Be God’s Arm

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Isaiah 59:1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

We really didn’t know what to expect. When we registered for our dining time we had the option of choosing a large table with other people, or a table by ourselves. We decided that since there would be so many other opportunities to meet people, we would choose a table by ourselves and spend that quality time focused on each other.

When we arrived at the dining room the first night we were ushered to our table by the head waiter fully decked out in a tuxedo. As we arrived at our table I quickly discovered what the term private table means on a cruise ship. Instead of several tables being pushed together to form a large table, the small two-person tables were spaced twenty-two inches apart. The gentleman at the table next to me was less than an arm’s length away. As we sat and reviewed the menu for the evening, it was obvious that our quiet private dinner would soon become a time of fellowship with the people at the neighboring table.

I turned and initiated a conversation with a young couple. As we talked, we discovered their living status, state, and their professions. It was obvious that serving Jesus Christ was not on their radar, and that they were adrift in the sea of self-indulgence. At this point it would have been easy to end the conversation and seclude ourselves at our own table as best we could. I suspect that many Christians would so choose. But that’s not natural to my heart and certainly not a product of the love of Jesus that captivates us. So, the conversation continued with this heavily tattooed bar owner and his live-in girlfriend.

Eventually they asked me what I did for a living. Without hesitation I said, “I’m a pastor.” Denise and I both waited for their response. The woman spoke first. She leaned in towards me and with a soft and humble spirit said, “May I ask you a favor?” After I agreed, she told me the story of her best friend back in Texas who had just given birth to premature twins, and one of them had died the day the cruise left port. She was distraught that she couldn’t be there for her friend. She asked me to pray for her. I asked for the mother’s name and it was provided to me. When our food arrived, Denise and I bowed our heads and I prayed for that mother and for our new friends as they went through this time of grief.

On two more occasions during the cruise the Lord directed our steps to connect with this couple. On each occasion I asked how they were doing, and asked specifically about the grieving mother and called her by name. Then, when the cruise was over, and we got on the bus to return to the airport, there, sitting right in front of us, was this couple. We chatted again and told them we would be remembering them and their friend in prayer.

I don’t know what effect any of that will have on their lives, but I’m not in charge of that – the Holy Spirit is. But God taught me an important lesson through that experience – a lesson that I was not aware I needed. I was forming judgments about people based on their external appearance and their public sin. I was creating small and subtle but unknowingly strong barriers between me and them. I was tending towards seclusion from sinners rather than intentionally engaging them. If the Lord’s arm is not too short to save, then why was I, as the arm of the Lord, doing things to come up short?

We are the arm of the Lord to bring salvation to those who need it. We are the ear of the Lord to listen for people’s cries for help. We must overcome the fleshly desire to judge others and seclude ourselves from them. We must stretch out the arms of God’s love and embrace people where they are and show them that grace is available. No matter how they appear on the outside, and not matter what they have chosen as their lifestyle, they have the same spiritual need that we had before we met Jesus. Let’s introduce them to Him.

Let’s be the arm of the Lord that never comes up short.

Pastor John

His Arm Is Not Short

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Isaiah 59:1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

Several years ago, my wife and I went on an amazing adventure. For nine years we had been planning the trip, and every year that we thought we would do it, something interfered. Well, that particular year, our kids said, “Enough! No more excuses!” They put together a little incentive package with contingencies that forced us to make the decision and book the reservations. After all the years of hearing about their wonderful experiences on a cruise, Denise and I finally went on one. It was everything we expected and more.

While we were sitting on a beach on a small atoll called Cococay, I watched as a father took his little girl into the ocean for probably the first time ever. Dad and the girl stood hand in hand for a moment in water only six inches deep. Then the eighteen-month old girl let go of daddy’s hand and took a few steps out into a little deeper water. She turned and smiled at her dad, and he smile back.

Having discovered courage she didn’t know she had, the girl took a few more steps. It was obvious she was not used to the buoyancy of saltwater, and she worked hard to keep her balance. She took one more step, and as she turned around to catch her daddy’s eye for approval, she wobbled. She listed heavily to the right. Her left leg came off the white sand on the bottom. She tipped forward, and her face was very near the water. Her short arms could not reach the bottom to stop her descent.

I cringed in my lounge chair. I’m sure I made a visible move to get up. I will never forget the look in the little girl’s eyes. They were as big as they could be, and looked right into her daddy’s eyes and spoke louder than any words could have. “Daddy, help me!” By now her mouth and nose were under the water, but her eyes never stopped looking at her father. She needed rescue, and she knew that dad was the rescuer.

Her steps had taken her out of reach of her father. His arm could not grab her and lift her from where he was. She was unable to get to him. But dad saw her, and from her eyes he heard her cry for help. In two swift steps through the water he had her by the arm and lifted her into his. She threw her arms around his neck and hung on. Her eyes were facing me, and without a single tear they clearly said, “I’m safe and secure.”

The dad did an amazing thing. It may seem so simple and natural that we lose sight of the amazement of it, but it is no less amazing. As his daughter’s eyes cried out to him, he did not speak to her about the consequences of her actions. He did not tell her to deal with the problem, since she had put herself in that position. He did not correct her for wandering away from him. He did what any loving father would do – he rescued her.

Surely your Heavenly Father will do the same for you. His arm is not too short to save nor His ear too dull to hear. Cry out to Him, and He will make you safe and secure. You simply need to be willing to be lifted out of your condition and trust Him to hold you.

Pastor John

A Panorama of Praise

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, February 12, 2018

Psalms 150  Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.

What an incredible journey it’s been. This is our 175th devotional during our scenic tour of the Psalms. We agreed to take a little sight-seeing trip each day and stop at any scenic overlook the Lord pulled us into. We have discovered some marvelous treasures along the way. I’m sad to see this trip come to an end. I wonder where God will take us next?

There’s only one scenic overlook on today’s excursion. As we exit our vehicles and walk over to the edge to get the full effect of the view, we are immediately overwhelmed by the simple complexity of what we see – simple because there’s only one thing to observe, yet complex because of the diversity of ways to observe it. It is the panorama of praise.

It’s an awesome vista. Multiple individual scenes all turned and tuned to one focal point. No matter which direction we look, our eyes are always drawn to one place. There is no inclination to be distracted by the individual elements of the view. Every part of the scene has but one purpose – to draw attention to the One who created the scene.

Some parts are doing it with a variety of musical instruments. Some parts have chosen to make loud, rhythmic noises. Some parts are dancing. Every part that has breath is singing and shouting. But one thing is consistent – they are all directing their attention to the One who gave them life and breath. In unity they inhabit the panorama of praise.

Some choose to praise the LORD in the security of their homes and churches. Some have decided to climb to the heights and praise Him in public. But one thing is common to them all, they are praising God.

Some praise Him because they have experienced His acts of power. Some are praising Him because they are experiencing the reality of who He is. But one thing remains the same with them all – they are praising Him.

As we look out over this amazing scene at the end of the road, we get a glimpse of heaven. We haven’t seen this view before, mainly because we’ve been preoccupied with our way of praising God. Suddenly it becomes clear – our way is not the only way. As we gaze out over this panorama we are awestruck by the diversity of people and their patterns of praise, and yet they all come together to make one sound – a clear sound – that draws complete and continual attention to the One on the throne. It’s as if all the music, drums, dancing, shouting, and singing have combined to create a new form of music – one unknown to us here on earth.

Our minds are immediately taken to the scene in heaven when all the saints are present, and it begins to make sense.

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirit of God sent out into all the earth. He came and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

At last we understand. None of the songs we sing today, and none of the musical preferences we have held so dear, will be the final voice of praise in heaven. They will blend with the voices and styles of saints from every age and every tribe and every language and every race and form one new song, with its one and only focus on the One and Only King – Jesus Christ.

We could stand at this spot for a long time and take in the true beauty of what we see.

As we walk away from the edge and return to our vehicle to begin whatever journey God has planned for us next, we are deeply impacted by what we have just seen. We follow the lead of the Holy Spirit to make a renewed commitment to start practicing our praise for heaven. We understand now that the best way to do that is not to invite everyone else to praise God as we do, but rather to let everyone praise God as they do, and let God, the Master Conductor, bring us together in harmony to create the final concerto.

Let the crescendo of praise begin.

Pastor John

Our Mission of Love

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, February 9, 2018

Psalms 149:1-5  Praise the LORD. Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.

Earlier this week in a devotional, I referred to a Pastor friend named Jerry. I want to share another story from that relationship that will draw out a spiritual truth from today’s Psalm.

When our church started a relationship with Pastor Jerry and the people of Bayou DuLarge Baptist Church, we asked him to give us the name of someone for whom he really wanted us to pray for salvation. He gave us the name of Raymond. We started praying immediately. For three years we prayed for him. He was on our daily prayer list at our staff devotions, and many of our church people prayed for him in their personal devotions as well.

I remember the trip to the Bayou when God answered our prayers. It was a Tuesday night, and without any notice, Raymond showed up at the church and asked if he could talk to me. Thirty minutes later Raymond and I were on our knees as he surrendered his life to Jesus and repented of his sins. Hallelujah! For three years, no one on the bayou would have thought it was possible. But with God nothing is impossible. Our God is mighty to save.

Raymond and I celebrated together. We cried together, we prayed together, then we cried some more. Then we laughed. We set out on a course of confession of Christ to those people who were closest to him – first his wife, and then Pastor Jerry. Soon the whole bayou knew. Raymond was not ashamed of his Lord.

His wife, who is a born again Christian, told me that it’s the love of God that won his heart. She said he has never had anyone really love him for who he was, so when I loved him it really softened his heart to the love of God. Instead of having to be proud and protective of his life, he could finally let go and humble himself before God. How could he be expected to surrender to God and trust Him to save him when he never had an example of that kind of love? That’s not to say that he didn’t see it in any other Christians on the bayou, but he never really had anyone take a personal interest in his life and accept him as he was. He never really had a relationship of love and trust with a Christian man before.

Raymond is just like so many others that we know and work with every day. They are afraid to be humble before God because they fear what He will say or do to them based on their sin. That fear is very real to them because of the way we as God’s people tend to pound on sinners. If we, the ambassadors of Jesus Christ, pile shame of those who sin, and separate ourselves from them, then what other impression of God could they possibly have than to think that He will do the same. If we want people to come to Jesus on their knees in confession and repentance, then we must respond to them the same way that Jesus will – with compassion, love, and forgiveness. It’s time we stop telling people they have to change, and time to start showing them that God has changed us.

But I struggle with something – why is it so hard to do that where we live? We love to go on mission trips and serve others, but there isn’t the time to get intimate and personal with them. We feel protected. We can leave them a good surface impression of God’s love, but we never show them the grace of God that is necessary to forgive us for our sin and cover our shortcomings. Heaven forbid that other people should ever see us as weak.

Yet all around us are people who need to see the real love of God that accepts people at their worst and transforms them into God’s best. We all have people near us who are hurting and lost, and need to see the compassion, acceptance, and forgiveness of God so they can humble themselves before Him. They want to see love in action. They want to see Jesus in us.

But we tend to get so wrapped up in our own lives that we only show God’s love when it is convenient or profitable to us. Yet God calls us to live that way every day, right where we are.

Imagine the rejoicing that would be going on in our churches if the people who are lost in their sin understood that the LORD takes delight in them, and will crown them with salvation if they will humbly come to him. They will flock to our sanctuaries and worship centers to find a place of acceptance and forgiveness.

But they are afraid.

They will only overcome their fear of God when we show them how loving He is by loving them as they are. They will understand that God takes delight in them because we take delight in them. They will trust God to forgive them and accept them, because we accept and forgive

We represent God to them. You and I are the ones God has chosen and honored with this mission. Let’s go and love our neighbors as we love ourselves, and show them the love of God.

Pastor John

In Everything Give Praise

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, February 8, 2018

There is nothing that stimulates and revitalizes me more than being out in the splendor of God’s creation. I am closest to God when I am closest to the simplicity and beauty of His creation that is unspoiled by man.

With that in mind, read what the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 148:

Praise the LORD. 

Praise the LORD from the heavens, praise him in the heights above.

 Praise him, all his angels, praise him, all his heavenly hosts.

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and maidens, old men and children.

 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. 

He has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his saints, of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the LORD.

I know it is the dead of winter right now, but I challenge you to take every opportunity you have to praise God in the midst of nature.

Earlier this week, as I walked up my driveway after placing the garbage can by the road, I looked up into a crisp, cold, clear sky, and I stopped and praised the Lord. I beheld the infiniteness of God, praising Him that he is far beyond the billions of light years of distance to the farthest star.

I look forward to the day, hopefully soon, when I can sit in the warmth of the sun and praise Him for the gift of the Son that turned my cold heart of sin into a warm home for love.

I desire to sit by the shore of a lake and listen to the waves splash against the rocks, and while I consider the numerous forms of life that live there I will praise the Lord for His life that now lives in me because I have been washed with living water. 

I look forward to watching as storm clouds rise in the west to bring thunder, lightning, and much-needed rain to a parched ground, and I will praise Him for the storms that come into my life that nourish my faith in His sovereign control.

In the fall I will observe the splendor of His creation from a tree stand while I contemplate Christ’s exalted position over it, and I will be humbled that it is simply a foretaste of the splendor of His presence, which I will behold someday face to face with my Lord.

Through our study of the Psalms I have learned an important lesson: every situation and circumstance of life is an opportunity to praise the Lord. Every experience of life is to be an experience of the presence of God.

No matter what life brings today, God is in control. There is no problem that is bigger than His compassion. There is no hardship that is greater than His strength. There is no good thing we accomplish that surpasses His grace and our need to trust Him.

Do not succumb to pity because of problems. Do not be puffed up with pride by prosperity. In all things, be pumped up with praise.

May every event and observation of your life today and every day lead you to praise.

Praise the Lord.

Pastor John

Little Squirts

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Psalms 147:1, 4-5, 10-11 ( NIV ) Praise the LORD. How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the legs of a man; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

Many years ago, while in college, I stood on the American side of Niagara Falls. I was spellbound. I could not contemplate the continuous surge of water flowing down that river and over that cliff. Since the days of Noah and the flood, millions of gallons of water per minute have crashed to the rocks 170 feet below the river bed. As I stood absorbing facts I was reading and trying to avoid the cold spray from the force of the falling water, I was awestruck by the immensity and greatness of God. He created those falls. He created the water in the river. He sustains the flow of the water. Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. It made me wonder how great a person has to be to know this awesome God.

Later, on that same trip, my friends and I stopped at a rest area in Michigan. We were tired and thirsty. On the outside of the building was a sign with an arrow pointing down a short path. The sign said, “Drinking Water…clear and cold.” At the end of the path was a pipe sticking straight up out of the ground with water bubbling out of it. We initially thought it was a pretty weird drinking fountain. But then I remembered as a youth being taught about Artesian Springs, where water from a pressurized aquifer flows out of the ground without the need for pumping. Here was one of them, just squirting away.

We bent over and drank a little to test it. It tasted fantastic, and after multiple swallows of the ice cold water, it completely quenched our thirst. What the mighty waters of Niagara couldn’t do, this obscure little spring did. There was nothing great about it, but it provided me with the greater pleasure.

I understand now that our greatness cannot bring us closer to God. The great Biblical commentator Albert Barnes once said, “It is the bubbling stream that flows gently, the little rivulet which runs along day and night by the farm-house, that is useful, rather than the swollen flood or warring cataract. Niagara excites our wonder; and we stand amazed at the powerful greatness of God there, as He pours it from the hollow of His hand. But one Niagara is enough for the continent of the world, while the same world requires thousands and tens of thousands of silver fountains and gently flowing rivulets, that water every farm and meadow, and every garden, and shall flow on every day and night with their gentle, quiet beauty. So it is with the acts of our lives. It is not by great deeds that good is to be done, but by the daily and quiet virtues of life.”

Find great joy in this truth, my friends. God’s pleasure is not in the greatness of your deeds. His delight is not in the wisdom of your ways. He delights in those who fear Him, and put their hope in His unfailing love. Do not compare yourself to what some may call a Niagara of the faith. God loves and uses little squirts like us all the time. And when a bunch of little squirts unite together with a common purpose, it soon grows to be a powerful Niagara-like force.

APPLICATION: Are we seeking to make a name for ourselves and draw attention to ourselves, or are we satisfied to be a little squirt from whom living water abundantly flows to meet the spiritual needs of others?

Pastor John

Serving the Least of These

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Psalms 146:1-2, 7-9 ( NIV ) Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. I will praise the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live…He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow…

I have a deep respect for people who serve the LORD by meeting the needs of others. It is a refreshing breath of spiritual air to hear about humble servants of God who sacrifice their own desires for the sake of touching someone else’s life with grace. So much of the spiritual air we breathe today is self-centered and self-serving. Selfishness surrounds us. We declare ourselves to be the needy ones. We demand the attention of others. We seek to be served rather than serve. But every once in a while a person comes along who reflects the heart of Jesus to seek out and serve some of the “least of these.”

One such example is a pastor friend of mine whom I used to get to spend time with years ago, but because of God’s leading into different areas of ministry we don’t get together in person any more. He lives in Louisiana, and once pastored a church on a bayou where the land sits below sea level. His name is Jerry. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, he had a passion to use his skills and resources to rebuild people’s houses. Our church used to send work crews there to assist in the rebuilding efforts.

I remember one specific trip when 22 of us went down to work on a specific house. It was located just two houses down from the church. The house the people currently live in is a mess because it was on ground level when the storm surge flooded it. The new house will be built 12 feet up on huge poles. We will be framing in the house, putting rafters up, and putting on the roof.

What’s amazing about this project is that these people have no connection to the church. In fact, according to Pastor Jerry’s assessment, these people would be the most unlikely people on the whole bayou to ever respond to the love of Jesus. That’s why Jerry chose to help them.

Praise the LORD for people like Jerry who intentionally sacrifice their own resources to help those who, because of their life choices, are the least likely to respond to grace. If only all our hearts were so moved by the love and compassion of Jesus. If only we would understand that God’s greatest work is done in the lives of the most needy. If only that we would see God’s heart is focused on the broken and humbled and not the proud and self-sufficient.

Here in the Chippewa Valley we have people like that. They serve at the Hope Gospel Mission, at the Ruth House, at APPLE Pregnancy Care Center, at the emergency shelters for battered women, at the community table, and in numerous other ministries that focus on hurting and hopeless people. These servants have sacrificed their lives for others because the love of Jesus has captivated their hearts. These servants believe that God still does miracles today – miracles of providing food for the hungry, setting prisoners free from the bondage of their sin, giving hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless.

I’m proud to be a part of a church that has such a heart. I’m excited about our partnership with those ministries I mentioned as they reach out to help those in need. I’m glad that God is teaching me to be a true giver of His love without expecting any earthly return on the investment. It will be a miraculous day in the life of the church of Jesus Christ when we all live for the benefit of others and not ourselves. That day is possible as we allow the heart of Jesus to captivate our lives and see others the way he sees them.

Living for Jesus is not about what Jesus will continue to do for me – He has already done everything for me by saving me from my sin and granting me access to God the Father for all eternity. Living for Jesus is about serving others – no matter who they are – and connecting them to the love of God.

I want to say thank you to those of you who have been my examples – you know who you are. I want to challenge the rest of you to set your hearts on things above, and not on the things of the earth. God’s greatest miracles are yet to be seen, and they will be seen in the lives of people who are the most least likely to respond.

Pastor John