The Historical Christ

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Psalm 72:18-19  Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!

As King David neared the end of his life he decided to write a prayer for his son Solomon who would succeed him on the throne of Israel. We have that prayer recorded in the Seventy-Second Psalm. As he prays for his son to be a man of justice and righteousness, he recognizes that the distinguishing characteristic of a great leader is compassion. Three separate times in this prayer David refers to the recognition of the needy, the defense of the poor, and the deliverance of the oppressed.

Then something happens. King David is transported in his spirit from his prayer for his son to a recognition of God’s son as the true King. Suddenly, in words that cannot apply to the historical reign of Solomon, David speaks prophetically about the coming King of Kings. It is at the conclusion of those prophetic words that David writes – Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory! Amen and Amen!

Recently I had an experience that was similar, although not nearly at the same level of Divine revelation. Last Tuesday my wife and I stood in the midst of the ancient Mayan city of Tulum on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. I was thrilled. I love places like this and could spend hours exploring them.

As we listened to our tour guide, and expert in Mayan history, he began to inform us about the various gods of the Mayans that were depicted in the carvings on their temples. He talked about only a few of the 136 gods that they worshipped, like the rain god and the sun god and the bee god. Then he pointed to a carving on the corner of one of the temples. It was carved in such a way that when seen from the side it formed a profile of the god, and when seen from the front it formed a full face. Hopefully you can see that in the images below.

20160216_100014 20160216_100132As the guide explained to us that this god was carved into all four corners of this temple, he stated that this was the creator god, the supreme god over all the other gods.

Up to this point my mind was totally concentrating only on the earthly historical aspects of the Mayan people.

But then the guide pointed to another carving of a god. He is called the descending god, and is carved with his head downward and his legs upward. In the first picture you can see the head and a leg, and in the second you can see the legs more clearly. He is seated upside down on a throne, and is always at the top of the temple.

20160216_102908 20160216_100155

Immediately my mind was transported from the historical civilization to the historical Christ.  Did this ancient civilization have an understanding of God that included God himself coming to earth? I began to study the gods of the Mayan culture, and there is, according to one source, no evidence that the descending god represents Christ. And yet, even in all the false religions of the world, there is an understanding that God is somehow involved personally in the affairs of man.

For the rest of the tour I could not stop praising God that I know the truth that He did descend from glory in the person of Jesus Christ to save the world from its sin. I praise God that there are no other gods, and that He alone is the Creator of all things. I praise God that His glory fills the earth to such a degree that even in the false religions of the world He can be seen. I praise God that Jesus Christ sits on the throne of heaven and rules all things, and he does so with a heart of compassion, love, righteousness, and justice.

What started out as simply an historical adventure turned into a deeply significant spiritual moment for me.

Blessed be the Lord!

Pastor John

I’m Old…and Better Than Ever

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, February 22, 2016

Psalm 71:18  So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

I was set up. The surprise birthday party for a grandson on Saturday turned into an amazing surprise as my daughter and her family from Sun Prairie had driven up to turn the party into a family celebration of our 40th wedding anniversary. We sat around the pool at their hotel and watched the 10 grandchildren frolic in the foam of the hot tub and splash their way from one end of the pool to the other. We had pizza and cake and presents.

When we went to bed that night my wife and I were overwhelmed with the blessings of family.

We rested well. What we had just received from our kids was sufficient.

We were set up.

When the worship service started on Sunday morning it was revealed – totally to our surprise – that there would be a 40th wedding anniversary reception after church as a part of our regularly scheduled CRAVE meal. The worship center was transformed almost instantaneously after the service into a banquet hall. The grandkids moaned and giggled as Grandma and Grandpa responded to the clinking of glasses with kissing. As we ate, Denise and I were honored by our children with a video that commemorated our lives and our love.

I cried.

Included in the video were interviews with the grandchildren. The answers they gave to multiple questions asked about Denise and me revealed the depth of our family love. You see, only in a relationship of trust based on love can grandchildren confess that the most significant result of Grandpa’s forty years of marriage is that he is old and bald.

For the past several weeks I have been studying the words of King David in the 71st Psalm. They have been the soul nourishment that I have needed. While my body needed the break it received while we were on our anniversary trip to the Cancun area, my heart needed the daily washing of Psalm 71. I wish I had the time to tell you everything that God spoke to me through His word, but I will share this one point –

Even though I am old and what hair I have left is gray, my God has not forsaken me, nor will he, so that I may proclaim to the next generation the might and the power of God.

But I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all the day, for their number is past my knowledge. With the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD I will come; I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone. O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come. (Psalm 71:14-18)

I am so glad that a child’s definition of old does not affect God’s power for service.

My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed. And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long… (Psalm 71:23-24)

It’s Both/And, Not Either/Or

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Psalm 70:4-5  May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!” But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O LORD, do not delay!

The Bible is filled with either/or statements. For example, Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters. Either you will love the one and hate the other, or you will hate the one and love the other.”

Either/or statements are powerful choice-making motivators. We latch on to them because they tend to give us a sense of pride that we are in the right. However, they also alienate us from others who haven’t reached the same conclusion or made the same decision. And we certainly lack understanding of the people who are stuck in the twilight zone known as indecision.

That’s why I am so thankful that the Bible also includes both/and statements. Today’s Psalm is one of them. Let me explain.

There are five verses in this prayer of David. It was a prayer he had turned into a song to be sung in worship by people who were feeling the stress and trials of life’s circumstances. That’s why it is called a memorial song – it is a song that reminds us of who God is when life tends to make us forget.

Of the five verses in this Psalm, the first three relate the trouble King David is experiencing and his suggestions for possible solutions.

  • He feels that God is not working fast enough to resolve his issues (vs. 1).
  • He shares somewhat boldly and bitterly that he wants God to cause problems for the people that are bothering him (vs. 2).
  • He asks God to have the people that are making fun of him to stop their activities and to feel the shame of what they have done (vs. 3).

Then, in a moment of spiritual enlightenment in the midst of the darkness of his trouble, David says this – May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you! May those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”(vs. 4).  David recognizes that his circumstances have not changed the very nature and character of God. God is still great even when life isn’t.

Immediately David returns to the sorrow of the day and confesses to God that he is poor and needy, and that God should hurry up and fix this (vs. 5)

Here’s my point – Having trouble and praising God is not an either/or proposition – it is a both/and reality. It’s totally fine with God to be both upset with life’s circumstances and at the same time recognize and rejoice in His greatness and His salvation.

Bottom line, it is possible to be mad and glad at the same time. It think if we would accept that, and understand that God has declared a both/and truth rather than an either/or truth, we might find a little more patience and perseverance in the midst of the problems because we have learned how to praise him in the storm.

Pastor John

Take Your Hands Off!

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, January 25, 2016

Psalm 69:13  But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.

For three weeks I have been camped in this scenic overlook meditating on this verse. When I wake up in the morning and open the blinds of the camper to see the new day, a truth as new as the colors of the sunrise fills my vision. When I stare out into the vast universe before I close the blinds to sleep I am embraced by the magnificence of God. I see myself as one of those tiny twinkling lights and yet somehow I know that God sees me, knows me, named me, and loves me. In between my rising and my resting, I am overwhelmed with the abiding presence of God knowing that whatever happens, He has an acceptable time for it to be resolved.

Not until today have I been led to write about what God has shown me from this verse. I am going to be brief and simple. But let me say up front that I challenge you to find a way to camp in this same scenic overlook for some time and reflect on the marvel of God’s love and faithfulness.

First, the history. David is in trouble. He shouts, “Save me, O God!” The whole Psalm is a summary of David’s current trouble – serious trouble – and His cry to God for deliverance. Can you relate?

Now the lessons God is teaching me from verse 13:

  1. Take your hands off it. People may be talking about us, spreading gossip and lies, or seeking to harm us with words or actions. Our natural response is to strike back with enough force to stop the attacks. At the minimum we seek to set the record straight. Take your hands off it. But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
  2. Wait for God to act in His time. Notice two things – God has a time to act, and God’s time is the only acceptable time. Anything and everything I do any other time is unacceptable and will not resolve the problem.
  3. God will answer in the abundance of His steadfast love. Go ahead, break this down word by word. God will answer. The answer will be a direct expression of His love. He will answer because His love is steadfast and never stops motivating His activity. His love is abundant, so His answer are not limited to just solving the problem but also bring growth and maturity to us.
  4. His answers always save us. The problem will be resolved – in His acceptable time. Our lives will be changed because of His abundant love.
  5. He is faithful to save us. He cannot not rescue us. He is mighty to save, and His faithfulness guarantees our deliverance.

The perceived deadly or destructive influence of your present situation is easily handled by God. Trust Him. Let Him work in His time. He is loving and faithful. He will deliver you.

Take your hands off!

Pastor John

Get On The Train

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Psalm 68:18   You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men…

It is fitting as we approach Christmas Day next week that the final installment of my study of Psalm 68 brings us to verse eighteen. Fitting because David’s words are given by the Holy Spirit to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter four as the basis of his teaching that Jesus Christ, God Himself, came down to earth to accomplish God’s redemptive purpose.

In Psalm sixty-eight, King David is reflecting on the awesome power of God to deliver the oppressed and save them. In fact, more than half of the thirty-five verses refer specifically to the power and might of God to save people from captivity and to conquer His enemies.

Bear with me as we look at a little history to gather some context for today’s truth. It may seem boring, but it is highly relevant. The lesson comes from verses 15 and 16, where there is an interesting metaphor used by David. It is one of those passages that on the surface probably makes very little sense, but with the Holy Spirit’s illumination it becomes very clear.

O mountain of God, mountain of Bashan; O many-peaked mountain, mountain of Bashan!  Why do you look with hatred, O many-peaked mountain, at the mount that God desired for his abode, yes, where the LORD will dwell forever?

In The northernmost part of Palestine was the region of Bashan. A series of volcanic mountains lined the region, while its valleys were some of the most productive agriculture land in all of Israel. It was the territory given to the tribe Manasseh when the Promised Land was divided up.

You remember the story of Manasseh, right? He was the first-born son of Joseph, yet in spite of Joseph’s attempt to correct an error, Jacob gave the second-born son Ephraim the blessing as one of his own sons. Jacob declared that the younger son will be greater than the older and will play a more prominent role in God’s redemptive plan. In addition, he gave them a mountain slope that he captured from the Amorites – the mountains of Bashan. Later, the tribe of Manasseh would occupy that territory, and even though it was highly fertile and productive, there was a constant jealousy of other tribes who seemed to get more than they did.

Now, jump ahead a few centuries. The Kingdom of Israel has been established, and Mount Zion chosen as the place where the King would reign forever. Instead of rejoicing, the mountains of Bashan express envy that they were not chosen. The entanglement of envy still held them captive.

Envy still holds us captive as well. We are bound up in the chains of comparison. Want proof? Watch what happens when you open Christmas presents this year. The verbal and non-verbal communications will be clear. Why do they have more than me? Why did he get a bigger present than me?  I wanted that!

King David offers us the solution – not just to envy, but to the whole big picture of God’s redemptive plan. You ascended on high, leading a host of captives in your train and receiving gifts among men…

Paul restates the case with added information in Ephesians 4. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.  This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”  (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions?  He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

Jesus Christ, God Himself, descended from His position and glory in heaven to set free all the captives of sin and give them gifts to be used to serve God in His redemptive plan. We have been raised with Christ and have been seated with Him in the heavenly places. Regardless of social status, inherited injustice, or current captivity, Jesus Christ has paid the purchase price for your freedom. FREEDOM!

That is God’s redemptive plan – the blood of Jesus Christ and the power of His resurrection can and will set you free if you choose to believe. That’s why Jesus descended to the earth and was born of a virgin – to die for our sin. That’s why He was qualified to ascend to the throne as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Now, the eternal question – are you in His train?

Does God Care?

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Psalm 68:5   Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.

After finally packing up the car yesterday and moving on from the scenic overlook of Psalm 68:3, I drove only a short way and had to pull over again. I was deeply moved by the view I saw at the end of verse 5 – God in his holy habitation.

One of the questions that is heard frequently in spiritual conversations with unsaved people is this – Where is God in all of this mess? It is also the reality that many saved people ask that same question.

  • Where is God when cancer strikes?
  • Where is God when people are killed either by accidents or acts of violence?
  • Where is God when natural disasters like storms, earthquakes, or famines strike?
  • Where is God when people are homeless and family-less?

I understand completely the perspective that produces such questions: we view life as an entitlement to self-satisfaction and security. I understand it because I have felt that way. It amazes me how quickly my focus can turn from trusting God’s unfailing love to trying to fix a problem because it is causing some pain and suffering. It further astounds me that the shift of perspective from God to self usually results in doubts about God’s ability and willingness to be involved.

I need to spend so much time in this scenic overlook that its truth becomes my default thought setting. I need to have the sight of this truth so emblazoned on my mind that no scene of tragedy, pain, or suffering can ever threaten to wipe it away. Here is the truth –

From His holy habitation, God is infinitely aware of every need, and intimately involved in meeting every need with eternal satisfaction.

God is the Father to the fatherless.

God is the protector of the widow.

God settles the orphan (solitary) in a home with a family.

God leads prisoners to a place of prosperity.

We need to be constantly aware of the truth that from His holy habitation, God is at work. God is not distant nor is He disconnected. Every need is known. Every person is loved and being drawn to His love through every lovingly designed event in their life – good or bad.

Those last three words are totally and uniquely the perspective of man, not God. There is no good or bad in the mind of God – only good. We add the bad, because we interpret it from our entitlement perspective. But God’s unfailing love never ceases. There is never even a split second when an event slips through that is not the expression of God’s eternal love. It may not look like love to us, unless we see it as God’s design to get people’s attention and draw them to His saving grace.

Later in this Psalm King David makes this statement – Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears us up; God is our salvation. Our God is a God of salvation, and to GOD, the Lord, belong deliverances from death. (Psalm 68:19-20)

Do you see it? God IS our salvation, for He IS a God OF salvation. His unfailing love culminates in ONE thing – deliverance from eternal death. Absolutely everything else is an expression of His love to draw men to that conclusion.

David knew that. I want to know it like he did, so I can in confidence declare with him this truth –

Awesome is God from his sanctuary; the God of Israel—he is the one who gives power and strength to his people. Blessed be God! (verse 35).

Anxiety or Anticipation?

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Psalm 68:3  But the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy!

Over the years I have observed the progression of rest areas. I know, sounds like I have been the recipient of a government research grant. But seriously, rest areas along the highway have changed dramatically.

When I was a boy, it was a treat to find one with running water. Typically they were just pit toilets, and mom always had a small jug of water in the car with soap so we could wash our hands when we were done.

Then came the nice wooden buildings that actually had multiple stalls, running water, and even vending machines.

Now, as I travel the interstate I recognize the old locations of the outdated rest areas that have been abandoned, and the new modern rest areas in different locations. One of the nicest ones is just north of Madison near the Wisconsin River. It is a huge rest area. I’m really surprised that a major fast food chain hasn’t figured out a way to get into these new places like the ones along the toll roads in Illinois.

The reason I lay this groundwork about huge rest areas is because Psalm 68 is a huge rest area. If you remember, my plan for going through the Psalms was to make one stop in each Psalm at a place where the Lord spoke to me. It is the “Rest Area” or “Scenic Overlook” approach to studying Scripture – just read until you come to a place that causes you to stop and take in the view.

Psalm 68 has multiple scenic overlooks and rest areas for me, so I think I will take this whole week to look at them all.

I begin in verses one through 3, where I discover the contrast between the enemies of God and the followers of Christ. It is a simple but deeply profound contrast.

The enemies of God will flee from Him in fear when He rises in judgment. Far too many people today are living in denial of their accountability to God. But the day is coming – maybe very soon – when Jesus Christ the King will come and God will demand an accounting of everyone’s life. The bottom line that determines the eternal destiny of every human is this – did you believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and did you trust His death on the cross as the basis of your forgiveness for sin which provides eternal entrance into the Kingdom of God through the resurrection power of Jesus Christ?

How horrifying it is going to be someday for those who have refused to believe this truth. Some have chosen to trust their own ability to qualify themselves. Maybe they try to earn God’s approval through doing kind deeds. Maybe they trust some sacrament of a religious group as sufficient to qualify them. Maybe they just don’t care and think that this life is all there is. But whatever their rational, when the Perfect One comes, they will all flee before Him, but they shall not escape the judgment of God.

HOWEVER, the righteous shall be glad; they shall exult before God; they shall be jubilant with joy! Those who know and love Jesus will be glad to see Him return. We are expecting it any moment. There is nothing in this life that is so attractive or necessary that we would not reject it in the twinkling of an eye to be able to stand in the presence of Almighty God and praise Him with exceeding joy.

Oh but wait. Maybe there is something that we love more than the return of Jesus. May I suggest that we spend today evaluating our lives based on the contrast between the innkeeper and the shepherds in the Christmas story?

Maybe, like the Innkeeper, we have no more room in our lives for Jesus because we are filled with the pursuits of this life. When serving Jesus and pursuing earthly goals conflict, which do we choose?

Or are we like the shepherds, who upon hearing the good news of Jesus, left their sheep – their livelihood – and immediately went to worship him?

My friends, the love of Jesus for us was demonstrated by His sacrifice of position and possessions. He intentionally took upon himself our sin so we could be made righteous.

Our love for Him and what He did will also be demonstrated by our sacrifice of position and possessions. We intentionally take on the life of Christ and live in the hope of glory, willingly denying the world and everything in it for the sake of serving the King.

Bottom line – if Jesus appeared to you today and asked you to do something for Him that required you to sacrifice what you love most about this world, would you rejoice or make excuses why you couldn’t?

Pastor John