generations. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome…Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him… He is your praise; he is your God. (Deut. 10:17, 20, 21)

Stand in awe of Him!

Pastor John

Free Indeed

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, June 7, 2019

We are not perfect. Whether it is politically correct or not to say so we must accept the fact that none of us has any true righteousness in us. We cannot measure up to the righteousness of God by anything we attempt or accomplish. We have been duped by the Devil into believing that we are good enough by comparing ourselves to others whom we consider worse than ourselves. We have learned the satanic system of self-righteousness. We must wake up and understand that all self-righteousness is pretending.

Former NBA center and coach Johnny Kerr said his biggest test as a coach came when he took over the expansion Chicago Bulls. His biggest player was 6’ 8” center Erwin Mueller. “We had lost seven in a row, and I decided to give a psychological pep talk before the game,” Kerr said. “I told Bob Boozer to go out and pretend he was the best scorer in basketball. I told Jerry Sloan to pretend he was the best defensive guard around. I told Guy Rodgers to pretend he could run an offense better than anyone, and I told Mueller to pretend he was the best rebounding, shot-blocking, scoring center in the game. We lost the game by 17 points. I was pacing around the locker room trying to figure out what to tell the team when Mueller walked up, put his arm around me and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just pretend you’re the best coach in basketball.’”

Moses warned the people that they were not to pretend that they were better than the people living in the Promised Land, or that they were more deserving of the land because of their spiritual status. Moses reminded the people that all actions taken against the people of the land was based on a comparison to God’s holiness and not to theirs.

Deuteronomy 9:4-6 After the LORD your God has driven them out before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Understand, then, that it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people.

We can learn some valuable lessons from this:

  1. We are no more deserving of salvation than the worst of sinners as defined by society, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
  2. We are no more deserving of recognition or reward than any other Christian regardless of our self-imposed pride in the attainment of a spiritual standard. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land (Deut. 9:5)
  3. We are what we are because the righteousness of God has been granted to us through Jesus Christ.  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference (Romans 3:22) God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

All self-righteousness is pretending. Pretending may make you seem more acceptable to people, but true freedom comes from knowing the truth. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

What is the teaching to which we must hold? Jesus went on to say that we are slaves to sin, and when we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior He sets us free from that bondage, so we are free indeed.

Pretending to not be a sinner is Satan’s subjugation of our spirit. Jesus wants to set our spirit free. That freedom begins with a humble heart that admits sin, confesses sin, and is granted the forgiveness of sin by God’s grace.

Stop pretending. Face the reality of who you are. Forgiveness is available and it’s free. When you receive it, you will be free.

Pastor John

Let God Use You

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Deuteronomy 8:3man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.

I want to tell you a story of a church that impressed me with their faith. They modeled the great truth of Deuteronomy 8:3 which says that, “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”  They learned to fully and completely trust God for their future ministry needs while obeying the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit to meet the needs of others.

This church was in need of renovation because of its inaccessibility to older people and the handicapped. It had asbestos in it, and it did not meet any of the current building codes for people with disabilities. The congregation of this church had grown to the point where the facility no longer had enough room for all the Christian Education ministries in place. The sanctuary reached the 80% full level which became a discouragement to new people attending. Because of their landlocked location, they had no room for expansion on their current site without the purchase and removal of additional homes in the neighborhood.

To alleviate these problems, the church started a major fund-raising effort based on a foundation of prayer.  The people of this church were praying for God to show them how much they could sacrifice of their current resources for the building of a new building that would become a ministry center to their city. On a scheduled day of discovery they were to give their generous gifts so that as a congregation they could determine a direction to proceed in their building plans. The expectation was for a miraculous amount that was far beyond anyone’s expectations.

God interrupted this church’s plans with a word from His heart. This church had seen the terrible destruction in the south from Hurricane Katrina and had realized that the Body of Christ in that area was suffering and unable to function as it should to meet the needs of its own community. So, this upper Midwestern church adopted a sister church in the storm-ravaged area,  and decided to surrender to God as much of their building fund offering as necessary to bring new life to that hurting congregation.

Wouldn’t you love to be a part of a church that not only listens to the voice of God but also obeys the word of the Lord no matter what kind of an inconvenience or hardship it seemingly creates? Isn’t it refreshing to know that there are people who have learned to live in total dependence on the Word of God and not on the material benefits of a worldly system? Of course, we would all say yes to those two questions, but are we willing to really live that kind of life of faith?

The people of that church discovered the incredible preserving power of the presence of God. Just like the Israelites whose clothing did not wear out or their feet swell from all the wandering because of the sustaining power of the presence of God, this congregation in Wisconsin knew that when they followed God’s heart and obeyed His word by sacrificing their own goals for God’s good, God would sustain them, preserve them, and provide for them.

That is how we are to live our lives individually and as a church – by faith in the presence and purpose of God. He will not fail to accomplish His glory no matter how big the sacrifice seems to be from our perspective. This church in the north understood that. But please don’t think they are special. They don’t think they are. They are just obedient, and filled with the joy that comes from knowing and doing God’s will. The pastor and leadership want no recognition other than to be called faithful.

So, use their example to motivate your faith, but give all the glory for it to God. Just be thankful that God has chosen to use you.

Pastor John