Sovereign Control

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

He had established his reign as the most powerful world leader of his day. He had done everything possible to secure his position as both a political and a spiritual ruler. To maintain his control over his country, he used foreign slaves to increase productivity. His management methods were unjust. He treated people as nothing more than tools to be used to accomplish his own agenda and fill his own treasury. In addition, he tapped into the satanic realm to show spiritual power and authority, even demanding that he be considered a god.

The day came when the slaves cried out to their God Jehovah. They begged to be delivered from their four-hundred years of captivity. God heard their cries, and sent them a deliverer who was empowered by God to bring down the mighty Pharaoh from his throne and set the people free. God told the deliverer named Moses to speak to the people and tell them of His plan.

“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.”(Exodus 6:6)

When Mary sang her song of praise and mentioned that God had shown the strength of His arm, I wonder if she thought of this story from her spiritual heritage? I think she did, based on the words she sang in Luke 1:52.

“…he has brought down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of humble estate;”

 Over my lifetime I have witnessed the mighty being removed from their places of power. No matter how much authority they claimed and how much power they wielded, when they had served the purpose of God to accomplish His sovereign plan, they were removed. From small countries to major world powers, there is no ruler whose position is not sovereignly controlled by Jehovah God. NOT ONE!

I find myself getting bent out of shape by the political developments of our day. I find it easy to fall into the “How will this ever turn out well?” mode and I’m set up to worry. Praise is quickly overwhelmed by perceived predicaments. Praise is severely hindered when problematic predictions captivate my mind. Praise ceases when my trust in God’s sovereign control wavers.

But not Mary. She declared that God has shown His strong arm by bringing down the mighty from their thrones. The memory of God’s might is to encourage our praise that God is still mighty, and that He will bring down all those who oppose His purpose. Whether it is in governments, businesses, or churches, God is in control and will accomplish His glorious purpose to bring His kingdom to earth.

Praise Him for how He has and will exalt the humble.

Pastor John


LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 31, 2020

The principles of God’s Kingdom are many times upside down from the principles by which the world operates. They don’t seem rational to the person who is not controlled by the Spirit of God. The philosophy of the world for human existence is dictated by self-preservation and self-advancement.  That stands in stark contrast to God’s principles of spiritual life which are grounded in self-sacrifice.

My heart is heavy with the reality that so many people are trapped in the bondage of the world’s way of living. We get easily ensnared in the pursuit of personal gain. We become enamored with wealth and power, employing our energy to advance and secure both.  Bitterness caused by unforgiveness builds walls, and only people who agree with us are allowed access to our lives. The pursuit of personal gain has minimized our awareness of the needs of others. But the worst condition we have is that we justify such behavior as beneficial, normal, common, and acceptable to the social majority.

But God’s Kingdom principles turn our behaviors upside down if we follow them. Mary refers to one such principle in her song of praise found in Luke chapter 1.   As she proclaims the ways in which she has seen the strong arm of the Lord in action, she declares, he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.”

Mary explains an eternal principle of spiritual life in the Kingdom of God: Pursuing what the world offers ends in emptiness, while remaining empty and pursuing God results in being filled with eternally good things.

The applications of this principle are too numerous to illustrate. The Holy Spirit is already convincing you of where it applies to your personal pursuits in life. My prayer is that you will listen to Him speak to you, and make whatever changes He suggests. There is nothing that this world can offer you that will be carried into God’s presence. There is nothing you can gain from this world that will produce the security you seek. There is nothing to gain from this world that can save your soul.

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?(Mark 8:34-37)

Mary praised God because she trusted that He would always provide good things to those who come to Him hungry. May we learn to praise God in the same way. Do not come to Him with your good. Come to Jesus with nothing, and He will give you His good.

Pastor John

The Scattering of Pride

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Once upon a time, mankind was united in its belief that God was approachable and attainable by human effort. Everyone in the world spoke the same language. One group of them agreed to build a city and a tower that would rise into the heavens. They wanted to make a name for themselves. Their goal was to become so powerful and famous as to never be conquered. In essence, they believed they could determine their own destiny. Their pride determined that God was irrelevant.

The Lord God came down and said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”

You may be familiar with this story known as the Tower of Babel from the book of Genesis. It is one of the memories Mary may have thought of when she recalled the strong arm of the Lord scattering the proud.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;(Luke 1:51)

Pride is the enemy of God. Pride stands opposed to the very nature of God. Pride was the cause of Satan’s fall from his high position in heaven. Pride causes us to believe that we are capable of managing life and that we do not need God.

It is significant that the first thing Mary refers to as a demonstration of the strength of God’s arm is that He scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. Our thoughts are naturally prideful. Our choices are often motivated by self-serving pride. Our securities are built around our own abilities and accomplishments. We have worked very hard to make a name for ourselves. We believe we can determine our own destiny.

One of God’s greatest blessings of grace is when He scatters the proud thoughts of our heart and grants us the humble Spirit of Christ Jesus. If not for God’s strong arm accomplishing the scattering of pride in our lives, we would be misunderstood and unable to truly communicate and relate to others

Today, meditate on the ways that the strong arm of God is working on your behalf to conquer prideful thoughts that motivate life choices. Then praise God that He has shown His strong arm in conquering the pride of life and replacing it with a spirit of humility so you can serve Him faithfully.

Pastor John

What Has He Shown You?

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 28, 2020

As mentioned yesterday in church, this week’s devotionals will focus on how we can praise God for His faithfulness even as we face difficult and uncertain times. May I encourage you to listen to yesterday’s message if you missed it. This will help to establish context.

If you don’t have time to do that, here’s a quick summary.  In Luke chapter two, when Mary was told by the angel that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit with the Messiah, the Son of God, she agreed to accept the plan of God for her life. She specifically said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Be it unto me according to your word.” Mary accepted God’s plan even though it meant potential serious consequences. 

We discovered yesterday that there are two ways to be prepared for uncertain times. The first is to trust God with all outcomes. The second is to praise God for who He is and not make our praise contingent upon the outcomes. We closed the sermon with a challenge to study the faithfulness of God as revealed in the last few verses of Mary’s song of praise.  Here they are.

He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” Luke 1:51-55

Look at those first three words. “He has shown.” Our praise to God is accentuated by recalling the ways God has shown Himself mighty in the past. So this week we will look at the things Mary remembered about the mighty works of God and be encouraged to trust God for what’s ahead.

The first thing Mary remembers about God is that He has shown strength with His arm. In Psalm 98:1 we read, “Oh sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.”  The prophet Isaiah declares, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him and his recompense is before him.”  (Isaiah 40:10) “The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:10) God is to be praised because His strong arm has provided salvation for us, and in every situation of life He has a solution that will be our reward.

So here’s your exercise for today…make a list of the ways God has shown the strength of His arm to you.  It may be a time when He directly answered a prayer. It may be when He provided you comfort and peace during a crisis. Maybe it was a gracious reward He provided you. Or maybe, and most importantly, it should be a consistent awareness of our salvation that is not affected by the circumstances of life.

The foundation of praise is the character of God to faithfully act in accordance with His holiness. Your list will accentuate your praise as you remember how God has shown His mighty arm to you in the past.

Pastor John

Receive the Gift

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 25, 2020

There will be nineteen of us crammed into our small living room when the time comes to open presents. One by one children will sit in the middle of the floor and open a gift, followed by another and then another until all eleven of them have opened a gift. Then we will repeat that process until all the gifts have been opened. Each child will burst with excitement when they realize they got exactly what they had put on their list.  Each giver will receive a warm hug, a hearty thank-you, and the satisfaction of knowing that the gift will be used and enjoyed.

At least that’s how it’s supposed to go.  Unfortunately, some gifts don’t elicit the warm hug response without a parental push. Some gifts are pushed aside in favor of others. There is ample opportunity for the giver to feel unappreciated. 

When someone refuses to appreciate and accept a gift that was given as an expression of love, something very serious occurs: the giver of the gift has also been rejected. We may try to cover it up by assuring the giver that we still love them, even though the gift isn’t what we really need. But the fact is that when the giver knows about a real need, purchases the perfect gift, and offers the gift to us, our rejection of the gift is rejection of the giver.

Now listen carefully. From a heart of pure love, based on a real need, God gave the gift of Jesus to us. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes on Him will not perish but will have eternal life.” But the world has rejected the Gift and the Giver. 

We all have the same need.  Every one of us was born in sin, deserving of eternal death and separation from God. But God demonstrates His unique and eternal love for us by sending us Jesus Christ to die in our place. God’s love put His innocent Son on the cross as the purchase price of our forgiveness. Yet we reject His gift, hoping there’s another option that doesn’t require us to admit that we are at fault, and in doing so, we reject God. 

My dear friend, we are at fault.  Our sin has separated us from God. We are incapable of changing our condition. We are hopelessly lost. But God’s love for us provides a way for us. His gift of love to us is His Son Jesus. God did not give us the gift of working hard to earn our forgiveness. God gave us the gift of His Son doing all the work for us so we can be forgiven. God saw our need. God provided the gift to meet our need. God freely hands the gift to us. All we have to do is admit we need it.

 What will you do? Will you receive God’s gift, or reject it?

Pastor John

Representatives of Reality

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 24, 2020

As I sit in my living room I am surrounded by reminders of the humble birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  In this room alone I count eight nativities. In the dining room there are five more on the buffet. The hallway cabinet is topped with three more. Sixteen nativities within ten feet of me, and that’s not all of them.

Under the tree is a black bear nativity. On the mantle is the red Cardinal set we purchased in West Yellowstone.  On the lower shelf of the entertainment center are three hand-carved sets from various countries we have visited. One of them is carved into an olive tree log from Israel. But the most precious one to me is right next to me on the end table. The story of how we got it still brings tears to my eyes.

On my last trip to the Philippines over five years ago, I went in search of a nativity to bring home for Denise’s collection.  After stopping at multiple shops, including woodworking shops, I discovered that no one in the Philippines had any idea what a nativity set was. I was amazed. After WWII, every missionary organization in the world entered the Philippines to bring their brand of religion to the population.  There are churches from well-known denominations to obscure cults on almost every corner in the cities. Yet no one knew about nativities.  They were not a marketable product.

When I returned to the Bible College campus, I spoke with the Director and his wife, and shared how discouraged I was that I wouldn’t be able to bring Denise  Filipino nativity set. The subject soon changed to more important issues concerning the upcoming Pastor’s Conference where I would be speaking.

Two weeks later the time came for my departure. As I wandered around the campus saying goodbye to all the students and faculty, I was approached by the wife of the director who invited me to the main office.

As I entered the room I was greeted by one of my unofficial Filipino “daughters”, the wife of a good friend. She had a huge smile on her face that spoke clearly of a joyous surprise I was about to experience. She pointed to the table, on which was a neatly wrapped box. I was told to sit down and carefully open it. The two women excitedly took up their positions directly across the table from me where they could get the best view of my reaction.

As I began unwrapping the box I could see and hear the giddiness growing in them. When the paper was removed, I opened the box and looked inside. I immediately began to cry with big tears of joy and appreciation. There in front of me was a one-of-a-kind hand crafted nativity set that the two women had personally made for Denise. Every item in it except the little figurines was made from natural Filipino products. The basket was hand woven from grasses found in the mountains. The wood is native to the region where they live. The hemp was shaped to look like a start shining down on the baby. I slowly took in every detail through tear-swollen eyes.

Hugs flowed as freely as the tears. I don’t think I have ever in my life felt more gratitude for a gift. The ladies helped me repack it for the plane. The preciousness of the gift demanded it not be put in my suitcase. I packed my carry-on backpack into the suitcase and kept the gift on the plane with me.  

But this year more than ever, surrounded by all the precious nativities in our home, I realize that they are all just simple reminders of a gift far more precious – God’s gift of Jesus Christ to us and for us. This nativity is my favorite reminder. Of all the nativities on display, it is the one that draws the least attention from people. It is simple. It does not stand out and draw attention to itself. It is the perfect reminder of the arrival of Jesus.

Pastor John

Embrace Inconveniences

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

The announcement of a newborn baby creates enthusiasm. I suspect that the chemical released into the brain to produce euphoria has a serious side effect. It seems to block the neuro-transmitters required to make good decisions.

The day our son Joshua was born we made calls to all our family and friends to announce the birth. The next day, two of those family members asked us how long Denise would be in the hospital. I wondered why they were asking. I suspected they were making plans to show up at our house.

I was right. If you have been following my journey through Christmas past you understand the importance of my family’s togetherness during the holidays. So, on Christmas Eve, the day we brought Joshua home from the hospital, my parents and one of my brothers showed up to celebrate Christmas. The enthusiasm of a newborn plus the tradition of family togetherness motivated a decision that wasn’t practical and was very inconvenient.

We lived in a small ranch-style home with three bedrooms and only one bathroom. There was a family room in the basement that otherwise was unfinished. Our six-year old daughter had one bedroom with a single bed. Our four-year old son had another bedroom with a single bed. My wife and I had the third bedroom with a queen-sized waterbed. There were no other beds in the house except the hide-a-bed sofa in the living room. Mom and dad claimed that.

My brother’s family of four claimed the family room. Air mattresses were inflated. Sleeping bags were unrolled. Children in underwear were tolerated.

Our house was heated with the wood stove in the family room. To maintain a consistent temperature of seventy-two degrees upstairs, the basement of the house was over eighty-five degrees. The countertop in the corner was stacked with clothing that was removed for survival in what came to be known as the basement beach.

At first the inconveniences of all that company were overwhelming. So much so that as I searched our family photo archives I did not find a single picture from that Christmas. But as I look back on it now, I realize I learned a lesson that has stuck with me. Why would I allow those invasions of my comfort zones to affect me the way they did? Our family was there to worship the newborn King lying in a manger in a stable in an unfamiliar place. How could my inconveniences be compared to them?

The entrance of our Savior into this world exploded the comfort zones of many. Mary gave birth in a stable after a long and uncomfortable journey, with no support from family or friends. Joseph must have dealt with feelings of failure as a husband and father for not providing adequately for his wife and baby. The shepherd’s livelihood was threatened when the angel instructed them to leave their sheep alone in the fields and go find baby Jesus. Magi began an almost two-year journey from their homeland to a place they had never been with an outcome that would threaten their lives.

I believe we all suffer from varying levels of self-protection of our comfort zones. The avoidance of inconvenience limits our understanding of God and our experience of His presence and power. I am learning to embrace inconvenience. I am growing in my understanding of God’s goodness by asking Him to manage outcomes. My comfort zones have ever-expanding walls, allowing for greater experience with a limitless God. My prayer is that God will continue to surprise me with inconveniences.

Pastor John

Right Side Up

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

When I left work on Christmas Eve in 1983, the temperature was still twenty-eight below zero. I decided to go home and switch vehicles before going to the hospital to pick up my wife and our newborn son Joshua. I pulled the pickup close to the 1978 Ford Fairmont station wagon so I could hook up the jumper cables and get it started.

I let the car warm up for quite some time while I went in the house and called Denise at the hospital to arrange the timing of their discharge. I then called our friends to arrange for the delivery of our other children back to our home later that day.

When I arrived at the hospital I parked right by the front door and left the car running. I went upstairs and Denise was getting baby Josh ready for the cold weather. The nursing staff had provided a large red Christmas stocking and Josh was already inside it with just his face showing above the white cuff. Denise swaddled the stuffed stocking into a receiving blanket followed by a heavier baby quilt.

When we got to the front door, the blanket and quilt were folded down over Josh’s face to protect him from the cold wind. Denise handed the package to me as she walked gingerly to the car. After she was seated, I handed the package back to her.

If you have ever driven an older car in sub-zero temperatures and strong winds, you know that they never really warm up. As a result, Denise left Josh completely covered while we were in the car. We made our way from the east side of town to the far western side where our house was.

When I parked the car in the driveway, I went around to Denise’s side and opened the door. She handed me the package. I carefully helped her up from her seat and she held my arm as we walked up the steps to our home. We stood for a moment in the kitchen as we enjoyed the warmth coming up the basement stairs from the wood-burning stove in the family room.

I handed the package back to Denise after she removed her coat. I took my coat off, and began unfolding the quilt. A gasp escaped from my lungs. Denise looked shocked. We hurriedly turned the package over. During one of the package exchanges, Josh had been turned upside down. We quickly unwrapped him to discover that he was sound asleep. Only his parents were suffering.

Next time life seems upside down to you, remember the visual picture that was just created in your mind of an upside down baby all wrapped up in blankets inside a Christmas stocking, sleeping peacefully. Then remember the promise of Scripture in Philippians 4:7.  “And the peace of God that surpasses passes all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Then just rest until God unwraps you.

Pastor John

Manger Inconveniences

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 21, 2020

Contrary to what was announced yesterday in church, our son Joshua did not have his fiftieth birthday.  It was his birthday, but he is far from fifty, although far is a relative term. He is closer to fifty than I am.

I will never forget Josh’s day of birth. It was 1983, and Watertown, South Dakota was in the worst cold snap I have ever experienced.  When Denise informed me that she was in labor, the temperature was twenty below zero with wind chills in the sixty below range. But it was about to get worse.

My faithful 1964 ford pickup started right up, and after it was warm I helped Denise to the truck and we drove to the hospital.  We informed the doctor that the previous two births of children had been very quick, so we were rushed right into the delivery room. The doctor took up his catcher’s position, ready to catch Denise’s fastball. But the unexpected happened. Labor stopped. The doctor left the room, telling the nurses to call him when it was time for an actual delivery.

We waited. And waited. The winds howled outside. It had been the coldest December ever in South Dakota. The average temperature for the month was only two degrees above zero.  And we were smack dab in the middle of the ten coldest December days ever. But we weren’t thinking about how cold it was outside. We were wondering when this baby was going to decide to take its first breath.  We were anxious to see if it would be a boy or a girl.

Finally labor kicked in, and about an hour later the doctor returned. Denise delivered a long and skinny boy. I almost said she delivered a brand new baby boy, but I caught myself. I have always wondered why we use such redundant terms.  Has anyone ever delivered a grown boy or girl?  It’s always a baby, and it’s always brand new.

Anyway, I digress.  While Denise was in the hospital, I had to keep working.  Friends watched our other two children while I went into the radio station every morning to work. There was no family leave policy back in those days. Denise was scheduled to come home on Christmas Eve, which was a Saturday.  I had the morning shift of work so I was on the air at six in the morning. When I arrived at the radio station at five-thirty I remember seeing the digital thermometer in the control room. It read forty-two below zero. I looked at the wind speed. Fifty-five miles an hour.  I pushed the button to calculate windchill. I didn’t know it was possible to be over one hundred below zero, but there it was – one-hundred three degrees below zero.

I immediately called CBS Radio News in New York and did a newscast with Charles Kuralt. It aired on the CBS national news at the top of the hour. My roommate from college days called me from California when he heard it.  I still have a cassette tape of the story. Later that morning I would arrive at the hospital to load up my wife and son in the truck to bring them home. But that story is for tomorrow.

For today, let me share a lesson I learned from recalling those days. I can remember the facts of the story.  I can remember the bitter cold. I can recall how hard it was to go anywhere and do anything outdoors. I can still hear the creaking of the truck as it tried to move, much like the creaking of my bones as I try to move in the mornings. But all of those things combined cannot compare to the warmth that flooded my heart as I held my son and experienced the joy of new life. God has a way of covering all the bad with His good and gracious hand.

Whatever coldness has invaded your heart, you can be warmed by the joy of new life found in Jesus Christ. I’m sure Mary would testify that the joy of Jesus’ birth overcame any manger inconveniences. I know I can testify that the birth of a son warms my heart exponentially more than any memories of the coldest time of my life. 

The birth of Jesus in your heart will do the same for you.

Pastor John

Christmas with Christ

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 18, 2020

Stories of Grandpa Roy flow easily in my family. He was a disabled veteran of World War 2, so he had lots of time on his crippled hands. When we visited, he spent most of that time playing games. During the day he taught his grandchildren the nuances of cheating at cards. He was an excellent card player and didn’t need to cheat to win, but there was something very gratifying to him about catching the kids doing it. The laughter never stopped throughout the day. Our children still talk about him.

Grandpa Roy was crippled with psoriatic arthritis which manifested itself in his first year in the military. He received a medical discharge. He would scrape the crust from his skin with his jackknife. It was not the same knife he passed around as needed for opening presents.

His feet and hands were severely crippled. When Denise and I first met I remember him working hard around the house as he was still able to carefully use some power tools. That ability ceased as he grew older. But his ability to persevere never did. Unfortunately, his pride in being able to do everything for himself stood as a hindrance to him seeing his need for a Savior.

Fifteen years ago our family celebrated our first Christmas without him, but in contrast to the grief we felt it was a joyous time.

Several years earlier, Roy’s heart needed repair. He had Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. In WPW an extra electrical pathway between your heart’s upper and lower chambers causes a rapid heartbeat. The condition, which is present at birth, is fairly rare. It had gotten serious for Roy. He needed a procedure done that was risky for him.

During the procedure, his heart stopped. The procedure ended after his resuscitation. The next day, as the doctors planned to try again, I spoke with Roy privately about his heart condition. Not WPW, but the heart condition of sin.

I asked him if he understood what happens after death. He said he knew about heaven and hell but wasn’t worried. I asked him if he had ever repented of His sin and received the forgiveness of God in Jesus. He said no, and that he had no sin that needed to be forgiven. He ended the conversation.

Fast forward several years following a successful second attempt to correct his physical heart problem. The spiritual heart condition still needed resolution. Roy had developed pancreatic cancer. It spread quickly. Soon he was confined to a bed in his home under hospice care. Denise and I went and stayed with Grandma Ruby after Thanksgiving.

Three days before he died, while he was still coherent before the extra doses of morphine were needed, I asked him again if we could talk about life after death. He agreed. I reviewed with him his previous statement about sin and his need for forgiveness, and this time his answer was different.

“I need to be forgiven.”

As I fought back the tears, I prayed for him and then with him as He confessed his guilt of sin and received the forgiveness of God based on the work of Jesus on the cross. When the prayer ended, I assured him of resurrection to eternal life based on Christ’s resurrection. He smiled. I asked him if he understood. He said, “I’m ready.”

Grandpa Roy died during the early morning hours of December first. It would be our first Christmas without him.

It was his first Christmas with Christ.

We celebrated.

Pastor John