Faith After Failure

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, March 1, 2019

Genesis 13:1 So Abram went up from Egypt to the Negev, with his wife and everything he had, and Lot went with him. Abram had become very wealthy in livestock and in silver and gold.

 As we study the life of Abram and learn lessons of faith, we discover in the 12th chapter of Genesis that Abram had made a terrible mistake. (If you are unfamiliar with what happened, take a moment to read it in your Bible.) Abram did something by physical sight rather than spiritual faith. He saw a famine in the land, predicted how it would affect him, and he made a fleshly decision to move to Egypt. Along the way and after arriving, one bad decision led to another and he got himself and his wife into serious trouble. His walk of faith quickly became a walk of sight and bad judgment.

Whenever we walk by our sight we have only our vision to trust, and that inevitably leads to bad decisions and trouble. Our vision is finite, and our judgment is flawed. It is only when we walk by God’s sight according to His wisdom that we experience the provisions of faith that God promises.

In our story, notice the words, “So Abram went up”. No greater words of encouragement could ever be expressed to us after a failure. You see, God provides a way to go up again. There is always a way back to the Promised Land of God’s blessing.

The road back begins with humble honesty. Abram had to finally admit to Pharaoh what he had done, and when he did, he was sent on his way back to the land of blessing. His honesty allowed him to keep all that he had acquired while he was there. Be careful here – don’t let Satan misuse this story to lead us into thinking that we can gain personal prosperity under false pretenses and then at the end admit the truth and we get to keep all the gain. That would be arrogantly presumptuous of God’s holy character and justice. But in this case, God showed us that even in our moments of bad judgment and faithless decision-making, God is at work to restore us to the land of blessing and accomplish His purpose in and through us. It all goes back to what we talked about yesterday – the original vision. God has not withdrawn it. We may have walked away from it, but God is working to complete the purpose in us to which we were called, and that means He helps us to go up again after we have gone down the wrong path.

What past failures and fears have led you down the wrong path and kept you from the land of blessing? Maybe you are still on that path and need to be humbly honest about it. Repent and go up again on God’s path of faith.

Maybe it’s a path you took some time ago but its effects have lingered on into today and hold you in a sort of faith-bondage. Maybe today is the day you step out in faith and go up again to accomplish God’s original vision for your life.

Mark this day on your calendar and write these words in your journal – “Today I went up from _____________ to _______________. (Fill in the blanks with where you have been and where God has called you, respectively.) Make this the day that is commemorated in your spiritual journey as the day you returned to a walk of faith.

Pastor John

Through Closed Doors

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Genesis 12:10 Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe.

When we talk about real faith, we understand that our experience of faith will mature. I had a wonderful discussion about this subject one morning with two respected brothers in the Lord. We agreed that the average church today has an immature view of faith. For many of us, faith is simply that God opens and closes doors. When we are new followers of Jesus Christ, opening and closing doors is a great way for us to learn dependence on God. But it is not the mature way to view faith. Let’s look at Abram’s story and discover this truth.

When God called Abram out of Mesopotamia to go to an unknown land, there were no open doors. It was not for any visible benefit that Abram made the decision to obey. He wasn’t given a series of choices and then told to test them all and see which door opens. God gave him only His direction and a promise of blessing.

When he arrived in the land to which God directed him, his faith changed: he began looking at doors again, and the results were destructive. God did not give him any direction to move to Egypt because of a famine. Abram saw what he interpreted to be a door closing and he looked for an open one. He took his eyes of faith off the original vision, and he made moves that hurt the accomplishment of that vision. True faith looks only at the vision God has given and pursues it no matter what the obstacles.

We all long for the type of faith that trusts the Spirit of God to relate God’s specific direction to us. God longs to have that kind of mature relationship with each of us. But we keep looking for doors to open or close: circumstantial evidence to validate supernatural vision.

Why do we do that? We may believe it brings security and peace by “proving” the will of God by our own rational thought process. Actually, the Word of God says, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

Eugene Peterson, in his modern-day paraphrase of Scripture called The Message, says it this way – Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

God’s will – His direction and vision – is proven by steps of faith regardless of circumstances rather than looking for all the circumstances to line up before we take a step.

When we step out onto the path of God’s direction to pursue the vision He has given us, it will not be without obstacles. There will be doors opened and doors closed. But let’s be very careful – not every open door is God’s door and not every closed door is God’s redirection. The testing of our faith comes when we face the choice to keep our eyes of on the original direction and vision or return to the immaturity of door-testing faith.

But, you may ask, how can we trust the original vision and direction we thought we heard? Was it really God speaking? Each one of us knows how much personal intimacy with God in prayer and fellowship preceded the hearing of His voice. God does not spontaneously speak to indifferent ears. When Noah heard God’s word to build an ark, he was first identified as a righteous and blameless man – intimate with God. When we are spending time with God, we grow familiar with the way His Spirit relates to our spirit. We hear the voice of God.

When we hear His voice – mature faith obeys even if it means walking through seemingly closed doors.

Pastor John

Obedient Faith

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Genesis 12:1-5 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” …So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.

The Bible uses Abram, later to be called Abraham, as a primary example of faith. The New Testament writers refer to Abraham 77 times to help us to understand what faith is. There are obviously some important lessons we can learn from this man’s life as we grow in our faith.

At the beginning of the story of Abram in Genesis 12, we hear the voice of God speaking to Abram and asking him to leave his country, his people, and his father’s household and go to an unknown land. Carefully reflect on all that God was asking Abram to do:

  1. Leave his homeland – I grew up leaving my homeland all the time. As a pastor’s son we moved every 4 –5 years on average. Leaving the beautiful state of Michigan in my 9th grade year was supremely difficult. I know how hard it is to leave a geographic area that is loved as home.
  2. Leave his people – Those of you who have lived in one place all your life may not understand this. There really are different cultures out there, and you don’t have to go outside our country to find them. We discovered a whole new culture in northern Minnesota when we moved there once. Because we are relational beings, people bring us comfort. New people tend to scare us. Abram was asked to leave his relational comfort zone.
  3. Leave his father’s household – For me, this would be the toughest of the three. Family means everything to me, and having them nearby is very significant.
  4. Go to an unknown land – No maps, no web site to preview the housing options, no contacts with anyone whose already been there, no knowledge of even where he is headed. Just a general direction.

As we reflect on those four issues that Abram had to deal with, I’m sure we can relate to at least one of them in our lives right now. God is giving us all daily direction, and I think we are all guilty of giving God daily guidelines for that direction. We state our cases and concerns before we listen to His course. We predetermine the parameters of a positive response to His position and purpose. We say things like:

  • “I’ll do it if I can do it from here.”
  • “I’ll go only as far as this cultural border.”
  • “I’ll go if my family can go with me.”
  • “ I’ll go if you tell me where I am going.”

We must ask ourselves if we are putting conditions on God’s commands. We must come to understand that this is not faith. Faith in God does not ask for answers nor does it protect personal preferences. If faith does those two things, then it is not faith in God but rather it is faith in answers and personal preferences. Think about this carefully considering your current life decisions. Are they being made in true faith in God alone?

Pastor John

Faith for the Future

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Genesis 6:13-14; 22 God said to Noah, “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth. So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out… Noah did everything just as God commanded him.

One of my favorite models of faith in the Bible is Noah. Just think of what it must have been like for him. He and his family were living in a tropical world where they had never seen or needed rain. All the moisture they ever needed was all around them in the atmosphere, and the daily dew was sufficient for all necessary watering because the ground water was so plentiful. That’s why it says in Genesis 7:11 that when the flood began, God released all the springs of the great deep and the floodgates of the atmosphere.

What were the neighbors thinking when Noah started to build an ark? God directed this faithful man of integrity and righteousness to build a boat. Not just any boat, but a boat so large that at least two of every animal in the known world could reside in it for a period of one year. This wasn’t just a little dugout canoe for fishing.

Noah’s obedience was a statement of faith in God’s Word and a step of faith in God’s direction. The first step of obedience lasted 120 years; the time it took to complete the ark. But any step of faith in God’s direction, regardless of the length or difficulty of the road traveled, results in God’s glory.

That’s the kind of faith we need today: faith in God’s Word that results in steps of faith in God’s direction. Let’s apply this to our personal lives. Where has God been speaking but we have not been stepping? Maybe it’s in a career decision where it will take great faith to trust God’s Word and step in God’s direction rather than in the direction of the world’s provision. Maybe it’s in a relationship, where it will take great faith to step in God’s direction rather than in the direction of personal fulfillment or gratification. Maybe it’s in financial issues, where it will take great faith to step out in God’s direction by giving substantially to His Kingdom work rather than to the building of an earthly kingdom for self.

Whatever the issue in your life, right now is the right time to look up in obedience to God’s Word and step out by faith in God’s direction. Like Noah, God will give you specific directions. Follow them. There may be opposition. People will certainly misunderstand. Make the decision to not worry about pleasing people. Your rewards and blessings come from God, not people.

Lord, give us the faith of Noah to trust your Word and tread your path.

Pastor John

No Regrets

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, February 25, 2019

Philippians 3:13-14 …one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Regret is a deadly bondage of Satan. He uses it to keep us tightly bound in the chains of the past. He convinces us that the key God has given us to unlock the chains and be free will not work on our specific sins, shortcomings, and sufferings. After all, how can a key called forgiveness undo and repair all the damage that has been done?

Regret causes us to believe we deserve the chains. We allow ourselves to be controlled by our past and believe that our futures have been permanently marred. We contemplate and believe statements like, “Imagine what might have been,” and “If only I hadn’t…” and we become convinced that the future we could have had is far better than the one God will give us. We fail to rejoice in the present because it is always being compared to an imaginary future which is being controlled by an unforgiven past. We constantly crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow.

When the Apostle Paul contemplated his past in Philippians 3:5-6, he had much to remember and much to regret. He remembered the great start he had as a Jew – circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee.  Then he remembered with regret the sins of misapplication of the truth – as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. He thought through all the ramifications of his sins and their lasting effect on his life and admits that he is not perfect. He says, “Imagine what might have been if I had made a different choice. If only I hadn’t participated in the murder of Stephen.”

Paul could have been controlled by the same regrets that bind you and me. But listen to what he says – But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

WOW! Forgiveness from God means that our past sins, shortcomings, and sufferings have no power to control us and that we are still able to pursue a prize that has been specifically chosen by God for us. Satan wants us to believe that the prize is sub-standard to the one we could have had. Forgiveness means that the prize has not changed. Satan wants us to believe that because we cannot undo the past we have a diminished future. Forgiveness means that our future is the glorious work of God for whom nothing is impossible. We can drown ourselves in regret, lose ourselves in nostalgia, or cling to those old injuries and losses. But if we do, it is our “choice,” not our destiny. Forgiveness guarantees God’s future and it is not based on our failures.

Marjorie Holmes, in an article called “Heart to Heart” in Today’s Christian Woman, writes, “One day, while I was grieving over some past failures, I received a letter from a friend who told me how she and her granddaughter had been watching a plane skywrite. The little girl was puzzled when the words began disappearing, but suddenly piped up, ‘Maybe Jesus has an eraser!’ In her innocent wisdom I realized that just as skywriting disappears, Jesus wipes away all things I so bitterly regret. No matter how much we mature as Christians, and try desperately to compensate, memories of our own failures can rise up and haunt us. But, with God’s forgiveness, they will fade away—Jesus does have an eraser.

Katherine Mansfield, an author who lived in the early part of the 20th century, wrote, “Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it’s only good for wallowing in.”

That is what Satan wants you to do – wallow. Regret steals the joy of forgiveness and freezes you with fear of the future. God’s truth will set you free from regret and fear. When the guilt of sin and failure has been confessed to the Father with a repentant heart, He forgives the sin and removes the guilt. When we truly grieve over our sin and it brings us to repentance, God removes all regrets. Paul says, “you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief…[and] godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret. (2 Corinthians 7:9 – 10)

Regret is not from God. It is not part of our salvation. It is not a testing of your faith or a trial you must endure. It is only and always the work of Satan to keep you from experiencing the fullness of God’s forgiveness and redeeming work in your life. Forgiveness eliminates regret.

So forget the past! God has! Look ahead. God has great things in store for you, but if you keep comparing them to what you think might have been, you’ll miss the joy and the blessing of what really is.

Pastor John

Forgiveness Pursues Reconciliation

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, February 22, 2019

Luke 6:27, 35-36 “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. … But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

As we conclude our study on forgiveness, we need to carefully look at the words of Jesus in Luke 6 – words that challenge our natural instincts with supernatural responses. Our natural instincts are for retaliation and restitution of our own reputation. But Jesus challenges those instincts with the response of forgiveness, which is the restoration of relationship.

Relationship is of utmost importance to God the Father. It was because of our sin that we were not in relationship with God, yet God initiated the response that corrects the relationship. His actions were not simply a required response: they were the manifestation of His true heart. His provision of forgiveness was based on His love for the offender and His desire to restore the relationship that had been destroyed by the offense. None of us has ever been hurt so deeply as God was hurt by our sin. Yet His love for us as sinners was manifested in the gift of His Son Jesus so that we might be forgiven. There was nothing artificial about what God did. He did not act out of obligation to anything but His true nature. Forgiveness isn’t pretending nothing has happened, or pretending that what happened didn’t hurt. Forgiveness springs from a pure and sincere heart of love. Forgiveness is refusing to let anything permanently destroy the relationship.

That’s how we are to forgive others as well. To forgive someone involves three things. First, it means to give up the right to strike back. We reject the urge to repay gossip with gossip and a bad turn with a worse turn. Striking back is of no value in restoring relationships. Second, it means replacing the feeling of resentment and anger with good will. We must choose to let our hearts be overwhelmed with the love of God so that we truly seek the offender’s welfare and not their harm. Third, it means the forgiving person takes concrete steps to restore good relations. We become the initiators of actions that model love rather than resentment.

The following story is from an article titled “Your Daffodils are Pretty,” (Christianity Today, March 2, 1979, p. 18), in which Josephine Ligon tells of a family in the town where she grew up who preached and practiced forgiveness. Their name was Parsons. On one occasion, Mr. Parsons watched young Josephine get swatted by the broom of a mean old lady in town who didn’t like the neighborhood children getting too close to her property. He stopped Josephine and told her, “Go back and tell Mrs. Brink that you forgive her for hitting you.” Josephine replied, “Say, ‘I forgive you’ to Mrs. Brink?” Mr. Parsons smiled. “Forgiveness comes in many forms,” he said. “You don’t actually have to say, ‘I forgive you.’ A simple smile will do. You might just tell her that her daffodils are pretty.” It seemed dumb to young Josephine, but she trusted Mr. Parsons’ advice. She went back and mumbled something to Mrs. Brink about her daffodils being pretty. Mrs. Brink looked shocked, but it was the last time Josephine ever felt her broom. On another occasion Josephine and several of her third-grade friends put a handful of pencil shavings into the Parsons girl’s sandwich, just to be mean and to make her mad. But she didn’t get mad. Instead, the next day, without any sign of repentance from her persecutors, the Parsons girl brought everyone in the class a large, beautiful, delicious, hand-decorated cookie which said, “Jesus loves you.” Years later Josephine Ligon still remembers that demonstration of forgiveness more than any sermon.

Forgiveness is more than words; it’s action! We may claim to have forgiven those who have hurt us, but if there are no real attempts to restore the relationship then forgiveness has not been fully granted. For forgiveness to be real the reconciliation of the relationship must be pursued with actions of love. Granted, some people won’t accept our attempts at reconciliation, just as so many are rejecting God’s offer of forgiveness. But their response is not an excuse to stop acting in a loving way towards them. God has not stopped loving or pursuing the unrepentant person and neither should we. We are not excused from seeking to restore broken relationships because the other person rejects our attempts. If we think we are, then forgiveness is nothing more than pretention, and is not motivated by the love of God in our hearts but rather by a love for self.

Imagine what would happen in your church and in your community if God’s people began forgiving others the way God forgave them. Imagine what would happen to the reputation of Christians if the restoration of relationships was our highest priority. We are called to be the ambassadors of reconciliation, showing people how they can be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) Maybe it’s time we modeled that reconciliation in our personal relationships so that the world can see the reality of God’s forgiveness.

Pastor John

Once and For All

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Hebrews 10:11-12 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 

We have two choices regarding which principles and standards will govern our lives. Option number one is to live according to the principles of the world as revealed to us in our flesh and by our culture. Option number two is to live according to the principles of heaven as revealed to us by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. The distinction between the two is clearly seen in the area of forgiveness.

Most of us have been subjected to the world’s philosophy of forgiveness that demands ongoing sacrifices for the offense. When God first introduced the concept of forgiveness to the human race he did so by requiring a living animal sacrifice and the shedding of the animal’s blood. God made the first sacrifice when he provided animal skins to cover Adam and Eve. Their son Abel brought an animal as a sacrifice of worship to God. His brother’s sacrifice of fruits and vegetables was rejected.

Later God instituted the law, and ordained priests to offer sacrifices on behalf of those who had broken the law. For every law broken there had to be a sacrifice, and no one sacrifice was sufficient to cover future offenses, only past sins. People became the slaves of the sacrificial system and lived in fear of dying in sin.

Many cultures and religions in our world still live under the bondage of such a system. Even in cultures where that system no longer exists, the basic sacrificial philosophy still does. Main line religions may not require the sacrifice of living animals, but they still operate under the belief system that sacrifices are only sufficient for past sins and need to be repeated for each offense. Priests and pastors are still the intermediaries of God’s grace only after they are satisfied that a proper “sacrifice” has been offered for the sin. People still live in the fear of death, never being fully assured that they are forgiven and accepted by God.

Every so often we read stories in the news of people performing a religious “sacrament” to earn the favor of God. They walk on hot coals, or climb hundreds of steps on their knees, or pierce themselves through their cheeks with long bamboo sticks, all in an effort to make a sacrifice to their god for the forgiveness of their sins.

Of course, we in the west have become more civilized than that, right?. Our religions simply require ongoing sacrifices of payments and penance. But the basic philosophy is the same – we must earn our forgiveness from God by works of the flesh. We even demand that of others before we will forgive them.

But the philosophy and principles of heaven are completely different. The sacrificial system God initiated on the earth was a model. The model was never intended to save anyone. The model was designed to teach us about a heavenly reality. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices…They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. (Heb. 8:3-5)

In Hebrews 10 we have the heavenly reality explained. Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice for all sin on the altar of heaven. He then sat down at the right hand of the Father, indicating that the sacrifice was both complete and fully acceptable. Therefore, when anyone comes to Jesus for forgiveness, no sacrifice is required. In one of the greatest statements of truth in the entire Bible, the author of Hebrews writes – where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

For me the key word is where. Where do you take your sins for forgiveness? If you take them to the earthly model of any religious format, you are still bound by the earthly sacrificial system. But if you take them to the altar of heaven, you will be completely forgiven.

In heaven the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross is completely accepted by God as the full payment for all our past, present, and future sin. There is no need for any additional sacrifice for us to be forgiven. Jesus has done it all once and for all.

HALLELUJAH!

Isn’t that liberating for you? Doesn’t that help you with the whole false notion of having to forgive yourself? Doesn’t that truth set you free from the requirements of religion to earn and prove your forgiveness? It should. Jesus has paid it all, and where He offered the sacrifice – on the altar of heaven – there is no longer any requirement of additional sacrifice.

Claim that for yourself today. Take your sin to the only High Priest who can truly cleanse you once and for all – Jesus Christ. Choose to live by the principles of heaven and not the man-made models.

Pastor John