Tailgating the World

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, August 23, 2019

I tend to tailgate. Not at football games, but when I’m driving. My wife and my friends knows that I stay too close to the car in front of me. Speed doesn’t matter. When I’m behind the wheel of a car I’m an incognito NASCAR driver. Every trip, whether on the highway or around town, is a race, and the object is to get there as fast as possible and beat everyone else to that location. I must be first.

Pretty sad, right? Maybe more scary than sad. But thanks to the constant encouragement of my wife and friends, I’m doing much better controlling the urge to ride in someone else’s draft.

Not only is this a dangerous choice in driving, but it is extremely dangerous in our spiritual lives. The world is increasing its speed away from God, and many of us have sped up with them. We started out years ago at a very safe distance from the sin of the world. We were able to see the potholes that emerged from under the car in front of us in plenty of time to avoid them ourselves. We saw their vehicles swerve and spin out of control as they ignored the winter road conditions and for safety we even slowed down to increase the margin.

Ezra 10:11  Now then make confession to the LORD, the God of your fathers and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives.”

As the world has sped up and driven themselves farther and farther from the Father, we have travelled with them. We justify it by saying that we have maintained a safe margin, but little do we realize that we are now where they were just a few years ago. What we called a danger to holiness is now common among Christians. What we knew were potentially deadly choices before have now become lifestyle choices that are easily accepted.

We choose divorce over commitment, sexual expression over purity, materialism over trust in God’s promise of provision, and we choose the right to personal freedoms rather than considering others ahead of ourselves. This all comes with destructive consequences that ruin our testimony of faith in the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

We proclaim and pursue personal privileges at the expense of a humble heart, all the while preaching humility to sinners as the only way of salvation. We have earned the title of hypocrite. We demand the right to personal liberties at the expense of new believers who are trying to climb out of that pothole. We fail to realize that we may be the reason they stumble and fall back in.

We indulge in every opportunity for financial gain and social status at the expense of our own heart’s intimacy with Christ. We are not content with His choices for us. We claim to have maintained adequate separation from the world, but we look just like the world did a decade ago.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must increase our margin from the world. Do we not remember the words of God as applied to our lives by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18?  

What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,  and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”

Let not the Enemy of our souls begin his attack on us with thoughts of justifying our position. Let us with humble hearts fall on our faces before God and realize that we are travelling through life much too close to the world. Let us put on the brakes right now, and if necessary shift into reverse, and return to a position of holiness as described by God and not by the world. Let us increase the separation as the day draws near when we will be permanently separated from this world at the return of our Lord. Only in this way will we be able to slow others down and bring them with us into glory.

Pastor John

A State of Denial

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, August 22, 2019

As we look around at our culture, it’s not hard to see that we are living in a time of huge spiritual crisis. People who call themselves followers of Christ are turning to lives of rebellion and sin and personal pleasure. Hardly a day goes by that my wife and I are not being asked to give advice or counsel to someone who is being affected by a spouse’s or friend’s decisions to serve self rather than God. These are people whom we have participated with in ministry and heard their testimonies of faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe more than ever that these are the last days before the return of Christ. The once narrow gray line of personal choice between morality and immorality has become increasingly wide. That’s because Christians are participating with culture in redefining the truths that establish the standards of each position. Those who choose to redefine morality and embrace immorality justify it with the argument of the pursuit of personal pleasure and happiness. They are motivated by a deep and deadly desire to eventually destroy the position of immorality by turning everything gray for a time until it begins to appear not gray at all. Their goal is to move all the black and gray into the light of white and declare everything moral.  As this happens, they are becoming increasingly intolerant and abusive towards those who maintain a position of morality based on God’s truth. The attacks against truth are more consistent and louder than ever, and the attacks against those who hold a position of truth are gaining cultural acceptance at an alarming rate.

Here’s a thought that came to me as I prayed this morning – It is a good thing to live in a state of denial. In fact, it is an absolute truth that all of us do, one way or another.

Matthew 16:24  Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

The follower of Jesus is commanded to live in a state of denial of self. This is where I see the evidence of the great falling away in today’s church. We are not living in this state of denial. Rather, we are living in a state of entitlement to self, with all its pleasures and prosperity. So many in the church today have a claim to faith without the following that is inherently generated by faith. How can one claim to have faith without obedience?

Those who compromise their faith and follow self are usually unaware that they are still living in a state of denial, but one with deadly consequences ahead. You see, if we are not denying self and following Jesus, then we are denying Jesus and following self. One way or another we are ALL living in a state of denial. It’s our choice which one.

Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul and from Jude, the brother of Jesus.

Titus 1:16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Jude 1:4  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

When I counsel people who are living faithless lives of disobedience, yet deny that they are, I asked the one question – Whom do you love? It hits at the root of the problem for all of us. Whom do you love?

Rarely is anyone willing to admit that they love themselves more than Christ. Yet it is obviously true. It is true of me in certain places of my own life. We must be on our knees every day gaining insight from the Holy Spirit as He guides us to deny self and take up His cross and follow Him – in EVERYTHING!

We must recognize that in every area of our lives, when we choose to pursue self for any reason, it can only be defined as denial of Jesus. But when we pursue Jesus we are in denial of self. The latter is the state of denial I want to be in consistently. We are always in one or the other. It’s our choice. Choose wisely, and do so with eternity in view.

Pastor John

Don’t Scratch the Itch

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Have you ever tried to not scratch an itch? Maybe it was a mosquito bite or a rash. It’s hard not to scratch. The hardest itch for me to resist is the one that has no apparent cause, like the one in the middle of my back right now. As I sit in my chair typing these words, there is an itch that won’t go away. It is not being caused by an external source, but by something within me to which the nerves are reacting. I am doing my best to resist it, but it’s not going away. The more I think about resisting, the stronger it gets. Little movements of my arms as I type cause my shirt to move over the spot and irritate it even more. But I shall not scratch it.

Why not, you may ask? Scratching the spot will make you feel better. It will remove the irritation. It will satisfy you and bring you to a place of rest and contentment, so you can accomplish more. Go ahead, scratch it.

Now in this case that is all true, but I am still not going to scratch it so that I can make a connection to a deeper truth. The world today wants the freedom to scratch anything that itches. It feels good, so why not do it? I need it right now. He doesn’t satisfy me any more so why shouldn’t I enjoy life with someone else? I was born this way. I have the right to be happy. And it goes on and on and on and on. We have itches that are being generated by something inside of us to which our emotions are reacting.

That something inside us is called pride, and the itching is the gateway to sin. We all have our little itches. Itches for success. Itches for security. Itches for pleasure. Itches for acceptance. Itches for food or finances or fun. Don’t scratch. The temporary satisfaction of scratching has an eternal backlash.

2 Timothy 4:3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions…

We live in a world where taking a stand for truth is extremely unpopular. In many places, including right here at home, not scratching is being condemned by a culture that believes it has the right to scratch any itch. In fulfillment of the Apostle Paul’s prophecy in Second Timothy, people have surrounded themselves with teachers, preachers, and friends that validate their right to scratch. It’s happening right in the middle of the church. And churches who don’t give in to scratching are becoming more and more unpopular with society. They are condemned in the media for being intolerant.  The truth is they are the only ones who are truly tolerant because they can tolerate the itching.

So as I sit here with a bigger than before itch in the middle of my back, I wonder about the other itches in my life being generated by my selfish desires. I wonder how long I will be able to resist scratching them. I wonder how I can even do that. Then I read these words from Paul:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:1-2

That’s it! Two keys to not scratching – the presence of Jesus Christ, and a constant view of His appearing and coming Kingdom. Itching ceases in the presence of our Lord. Itching increases if we prefer the presence of the world. Itching ceases when we are focused on the return of Jesus Christ. Itching increases when we believe that this life is all we get and that we are entitled to everything it has to offer.

As the world increasingly turns away from the truth, keep your head in every situation. Don’t scratch the itch. Endure whatever hardship will come because of your stand for the truth, and keep doing the work of the Lord. You want to be able to say what Paul said at the end of life’s journey on this earth:

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8

Paul didn’t scratch. He loved the appearing of Christ more than the scratching of an itch. So should we. Stay strong. Stand for the truth. Resist the itching.

Pastor John

Elevator Praying

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

How many people did you communicate with yesterday? For some of you that number will be very high, while for others it will be very low. Some of the reasons for such a wide range of responses are things like opportunity, personality, and personal preference. But there’s another reason for the differences that you may not have considered – definition.

How we define communication determines how we answered the question. If communication is nothing more than saying hello, then our count is high. If communication means the expression of facts and feelings combined with listening to the same from the other person, then the count is probably extremely low.

So let’s ask another question. Have you prayed today? Again, your response is going to be determined by your definition of prayer.

I’ve come to see prayer as an elevator. The elevator stops at every floor, but we are missing out on a great privilege by not taking it all the way to the top.

Imagine your prayer closet as an elevator. It is the access point to the Eternal. It is where we communicate with the Father. The building that houses the elevator is divided into three levels, with multiple floors in each level. On each floor we can stop and exit and experience God’s presence. Let’s get on at the ground floor and make our way up to the top, checking out each level as we go.

Matthew 7:7-8  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Level one is the Ask Level. This is entry level prayer, where we seek to understand the “what” and the “how” of our current circumstances. It’s at this level that we are satisfied to simply get a solution to our problems. There are times in crisis situations where this level is all the higher we have time to access. But that’s okay – God inhabits this level, and hears our cries for help.

Level two is the Seek Level. This is mid-level prayer, where we seek to understand the “why” of our circumstances. When we exit the elevator at this higher level of communication with the Father, we move beyond the request for a solution to a deeper conversation about the purpose of God for designing and allowing this event. We ask questions at this level. They are still “what” and “how” questions, but they are not focused on the circumstance but upon our heart. “What do you want me to learn, Father?” “What do I need to change, Father?” “How will this help me to grow to be more like your Son, Father?” God is on this level as well, and His grace extends to our deepest need of forgiveness and spiritual development.

Level three is the Knock level. This is roof-top prayer, where we seek to know the “Who” of our circumstances. On the rooftop we have moved past the focus on the circumstance to the highest level of communication possible, where two hearts are connected as one. It is here that we begin to understand the value of simply  enjoying the Presence of the Father. Here we are no longer captivated by the circumstances but rather lavished with the Father’s love. This is what God intended prayer to be for all of us.

At every level God makes a promise.

  • If you ask for a solution, you shall receive one that honors His will for your life
  • If you seek understanding, He will reveal His will to you within His knowledge of your capacity to understand.
  • If you knock because you want to deepen your relationship with Him, He will open the door to His presence and reveal Himself to you.

In the publication Our Daily Bread from July 10, 1999, Nancy Spiegelberg wrote this: Lord, I crawled across the bareness to you with my empty cup, uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better. I’d have come running with a bucket.

Have you taken the elevator of prayer today? Where did you get off?

Pastor John

Entitlement

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, August 19, 2019

I haven’t felt so blessed for a long time. I am convinced it is because I had no expectations or demands. That’s what brings the real joy when a gift is received. More about what happened in a moment.

Many of us miss most blessings because we suffer from the popular disease of Entitlement.

In Luke 7, Jesus is asked to help a Roman Centurion who had a gravely ill servant. Two groups of representatives came to Jesus to ask for the healing of the highly valued employee. The first group misrepresented the true character of the Centurion by using the entitlement argument to try and convince Jesus to help.

Luke 7:4  And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him…”

The second group was the Centurion’s friends, and they spoke the truth about his humble nature. “I am not worthy…”

We live in a culture that has infected the church with an entitlement mentality. Christians have bought into this arrogant philosophy of self-advancement without self-effort. We believe that the world owes us payment for personal pain or loss in our lives. We have set up a personal standard of qualification for reward, and we expect people, employers, benefit programs or governments to pay up because it’s our right.

Several years ago my wife and I left on a short trip to a place we had never been before. Wednesday was my normal day off back then, so we decided to get away overnight and relax in Bayfield, Wisconsin and enjoy the Apostle Islands. Aside from the incredible beauty of God’s creation, God did some things that blew me away. They were totally unexpected. They were things I didn’t demand. They were things to which I did not feel entitled.

On the drive up north, I turned to Denise and said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see a bear run across the road?” It was said so simply, so casually, and so uncharacteristically care-free. There was not even a hint of entitlement in the statement. I was not thinking these things at the time and evaluating my motives and planning my words to somehow conform to God’s commands; I just said the words with freedom. Ninety minutes later, as we approached Bayfield and I look down a side road to a marina entrance, a bear ran across the access road. I was thrilled and overjoyed, because I had not expected it.

On Wednesday morning as we travelled by boat out to Devil’s Island to see the sea caves and the lighthouse, I turned again to Denise and said in the same attitude as before, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see a freighter out here?” Without thinking about my rights or how the trip would be ruined if it didn’t happen, I just made a statement. Thirty minutes later Denise nudged me and said, “Look, there’s your freighter.” Sure enough, on the horizon and getting closer, was a 1000-foot freighter heading towards Duluth. Then twenty minutes later, there was another one.

By this time Denise is wondering why I am getting everything I ask for. I begin to evaluate it as well, and realize that for one of the first times in my life I had been asking with no sense of entitlement. It was such a blessed realization.

When we got back to the city dock in Bayfield, the captain of the boat announced that one of the gift shops in town had done a drawing of one name from among the 200 plus passengers on the two ships and that the person would win a prize. As we disembarked I was thinking in my mind about where the car was and where we were going to get lunch and what else we wanted to see. Denise asked, “Aren’t you going to check in the gift store?” My first thought was, “Why, I never win anything?” But I think that thought lasted less time than any other time in my life. It immediately smacked of entitlement, and I hated it. So as Denise waited outside I stepped into the store and saw my name on the wipe-off board above the cash register.

I just about fell over. I walked outside and signaled for Denise to come inside with me, and I stood in line with my identification in hand and collected my prize. It was a beautiful print of an original watercolor painting of all the lighthouses on the Apostle Islands. Many of you know my love for lighthouses and windmills. This was an awesome gift, even though it’s basically a poster, and I told the clerk how much it meant to me.

There is incredible joy to be experienced when entitlement is conquered. Expectations are the enemy of joy. Demands are the death of thanksgiving. The pursuit of happiness is the cancer of the Christian life. Worldly happiness can only be achieved through pre-determined conditions and circumstances, and when they are not achieved it leaves us demolished and demoralized.

Thank you, Jesus, for disciplining me in this area of my life. And thank you immensely for taking the conversation about entitlement beyond the level of how it applies to others and making it personal for me.

May the Lord do the same for you! Be careful not to think that entitlement isn’t affecting you too.

Pastor John

Real Relationships

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, August 16, 2019

Our circle of close friends is getting smaller. According to a 2017 survey by Charities Relate and Relationships Scotland, 13% of respondents did not have someone they were close with, up from 10% when the same question was asked in 2015. The survey found that increased dependence on social media, lack of work/life balance and the pressures of bringing up children could be affecting people’s friendships.

They also found that almost half (45 per cent) of adults felt lonely at least some of the time and almost a fifth (18 per cent) felt lonely often or all the time.

Sherry Turkle, a professor at M.I.T. and author of Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other, has spent the last 20 years studying how our “plugged-in lives” have changed who we are. She claims that all our technological devices have produced a world in which we’re always communicating but we’re seldom having real conversations.

Consider the following quotes from Turkle:

  • We are tempted to think that our little “sips” of online connection add up to a big gulp of real conversation. But they don’t. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook, all of these have their places …. But no matter how valuable, they do not substitute for conversation. Connecting in sips doesn’t work as well when it comes to understanding and knowing one another.
  • We are increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.

“The illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship.” Wow! That so clearly describes what is going on in culture today, and it is contrary to what the Creator calls us to, which is intimate fellowship.

Here’s what God’s wisdom is:

Proverbs 27:6 Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.

God reminds us that we need friends that are willing to wound us because they love us. They will speak the truth in love, and we will call them faithful to have done it.

But how many of us allow those kinds of relationships in our lives? Rather, we prefer the illusion of friends. We can block them if they offend us, and be mad at them if they block us for what we post. We can pick and choose friends who will satisfy some deep-seeded need for attention, approval, or acceptance. After all, friends are to be used for our gratification, right? Proverbs calls those kinds of friends, enemies.

Unfortunately, when the real storms of life begin appearing on the horizon and crash in on us with life-altering force, we have no one to talk to. To compensate we’ve created a system of professional help to get us through the same issues that God intended our friends to help with.

We need drastic and dramatic change. We need face-to-face time with friends, like Moses is described as having with God.

Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. Exodus 33:11

I’m not asking you to throw away Facebook or phones, but I am asking you to think about the quality of relationships you have. I know I need to. I’m going start fixing that. I’m going to intentionally choose to spend time regularly with a friend; side-by-side and face-to-face. We are going to sharpen each other. And I will turn my cell phone off. No Facebook updates. No Instagram or Twitter. No games. No email. Just intimate fellowship with a friend!

Try it for yourself.

Pastor John

Strength to Carry the Load

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Colossians 1:11 May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy

Thanks to some faithful readers who sent me this story. It’s just what I needed today!

The Ant and the Contact Lens: a true story

Brenda was almost halfway to the top of the tremendous granite cliff. She was standing on a ledge where she was catching her breath. This was her first rock climb.

As she rested there, the safety rope snapped against her eye and knocked one of her contact lenses out of her eye. ‘Great’, she thought. ‘Here I am on a rock ledge, hundreds of feet from the bottom and hundreds of feet to the top of this cliff, and now my sight is blurry.’ She looked and looked, hoping that somehow it had landed on the ledge. But it just wasn’t there.

She felt the panic rising in her, so she began praying. She prayed for calm, and she prayed that she may find her contact lens.

When she got to the top, a friend examined her eye and her clothing for the lens, but it was not to be found. Although she was calm now that she was at the top, she was saddened because she could not clearly see across the range of mountains. She thought of the Bible verse ‘The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.’

She thought, ‘Lord, You can see all these mountains. You know every stone and leaf, and You know exactly where my contact lens is. Please help me.’

Later, when they had hiked down the trail to the bottom of the cliff they met another party of climbers just starting up the face of the cliff. One of them shouted out, ‘Hey, you guys! Anybody lose a contact lens?’

The climber had found her contact lens. He had noticed an ant moving slowly across a twig on the face of the rock. The ant was carrying it!

The story doesn’t end there. Brenda’s father is a cartoonist. When she told him the incredible story of the ant, the prayer, and the contact lens, he drew a cartoon of an ant lugging that contact lens with the caption, ‘Lord, I don’t know why You want me to carry this thing. I can’t eat it, and it’s awfully heavy. But if this is what You want me to do, I’ll carry it for You.’

As we consider the burdens that we are carrying right now, I think it would do all of us some good to say, ‘God, I don’t know why You want me to carry this load. I can see no good in it and it’s awfully heavy. But, if You want me to carry it, I will.’

God is my source of existence. He is my Savior. He provides me with all the strength I need to function every day and accomplish His purpose for me. Without Him, I am nothing, but with Him, I am strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.

Pastor John