GOD’S AFFIRMATION

LifeLink Devotions

Friday, December 30, 2022

I am overloaded with blessing today because of the many truths in this one verse.

1 Peter 5:10 “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 

I submit to you a bulleted format of points today. Choose the one or several that best fit your needs.

  • All grace is from God, and God gives grace generously. His grace is sufficient for every need. His grace has conquered sin and death (Romans 5:20-21). Every suffering, every trial, and every difficulty is yet another opportunity to experience the grandeur of God’s grace as He sustains us and supplies our every need. Our sinful flesh deserves the suffering. Our suffering Savior is God’s gift of grace that calls us to eternal fellowship and glory. Each hardship is God’s activity to reveal His glory and strengthen our bond with Him.
  • Suffering is temporary – the glory to which we have been called is eternal.  “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” My friends, please take time to read this entire passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 4:6-18.
  • God Himself is affirming me. This is my personal application point for today. When I used to be in business, it was nice to get words of affirmation from my manager, and then from my district manager, but I will never forget the time I got a call from the owner of the company. When the person responsible for the bottom line calls, it means more. “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • God Himself will deliver the grace you need to accomplish four things:
    1. He will restore you. The Greek word means “to render fit, sound, and complete; to put things in order.” God is personally setting all things in order in your life, so you are fully equipped to do His work. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
    2. He will make you strong. This is the only place in the entire New Testament where this word appears. It is probably derived from the same root word used in Ephesians 6:10 where Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might so that we can stand against all the attacks of our enemy the devil. God Himself is providing all the strength you need to resist the devil and stand strong in the midst of all trouble.
    3. God Himself will make you firm. He will establish you. He will make you stable. Stability is not a pipe dream. It is a reality for all who live wisely, recognizing that wisdom comes from God alone through our faith in Jesus Christ. God is the personal source of stability. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:5-8).
    4. God will make you steadfast. The Greek word here refers to the placing of a solid foundation upon which anything can be built. That foundation is Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation. This same word is used to describe the three building materials of a solid foundation.
      • Faith – “continue in your faith, established and firm.” (Colossians 1:23)
      • Hope – “established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Col. 1:23)
      • Love – “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

God Himself will provide for you. God Himself affirms you. God Himself is at work in you. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Pastor John

TRANSFORMATIONAL SUFFERING

LifeLink Devotions

Thursday, December 29, 2022

1 Peter 5:9Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

I want to encourage you today with one word from 1 Peter 5:9. It requires looking at the verse in a different translation. The New American Standard Version reads – “But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”  I want to focus on the word accomplished.

Did you know that suffering is accomplishing something positive in your life? Hard to believe while we’re in the thick of it, but it’s true. The Greek word in the original text here is epiteleo, and it means “to bring to an end, to complete, to perfect.” It is the same word the Apostle Paul chose to describe the completion of the work God is doing in our lives when he wrote to the people of Philippi. He said, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

Here’s my simple yet profound point for today: “All suffering of all Christians is the same kind – the kind that moves us towards experiencing the completion of the character of Christ.” The types of suffering people experience may be different, but the reason for all suffering is the same. God is completing a grand work in us to perfect the life of His Son Jesus.

It doesn’t matter whether the suffering was self-induced by our own choices, or people-induced because of the choices of others. It is all God-designed and God-controlled for one primary reason – to train our character by testing our faith. Peter says that the knowledge of this process being active in all of us is the motivation for us to unite in our stand against the devil who seeks to stop the process.

Satan doesn’t want Christians to act or think like Jesus. He doesn’t want us to be a threat to his singular purpose to destroy as much of God’s creation as he can – especially the part of it created in His own image. He seeks to eliminate the proof of the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit by discouraging, defeating, and devouring the faith of every believer. He wants us to look just like the unsaved people of the world so that none of them have any hope of change.

But the work of God to perfect the life of Jesus in His children will not and cannot be stopped. It can be hindered by our responses to how God is working, but in the end, it cannot be stopped. So resist the devil and stand firm in your faith. God is working through each and every situation of your life to produce the character of Christ in you. Nothing about your current situation surprises Him or overwhelms Him. It has been designed by Him to bring the fullness of fellowship with Jesus to your life. It is the same for all of us. Let us together stand firm in our faith.

“…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

Pastor John

GET UP AND FIGHT!

LifeLink Devotions

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

1 Peter 5:9 “Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

One of the most enjoyable things I used to do with my oldest son was to take a trout fishing trip every spring to the Peshtigo River in Eastern Wisconsin. We camped in a rustic national forest with no modern conveniences. We sit around the campfire in the morning and cook breakfast. We fish all morning. We nap after lunch. We fish until supper. We sit around the campfire all evening and wonder when the bears will arrive to check out our food.

This fishing trip was one of the scariest and most tiring things I ever did. No, not because of the bears, but because of the strength of the river. Depending on the amount of rain that had fallen the river could be rushing rapidly. One year it was almost impossible to fish. Even when the river is low and the flow is slow, there are slippery rocks below, so you must watch where you go. (poetic, right?)

To catch the fish, we wade through the river. Every step has to be carefully planned to avoid falling in and being washed away in the current. The best way I’ve found to remain upright and have the best opportunity to catch fish is to walk upstream, against the flow. This takes great strength and alertness. Firm footing is hard to find. Every step is a step of faith. The water is dark and in most places the bottom can’t be seen. But we know the bottom is there. We know the rocks are there. We know the footing can be firm if the placement of the foot is correct. It takes strength and resolve to go against the flow, but the exhaustion we feel is quickly dispelled by the sound and smell of trout in the frying pan.

I have never seen a successful trout fisherman who sits complacently. Those who would sit in the river will be at the mercy of the current. They will quickly be swept away. It is less dangerous to stand than to sit.

Unfortunately, in the spiritual world today, far too many Christians have decided to sit complacently in the rushing current of culture. They are being swept away by the flow of faithless philosophy and floundering folks. Few Christians are standing firm in the river of the world and going upstream against the flow. It seems most think it’s not worth the fight.

We cannot follow Jesus and go with the flow. Standing firm in the faith and resisting the devil requires great strength and resolve. It takes training and discipline, but Jesus has called ALL of His followers to stand. Sitting complacently and enjoying the free ride down the river is not an option, and it’s not free. Those who do not stand will be bruised on the rocks. They will be swept under in the rapids. They will go over the falls and plunge to their deaths. Only those who stand and go against the flow will survive. But it will be a fight.

  • Those who have stood firm in the past have called it a fight. Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:12).
  • They have fought the fight and will receive the reward. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • They have been obedient to the teaching they received. Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction…so that by following them you may fight the good fight,   holding on to faith and a good conscience. (1 Timothy 1:18-19)
  • They have drawn a distinct line between the spiritual and the worldly. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.   The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.   We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
  • They have equipped themselves with everything they need to win the fight and stand firm in their faith. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

So get up from your spiritual lazy-boy which is being swept away by the current of culture. Put your feet firmly on the Rock. Resist the devil. Go against the flow. Stand firm in your faith. Whatever strength it takes to stand will be supplied by the One who stood for you and died. He did it for the joy that was set before Him. He didn’t sit down until the fight was over (Hebrews 12:2). Get up. Your fight is not done.

Pastor John

SEEKING THE SHIPWRECKED

LifeLink Devotions

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

I trust you had a blessed Christmas. Let’s get back to our study of First Peter.

1 Peter 5:8  “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 

There is quite a contrast between the declared mission of the devil and that of the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan is seeking anyone he can devour and destroy. Jesus is seeking anyone so that He can save them. As Christians, we claim to be partners in Christ’s mission. I propose to you today that we like the saving part of the mission and get excited when it happens, but we have neglected the seeking part of the mission.

Jesus has called us and equipped us with His Holy Spirit to carry out His mission. He described His mission on several occasions. At the very beginning of His public ministry, in a synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, He declared, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  After meeting a man named Zacchaeus, Jesus stated, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.” And while speaking to some Pharisees about who He was and his ministry to the world, Jesus proclaimed, “I have come that they might have life, and that it might be abundant.”

Satan, the enemy of Jesus and His followers, does not have life in mind in anything he does. He only seeks death. Unfortunately, many people fall for the devil’s that make death appear as life.  Even Christians succumb to the devouring disguises of materialism, acceptance, and self-worth. As a result, we are satisfied to put on the appearance of rejoicing when someone is saved from their sin, yet we rarely participate in actively seeking the lost sinner to bring them to Jesus. Christianity has become the means of achieving personal security and comfort. The church has moved from being a lifesaving station that seeks the lost to an elite clubhouse with sufficient protections in place to keep dangerous people out.

I first read the following story years ago. I was reminded of it by a friend recently in an email. It illustrates that we have stopped fulfilling the “seeking” portion of Christ’s mission. It was written by Theodore Wedel.

“On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little lifesaving station. The building was no more than a hut, and there was only one boat; but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea. With no thought for themselves, they went out day and night, tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved, and various others in the surrounding area, wanted to be associated with the station and give their time, money, and effort to support the work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little lifesaving station grew.

“Some of these new members of the lifesaving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those who were saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the lifesaving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully and furnished it exquisitely because they used it as sort of a club. Fewer members were not interested in going to sea on lifesaving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The lifesaving motif still prevailed in this club’s decoration, and there was a memorial lifeboat in the room where the club initiations were held.

“About this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boatloads of cold, wet, half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them were foreigners. The beautiful new club was in chaos. Immediately, the property committee hired someone to rig up a shower house outside the club, where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split in the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s lifesaving activities because they felt they were unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. A small number of members insisted upon lifesaving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a lifesaving station. The small group’s members were voted down and told that if they wanted to save lives, they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast.

“They did.

“As the years went by, however, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old station. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that seacoast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore.

“Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the passengers drown. No one is seeking them anymore.”

My friends, we need to recover our passion for lifesaving.

Pastor John

SHOPPING FOR TREASURES

LifeLink Devotions

Monday, December 26, 2022

Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” 

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 of their seasonal merchandise. People are getting up early to head to the stores 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.

For me, the lull of regular life 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 here cart with eternally enduring 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 were able to sustain 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 of these treasures because life would be regular for the next 18 years, but when life stopped being routine when Jesus was presented by His heavenly Father to the world as the people’s Savior, she was ready. She was ready because 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: not meditation for the purpose of escaping life like the world teaches; but rather meditation on the truths of God for the purpose of fulfilling life. 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

I SAW HIS GLORY

LifeLink Devotions

Friday, December 23, 2022

Luke 2:9  “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

From Christianity Today comes this story:

“She was five, sure of the facts, and recited them with slow solemnity convinced every word was revelation.

“She said, ‘They were so poor they had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat and they went a long way from home without getting lost. The lady rode a donkey, the man walked, and the baby was inside the lady. They had to stay in a stable with an ox and a donkey, but the Three Rich Men found them because a star lighted the roof. Shepherds came and you could pet the sheep but not feed them. Then the baby was born. And do you know who he was?’

“Her quarter eyes inflated to silver dollars.

“The baby was God.”

“And she jumped in the air, whirled around, dove into the sofa and buried her head under the cushion, which is the only proper response to the Good News of the Incarnation.”

What is our response when God invades the ordinary of our lives? I had an opportunity one day to experience God’s invasion into my life. At 9:00 a.m. a man walked through the front door of the church offices and handed me a package. He said that he had been blessed by a message I had preached several weeks earlier on giving our best – our firstfruits – to the Lord. He said this package represented his firstfruits and he wanted me to have it. I slowly opened the grocery bag to look inside, and I was overwhelmed and amazed at the contents. With tears in my eyes I gave the man a huge hug and thanked him. He asked why I was so surprised and broken by his gift. I told him my story.

Two weeks earlier my wife and I had been planning the menu for our annual family Christmas dinner. It had always been Norwegian in flavor based of both of our family’s heritage. We have yulekaka (pronounced you-la-kaga) and yulagret, which is now called riskrem, meaning rice cream. Some of our family members have never taken to the Norwegian foods, so several years ago we decided to add an American tradition to our meal – steak and crab meat with baked potatoes. Denise and I were planning what kind of steak to get and how much we would need for everyone to have a small 4-6 ounce portion. I had an idea. Why not get a rib roast and have a slice of prime rib instead of the steak. We agreed to check out the price and keep that as an option. After talking to the meat guy at our grocery store, we decided we would not spend that much money on one small part of the meal. I began looking at small steak options, but something, or should I say Someone, told me not to get them yet. I would wait until the day before our meal to buy what I needed.

By now the man who had given me the package was in tears. He knew what he had brought me. When I had looked in the bag, I discovered an eight-pound prime rib roast. I buried my head in his shoulder in a warm and meaningful embrace and praised God for invading my life with His glory. He whispered in my ear, “I love you. You came into my life and showed me God. You have made me so happy.” I told Him it was God who has filled him with joy, and both our eyes were dripping tears. We both got to see God.

 “My God shall supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Philippians 4:19)

Sometimes He invades the ordinary and gives us our wants too.

Pastor John

BE DIFFERENT

LifeLink Devotions

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Luke 2:8 – 12  “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The shepherds were different.

It is an unfortunate tendency of human nature to become self-sufficient. The accomplishment of goals leads to pride in our abilities. The accrual of resources leads to dependence upon those resources. The pursuit of social status becomes the means of measuring success. We are never quite satisfied with the essentials, so we choose to live by faith in self rather than faith in God.

The shepherds were different.

Their profession was religiously despised in their culture. Because of their constant contact with the animals they were not allowed to participate in any religious activities and were certainly never allowed inside the temple to worship. They were forced to live in the fields with their flocks, never owning their own homes or achieving an acceptable level of social status. Such conditions would cause most of us to develop a new life plan or hire a new life coach. We would look intently and lustfully at the greener grass on the next pasture, and it would not be for the benefit of the sheep.

But these shepherds were different. They had not only accepted their position in society, but they worshiped God where they were. They had some good examples from their culture’s past to follow: Moses spent 40 years tending sheep before he was called by God in a burning bush to lead Israel out of Egypt. David was a shepherd boy who had a heart for God and accepted his position. Psalms 78:70 – 72 says, “God chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens;from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”

These shepherds lived the greatest faith anyone can ever live – God-sufficiency. God saw their humble state and He honored them with the first and only public announcement of the birth of Jesus.

Humility is the prerequisite of honor.

But we must be careful because honor can destroy humility. Honor can become the means we use to set new goals and seek new status. But these shepherds were different. After they had gone and seen the King and worshipped Him in person, the Scriptures say that they returned to their flocks and carried on where they were. We never hear of them again. There was no attempt to use their personal experience to advance their personal status in any way.

That will be true of all who are humble, no matter how they have been honored. Why? Because the humble understand that it’s all about Jesus and His glory, and not about us and our glory.

Jesus honored the humility of the shepherds 32 years later when He spoke these words: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

One day Jesus will honor all of us. Be careful of trying to honor self. Jesus said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The shepherds were different. They did nothing to get noticed. God found them and honored their humility.

He will find you!

Pastor John

THE CAGE HAS BEEN OPENED

LifeLink Devotions

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Luke 1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…”

Titus 2:14 “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”

Job 19:25  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.”

Bought back and set free – that’s what it means to be redeemed. It is the theme of Zechariah’s praise when his son John is born. Of all the things he could have said after nine months of muteness, he burst forth in a song of redemption. God has visited the earth with one purpose in mind – to buy back his people who had been sold into slavery to sin and to set them free.

A.J. Gordon was the great Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston, Massachusetts. One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously.

Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?”

The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.”

When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well.”

Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”

“Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain.”

The exchange was made, and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and to save the lost — paying for them with His own precious blood. “That boy told me the birds were not songsters,” said Gordon, “but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!'”

This is Christmas. And the message of these times is the song of those wild birds.

It’s the meaning behind every gift given under the tree: Redeemed!

It’s the Word the shepherds heard: Redeemed!

It’s the assurance Mary received: Redeemed!

It’s the star the Wisemen followed: Redeemed!

You and I have been trapped by sin, but Christ has purchased our pardon with His death on the cross. He has guaranteed our freedom by His resurrection from the dead. The cage has been opened. You are free indeed!

We have been redeemed!

May our lips never cease to praise the One who redeemed us.

Pastor John

CLIMB INTO THE MANGER

LifeLink Devotions

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.

Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.

So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.

The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS.

Luke 2:11  “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

Have you truly found the Christ of Christmas?

Pastor John

PATIENT CONTENTMENT

LifeLink Devotions

Monday, December 19, 2022

We are easily bored. We even have statements that validate our boredom. I have a friend who when asked how he is always responds with the statement, “You know…same old same old.”

We have a hard time with things staying status quo. Even though we find it hard to change, we demand it. We don’t like permanent routine. Some persevere longer than others when sameness reigns, but ultimately, they surrender to the discontented spirit that lives in each of us that wants things new and better.

I speak as the king of discontent. I love new things. I love change. I love risk. I want more and better. I have never truly learned to be content. That’s why the story of Anna from the Christmas narrative in Luke 2 fascinates me.

Luke 2:36-37  “And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Anna was an ordinary woman with a tragic life story. She had been married at a young age, probably around sixteen as was customary. After seven years of marriage her husband died and left her a widow. She was left with nothing. Jewish law forbids women from owning property. If her husband had any wealth, it would have been given to the first-born son, but there is no indication that they had any children. She was alone with nowhere to turn.

She went to the temple in an act of humble submission to whatever God would provide for her, and a willingness to be content with it. The priests took her in and opened one of the living quarters in the courtyard to her, where she lived for the next sixty-eight years. Every day and every night she did the very same thing – she prayed and fasted before the Lord.

There is no way of knowing how many people were touched by her faithful service in the temple and her patient endurance of a sub-par lifestyle when compared to others. Other widows, like Ruth of the Old Testament, were rescued from their predicament by a kinsman redeemer who brought them hope and security. But it was not so for Anna. No relative came forward to provide her a home and a family. She was alone.

But Anna never felt alone because she knew she wasn’t alone. She was in relationship with God, and He was sufficient. She was content with God’s presence and His provision for her life. Nothing ever changed. Nothing ever got better. She was never offered more. Day after day the status quo ruled, and yet the same old same old never got old, because she lived her life with the assurance and hope of the coming Messiah who would redeem Jerusalem.

Then one day, in a powerful affirmation of her contentment, God arranged her life and His Son’s life to intersect. My imagination turns to the scene in heaven, where God points to what is taking place in the temple and enthusiastically exclaims to His angels, “Watch this!”

Anna is walking across the temple courtyard, worshipping the Lord, and looking for an opportunity to minister to someone. She sees a commotion in the area where little Jewish boys are brought for their circumcision. A man who was not a priest is holding a baby and loudly proclaiming words of prophecy about the Messiah. She immediately walks over to investigate and is instantly overwhelmed with the reality that she is looking at the Redeemer of Jerusalem.

God claps.

Heaven explodes with cheers of Hallelujah.

Anna gives thanks to God and begins a new phase of life in which she will proclaim redemption to anyone who wants to hear it.

God rewards contentment with His presence. I wonder if Anna felt it was worth the wait.

But I also wonder if our lack of contentment is keeping us from fully experiencing His presence.

Pastor John