Be An Encouragement

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

In yesterday’s devotional we discussed how to navigate the stormy waters of rejection and emotional distress by having an eternal perspective on life. Mary had such a perspective through her constant meditation on God and His divine purpose. Her perspective was also enriched through the ministry of people who encouraged her. The ministry of encouragement is incredibly significant to each one of us.

 Luke 2:36-38  There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,  37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.  38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

At the very moment that Mary is being told by Simeon that the life of her Son Jesus would result in the piercing of her soul, a prophetess named Anna comes to her side and gives thanks to God. Anna saw the eternal perspective that Jesus would be the Redeemer, and she encouraged Mary to look at everything from that vantage point.

We all need encouragers like that every now and then; probably more often than we recognize. There is nothing quite so comforting in times of emotional distress than to have a shoulder to cry on and an ear that will listen. We need people who can step back from the negative and pour on the positive – not in a sappy and insincere way, but with words that reflect God’s perspective on things. Anna did that for Mary simply by giving thanks to God.

Not only do we need people like that, we need to be people like that. The world is a depressing place to live for those who have no hope. There are billions of people trying to make sense of life. We who have God’s eternal perspective need to come along side of them at the very moment of their distress and give them a reason to be thankful. We need to be like Anna, constantly living in the presence of God, walking through life in an attitude of prayer and relationship with Jesus Christ, so that at any moment we will be prepared to give thanks to God, showing others the hope of redemption. We do not live for this world, but we are looking forward to the total redemption of this world when Jesus returns. Paul says in First Thessalonians that we are to encourage one another with this hope.

Be on the lookout today for people who need hope, and then come alongside them and be thankful. They need an encourager, and you are just the one to do it.

Pastor John

Keep an Eternal Perspective

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 30, 2019

One of the most enjoyable experiences of my life is to purchase a car. It’s been a long time since I bought a brand new one (1976 to be exact), but getting a nice used car is still a thrill. I used to do it fairly often, and got quite a reputation as a negotiator. If I were to go looking for a different vehicle right now, I would go to a couple of places that I trust and start to check over their used car selection. I would find the one that I wanted in the price range I could afford, and after bargaining for the best possible price I would sign the papers and drive it home. One thing I would not expect from the car dealer is to have the salesman pull me aside as I head for my “new” vehicle and tell me that I can expect it to cause me all kinds of problems and cost me a lot of money to maintain. Why would he wait until after the sale to tell me this, and why would he sell a car like that in the first place?

I wonder if Mary felt a little bit like that when Simeon told her that Jesus would cause a lot of heartache for her?

Luke 2:33 – 35  The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Here was Mary, just 8 days after the birth of the Son of God, being told that there was a time coming when the tide of public opinion would be against Him and her heart would be broken by that. The very people that Jesus had come to save would reject Him and she would not be able to do anything about it.

She got her first taste of that rejection when Jesus was about two years old. The reigning king of Israel tried to have Jesus killed, and the family had to flee to Egypt. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary. She knew the truth about her Son and yet everyone else rejected the truth about Him. Imagine the nights of loneliness and hopelessness that must have come upon her. Maybe you don’t have to imagine them because you are experiencing them. You find yourself asking the question, “What can be done?”

It is our human nature to want to fix what’s wrong and fulfill what’s right. Jump ahead in the life of Christ to a wedding Jesus was attending when He was 30 years old. The host of the wedding did not plan for enough wine and has run out. Mary seizes this opportunity to introduce the truth about her Son to the world and suggests to Him that He can fix the problem. It was not the responsibility of Jesus to get more wine, but mom was looking for a way to show off her Son. For 30 years she has remained faithful to the truth about who He was and His purpose in coming to the earth. The things she had treasured in her heart about Jesus had sustained her for all of those years and had equipped her to take a step that would result in the piercing of her soul and the breaking of her heart. She told the servants to do whatever Jesus said, not what she wanted. She had learned the wisdom of living by an eternal perspective and not an earthly one.

My friends, the world will reject us when we live holy lives that honor God. Our hearts will be broken by the rejection of our spouses and children and those we love. But remember the words of Simeon – there will be those who will rise because of Jesus just as there will be those who will fall. That was obviously Mary’s focus. That is to be our focus as well. The sword of the world will pierce our hearts with rejection and tragedy. Our defense is the Sword of the Spirit, the Word of Truth. It will give us an eternal perspective.

Then we will be able to say with Mary, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Pastor John

Overcoming Fear

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 27, 2019

Yesterday my devotional dealt with the issue of returning to the routine of life. Life can mundane at times, probably more often than we wish. There are occasional high points of energy and enthusiasm, and low points of pain and disappointment, but overall, as time passes, life levels off. We want our lives to be level because we find security in the predictable and the known. We don’t like the fear of the unknown or anything that threatens the status quo. We know that mountaintop experiences don’t last, and we work hard to get life back in order after we’ve been in the deep valley of desperation. We protect everything that makes life normal. We have adopted the philosophy that saneness is achieved through sameness, so we resist change. Please Lord, just for today, can everything stay the same so I can feel safe?

If that had been true of the wise men from the east they would never have come searching for Jesus the King.

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

These scientists, probably astrologers, had done well for themselves in their professions. They were obviously wealthy and very intelligent. They had obviously studied a wide variety of writings, including the prophets of Israel, because they knew that when the star appeared in the sky it meant that Jesus was born. But unlike so many people who would seek to protect the security of their positions and possessions, these men were willing to sacrifice it all to find the One True King.

What a contrast to King Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem, who were disturbed by the news announced by the wise men. Why? Because it threatened the status quo of their lives. King Herod’s position was being threatened. All he had worked so hard to accomplish for himself could be lost.

I can imagine his thoughts. “All of my power will be stripped away. Everything I own will be given to someone else. I will become a person of no value. I must destroy this threat.”

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

Two distinct camps of people exist in this drama. There’s a king and his followers who seek Jesus to destroy Him because they think that will eliminate their fear.  There’s also a group of wise men who seek Jesus to worship Him and have all their fears eliminated. People today still gravitate to one of these camps.

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

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

In which group are you?

Pastor John

Spiritual Treasure Hunting


LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 26, 2019

For many people, like my wife, the thrill of Christmas continues today because the After Christmas Sales have begun. Stores once again have opened early to close out all their seasonal merchandise. People are getting up early to shop and get a head start on what they will need for next Christmas. They will find their treasures at greatly reduced prices and store them up in their closets and basements so when the time comes for the next holiday they will be prepared. Just knowing what they bought and how great a bargain they got will sustain them through the shopping lulls caused by regular prices in the days ahead.

Luke 2:17 – 19  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

 For me, the lull of normal has already started. I awoke early this morning thinking “Now what?” Now that Christmas has come and gone for another year, it’s time to get back to normal. But routine sounds so boring. What treasures do I have to sustain me through the long winter months still ahead? Then I thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her Baby has been born, the trip home has been completed, and routine has been established. People have stopped coming over to visit and to see the Baby. Relatives are finally settled down and are acting like they accept this “miraculous” birth. Joseph is back in his carpentry shop, and Mary struggles to fight off the depressing prospect of life in the regular lane.

But she is prepared to fight that battle, and how she fights it is a lesson for all of us. You see, she went After Christmas Shopping also; only she did it in her heart. She found lots of treasures, filling the shopping cart of her heart with eternal truths and memories. There were treasures like Gabriel’s announcement to her that she was highly favored by God; his explanation of the power of the Holy Spirit that would come upon her; the visit with Elizabeth and the sharing of a miraculous birth experience with her; the statement of the angel that “nothing is impossible with God;” the description by the shepherds of the glory of God in the sky and the announcement of good news for all the people; and the first time she held the Son of God in her arms and experienced the fullness of God’s grace and truth. Mary filled her heart with all these things and more, and they sustained her for the next 12 years of regular life until another “holiday” occurred. Jesus was teaching in the temple, and once again Mary found some more treasures to store up in the closet of her heart.

She would need all these treasures because life would be regular for the next 18 years. Then life stopped being routine when Jesus was presented by His heavenly Father to the world as the people’s Savior. She was ready. She had done more than just put the treasures in a closet: she put them in a prominent place in the house of her heart where she could look at them every day and be reminded that life with Jesus is not regular. She was sustained because she had polished the art of meditation on God’s truth. The truths she experienced and treasured became her weapons with which she fought the battle of routine.

We have the same opportunity. We too must polish up the art of meditation on the truths of God. When Joshua was preparing to lead the people of Israel into the battle for the Promised Land, God gave him these instructions –

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

King David says it this way in Psalm 1 –

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

It’s time to go spiritual shopping for treasures which are found in God’s Word – and they’re FREE! What a bargain – life-sustaining truth at no cost. Fill your cart today.

Pastor John

A Christmas Prayer

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas! This poem is my prayer. I hope it is also yours.

Lord, this is my prayer
Not only on Christmas Day
But until I see you face to face
May I live my life this way:

Just like the baby Jesus
I ever hope to be,
Resting in your loving arms
Trusting in your sovereignty.

And like the growing Christ child
In wisdom daily learning,
May I ever seek to know you
With my mind and spirit yearning.

Like the Son so faithful
Let me follow in your light,
Meek and bold, humble and strong
Not afraid to face the night.

Nor cowardly to suffer
And stand for truth alone,
Knowing that your kingdom
Awaits my going home.

Not afraid to sacrifice
Though great may be the cost,
Mindful how you rescued me
From broken-hearted loss.

Like my risen Savior
The babe, the child, the Son,
May my life forever speak
Of who you are and all you’ve done.

So while this world rejoices
And celebrates your birth,
I treasure you, the greatest gift
Unequaled in your worth.

I long to hear the same words
That welcomed home your Son,
“Come, good and faithful servant,”
Your Master says, “Well done.”

And may heaven welcome others
Who will join with me in praise
Because I lived for Jesus Christ
Not only Christmas Day

— Mary Fairchild

Discover the Manger Again

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

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

It was the busiest travel day of the year. Everyone was returning to his or her hometown. People were clamoring for a place to stay and something to eat.  People’s houses were filled to capacity. They had come to fulfill a government requirement. If only they had known what was about to happen. Would it have made a difference? Would they have stepped aside and sacrificed a space for the soon to be born King? Would they have stopped complaining about the inconvenience of the trip and started praising God as they saw the glory of God shining in the sky as His birth is announced? Might they have been more concerned about the Lamb of God than a slice of leg of lamb?

Let’s look at another scene in another time. It was the busiest travel weekend of the year. Everyone was returning to his or her hometown. They had come to fulfill a government tradition of turkey and stuffing, football and pumpkin pie. They were willing to camp out on the floor of the home so that everyone could be together. They spent the evening with all the advertising flyers from the local department stores, planning a strategy to purchase all of the gifts being offered at incredible prices but at ridiculous times. They rose early the next morning to see the stores well lighted with the colors and glitter of the season. They shove their way into a line hoping that the item they want to buy is not sold out before they get to it. People’s smiles quickly turn to sneers as they complain that they didn’t get what they wanted, as if life depended on that item. There is no more recognition of the pretty decorations or the shining lights. There is only the frustrated attempt to get to the next store and the next line to get a gift that will fulfill life for someone.

After 2000 years, things haven’t changed: there still seems to be no room for Jesus. He is given the place of lowest regard and seen as an intruder into the holiday originally instituted to be a holy day celebrating His birth. Any reference to Christ or depiction of His birth is eliminated from public display. Politically correct terms must be used to not offend non-believers. Personal pursuits, family traditions, social pressure and inconvenience have relegated Jesus to another manger because the rooms of our lives are filled.

If only we would stop and look outside of our boxes: if we could just catch a glimpse of the sky again. We haven’t been able to see it for a while because of the cities and skyscrapers we have built – cities of social and cultural acceptance designed with skyscrapers of possessions, prestige, relationships, recreation, and more. Every time we look up, we see what we have done. But there, in the sky, outside the city, where there is only what God has built, the angel still announces good news of great joy for all people. The glory of God is still appearing and proclaiming to all who will listen, “Peace on Earth.”

We may not be able to see it because we’ve not been willing to get outside of the city we have built around us. But when we do, we will discover a place of humility. We must step outside of the comfort of our homes, businesses, and relationships, and discover that in the lowly place of personal sacrifice a King has been born, and He will change our lives.

Maybe it’s time to make room for Jesus in your skyscrapers.

Pastor John

Am I Looking For It?

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 23, 2019

There were those in ancient Israel who were still anticipating the coming of the Messiah. Though they had not heard from a prophet for over 400 years, the prophecies of Isaiah and others of his time still stood as the shining hope of national rescue and renewal. Four-hundred years is a long time to maintain hope in the fulfillment of a promise. Most people had forgotten the tiny details that would validate His coming.  One such detail was the fact that He would be born to a virgin.

Matthew 1:18 – 23  18This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.  19Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  21She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:  23“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”—which means, “God with us.”

Try to put yourself in the position of the average citizen of rural Israel. You have heard of the promised Messiah, and you have had the writings of faithful men who proclaimed the promise read to you in the synagogue. You have never had a reason to doubt the reality of the ancient prophets and the validity of what they wrote, and you have looked for His coming. But doubt certainly rises in your mind when someone from Nazareth tells you a rumor that a young girl is pregnant without ever being intimate with a man. You immediately conclude that this must be a deeply troubled young girl who is seeking attention. She most certainly has lied to protect some man’s reputation. Who could believe that she is really carrying the Messiah?

Yet that was the sign that God proclaimed would validate the birth of His Son – it would be a virgin who would give birth. How else would it be possible for God to dwell with men as man and still be God? An earthly father would have continued the lineage of sinners. But this baby was a child of the heavenly Father, created by the power of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary’s sinful flesh. What an incredible miracle – God born as a man.

Because I know the rest of the story of His life, I believe it all to be true. But what would I have believed if I had been there? Would I have left my sheep in the field to go see Him in the manger? Would I have traveled for two years from the farthest reaches of the known world to worship Him because I saw a star?

Here’s how I know whether I would have or not – Did I get up today and prepare myself for His next coming? I have never had any reason to doubt the reality of the ancient prophets and the validity of what they wrote. I have not doubted the truth of what Jesus has said. But did I arise today in anticipation that this might be the day the Messiah returns? Do the tiny details of world events cause me to consider the closeness of His appearing? Do I live each day as I did the last or as the last day?

At His first appearing, it was “God with us.” At His next appearing it will be us with God. Forever. Look up – it may be today.

Pastor John

Have It Your Way

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 20, 2019

A fast food chain that had previously been relatively unknown became nationally popular by choosing a slogan that caught on quickly – “Have it your way!” To appear helpful and serving, they capitalized on the self-centered nature of the customer. We believe we have the “right” to please ourselves by either having it or doing it our way.

In stark contrast to that philosophy stands the statement of Mary in response to the angel’s announcement of God’s purpose for her life. After asking how this miraculous event would happen to her, she fully surrenders self and accepts the nature of a servant.

Luke 1:38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

With an attitude of total humility Mary says, “May it be to me as you have said.” No debate. No suggested changes or adaptations to the plan. No looking around to see who’s watching this great example of humility. Just quiet and complete surrender to what God said. “Have it your way, God!”

We may think that her surrender was easy because she was being asked to do something so wonderful. She got to be pregnant with a son, which was the fulfillment of her cultural responsibility as a wife. She got to participate in the eternal purpose of Jehovah to save the world from its sin. That choice seems like a no-brainer, right? But what about all the problems she would encounter by making that choice to surrender? There would be the possibility of losing her fiancé. She would be considered an adulteress by her society. Her son would have to grow up as an illegitimate child, scorned by his youthful friends. She had to know all those things, and yet she considered the call of God to be more significant than the opinion of people.

The same call of God goes out to us today. He has called us to be a part of His incredible plan to bring His grace to a lost world? He has sent His Holy Spirit upon us to overshadow self and the flesh and empower us to accomplish God’s eternal purpose. We have the choice of two responses: we can look up to God in anticipation that the King will tell us “Have it your way,” or we can look up to the King and tell Him, “Have it your way.”

The first response appears safe because we believe we can control the social fallout of our choice. But in the second response there is incomparable fulfillment, knowing that we are participating with Almighty God in His glorious plan of salvation. Response #1 elevates self and society over God: response #2 recognizes the need of self and society that only God can meet. Response #1 leaves us at the mercy of man and destined to the world’s destruction. Response #2 puts us in the merciful hand of God and guarantees us eternal life.

Seems like a no-brainer to me!

“Have it your way, God!”

Pastor John

Nothing Is Impossible

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Luke 1:37  For nothing is impossible with God.

What an incredible statement! What an opportunity for participation in the miraculous! There is not one thing that God has promised to do for us that is outside of His ability to fulfill. Whatever it is that He is asking you to do may stretch you to your limits and deplete you of your strength, but not His. Whatever miracle you need today so that hope is restored and survival assured is totally within the realm of possibilities with God. While there are timing issues and purpose issues to be resolved, there is no issue with the power needed to do it. Anything God wills is able to be done!

There is an old praise chorus that expresses the heart of this verse very well. It goes like this:

            Got any rivers you think are uncrossable?

            Got any mountains you can’t tunnel through?

            God specializes in things thought impossible;

            He’ll do the thing others cannot do.

So before you build your life raft and try to sail across the flooded river of frustrations, ask God to remove the river.

Before you set your next stick of dynamite at the base of the mountain of madness hoping to tunnel through, ask God to move the mountain.

Before you take matters into your own hands, trust the hand of God. His hand is strong and safe.

Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand, those who take refuge in you from their foes. (Psalm 17:7)

His hand provides us with strength and endurance.

You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great. (Psalm 18:35)

His hand protects us.

Though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

(Psalm 37:24)

His hand is secure.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. (Psalm 73:23)

His hand controls all things.

In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.

(Psalm 95:4)

 Nothing is impossible with God!

Pastor John

Immense Grace

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

When I travel through North Dakota and other western states, I am struck with the immensity of God. After traveling from the beauty of the forests and hills of northern Wisconsin and Minnesota, the topography changes radically to flat and almost treeless plains where one can see for miles. The next farm is barely visible and the horizon seems unattainable. I imagine what is beyond, and my mind swirls as it swims in the depths of infinity. My limitations overwhelm me in the attempt to visualize the limitlessness of God.

That is the way my mind is responding to the incredible grace of God depicted in today’s conversation between the angel Gabriel and the soon-to-be mother named Mary.

Luke 1:26 – 28  26In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.  28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

The great and overarching theme of Christmas is the grace of God. There is nothing that overwhelms our finite thoughts more than an attempt to comprehend the wonder of God’s grace. Our minds are befuddled when we try to qualify that which qualifies us. We who measure others and ourselves by human qualifications cannot fully comprehend the unconditional qualification of imperfect people by a perfect God. Yet that is what God does by grace.

Have there ever been sweeter words to the ears of any person than to be told that they have found favor with God? Mary was puzzled by this greeting, as are all of us when we are told that we are fully and unconditionally accepted into relationship with God. Yet those are the words that we long to hear. It is the deepest desire of our hearts to be accepted and to know that our lives have purpose and meaning. Yet we doubt the authenticity of the message. We are troubled by the thought that God can draw that close to us because we know the depths of our sin and unworthiness. But can you think of anything you would rather hear than the voice of God calling you His child, His heir, and His friend?

The message to Mary is also God’s message to us. When God directed Gabriel to tell Mary that she was highly favored, He chose a word that in the Greek language is used only one other time in all of Scripture, and its use is very significant for all of us. It is found in Ephesians 1:6, and literally translated says, “To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” We have found, in Christ Jesus, the same favor of God that was proclaimed to Mary. We have been accepted into the beloved.

Hallelujah! What a great message of encouragement for us and for all the millions of people still seeking acceptance. We have the Gospel of Grace. We have experienced God’s unconditional forgiveness and acceptance. Let’s go tell the world that they too can be forgiven and accepted – and it’s FREE!

Pastor John