REAL Worship

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, January 17, 2020

I’m stuck. The Lord has put up a roadblock and has asked me to stop for a while. My first reaction to a roadblock is always selfish – “How can I get around it to get where I want to go?” But I have learned that never ends well. So here I sit in my devotional car, stopped at a roadblock at the intersection of Heart Highway and Isaiah 58.

Isaiah 58:6-7  “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Twice in this passage the Holy Spirit emphasizes the condition of our heart as it relates to the worship of God. You see, worship is not external, but rather internal. Outward expressions must originate in a clean and pure heart. Worship is not an event, but a lifestyle.

The other day I saw two worship leaders from different parts of the country promoting their upcoming worship events. Both said it was going to be awesome. They used words like “epic” and “unbridled” – buzz words to create emotional responses. I personally know the hearts of both worship leaders, and I know how their lives are lived as consistent worship offerings to the Lord. But my question is this – “How do we know that worship will be epic if we don’t know the hearts of the people who will be attending the worship service?”  We must not lower worship to the level of musical perfection or emotional enthusiasm. We must always make worship a response to the love of God in our hearts that has transformed our lives.

I desire emotional worship. I want quality sound, good instrumentation, and crisp vocals. I desire excellence in serving the Lord, and that excellence is an act of worship when done unto God and not for self-exaltation. But I also understand that those things do not create a worship atmosphere nor do they capture the attention of God. The condition of our hearts is what gets God’s attention.

It is hypocrisy to believe that we can worship God while we are harboring resentment against other people. It is self-deception to believe that God hears our prayers and expressions of praise while we are harboring sin in our lives. It is offensive to God to come to worship on Sunday or any other time and put on the mask of love for God when in the rest of our life we wear the true face of love for self.

This is the roadblock. Have we learned methods and traditions of worship that allow us to be fakes? Have we chosen religious rituals that offer us temporary satisfaction of our spiritual desires without the true transformation of the heart? Have we chosen to live as the people of Isaiah’s day?

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

For many people, worship is the beginning of a new week, when they lay down the shortcomings and sins of the past week and look for a fresh start. Yes, that is important. But how different worship would be if we would come together to celebrate victories rather than reviewing defeats. What would our praise sound like if we were living every day as worship to the Lord?  If we want worship to be real, it must be the response to what God is doing in our hearts, not the beginning of what we want God to do.

Let me repeat that with emphasis.

If we want worship to be real, it must be the response to what God is doing in our hearts, not the beginning of what we want God to do.

Pastor John

Repentance

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, January 16, 2020

 “I saw what you did!”

When I was a child and heard that statement directed at me – from anyone – my heart cringed in fear. I must admit that I still feel that way at times. The fear I feel is the product of knowing that I have just done something wrong, and I have been caught. What will happen to me? How bad is the punishment going to be? What will other people think of me? What will this do to my reputation and my potential?

Let’s stop a minute and evaluate those responses, for all of them are wrong responses to sin. We have believed a lie if we think any of them are correct. You see, every one of them reflects the belief that when we sin, we sin mainly against ourselves. Our fear of punishment is self-protection. Our fear of being discredited is pride. Our normal response to the fears of punishment and personal loss is to justify what we did, and, if necessary, lie. Why? Because we are primarily concerned about self.

God doesn’t forgive sin based on how bad it makes us feel, but rather our knowledge of who He is and how our sin stands opposed to Him. God forgives sin based on repentance. Repentance requires the sacrifice of self. Repentance requires turning away from the sin regardless of the consequences. Repentance demands humility which brings us God’s justification, rather than pride which seeks self-justification.

Isaiah 57:18-19    “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, creating praise on the lips of the mourners …”

God has promised to forgive, even after He has seen what we have done. He promises to heal our lives. He promises to guide us again, and restore comfort to us. He promises to create praise on our lips where there had been mourning.

Aha! There it is – the mourning over our sin. God cannot bring forgiveness and restoration to a life that is not repentant – a life that is not broken and mourning before Him. Not broken over the pain of the consequences. Not mourning over some form of personal loss. But brokenness and mourning over how we have stood and acted in opposition to God.

Repentance is much more than simply admitting we did it. It involves confession and conformity.  In confession. We come into agreement with God about what happened. In conformity, we choose to reject the sin and take action to conform our thinking and behavior to the holiness of God.

In Luke 3:8 Jesus says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”

In Acts 26:20 Paul says, “…that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

There must be evidence in our lives of true repentance. Here are four ways to know if we are truly repentant:

  • The absence of rationalization – we will cease to defend our actions
  • Genuine sorrow – a broken heart before God, not just in front of people
  • Open confession of our sin – we will no longer seek to hide what we did from the public.
  • Restitution – we willingly seek out those hurt and offended by our sin and make it right.

If you are like me, we have defended our actions, justified our choices, and lied to protect ourselves from the pain of the consequences. Have we ever been truly repentant? Have we been more concerned about how we feel than about what we have done in rebellion against the grace of God?

When we repent of sin, the Holy Spirit will come and restore comfort to us. He will assure us of the Lord’s forgiveness and healing. He will bring peace when we no longer defend ourselves and are broken in His presence. He will forgive us, even though He has seen what we have done.

Open your heart and your life to Him. Expose all the sin. Throw yourself helplessly at the mercy of the Judge, for He is ready and willing to forgive you, and lift you into a joyous relationship with the Father.

Pastor John

High and Lofty

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Have you ever read something from God’s Sacred Word and have it so overwhelm you that you struggle to find words to express what is happening in your heart? That’s me right now. So all I can do is tell you about it and let the Holy Spirit do the same for you as He needs to.

I sat down at my desk and opened my Bible to Isaiah 57 to continue my study of this prophetic book. I got into my devotional vehicle (ask me about this if you don’t know what I mean) and I started my morning journey at verse 14 where I had parked yesterday.

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”  For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

I slammed on the brakes. I put the car into reverse. I backed all the way up to verse seven.

You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices.

There it was. I thought I had seen it when I had traveled past that verse yesterday. But now a fresh look brought conviction to my heart. My pride is an obstacle to the work of the Lord in my life. I have been pursuing a high and lofty hill in opposition to the One who is High and Lofty.

I spent a few moments considering the ways I continue to offer sacrifices to the god of self-fulfillment.

I put the car back in drive and moved forward again to verse fifteen. I slammed on the brakes again.

“I live in a high and holy place…”

God lives in a high and holy place, not on a hill. Holy means set apart. I can’t reach Him. No matter how hard I try or how high I climb, I can’t get to His place. No matter how high I seek to make myself, I fall short of achieving the presence of God if I seek it in prideful effort.

Carefully I took my foot off the brake and proceeded.

“…but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.”

From His high and lofty place the High and Holy One has come down to me! I could not get to Him by going up to a high and lofty place, but He would come to me if I would go down to a place of humility. The lower into the dust of contriteness I go the more accessible I become to the High and Holy One.

I think I will park here for a while and enjoy His presence.

Pastor John

What’s Ahead?

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Isaiah 57:2   Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

We have a natural instinct to be inquisitive about what lies beyond death. It is our nature. God says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that “He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” People have written numerous books about their near-death experiences, and they quickly become best sellers because we want to know what’s out there. Stories are told about people who have made statements on their deathbeds that seem to indicate that they see a vision of what’s ahead.

The Scriptures are clear on what happens after death. There are two possibilities – an eternal separation from the God who created us, or an eternal fellowship with that same God. Every person who has ever lived knows this deep in their heart. They may be covering the truth up with false teaching and self-centered pursuits, but given the right moment of meditation and honesty they will discover that God has placed the truth of eternity in their heart.

The Bible also make it clear that all of us were destined for eternal separation from God from the moment of our conception in our mother’s womb. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We are by nature the enemies of God (see Romans 5:6-21). But in His eternal and inconceivable love, He sought us. He sent His Son Jesus to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21). God has granted us sufficient faith to believe that Jesus is Lord, that He died on the cross to save us from our sins, and that He rose from the dead to conquer eternal death (see Romans 10:9-10). It is only through faith in Jesus that we are saved, and can enter into eternal fellowship with the Father (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is NO OTHER WAY! (John 14:6)

When by the grace of God we are translated from the realm of sin and death into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, our eternal fellowship with God begins (Colossians 1:12-14). That fellowship produces indescribable peace and joy. No longer do we fear death and judgment like those who continue to live in their sin. The author of Hebrews describes the emotional state of those who reject the truth of Scripture.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. (Hebrews 10:26-27)

But we who are in Christ are not like them. When we experience the death of someone we love who was in fellowship with God, we do not grieve like the rest of the general population (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14). We know that based on their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin that they are moving into the presence of the Lord. Scripture says that to be absent from this body means that we are present with Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:6-8). In this we express joy rather than sorrow, peace rather than pain, and rest rather than resistance.

It will be the same for us personally when we reach that moment of death. The words of the Lord through Isaiah will be the description of our last days on earth. We who have walked uprightly will enter into peace. We will find rest as we lie in death. There is nothing to fear. Our eternal spiritual fellowship that began on earth is about to culminate in eternal physical fellowship in person.

We are about to see Jesus face to face (see Titus 2:11-14). Let us live like it might be today!

Pastor John

Illumination

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, January 13, 2020

At the risk of being called weird, I enjoy this time of the year. There is something strikingly beautiful about the moon glistening on the snow. The full moon this past weekend was magnificent. I am amazed at how God created a lifeless orb of rock that could reflect light so brilliantly. It has no light within itself. It only reflects the light it receives from the sun. God placed it in the perfect position to reflect just the right amount of light.

Night has fallen upon our world. It is morally dark.

Isaiah 56:10  Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge;

Isaiah describes the condition of the world:

  • Israel’s watchmen are blind, they all lack knowledge;
  • they are all mute dogs, they cannot bark;
  • they lie around and dream, they love to sleep.
  • They are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough.
  • They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, each seeks his own gain.
  • “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.”

Maybe before we proceed we should take a moment and review that list, and prayerfully consider, with the help of the Holy Spirit, which of those things might be true of our own heart. Please do that. You see, we are God’s watchmen in this day. We do not want the darkness to invade us. Please take some time right now for personal reflection and repentance.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

Now, having dealt with the darkness in our own hearts, we are prepared to penetrate the darkness around us. God created us in Christ Jesus to be the reflection of His Light to the world around us. We have been placed in perfect position in relationship to the world so that we bring the light of the Son to those in darkness.

But unlike the moon, we are not mere reflectors of the Light – we are the Light. We have the Son that the world needs to see. Jesus, the Light of the world, lives in us. The issue we must deal with is why the Light doesn’t shine better. We seem to be stuck in the new moon phase of life, when the world needs us to be in full moon phase. We are participating in the darkness rather than illuminating it.

The solution is simple – “Lord Jesus, illuminate me!  I turn my face towards you so that I am no longer in the shadow of the world. Then will you be able to use me to illuminate the darkness around me.”

Pastor John

Vaccinations

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, January 10, 2020

Prior to trips overseas to the Philippines, India, Haiti, and Swaziland, I met with the travel nurse at my medical clinic. It was necessary to review my inoculation records so that I would be sufficiently protected from any potential tropical disease to which I might be exposed. We looked at maps that displayed the regional diseases and discussed the exact itinerary of my trip. After careful consideration of the risks, vaccines were chosen and I was inoculated. Some vaccines required more than one dose.

I think there’s a spiritual vaccine analogy in the 56th chapter of Isaiah.

Isaiah 56:6-7 And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—7 these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.

In this encouraging chapter of hope, God is informing those who are on the outside that they will be fully accepted into the Kingdom of the Messiah with full benefits. Those who had been excluded will now be included. In the past they had felt like sub-standard people who weren’t good enough to be invited to an exclusive club. They saw the power and provision of the One True God, but had no access to Him. They had been left without hope and without joy.

Suddenly word comes that the membership policy has been revised so that now anyone is welcome. My mind is visualizing a scenario like this in America at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. If you know anything about that place and its history, you know that if word got out that they were making the course public, there would be lines starting at every airport in America as men and women raced to get there to play just one round of golf. I would be in one of those lines.

An even greater level of enthusiasm should be evident when we realize that God invited all the excluded to be included in His Kingdom with full benefits.  The house of God is open to everyone, regardless of race, creed, nationality, political preference, financial status, or physical disability. The weak, the hurting, the guilty, and the untouchable have equal access to the altar of God. Their hopelessness is replaced with joy.

In Isaiah’s words, God connects joy with prayer. Outsiders will be granted joy by having access to the house of prayer. Prayer is the vaccine with which we are inoculated. If we want to be inoculated against hopelessness and despair, we must be determined to pray. If we will avoid the downfalls of discouragement, we must pray. If we are to overcome the deepening feelings of fear based on the political and social condition of the world, we must pray. Prayer is the vaccine against all the diseases of the heart and mind that destroy joy.

However, we tend to debate the need for prayer. Just like our culture debates the value and risks of vaccines, we also turn to our own remedies first. We consider the risks of prayer and let them influence us: risks like time commitment that will affect our schedule of events, or the hurtful words of others who will accuse us of being overly spiritual when they see the power of God being lived out in our lives. So powerful are those arguments in the hands of our enemy that we dare to even consider not being inoculated. We even ask why joy is really all that big of a deal. Really?

Today, I cry out to my Lord – “Inoculate Me!” In response, God says “Come into my clinic. You will recognize it by the sign out front. It says,

House of Prayer.”                             

Pastor John

Eternal Identity

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Who am I?

That question plagues people. We have tried to answer it in a variety of humanistic ways, none of which has succeeded nor satisfies. We may think that educational success will identify us as a genius. We may believe that advancement in the work sector will identify us as professionals. We have been led to believe that financial security identifies us as successful. We try to be humorous believing others will identify us as popular. We labor intensely to become accepted by others so that we might identify ourselves as worthy. We spend hours developing our skill at a sport so that we might be identified as a hero. We have granted permission to people and to our performance to identify us as valuable.

That, my friend, is why our lives are broken. But God has a wonderful plan for the restoration of broken lives.

Isaiah 56:4-5 For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—5to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

In Isaiah 56, God proclaims His promises to the broken-down nation of Israel. Here’s some background information. God is speaking directly to eunuchs. A eunuch was a slave or captive that had been castrated for two primary reasons. First, it would make them less manly, thereby making them more manageable servants. Second, it would keep them from ever procreating and becoming a threat.

The practice was so detestable to God that there were laws in the Jewish code concerning it. The law excluded eunuchs from public worship, partly because mutilation was often performed in honor of a heathen god, and partly because a maimed creature of any sort was deemed unfit for the service of Yahweh. Yet during the reign of the kings of Israel there were eunuchs in the nation that served in the palace. However, no eunuch was ever able to worship in the temple, nor were they allowed to own land or inherit property. They had no identity with the nation in which they served.

It is to these men of no importance or identity that God comes in Isaiah 56 and says, “I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.”

WOW! That overwhelms me. Not only does God give these broken-down men a name, but He elevates them to a position that is better than a son or a daughter. He gives them an eternal identity that will never be cut off (Note the play on words).

Doesn’t that restore your hope? Can you now see what grace does? No matter how broken your life; no matter how mutilated your name is; no matter how cut off you seem to be from the rest of humanity; God will give you an eternal identity.

No longer will you have to depend on people or performance to identify you. No longer will you need to ask the question, “Who am I?” Let God tell you who you are.

Pastor John