Do Whatever He Asks

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Luke 2:33 – 35  33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him.  34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

One of the most enjoyable experiences of my life is to purchase a car. It’s been a long time since I bought a brand new one (1976 to be exact), but getting a nice used car is still a thrill. I used to do it fairly often and got quite a reputation as a negotiator. If I were to go looking for a different vehicle right now I would go to a couple of places that I trust and start to check over their used car selection. I would find the one that I wanted in the price range I could afford, and after bargaining for the best possible price I would sign the papers and drive it home. One thing I would not expect from the car dealer is to have the salesman pull me aside as I head for my “new” vehicle and tell me that I can expect it to cause me all kinds of problems and cost me a lot of money to maintain. Why would he wait until after the sale to tell me this, and why would he sell a car like that in the first place?

I wonder if Mary felt a little bit like that when Simeon told her that Jesus would cause a lot of heartache for her? I know how I felt when the doctor told me that my daughter would need heart surgery when she was 2 years old. I’m sure you have experienced similar emotions in response to difficult and sometimes tragic news in your family. Here was Mary, just 8 days after the birth of the Son of God, being told that there was a time coming when the tide of public opinion would be against Him and her heart would be broken by that. The very people that Jesus had come to save would reject Him and she would not be able to do anything about it.

She got her first taste of that rejection when Jesus was about 2 years old. The reigning king of Israel tried to have Jesus killed, and the family had to flee to Egypt. Imagine what it must have been like for Mary to know and understand the truth about her Son and yet have everyone else reject that truth. Imagine the nights of loneliness and hopelessness that must have come upon her. Maybe you don’t have to imagine them because you are experiencing them. You find yourself asking the question, “What can be done?”

It is our human nature to want to fix what’s wrong and fulfill what’s right. Jump ahead in the life of Christ to a wedding Jesus was attending when He was 30 years old. The host of the wedding did not plan for enough wine and it has run out. Mary seizes this opportunity to introduce the truth about her Son to the world and suggests to Him that He can fix the problem. It was not the responsibility of Jesus to get more wine, but mom was looking for a way to show off her Son. For 30 years she has remained faithful to the truth about who He was and His purpose in coming to the earth.

Whether she was right or wrong to suggest His involvement in this wine problem is not the issue: the real issue is that the things she treasured in her heart about Jesus had not only sustained her for all of those years but had equipped her to take a step that would result in the piercing of her soul and the breaking of her heart. She told the servants to do whatever Jesus said, not what she wanted. She had learned the wisdom of living by an eternal perspective and not an earthly one.

My friends, the world will reject us when we live holy lives in honor to a holy God. Our hearts will be broken by the rejection of our spouses and children and those we love. But remember the words of Simeon – there will be those who will rise because of Jesus just as there will be those who will fall.

That was obviously Mary’s focus. That is to be our focus as well. Our defense against the sword of the world piercing our hearts with rejection is the Sword of the Word of Truth that gives us an eternal perspective. Then we can say with Mary, “Do whatever He tells you.”

Pastor John

Fill the Cart

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Luke 2:17 – 19  17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.  19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

For many people, like my wife, the thrill of Christmas continues today because the After Christmas Sales have begun. Stores once again have opened early in an attempt to close out all of their seasonal merchandise. People are getting up early to head to the stores and get a head start on what they will need for next Christmas. They will find their treasures at greatly reduced prices and store them up in their closets and basements so when the time comes for the next holiday they will be prepared. Just knowing what they bought and how great a bargain they got will sustain them through the shopping lulls caused by regular prices in the days ahead.

For me, the lull of being regular has already started. I awoke early this morning thinking “Now what?” Now that Christmas has come and gone for another year, it’s time to get back to normal. But routine sounds so boring. What treasures do I have to sustain me through the long winter months still ahead?

Then I thought of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Her Baby has been born, the trip home has been completed, and routine has been established. People have stopped coming over to visit and to see the Baby. Relatives are finally settled down and are acting like they accept this “miraculous” birth. Joseph is back in his carpentry shop, and Mary struggles to fight off the depressing prospect of life in the regular lane.

But she is prepared to fight that battle, and how she fights it is a lesson for all of us. You see, she went After Christmas Shopping also; only she did it in her heart. She found lots of treasures, filling the shopping cart of her heart with eternally enduring truths and memories.

There were treasures like Gabriel’s announcement to her that she was highly favored by God; his explanation of the power of the Holy Spirit that would come upon her; the visit with Elizabeth and the sharing of a miraculous birth experience with her; the statement of the angel that “nothing is impossible with God;” the description by the shepherds of the glory of God in the sky and the announcement of good news for all the people; and the first time she held the Son of God in her arms and experienced the fullness of God’s grace and truth.

Mary filled her heart with all of these things and more, and they were able to sustain her for the next 12 years of regular life until another “holiday” occurred. Jesus was teaching in the temple, and once again Mary found some more treasures to store up in the closet of her heart.

She would need all of these treasures because life would be regular for the next 18 years, but when life stopped being routine she was ready. When Jesus was presented by His heavenly Father to the world as the people’s Savior, she was ready because she had done more than just put the treasures in a closet: she put them in a prominent place in the house of her heart where she could look at them every day and be reminded that life with Jesus is not regular. She was sustained because she had polished the art of meditation on God’s truth. The truths she experienced and treasured became her weapons with which she fought the battle of routine.

We have the same opportunity. We too must polish up the art of meditation: not meditation to escape life like the world teaches; but rather meditation on the truths of God to fulfill life.

When Joshua was preparing to lead the people of Israel into the battle for the Promised Land, God gave him these instructions – Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.

King David says it this way in Psalm 1 – Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

It’s time to go spiritual shopping for treasures which are found in God’s Word – and they’re FREE! What a bargain – life-sustaining truth at no cost. Fill your cart today.

Pastor John

ALWAYS!

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

John 14:18-19  I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.

MERRY CHRISTMAS. 

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage.  About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. Here is the story they tell.

It was nearing the holiday season in 1994, and it was time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me.  No colored paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown a lady had given us, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States. The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help.

All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger. Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger.

Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay.  I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did.”

“But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift. So I asked Jesus, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?’ And Jesus told me, ‘If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.’ So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.  The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS.

Jesus came so that we could be His children – for always. This Christmas, remember that it’s not what you get for gifts that matters, but Who you get as a gift, and Jesus is the indescribable Gift of God.

Pastor John

Stoop

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 24, 2018

Philippians 2:4-8  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,  being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!

The following is a true story: Two weeks before Christmas a nine-year-old girl was walking with her friend down the street, sliding on the ice. The two of them were talking about what they hoped to get for Christmas. They stopped to talk to an old man named Harry, who was on his knees doing his best to pull weeds from the frozen ground around a large oak tree. He wore a frayed, woolen jacket and a pair of worn garden gloves. His fingers were sticking out the ends, blue from the cold.

As Harry responded to the girls, he told them he was getting the yard in shape as a Christmas present to his mother, who had passed away several years before. His eyes brimmed with tears as he patted the old oak. “My mother was all I had. She loved her yard and her trees, so I do this for her at Christmas.”

His words touched the girls and soon they were down on their hands and knees helping him to weed around the trees. It took the three of them the rest of the day to complete the task. When they finished, Harry pressed a quarter into each of their hands. “I wish I could pay you more, but it’s all I’ve got right now,” he said.

The girls had often passed that way before and as they walked on they remembered that the house was shabby, with no wreath, no Christmas tree or other decorations to add cheeriness. Just the lonely figure of Harry sitting by his curtain-less window. The quarter seemed to burn a hole of guilt in the one little girl’s mind as they returned to their homes. The next day she called her friend and they agreed to put their quarters in a jar marked “Harry’s Christmas Present” and then they began to seek out small jobs to earn more. Every nickel, dime, and quarter they earned went into the jar.

Two days before Christmas, they had enough to buy new gloves and a Christmas card. Christmas Eve found them on Harry’s doorstep singing carols. When he opened the door, they presented him with the gloves wrapped in pretty paper, the card and a pumpkin pie still warm from the oven. With trembling hands, he tore the paper from the gloves, and then to their astonishment, he held them to his face and wept.

As I thought about that story, I began to wonder how low I would stoop to help others. Then I found this quote from author, professor, and clergyman Henry Van Dyke, who asks us some penetrating questions. “Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself whether you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? How about for lifetime? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

Jesus stooped down from glory and became lower than the angels He created, so that He might personally relate to us and rescue us. He didn’t just put on the appearance of man for a time. His very nature became that of a servant. (Philippians 2:7) It’s easy for us to put on the decorations of Christmas once a year and act like we are givers. But is giving in your nature?

I love this quote from John Stott, who said, The Christian should resemble a fruit tree, not a Christmas tree! For the gaudy decorations of a Christmas tree are only tied on, whereas fruit grows on a fruit tree.

Make it your intention this year to let giving and serving be your nature, not just your decoration. When the Christ of Christmas abides in you, and you abide in Him, you will bear fruit that looks like Him.

Pastor John

Fully Surrendered

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 21, 2018

Luke 1:38  38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

A fast food chain that had previously been relatively unknown became nationally popular years ago by choosing a slogan that caught on quickly – “Have it your way!” In an attempt to appear helpful and serving, what they were really doing was capitalizing on the self-centered nature of the customer. We are constantly bombarded from secular society with the “right” we have to please ourselves by either having it or doing it our way.

In stark contrast to that philosophy stands the statement of Mary in response to the angel’s announcement of God’s purpose for her life. After asking how this miraculous event would happen to her, she fully surrenders self and accepts the role of a servant. With an attitude of total humility Mary says, “May it be to me as you have said.”

No debate. No suggested changes or adaptations to the plan. No looking around to see who’s watching this great example of humility. Just quiet and complete surrender to what God said. “Have it your way, God!”

We may be tempted to think that her surrender was easy because she was being asked to do something so wonderful. She got to be pregnant – the dream of most women. She got to bear a son – the fulfillment of her cultural responsibility as a wife. She got to participate in the eternal purpose of Jehovah to save the world from its sin. That choice seems like a no-brainer, right? But what about all the problems she would encounter by making that choice to surrender? There would be the possibility of losing her fiancé. She would be considered an adulteress by her society. Her son would have to grow up as an illegitimate child, scorned by his youthful friends. She had to know all those things, and yet she considered the call of God to be more significant than the opinion of people.

The same call of God goes out to us today. He has called us to be a part of His incredible plan to bring His grace to a lost world? He has sent His Holy Spirit upon us to overshadow self and the flesh and empower us to accomplish God’s eternal purpose. We have the choice of two responses: we can look up to God in anticipation that the King will tell us “Have it your way,” or we can look up to the King and tell Him, “Have it your way.”

In the first response there appears to be safety because we believe we can control the social fallout of our choice. But in the second response there is incomparable fulfillment, knowing that we are participating with Almighty God in His glorious plan of salvation.

Response #1 elevates self and society over God: response #2 recognizes that only God can meet the needs of self and society.

Response #1 leaves us at the mercy of man and destined to the world’s destruction. Response #2 puts us in the merciful hand of God and guarantees us eternal life.

Seems like a no-brainer to me!

“Have it your way, God!”

Pastor John

Share the Good News

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Luke 2:10 – 12  10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Last year, as I was leaving one of our larger department stores in Eau Claire, I passed by a couple of teenage girls who were ringing the bell for the Salvation Army. I dropped some money in their collection bucket and one of the girls said, “Thank you, and happy holidays.” I responded with “Merry Christmas to you.” As I turned to walk away I heard her say to her friend, “Oh man! That’s another one I could have said ‘Merry Christmas’ to.”

My heart is gripped with sadness when I stop to realize that the sharing of the Good News of great joy is no longer for all people, but only for those who will not be offended by it. We have caved in to the public notion of political correctness. We pre-qualify our audience and pre-determine our words, and the consequence is that the world doesn’t know in whom to believe. They do not call on Jesus because they have not heard of Jesus – at least not in the way they should hear about Him. They have not heard of Jesus as Savior because those who know Him have stopped sharing the Good News. Have we forgotten our commission for Christ?

I know that we know that Jesus sent us to share the Gospel when He gave us the great commission, but do we truly understand the authority behind the sending? Not authority as in the power to enforce a command, but rather the authority to be set apart for a purpose and be supported while we do it.

God did not use His authority to issue a decree and then demand obedience. He used His authority to completely satisfy our need so that we need nothing from the world. He did not leave us to fend for ourselves and suffer the consequences alone. He did not under-equip us for the task. He did not demand our obedience but rather inspired our cooperation.

We need to understand that when God sent us to preach the good news of great joy He did not intend for that to be a joyless experience for us. How convincing is our message of joy when delivered with voices of fear coming from faces of obligation?

Yet that is how many of us respond to the opportunities to share the good news: we fear the consequences of people’s responses more than we rejoice in the promises of God’s authority.

The telling of the good news is an outpouring of the love and joy we have personally experienced from God through our Savior Jesus Christ. His authority has fully equipped us with security and strength so that the people of the world can have no effect on our status before God. His authority has already conquered the enemy, so we need not fear.

Look at these incredible words from Hebrews – 14Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. 

Death has been conquered. Fear has been destroyed. We have been set free by the authority of Jesus so that we need not fear the responses and reactions of the world.

The angels announced good news of great joy, and they did it with authority. The shepherds spread the word about what they had seen and heard, and they did it with authority. Anna, the prophetess, told everyone she could about the arrival of the Messiah, and she did it with authority.

Everyone who has a personal encounter with Jesus receives the power and authority of the Holy Spirit to share the good news.

Start sharing.

Pastor John

Overcoming Fear

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Matthew 2:1 – 3 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Life can be routine and even mundane most of the time. There are occasional high points of energy and enthusiasm, and low points of pain and disappointment, but overall, as time passes, life levels off. We want our lives to be level because we find security in the predictable and the known. We don’t like the fear of the unknown, and we certainly don’t like anything that threatens the status quo.

We accept the reality that mountaintop experiences don’t last. We work hard to get life back in order after we’ve been in the deep valley of desperation. We protect everything that makes life seem normal. We have adopted the philosophy that saneness is achieved through sameness, so we resist change. Change will invalidate our past and force us to redefine who we are and what we believe. Please Lord, just for today, can everything stay the same, so I can feel safe?

If that had been true of the wise men from the east they would never have come searching for Jesus the King. These scientists, probably astrologers, had done well for themselves in their professions. They were obviously wealthy and very intelligent. They had obviously studied a wide variety of writings, including the prophets of Israel, because they knew that when the star appeared in the sky it meant that Jesus was born. But unlike so many people who would seek to protect the security of their positions and possessions, these men were willing to sacrifice it all to find the One True King.

What a contrast to King Herod and the citizens of Jerusalem who were disturbed by the news announced by the wise men. Why? Because it threatened the status quo of their lives.

King Herod’s position was being threatened. All he had worked so hard to accomplish for himself could be lost. I can imagine his thoughts. “All of my power will be stripped away. Everything I own will be given to someone else. I will become a person of no value. I must destroy this threat.”

What about the people of Jerusalem? Were they disturbed because they feared Herod’s response to the news or because they feared the changes that a new King would bring to their lives? Would a new King change their economic condition? What about the political ramifications with Rome? The fears were real, and they forced action – actions to eliminate what they perceived to be the source of their fears.

On the one hand, we have a king and his followers who seek Jesus to destroy Him because they think it will eliminate their fear. On the other hand, we have a group of wise men who seek Jesus to worship Him and thereby have all their fears eliminated.

All of us fall into one of those two categories. The fear of change drives people to eliminate Jesus from their lives. Sinners in the bondage of fear don’t want their motives questioned, their pursuits invalidated, their possessions devalued, or their position threatened. They may claim to want to worship Jesus but are really motivated by worship of self.

But saints, acting in faith, leave the security of all they have in the world to seek the true King and worship Him.

In which group are you?

Pastor John