First Love

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, October 31, 2019

I do not believe that I love God enough. Maybe I never can, but there is one thing that I must use as the litmus test of love – do I love God more than I love myself?

I want to tell you a story of a young woman from Germany. Her name is Rica. She came to America in August of 2010 as a one-semester exchange student at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Sometime during her first two months here, she was befriended by a student leader from a campus ministry called Navigators. They became friends, and he invited her to church. She accepted the invitation, came, and came again the next week.

The sermon in church that second Sunday she attended was called “You Can Start Over.” During the final song of worship, she turned to her friend and said that she was ready to accept Jesus as her Savior. That afternoon, after lunch, she prayed to receive God’s gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins, made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The following two weeks were very hard for her. Her live-in boyfriend back in Germany became very angry at her decision. He began rejecting her. We met to talk about it, and I shared with her the truth that living for Jesus will bring alienation from the world, and cause division between us and the people we once lived to please. She cried. I cried. But she understood, and gave her heart more deeply to the one who had died for her.

Soon after, she, along with 5 others, was baptized by immersion in obedience to the command of Jesus and was publicly identified as a follower of Christ. As I stood beside her preparing to immerse her under the water, she closed her eyes and tilted her head toward heaven. I have never seen such an expression of peace. The Spirit of God has captured her heart, and she is in love with Jesus. As I quoted the verse I always quote at a baptism – “You are buried with Him in the likeness of His death…” – she completely relaxed and released herself to my control. Then, as I brought her up out of the water – “You are raised to newness of life” – she opened her eyes, still looking to heaven, and broke out in the biggest smile possible as the joy of her salvation flooded her soul.

As a part of her exchange student program, she was to take an 11-day trip to visit historic sites in America. After receiving Christ into her life, she canceled that trip. Why? So she could stay in Eau Claire and be more deeply discipled by her new family of God so she is better prepared to go back to Germany and share the Gospel. She loves God more than she loves herself.

Isaiah 27:9-10  By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for, and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin: When he makes all the altar stones to be like chalk stones crushed to pieces, no Asherah poles or incense altars will be left standing. The fortified city stands desolate, an abandoned settlement, forsaken like the desert. 

The prophet Isaiah said that the atonement for Israel’s sin would only be complete when sin was fully removed. When Jesus atoned for our sins on the cross, He paid the full price to have them completely removed from our lives. There is only one reason that sin still pops up in our lives and is an option to be considered – we love ourselves more than we love God.

Rica was willing to give up everything because she loves God more than herself. God forced the nation of Israel to give up their sin. He took away everything from their religious lives that stood opposed to Him – the altars to false Gods and the Asherah poles, which were the sexual monuments to the goddess of fertility named Ahserah. He took away their cities and fancy homes. He took away their basic necessities. He did this because He wanted them to become people of understanding. As they were, loving self more than God, they were living according to their own understanding, loving their own way. God broke them down so they had to depend on Him and Him alone. In that way they would learn to love Him more than self.

My dear friends, this message is significant for all of us today. We have become self-centered and self-dependent. We have chosen our own way instead of God’s way. We have chosen to justify as personal rights and benefits all our connections with the world and all our pursuits of the world’s pleasures. We are simply loving ourselves more than God.

It is time for repentance.

It is time for revival.

It is time for sacrifice…like the one Jesus made for us, who loved us more than He loved His position and power in heaven.

It is time to love God with ALL OUR HEART, ALL OUR SOUL, ALL OUR STRENGTH, AND ALL OUR MIND!

Pastor John

Just What I Needed

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Oh how precious is God’s Word. It comes at just the right time to soothe the soul. It exhorts and encourages at the very moment of need. When a cherished friend is needed, God speaks. When doubt and fear have overwhelmed the heart, God’s words of love break through and bring comfort and peace. When commitment wavers, God never does. He assures us He is still with us and for us. Oh how He loves us. Oh how He cares for us.

Isaiah 27:2-5  “Sing about a fruitful vineyard:  I, the LORD, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. I am not angry. If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire. Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me.”

God has a word to meet every need. One of these expressions of God’s love is just what you may need today:

  • God believes I am capable of bearing fruit in His vineyard. He planted me. He pruned me. He shines His light on me. He has connected me to Himself for the food I need to grow. I will bear fruit for the Lord.
  • God constantly watches over me. Nothing can happen to me that doesn’t first pass by Him. He has stopped more evil against me than I can ever imagine. He has permitted to come against me only those things that will strengthen me so that I can bear more fruit. He is my constant caretaker.
  • God waters me continually. Nothing can happen to me that will leave me thirsty. No scorching sun can dry me out, for my roots are constantly in the Living Water. No frost can kill my leaves for they are constantly moistened by the Holy Spirit’s fresh dew.
  • God guards me day and night. I cannot be harmed by what the world throws at me. I cannot be overcome by deceptive thoughts from Satan trying to convince me that I am unacceptable and unapproved. I cannot be harmed by the words of people or by their perceptions of who I am. I have been qualified by God to be a partaker of His inheritance with all the saints in glory.
  • God does all these things even when I am not faithful. God says, “I am not angry.” When I sin, He is still watching and watering. When I am prideful, He still protects me. When I pursue personal preferences, He pleads with me to come to Him for peace. God NEVER EVER quits being God to me!

Let me repeat that – God NEVER EVER quits being God to me!

Thank you, Lord, for giving me exactly what I needed today.

Pastor John

Overcomers

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

I honestly don’t know where to start. I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of mercy and grace God continues to shower upon me.

  • My weaknesses do nothing to hurt Him or His work, for it is in my weakness that He is shown to be strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
  • My inabilities do not hinder me, for I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
  • The forces of evil around me have no authority over me, for greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
  • I do not have to surrender to the world and its influence on me. My faith in Christ gives me the same ability to overcome the world as Jesus had. (1 John 5:4-5)

In the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah I am reminded that in Christ we are overcomers. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:37, we are more than conquerors in Christ.

The life of Joseph in Genesis is a story of overcoming obstacles. He came from a family that had faith in God, but that faith was misapplied. He overcame the hatred of his brothers that resulted in the devaluing of his life in their eyes as they sold him into slavery. He overcame the attempts of a woman to corrupt him sexually. He overcame false imprisonment. He overcame the fleshly desire for revenge against his brothers. Joseph was an overcomer.

But Scripture confirms that he is not to be the only one. In fact, right here in Isaiah 26 the people of God are given hope of overcoming.

Isaiah 26:12  LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

There are days when I feel like crying out in pain as the pressures of the world and the temptations of my own flesh surround me and oppress me. But in the presence of the Lord there is hope. We are not in control. We are not able to save ourselves. We are not able to give birth to the solutions for our problems. We are spiritually dead and progressing towards physical death. Yet, in the presence of the Lord we are given the hope that the dead will rise just as Jesus did. It is in the presence of God that we are assured that all things are in God’s hands and what man has intended for harm God will turn and use for His good and His glory. It is there, where Jesus has lifted us to our rightful place of authority with Him (Ephesians 2:6-7), that we find that all that has been done has been God’s work to bring us peace.

Whatever is oppressing you; whatever is overwhelming you; whatever is discouraging you; whatever is defeating you; take hope in this – you can overcome the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of your testimony if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength. (Revelation 12:11 and Matthew 22:37)

Let the words of this song remind you of the price Jesus paid for your deliverance, and of the victory that is ours as overcomers!

Seated above, enthroned in the Father’s love
Destined to die, poured out for all mankind
God’s only Son, perfect and spotless one
He never sinned but suffered as if He did

All authority
Every victory is Yours
All authority
Every victory is Yours

Power in hand speaking the Father’s plan
You’re sending us out, light in this broken land
We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb
And the word of our testimony, everyone overcome

Savior, worthy of honor and glory
Worthy of all our praise, You overcame
Jesus, awesome in power forever
Awesome and great is Your name, You overcame

Pastor John

The Right Path

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, October 28, 2019

It was not level and smooth. I thought I knew the shortcut to my tree stand, even though I had only taken it once before from the opposite direction as I left the woods two days earlier. But in the dark it was different. I ended up in the middle of a tangled mess of downed trees and branches, being far noisier than I ever wanted to be. Every step cracked a branch. What should have been a silent approach that took 3 minutes ended up being a loud and potentially deer-frightening approach that took me 15 minutes. It was not a good way to start the day.

What went wrong? Well, I was arrogant to think that in this new location my skills and senses were so finely honed that I could travel 100 yards through the woods in the dark without getting off course. I needed to be humbled, and I was. No more shortcuts. In the future I will follow the path marked out for me.

Isaiah 26:7  The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.

As I read that verse, I thought of that early morning hunting adventure. I wondered why so many of the paths of life weren’t all that level and smooth. Sure, I’m not completely righteous – who is? But there doesn’t seem to be a consistent connection between the times in my life when I’m being faithful and the smoothness of life. In fact, some of the toughest times have occurred when I am the closest to God. Has God made a promise that isn’t true?

As I contemplated all of this, I remembered to read the rest of the context of Isaiah 26. Here it is in verses five through nine. The footnote numbers are not verse numbers, but reference the application points below.

1 He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.  2 Feet trample it down—the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor. The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, LORD, 3 walking in the way of your laws, 4 we wait for you; 5 your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. 6 My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. 7 When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.

Here’s what I learned, with each point referenced to a verse above:

  1. Pride causes bumps and potholes in the road of life.
  2. God smoothes out the road of our life using the footsteps of other people, especially those people we have considered to be somehow sub-standard and beneath us. We are humbled when suddenly we are beneath them.
  3. The path God has chosen for my life is already level and smooth, but I may be on the wrong path. I may be walking according to my laws or the laws of the world and not God’s law.
  4. I may be on God’s path, but I’ve gotten ahead of Him and He hasn’t prepared that part of the road yet.
  5. The road isn’t level and smooth because I’m travelling it for my own benefit and not for the glory of God.
  6. Am I so in love with God that I long for Him more than I long for anything else? Is my relationship with Jesus the single most important thing in my life?
  7. Every bump and pothole in the road is placed there by God so that I become more righteous.

I will be walking a different path to my tree stand next time I go. But more importantly, I will daily focus on walking God’s path of righteousness. I will not complain about the bumps and potholes, but will allow my Lord to use them to humble me and make me more like Him.

Pastor John

Rich Treasures

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, October 25, 2019

When I study God’s Word, one of my favorite things to do is to try to comprehend the richness of the vocabulary. Even though I never took any Greek or Hebrew classes in college, I love using the tools that are available to us today to uncover the treasures that are buried in the meanings of words. I did that this morning as I read the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, especially focusing on verses three and four.

Isaiah 26:3-4  You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

Here’s what I discovered:

  • You will keep…the word keep means that God stands guard over our lives and watches everything about us to preserve and protect us. In the very next chapter Isaiah writes,

I, the LORD, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it.

The Lord God is watching over us and guarding our lives. He is keeping us. Just like in the New Testament where Peter writes that we are kept by the power of God unto salvation.

  • In perfect peace…The Hebrew word here means much more than a state of mind. It involves completeness of mind, body and soul. It refers to health and financial provision. It relates to trustworthy relationships with God and with other people. It refers to safety from danger and protection from harm.

Even when God tests us and we go through trials of life, we can be assured that He will bring us to perfect peace if we completely trust Him.

  • Whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts…the word mind is interesting. It refers to a form or a framework. It is the word used of man when he is created by God from the dust of the earth and given a form. In addition to the physical framework of our life, it also refers to the intellectual framework of ideas. All our thoughts are to be within the framework of God’s holiness and purpose. God has a framework for our lives, both physically and intellectually. We will be steadfast within that framework.

Steadfast means to lean on, be supported by, and be refreshed. God’s framework for our lives is to absolutely trust Him. We are to be sustained by faith. When our thoughts and activities are within that framework called God’s will, and we trust it completely to sustain every part of our lives, then we will be at perfect peace.

Word studies encourage me. There is a deep treasure mine of spiritual understanding and strength that comes from studying God’s Word like this.

It helps me to declare with Isaiah that “the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal and we can trust Him forever.”

Pastor John

Refiner’s Fire Part 2

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, October 24, 2019

As I contemplated yesterday’s devotional, the Lord brought to my mind a specific “fire” in which He put me. It would be a test of my patience and a refining of my humility. It started the day I brought my dad home to my house following surgery so I could care for him. The plan was it would just be for overnight. It turned into eight long days. A consequence of going off all his medication in preparation for the surgery was a severe case of gout that invaded both knees, making him completely immobile.  He was unable to walk or rise to a standing position on his own. He needed to be lifted so he could move from one place to another.

God used that time to dissect my heart. I was so unaware of my selfishness. I was so blinded to the way I had built a life of comfort for myself. I discovered that I had been in control of what I did and when I did it. God used my dad’s physical needs to humble me, and boy did I need humbling.

One day during his stay I came to a critical point of surrender, realizing that at any time God should be able to interrupt me and invite me into His work and I will accept His invitation. There can be nothing in this life that is so important that it causes me pain to surrender it for the sake of the King. There can be no possession so precious that I grieve over its loss. There must be no activity or pursuit so significant that the thought of not being able to do it causes me to shed a tear. I must and I will be able to say with the Apostle Paul that I consider all things rubbish compared to the excellency of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

That night, as I prepared my dad for bed, we both noticed that his feet smelled. We laughed about it, but it was bad. His special elastic support socks he wears to prevent swelling and cellulitis had not been changed for a week. So as he sat in his wheelchair, I carefully removed his socks. Then in a warm basin of water and gentle soap, I washed my dad’s feet and legs. As he sat there, he simply said, “You are doing a very Biblical thing, just like Jesus.”  At that moment there were no thoughts of anything else I could have been doing. I was doing the work God had prepared for me to do, and I was doing it with a heart that He had also prepared.

The next morning, dad woke up early. When I walked into the room there was a gleam in his eyes and a smile on his face. As I pulled back the blankets, he lifted his legs. He rolled to a sitting position all by himself. When I put the walker in front of him, he grabbed it and stood up. He took a few steps to the center of the room and stood there the whole time I helped him get dressed. Then, with his walker, he walked all the way to the living room and got into his lift chair unassisted.

When I arrived at my office that morning, my devotional Bible was opened to these words in Isaiah 25:

O LORD, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things… let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.

Life has a different perspective when we trust the Refiner’s fire to bring out the reflection of Christ.

Pastor John

The Refiner’s Fire

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Here’s a stupid question (with apologies to my grandchildren for using the word stupid).

Have you ever experienced a trying time in your life?

Of course you have. You may be going through one right now. Our tendency is to want an explanation of how we got into this mess. Was it our fault for a sinful choice we made, or was it someone else who sinned against us? Maybe it is just God working on us to make us more like His Son Jesus.

Malachi 3:3   “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

Maybe instead of analyzing how we got here and how to get out, we should be focusing on Who’s with us while were here.

Some time ago a friend sent this story to me and I was really blessed by it. I hope it helps you to maintain your focus as well as you go through whatever trial or test is currently affecting you.

A group of women was studying the book of Malachi and they came to the verse, “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.”  They wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God. One of the women offered to find out the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible Study.

That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot. Then she thought again about the verse that says, “He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.”

She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be damaged.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”

He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy – when I see my image in it.”

–Author Unknown

God is holding on to you. Trust Him to refine and purify you until He can see His image in you.

Pastor John