WHAT’S THE PURPOSE OF SUFFERING

LifeLink Devotions

Friday, November 18, 2022

1 Peter 4:15-16If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

The subject of suffering is rarely spoken of outside of the context of asking “Why?” We want everything explained so that it makes sense to us. There must be a rational reason for everything that happens, right?

The Bible tells us that there are reasons why God permits suffering. In fact, I find five of them. Here’s a brief summary of each one, with a prayer that you will discover the peace of God that passes all understanding that comes through trust in His love and grace.

First, God brings suffering as a punishment for sin. Galatians 6:17 says, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Suffering is about consequences. It happened in the Garden of Eden first. God said there would be consequences to sin, and they were immediately enforced when it happened. The first consequence people experienced was shame. I bet most of you thought I was going to say death. Not so. When man and woman sinned, they ceased being focused on others and began being self-centered. They no longer found their identity in God alone but began seeking to establish their own identity. They were no longer free to accept one another because they couldn’t accept themselves. The greatest tragedy of sin is the death of our identity as image bearers of God, and that occurs at conception, long before the death of our physical body. The suffering we experience because of that death is part of God’s judgment on sin, and it is designed to bring us to our knees before Him.

Second, God allows suffering in the life of a believer for discipline. The difference between the punishment of sinners and the discipline of saints is that punishment is only about the consequence, while discipline is all about construction. God is building us. He is shaping us. He is growing us. The purpose of all discipline is growth and change. Hebrews 12:7 says “Endure hardship as discipline…” The love of the Father is being displayed in our lives through discipline. Peter refers to this in the next few verses of his letter when he says, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.” Embrace your hardship. God is working through it to change you because He loves you.

Third, suffering comes to test our faith. Earlier in this letter of First Peter we read, “In this (faith) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Through suffering, God is testing our ability to stay true to what we say we believe. How’s that going for you? Are the impurities of your life being burned away so the fullness of the glory of God can be seen in you?

Fourth, God uses suffering to build our character. Look at these important verses. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). The word character in Romans means “a permanent stamp of approval.” How awesome to think that when I pass the test of my faith and my character grows to be more like Christ’s, God stamps me with His permanent approval. Hallelujah! Let the hardships do their work so that we can be more like Christ.

Fifth, God uses suffering in our lives to provide us with ministry opportunities to help others in need. As our character becomes more Christ-like, we become more compassionate. Through our own suffering we have experienced the comfort of God, and now we are qualified to be the ministers of comfort to others. Look at what the Apostle Paul says in Second Corinthians 1:3-5. “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” 

That is so very cool! The more we suffer like Christ, the more we experience the same comfort Christ got from the Father when He suffered. In fact, it so overflows in us that it spills out onto others who are suffering around us. We become the ministers of God’s comfort and grace.

I trust this lays a good foundation for you to understand God’s purpose for allowing suffering in the world. I pray it helps you put your problems in the proper perspective. Just remember this promise… “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Pastor John

SUFFERING FOR DOING RIGHT

LifeLink Devotions

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Let it be known that I am not in any way advocating criminal behavior. But if you have ever considered crime, I hope you would never be as dumb as these guys. These are true stories.

A man walked into a convenience store, put a $20 bill on the counter and asked for change. When the clerk opened the drawer, the man pulled a gun and asked for all the cash in the register. The man took the cash from the clerk and fled, leaving his $20 bill on the counter. So how much did he get from the drawer? Fifteen bucks. Go figure.

In West Virginia, a knife-wielding mugger accepted a $300 check from his victim. The thief was arrested the next day trying to cash the check.

In Tennessee, a burglar realized he’d left his Nikes at the home he’d just robbed. So he returned and asked the lady of the house if she’d seen his shoes. She called the cops, and the guy was arrested.

The police had no trouble finding this thief. When he used a stolen credit card to buy some cigars, he signed his own name on the receipt. Later he tried to buy some merchandise at a store, but the card came up as stolen. When asked for some identification, he presented his own driver’s license.

While these are funny stories, it’s not funny at all how some people who call themselves Christians are involved in criminal behavior. And because they are suffering the consequences of their crimes, they somehow believe they are suffering for Christ. But let’s get this straight right away – nowhere in the Bible is suffering for doing wrong ever commended as Christ-like. We are only suffering like Christ and for Christ if we are suffering for doing right.

1 Peter 4:15-16If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

We need to learn to accept responsibility for our actions. How many hours of counseling could be avoided if people would simply deal with the fundamental question of personal choice? How much emotional distress is really an attempt at self-justification because we don’t want to admit that what we are suffering is the direct result of what we did wrong?

Peter emphasizes this point in today’s Scripture. The suffering we experience because of wrong doing is not to be a part of the Christian’s life. We are to steer clear of murder and stealing or any other kind of criminal behavior. We should also never suffer because we have meddled. Some of you will think I’m meddling just to address the issue of meddling.

The Greek word for meddling is full of meaning. Thayer’s Greek Dictionary defines it as “one who takes the supervision of affairs pertaining to others and in no wise to himself.” My mom always reminded me of this truth when she would simply say “MYOB.” I had been taught what that means – Mind your own business. She was reminding me that I am not in control, and I have no right to assume control of other people’s lives. It is not my spiritual gift – in fact there is no spiritual gift or fruit of the Spirit – to meddle in other people’s lives.

No matter how you try to justify it, meddlers meddle for personal benefit while disciples of Jesus involve themselves in people’s lives for the benefit of others.  Jesus never meddled – He served.

Maybe we meddle because it provides us with a sense of accomplishment, value, worth, or purpose. Unfortunately, control freaks populate the church, when God alone is responsible for outcomes.

But how do meddlers suffer? Well, primarily they suffer from a lack of personal intimacy with others. They cannot find true peace in their hearts because their identity is wrapped up in what they can do to change others. And people don’t change easily, so it seems like their work is never done. Besides that, nobody likes a meddler who seeks to control them. Meddlers are lonely. And to top it all off, they blame their loneliness on others: it’s other people’s fault for not being more loving, more compassionate, more concerned, or more friendly.  If only they would take responsibility for their own suffering.

Yesterday we quoted from a book entitled The Imitation of Christ. In another part of that book, Thomas a Kempis writes, “We might have much peace if we would not meddle with other people’s sayings and doings.”

If you are suffering because of wrong, then endure it and learn from it. If you are suffering because you are doing what you think is right, then you’d better check two things – does God’s Word says it’s right, and are your motives for doing it sincere. Pure and sincere motives are ALWAYS based on doing what’s best for others, not for self. If you’re suffering for doing that, then rejoice that you are in the company of Christ.

Pastor John

LOYALTY TO ROYALTY

LifeLink Devotions

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

We love conflict. We may avoid it in our personal lives, but we are attracted to it in others. That’s what makes football game so interesting. Football fans around the world join in carrying signs outside and inside the stadium hurling insults at the opposition. People proud of their team boldly wear radical outfits and colors to publicly display their position. Regardless of the name-calling or derision by those of a different persuasion, they hold their ground, mostly with return volleys of verbal abuse.

When threatened, our natural tendency is to protect our position. When attacked, we respond by rising up in defense. We generally fight back in kind, using the weapons of the enemy as our own. It’s our human nature. And we have defended some rather insignificant positions. We expend a large amount of energy fighting for things that are eternally irrelevant. Then, when the true tests of our faith in Christ come, we cower in fear because we are trusting in our own strength rather than the Spirit of God that rests upon us.

I am so confused by western Christianity. We are willing to wear purple in green territory and be insulted for it, but we avoid letting Christ be seen in our lives for fear that the insults will hurt too much. We stand and proclaim our loyalty to products that have supposedly changed our lives but refuse to testify about the One who truly did change us. And then, if by some freakish circumstance someone does find out that our faith is in Jesus Christ and not in the world, and they begin to insult and attack us, we rise up with what we think is strength and terrorize them right back.

But that is not the nature of Christ who is living in us. When we are persecuted for Christ, and we will be if His life is being lived through us, we are to respond with the Spirit of God that rests on us.

1 Peter 4:14  “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.”

There is an old legend that tells of Hercules encountering a strange animal on a narrow road. He struck it with his club and passed. Soon the animal overtook him, now three times as large as before. Hercules struck it fast and furiously, but the more he clubbed the beast, the larger it grew. Then Pallas appeared to Hercules and warned him to stop. “The monster’s name is Strife,” he said. “Let it alone and it will soon become as little as at first.”

But where do we get such patience to be able to overlook the attacks of people? Well, it comes from being secure in your identity in Christ. I remember an old childhood rhyme that went, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Words can never hurt anyone who is confident of their identity. Christ is our identity. He has already suffered all the insults and persecution for us. His Spirit rests upon us, and as a result we are blessed. How can insults remove the blessing of the Father in heaven?

An official of a mission board, who knew it takes more than desire to make a missionary, was appointed to examine a candidate. He told the young man to come to his house at six o’clock in the morning. The young man went at six in the morning to be examined, and the examiner kept him sitting in the room until ten. Then he went down to him and said abruptly, “Can you write your name? Do you even know what your name is?” “Yes, sir.” He put him through a series of questions of that kind, and then went to the mission board and said, “He will do. I tried his patience for four hours, and he did not break down; I then insulted him, and he did not lose his temper. He will do.”

If a man answers all abuses with magnanimity, patience, fortitude, and gentleness, you can depend upon it – Christ’s love has conquered his heart. His Christianity is vindicated by the very quality of his character.

Thomas a Kempis, who wrote The Imitation of Christ, said, “Christ was despised on earth by men, and in his greatest need, amidst insults, was abandoned by those who knew him and by his friends; and you dare to complain of anyone? Christ had his adversaries and slanderers; and you wish to have everyone as friends and benefactors? When will your patience win its crown if it has encountered nothing of adversity?”

The games are over for this week. The jerseys have been put away. Wounds are being licked. New insults are being developed for the next opponent. But should we really care when the very people we are trying to impress with our loyalties may be heading towards a Christ-less eternity of suffering. It’s time to take a stand for Christ. It’s time to show our loyalty to royalty and live for the King.

Pastor John

REJOICE IN SUFFERING

LifeLink Devotions

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

I enjoy Facebook. I think it occupies way too much of some people’s time as they try to discover absolutely irrelevant and useless information about themselves by taking mindless tests, but as a networking tool to connect people it’s great. Connecting to people – that’s what life is all about.

I’ve been able to use Facebook to connect to some people I haven’t seen in years. They live in the Philippines. They are almost family. My dear friend and ministry partner Victorino Barlizo went home to be with the Lord years ago, and I was adopted as the stand in Papa for his daughters. I even got to walk one of the girls down the aisle for her wedding. Now they are all on Facebook, and I get to be a part of their lives.

One of my “daughters” has a child named Darly. She is a real testimony to the grace of God. In fact, her mother’s name is Grace. Little Darly was born with a serious heart murmur. She was diagnosed with a hole in her heart. I received this Facebook message from Grace’s sister:

“Hello Papa John, how are you?
Lily Grace is now a new Mommy…She gave birth to a Baby Girl last night, at 10 in the evening. Baby Darly is her name…please pray for her and baby Darly, she has a hole in her heart. Grace will be discharged from the hospital tomorrow, but baby Darly will be hospitalized for a while for medications. The Dr.’s told mama that she will be alright… we miss you so much…God bless We love you…from all of us here…your extended Family “the Barlizo’s”.

Of course we started to pray right away. As the messages kept coming in from the family, it was very evident that their faith was strong and their hope was in Christ. They were living the truth of Peter’s words and were rejoicing in the midst of suffering. Two days after the first message, I received this one:

“Hello Papa John…we just arrive from Panabo and the Lord is very good and merciful…The Dr. visit Baby Darly this morning, Praise God! He is an answering God! There is an improvement – big improvement of Darly’s condition…the murmur the Dr. heard on Darly’s heart is getting lesser to 50%…and she even said that Darly is responding very well to the medication she is on right now…what a great God we are serving…He hears our prayer… Thank you for your prayers and love…bye… love you both…God bless and good night…”

There is a divine principle at work here.

1 Peter 4:12-13Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” 

The amount of rejoicing we do during times of suffering is directly responsible for the overflow of joy we experience when God’s glory is revealed. It’s a fact – complaining minimizes joy. Just check yourself on this. Don’t be surprised when you realize that the more you complain about tough times the less joy you experience when they are over. That’s because complaining quickly becomes entitlement, and those who feel entitled never overflow with joy when the end comes. Why should they? They believed they deserved it. It is those who know they are undeserving that experience the greatest joy.

Then I received this update from Lily Joy, Grace’s sister:

“Hello Papa John,
Praise the Lord for He is good and His mercies are everlasting!

“Baby Darly is now out of the Nursery room and she is being taken care of by Roed (her father) and Lily Grace…He is truly a big and merciful God. The Dr. told Grace that the murmur that they heard from Baby Darly’s heart is now getting lesser and lesser, that’s why she is out from the nursery room…truly prayers really do big things in our lives…She is a great testimony at the Hospital… and Grace and Roed extended their thanks and love for you…God bless you and see you soon…”

“She is a great testimony at the hospital.” Hallelujah! There is great joy when the glory of God is revealed. So stop complaining and start rejoicing. We all know times are tough, but God is greater than any of our troubles. Put your trust in Him – there is a time of abundant joy coming when His glory is revealed.

Pastor John

BE LIKE A CHILD

LifeLink Devotions

Monday, November 14, 2022

I wish we all were children. Not from a maturity standpoint – although some of us still are – but rather from a courage and faith position. Kids are mostly immune to the need for approval. They speak what they think is truth without regard for the opinion of others. They stand up for what they believe without fear of being hurt or hated. I wish we all were more like children.

I am so proud of some of the children of our church families. Almost daily I hear stories of things these wonderful kids are doing in their schools. One child, a four-year-old, stopped his whole class and asked them to pray because he heard a helicopter. His family always stops and prays for whoever is on a medical chopper because his sister had to be transported by one when she was born. He was serving others with the strength of God and bringing Glory to the name of Jesus Christ. He did it without fear. He did it with faith.

One night my wife and I were approached at a banquet by a woman we didn’t know. She knew us, however, and proceeded to tell us a story about another child. She’s a teacher at the University of Wisconsin four-year-old kindergarten program, and she was trying to teach the children about books. She was explaining things like titles and authors, and she asked the class if anyone knew what an author was. One little boy raised his hand and said he knew. He then broke out into song, singing, “Author of salvation, my God is mighty to save, He is mighty to save.”  The teacher asked him who the author of salvation was, and he said “Jesus.” Then she asked Him what book is about Jesus, and he said “The Bible.” It gave the teacher an opportunity to actually bring Christ into a secular classroom because it was student initiated. Hallelujah for courageous children. He brought glory to God by speaking the very words of God with fear. He did it by faith.

1 Peter 4:9-10If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.”

I wish we all were more like children. How much of our speech is tempered by fear? How many times have we remained silent because we didn’t want to offend someone? How often do we say only what brings honor to ourselves? We are so weak when we have the right to be so strong. We live in the fear of others rather than in the strength of the Lord. We speak the words that benefit self rather than the very words of God. We draw attention to ourselves when all glory truly belongs only to God.

St. Francis de Sales had this to say about people who draw attention to themselves. “Some men become proud and insolent because they ride a fine horse, wear a feather in their hat or are dressed in a fine suit of clothes. Who does not see the folly of this? If there be any glory in such things, the glory belongs to the horse, the bird and the tailor.”

What do we have that is of our own creation? What can we accomplish that is of our own strength? Even the air we breathe so that we can live and move is a gift from God. Let the name of Jesus be praised for who you are. Let God be given glory for all you do. Let us stop living according to the commendation of the world. Let us start living out our commitment to Christ.

With courage.

Without fear.

By faith.

Like children.

I wish we all were more like children.

Pastor John

SERVE OTHERS AHEAD OF SELF

LifeLink Devotions

Friday, November 11, 2022

Everyone loves a hero. We honor them for their bravery. We commend them for running into places from which others run. They are the good news of an otherwise depressing media. Heroes are the subject of our legends. We construct monuments to commemorate their lives.

Few of us truly believe we have what it takes to be a hero. In fact, according to an old television show entitled Heroes, we have been led to believe that true heroism is somehow confined to the supernatural. Average people living average lives do average things, none of which results in recognition for heroism. Occasionally an average person does something spontaneously heroic in an emergency, but rarely do they ever admit to being a hero. For some reason we don’t want to accept accolades for rising above average even momentarily. We really want to remain anonymous.

The problem as I see it is that we have a poor definition of heroism. I think we could agree that a fundamental element of heroism is a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for another. That’s not the problem. But what does it mean to sacrifice one’s life for another? If we only consider life and breath, then we have missed a huge portion of what true heroism is. Sacrificing life means more than the death of body, but also includes the death of self.

Jesus is a hero for both reasons. He gave His physical life for others. But before He did that, He also died to self and became the servant of others. I love the way former professional tennis star Arthur Ashe says it – “True heroism is undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”

1 Peter 4:8-10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”

In July of 1980, at the International Youth Triennium in Bloomington, Indiana, Professor Bruce Riggins of McCormick Theological Seminary shared a story. He had met a very dedicated Christian woman who was working with the underprivileged people in London, England. He wanted to know what inspired her Christian faith and action. She shared her story with him of how seeing another Christian’s faith in action led her to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of her life.

She told the professor she was a Jew fleeing the German Gestapo in France during World War II. She knew she was close to being caught and she wanted to give up. She came to the home of a French Huguenot. A widow came to that home to say that it was time to flee to a new place. The Jewish lady said, “It’s no use, they will find me anyway. They are so close behind.” The Christian widow said, “Yes, they will find someone here, but it’s time for you to leave. Go with these people to safety—I will take your identification and wait here.” The Jewish lady then understood the plan; the Gestapo would come and find this Christian widow and think she was the fleeing Jew.

As Professor Riggins listened to her story, the Christian lady of Jewish descent looked him in the eye and said, “I asked her why she was doing that and the widow responded, ‘It’s the least I can do; Christ has already done that and more for me.’” The widow was caught and imprisoned in the Jewish lady’s place, allowing time for her to escape. Within six months the Christian widow was dead in the concentration camp. This Jewish lady never forgot that. She too became a follower of Jesus Christ and has lived her life serving others. She met God through the greatest love a person can give—personal self-sacrifice.

An authentic Christian living by faith serves others.  That’s how the life of Christ is expressed. Jesus said that He came to this earth not to be served but to serve. The Apostle Paul reminds us that Jesus, “though he was God, did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a servant and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. Because of this, God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name that is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:5-11 NLT)

He became a servant first. He gave up His rights and privileges to serve others. He sacrificed self before He sacrificed His life on the cross. He was a hero long before He died because it is in serving others that real heroes are born. Become a hero to someone today. Sacrifice self and use whatever you have to serve them.

Pastor John

PRIORITY ADJUSTMENT NEEDED

LifeLink Devotions

Thursday, November 10, 2022

We live in a time when our most precious commodity is time. We love fast food. We frequent convenience stores. We get our cars serviced at jiffy lube places. We travel on freeways well above the posted speed limits. We use microwaves to cook our food. We have picture-in-picture televisions so we can watch two shows at once. Most of our time is spent trying to conserve more time.

If one hundred people were asked why they live in such a rush, there would likely be one hundred different answers. I believe wholeheartedly that not one of those answers would be the right one. I think we are in denial about the real reason for our preoccupation with time. We don’t want to face the truth about our perceived need for more time. We justify the passionate pursuit of time by placing blame on our culture, our employer, or our financial needs. We stop short of getting to the heart of the issue, which is our heart.

Just stop and think for a moment if you dare to take one. If you do, you will discover that an extremely high percentage of the activities you list as your priorities are primarily self-serving. We want more time for recreation. We want more time to make more money. We want more time to spend with family. We want more time to finish projects. We want to spend more time just being quiet and relaxed. All are justifiable. Most are necessary. None are to be our first priority.

Jesus told us what our first and second priorities are to be – love the Lord your God with all your heart…and love your neighbor as yourself. These two things are to be the pursuit of our lives. Any attempt to organize our time so we have more time is to be motivated by the love of God and love for others. I understand completely the need for personal space and time. But read the Gospels again and put a percentage on the amount of time Jesus spent alone versus the percentage of time He invested in others. Why has our focus changed so drastically and dangerously? It’s because we are more self-focused than we dare to admit.

One of the serious consequences of our fast-paced lifestyles is the loss of the biblical concept of hospitality. We spend almost every spare minute we have trying to catch up. The problem is we are catching up to a list that has been created to fulfill the desires of self. It is not to be so. The time we have is to be spent investing in the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of self. Our priority dictates the use of spare time, and it should be to minister to the needs of others, not self.

The Holy Spirit makes this very clear when he writes through Peter, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” 1 Peter 4:8-10

It may appear that we do this, but usually only in big ways. We give extra money to help people who are in need. We gather in groups to put roofs on houses, help people move to a new home, or provide help in an emergency. But be honest – when was the last time you just had someone over for ice cream and fellowship? We’re too busy, right? And if we’re too busy to do it to those in the family of God, how will we ever find the time to reach out to the lost?

I want to share with you something from a friend who is a retired missionary.

If only people could get the proper perspective.  Time is slipping away, people are dying without Christ, while we Christians are analyzing the current financial situation, trying to figure out how to make our lives more enjoyable here on earth. We can’t wait for the next special effects movie to come out. We are looking for the newest electronics product. We’re making sure our kids experience everything possible there is to experience in this world. We upgrade cars, bikes, houses, phones, tablets, and more. It’s mind-boggling how invested we are in this wicked world when there are people all around us who are desperate to invest in something real.  SomeONE real.  We know God wants us to reach them with the gospel.  We say we believe God will provide, but…”

There is no better place to be than to have nothing of this world and all of Christ.  As Christians we have bought into the world’s philosophy of needing to be people of power, people of excellence, people who are winners through positive thinking, having faith in ourselves.  But Jesus taught us a different way.  He taught the way of surrender and selflessness.  If only people could truly grab hold of those teachings.  There is nothing in this world that is more important than the souls of people all around us on their way to hell.  Yet we’re concerned about what’s on TV tonight.

Let’s work together to get our priorities straight. Let’s learn to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and to love our neighbors deeply. Let’s practice hospitality. Let’s start using everything we have to serve others and not ourselves.

Pastor John

LOVE CONQUERS

LifeLink Devotions

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

I have a problem. It’s serious. I don’t think it’s unique to me. I will tell you what it is if you promise to examine your own heart as well. Thanks.

When conflict arises, I tend to become solution oriented rather than people oriented. But that’s only half the problem. If that’s all there was to this, it wouldn’t be quite so bad. But when you add the other half the issue becomes very serious. You see, in addition to becoming solution focused, I become focused on my solution. It’s so bad that my natural tendency is to pursue my way rather than make sure other people are heard and satisfied. Now that’s serious!

Obviously, I don’t do that all the time, but I fight it all the time. My pride is huge. My identity is far too closely connected to my performance. Winning is far more important than it should be. Pride attempts to overwhelm love. (Don’t forget your promise to examine yourself.)

As I look back over the past few years of my life, I am ashamed by the number of times that conflict arose because I was more interested in sharing my point of view than truly listening to someone else’s. I am amazed, shocked, and horrified at the number of times that conflict resolution came down to winning at all cost. My spirit is stifled by the realization that pride is at the center of it all.

I’m embarrassed by the number of times I have clammed up and withdrawn because I didn’t feel my voice was being heard. I’m equally embarrassed by the number of times my voice gets louder just so I can be heard. I’m ashamed of how many times I’ve been tempted to run away because I didn’t get my way. I’m shocked that I’ve actually done that. Pride attempts to paralyze love. (Don’t forget your promise.)

1 Peter 4:8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

I have a long way to go to discover the marvel of loving others deeply, because I still love myself too much. I want to be so convinced of God’s approval on my life that I never need the approval that comes from winning. I want to be so fully grounded in the Father’s love for me that I could live without the love of others. I want to be so infused with the love of God that I will put other people’s feelings ahead of my fleshly need for getting my way. I want to consider others better than myself. I want to be able to look beyond the conflict and see the heart of someone Jesus died for.

The most important words of all to me today are the first two in the verse – “above all.” I know there are times when I must fight for what I know is right, but never at the expense of love. There are times when I must engage the conflict and bring a solution to the table, but never without love. There are times when people will say I was wrong, but may they never say I didn’t love. Sometimes people will even walk or run away because they suffer from the same problem I am fighting, but when they get far enough away to rationally evaluate what happened, may they look back and realize they saw love.

God is working on my problem. God’s love is softening my heart. Now, about that promise you made… Pastor John

VOTE FOR THE KINGDOM OF GOD

LifeLink Devotions

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

IF YOU HAVEN’T DONE IT YET, PLEASE GO VOTE, AND VOTE YOUR BIBLICAL CONSCIENCE

1 Peter 4:7  “The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.” 

It’s been almost two-thousand years since this was written, and still the end hasn’t come. What’s up with that?

Maybe this is just a false prophecy of Peter spoken in an uninspired moment. But other writers of the New Testament affirm its truth. James says “You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (5:8) Paul says it in Romans – “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (13:12) The writer of Hebrews says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (10:25) It’s not a false prophecy. It is an unfulfilled one. The fact that the end is coming is one of the foundational motivators of holy living.

Peter understood from the Lord that when people lose sight of the coming of Christ, they turn to worldly living. In his next letter he writes, “you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” (3:3-4, 10) Those who live their lives without an acknowledgement of the coming of Christ will live according to their own evil desires.

But contrast that with what Peter says will happen in the lives of those who are anxiously awaiting the Lord’s return. They will be “clear-minded and self controlled.” That’s because they’re not living for the present world but the coming one. They control their passions because those passions conflict with God’s purpose.

People who are expecting the return of Christ are also able to pray. That’s interesting. When Jesus taught us to pray he said, “Our Father, Who art in heaven, holy is your name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” We cannot pray in the will of God if we do not have our eyes fixed on the coming of the Kingdom of God. The prayer lives of some people are ineffective because they don’t want the purpose and plan of God accomplished, but rather want their own goals realized. Only when we surrender to the coming of Christ and the reality of His present kingdom will we be able to pray effectively.

Jesus is coming. The Apostle Peter lived life as if it was near. The Apostle Paul lived as if it were the next thing to happen in history. It is to be always in the forefront of our thinking as well. It is to be the one motivator of our lifestyle choices and decisions. We are to be in fellowship with Christ and not the world. The Apostle John said it this way – “And now, dear children, continue to live in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame.” (1 John 2:28 NLT)

So instead of looking around and getting discouraged and filled with earthly passions, look up, and be encouraged with the imminent return of Jesus. He’s coming, and those who are looking for it will go with Him. And while we wait, we will live for Him.

Pastor John

HAND IN HAND, FACE TO FACE

LifeLink Devotions

Monday, November 7, 2022

During my freshman year in college, I would get regular letters from my grandfather, Dr. J.A. van Gorkom. He was always encouraging me in my faith. At the bottom of every letter he would write out God’s promises in Isaiah 41:10 and 13. He didn’t just put the reference there and hope I would read it. He wrote it out for me so I would be sure to catch it. Every letter had the same verses.

Isaiah 41:10 and 13 (NLT) “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. I am holding you by your right hand—I, the LORD your God. And I say to you, ‘Do not be afraid. I am here to help you.’”

Those verses came to my mind today when I was writing an early morning email to a hurting friend. Yet after all these years of knowing those verses and applying their promises to my own life, I learned something new this morning.

The promises of verse 10 include courage, strength, assistance, and support. They are fulfilled in our lives because of God’s presence and because He holds on to us with His powerful and victorious right hand. But what I had not seen before is that with His right hand He is holding onto our right hand. That’s incredible to me, because I’ve always seen myself walking side by side with Christ, my left hand in His right. I’ve pictured myself stumbling and falling and His right hand lifting me back up by my left hand.

In the past I’ve seen my relationship with God as shoulder to shoulder. But if my right hand is in His right hand, we must be face to face!  This puts an entirely new perspective on walking with Jesus. We have been taught to follow in His footsteps, and that creates a mental picture of seeing the back of Jesus as He leads the way. Now I see Jesus walking backwards, facing me.

He is God, so His omniscience (all-knowingness) allows Him to know every step He is taking while His eyes remain fixed on me. His hand eternally grasps mine in a handshake of friendship. He guards me and He guides me.

There can be no fear of what’s ahead, because all I can see is His face. My fears melt into faith as I gaze into His eyes of love. There can be no fear of attack from behind, because He is looking in that direction.

Dear friends, no matter what you are going through in your life today, Christ is in front of you. He’s facing you. He’s holding you. Do not be afraid. Do not be dismayed. Jesus is your strength. He is all the help you need. He will support you and sustain you through whatever lies ahead, because He is putting His feet down in that place first and preparing the way for you. Look into His eyes and feel the firmness of His grip on your hand. You are in fellowship with God. 

Pastor John