Become an Insider

Insiders with God Have Integrity

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Psalm 26:1   …I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

Proverbs 20:7  The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!

When I was a sophomore in High School on the east side of St. Paul, Minnesota, I decided to try out for the golf team. It was my first year at that school, so I didn’t know many other kids yet. During the tryout I quickly learned two things – I was an outsider and that insiders do whatever they want to remain on the inside.

The tryout consisted of an 18-hole round of golf, and the top eight scores would make the team. There were nine of us trying out, and it was very clear that the other eight were members of last year’s team. My game was sharp, and the three other guys I was playing with started to show concern for one of their friends who was lagging behind on the scorecard. When we reached the eleventh hole I was ahead of him by two strokes.

The eleventh hole was a par three, with a green that could not be seen from the tee unless you climbed a ladder to a platform positioned next to the tee box. When we arrived at the tee, the group ahead of us was just leaving for the green, and the “friends” talked a few minutes. After about a ten minute wait, we were ready to hit our shots. One of the other guys climbed the ladder to watch the shots. Mine landed just short and right of the green. Then the young man who was behind me took his shot, which angled substantially left.

Suddenly, from the green, hooting and hollering started, and the kid on the platform yelled, “It went in!” But how could it, I thought? It was headed way left. Well according to the “friends” in the group ahead, the ball hit one of their golf bags on the next tee and ricocheted onto the green and into the hole. If you know anything about the structure of lightweight carry bags you know that a ball doesn’t bounce off them very far, and this ball would have had to bounce over thirty yards.

It was obvious to me what had happened, but they stuck to their story, and now I was only one stroke ahead following the mystery hole-in-one. My emotions didn’t respond well, even though I kept it all inside. I ended up losing the match by one stroke and not making the team.

I was reminded of that display of falsehood and hypocrisy when I read the 26th Psalm today. I was reminded of the times I have sought to be an insider and did whatever I thought it would take to stay one. I was reminded of how lonely it can be being an outsider.

But I was also reminded of the emotional pain and suffering I’ve known by trying to become an insider. You see, pleasing people is painful, because they are constantly changing their expectations, which means we have to change our performance. As a result, we never really know who we are. The pain of an identity crisis is far worse than the pain of loneliness. In fact, the perceived solution of becoming an insider by any means actually produces more loneliness and not less, thereby compounding the pain.

King David knew the answer. Four times in this Psalm he proclaims that the answer is integrity.

  • Psalm 26:1 …I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
  • Psalm 26:6 I wash my hands in innocence…
  • Psalm 26:11 But as for me, I shall walk in my integrity…
  • Psalm 26:12 My foot stands on level ground…

David had made a choice to be an insider with God, not with people. As a result he discovered the steadfast love and faithfulness of the Father. (verse 3) He knew the strength that comes from consistency, (verse 12) and the joy of fellowship available in the habitation of God’s house (verse 8). David discovered that since God is unchangeable, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, then we can be unchangeable as well if we have our identity in Him.

That’s integrity.

Have you chosen to be an insider with God?

Pastor John

 

Don’t Throw Stones

Don’t Throw Stones

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Psalms 25:8  Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.

Recently I have developed a renewed amazement of the grace of God. I think it is because God knows I need a softening of my heart towards people who stand opposed to Jesus Christ in our culture. It is so easy to become antagonistic towards those who don’t believe the truth and to become arrogant about the truth that we have. But a story from the life of Jesus has really impacted me.

It’s the story of the woman who was caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus by the Pharisees. They were setting a trap for Him. If Jesus agreed with the law and approved of the woman’s stoning to death, then they could renounce His authority for misinterpreting the Old Testament law that clearly states that both people caught in adultery were to be killed. If He refused to sentence her to death, they could accuse Him of not abiding by the law.

What would Jesus do?

After a short pause to play in the sand (actually He was writing something in the dirt) Jesus told all of the woman’s accusers that the judgment of death could only be imposed by those who were sinless themselves. “Let the one who has no sin cast the first stone,” were His words to the crowd. They all walked away in shame. Jesus then turned to the woman and asked her where her accusers went. “Has no one condemned you?”  When she responded that no one had condemned her, Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.” 

What an incredible example of grace. What a model for us to follow in how we treat those who are caught up in the bondage of sin. Jesus had every right to condemn her and cast the first stone. He was sinless. But He extended grace to her, and only then did He instruct her to stop sinning.

Grace first – then growth.

It is that same grace that David recognized in Psalm 25:8 – the grace of God that teaches sinners His ways. This just thrills me to the core of my spirit. God initiates grace to us while we are still sinners and teaches us His ways. We do not make ourselves worthy of His teaching. We do not have to grow to a certain spiritual level to earn the right to be taught. No, God meets us where we are and extends grace to us so that we may know Him and have a relationship with Him that will produce growth.

God never requires works before He extends grace.

Now if we could just learn to do that with our peers – the sinners around us every day.

When Jesus told the crowd that the sinless person could cast the first stone, He did not categorize the sin. He didn’t say that the one who had never committed adultery could cast the first stone. He said that the one who had no sin whatsoever was the only one qualified to condemn another person for their sin. That makes all of us equal at the foot of the cross.

That should and must change the way that we look at the sinful people of the world – they are our peers.

We are not superior.

We have a superior Savior, but we are sinners saved by God’s grace, and but for His grace we would be in the chains of sin as they are.

We must stop demanding that people change before they have experienced the grace of God. We are expending a lot of human energy without the strength of the Holy Spirit’s presence when we try to change our government, our culture, our schools, our workplaces, and people’s lives so that they become conformed to the ways of God before they have personally and individually experienced the grace of God. It is only after being told that they are no longer condemned that they are to be told to stop sinning.

Think about how this should affect your attitude towards people still trapped in sin. They are not the offender who needs to be punished – they are the victim who needs to be set free. When we start looking at people as victims of Satan’s lies, deception, and spiritual bondage, then we will be able to extend grace to them rather than condemnation.

It is time for the Christian Church to change the way it relates to the people of its culture. It is possible that we have earned the bad name that society has given us. We are at times intolerant – because under the guise of hating sin we have acted like we hate the sinner. I know it’s a difficult and almost impossible task to love the person and still hate the sin, but Jesus did it.

And do you know how he did it? He always showed love before he addressed the sin. Maybe that’s our problem. We start with the sin and then try to show that we love the person anyway.

WRONG!

Start with the love of Jesus, and don’t bring up the sin until they want to know where the love comes from. Then we can tell them that the love comes from God who forgave us for our sin and continues to do so. Then people will they see us living out the grace of God before we pick up the stones to condemn them?

O LORD, may we grow in grace so that the love of Jesus is truly seen in us.

Pastor John

 

Something to Sing About!

Lift Up Your Head and Sing!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

 Psalm 24:7-10 7Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! 

Several years ago a young man from church and I would meet every Tuesday morning for an hour to study God’s Word. One point we were studying the book of Revelation. As we studied I was challenged by the worship that takes place in the presence of God. Every being that is there, from angels to supernatural beasts and from Old Testament saints to those from the church age, all participate in the worship. But there is something very distinct about their worship. Angels and humans worship differently. Their songs are not the same. See if you can catch the difference in these two passages –

Revelation 5:9 – 10 And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

Revelation 5:12 – 13 In a loud voice they sang: “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Here’s what I wanted you to notice. The first song was sung by the 24 elders, representing all of the saints who are in Christ Jesus from both the Old and the New Testament eras. The second song is sung by angels. The third song is sung by all the creatures of the earth. Only one of the songs contains a reference to salvation. Of all that God has created, we are the only ones who have experienced the saving grace of God. We are the only ones who can testify to Christ’s redemption.

Angels haven’t.

The animal kingdom cannot.

We alone who have come to Christ for salvation can sing the song of the redeemed. We alone can lift our heads in worship proclaiming the joy of our salvation. We alone can know by experience the strong and mighty Lord who fought and won the battle with sin and death. We alone will reign with the King on the earth in His coming kingdom. We alone can experience the fullness of the King’s glory because we have experienced the glory of His grace.

The splendor of the King is worshipped by all the angels in heaven, and it must be awesome to observe. But nothing can compare to the worship of the King by the ones He has saved. Our worship surpasses the worship of the angels because it includes the song of salvation.

I am convinced that our daily devotional time should include an expression of worship to God for His saving grace. I am convinced that our worship in our churches must include more expressions of praise for our salvation. Songs that exalt God are good. Songs that invite God’s presence into our lives are meaningful. But songs that praise the God of our salvation are indispensable. Just reflect on the songs that are most meaningful to you in your life of worship. I will venture to conclude that your favorites are songs about your salvation. It doesn’t matter if they are hymns or contemporary worship songs, I know that the songs that are most meaningful to me are the ones that connect me to the saving grace of Jesus Christ. There is a reason for that. They are God’s favorite songs for us to sing. He cannot hear them from the angels. His creation cannot sing them. Only we who have been created in His image and then reborn into the image of His Son Jesus can sing the songs of God’s glorious grace.

So lift up your heads and sing.

Sing often.

Sing loudly.

Sing to God the song of the redeemed.

Sing to the King of Glory.

 

Pastor John

Relax! Take a Bath

Refreshed in the Hot Springs

Monday, May 11, 2015

Psalm 23:1-6 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

In the spring of 1972 I sat down in the driver’s seat of a brand new yellow Chevy Malibu and began a 4,000 mile trip to Fairbanks, Alaska. I was on my way to a mission radio station at North Pole, Alaska. The car was provided for me by a dealer who was transferring it from Minneapolis to Fairbanks. I was the delivery driver. Back in those days, the Alaska Highway through the mountains was not paved, so 1,500 miles of the trip was on gravel that was more like gumbo when it got wet. Twice I almost went over an unprotected cliff edge following a rain shower.

I was a poor college student so I slept in the car each of the three nights of the trip. During the third day of driving, after having travelled some 2800 miles, I was exhausted and sore. Then, on the side of the road, I saw a sign that was divine. “Hot Springs – 3 miles.” I turned off the main highways onto a dirt road that led to the most glorious hot bath I’ve ever taken in my life. I relaxed in that rock lined basin of steaming water for almost an hour, and it completely refreshed me. I drove well into the night and arrived in Fairbanks the next day well ahead of schedule.

That’s exactly how I feel about today’s visit to the Twenty-Third Psalm. This is probably the most beloved and quoted Psalm around the world. Even people with no interest in spiritual things seem to know parts of it. It is a Psalm that requires numerous stops at one of its many scenic overlooks into the caring nature of our Father in heaven. Each one is a hot spring of its own. I need to pull off the road and bathe in every one of these hot springs.

  • The LORD is my shepherd – The Creator and Sustainer of all things is personally involved in caring for every detail of my life.
  • I shall not be in want – I may want things, but the LORD knows exactly what I need and always provides. He provides nourishment and rest in green pastures; He provides refreshment from quiet waters; He encourages me and gives peace and contentment to my soul.
  • He guides me in paths of righteousness – The LORD guards the honor of His Name by guiding me into righteous activities, decisions, and lifestyle choices so that my life is a reflection of His glory.
  • I will fear no evil – Even though I may be surrounded with enemies and death, the LORD is my protector – His rod and His staff can be trusted to handle all threats to my life, and my trust in Him is rewarded with comfort and peace.
  • The LORD prepares a table for me in the presence of my enemies – The presence of the LORD brings such security that even in the middle of the storms of life I can sit at His banquet table and enjoy His food and fellowship as if nothing else matters.
  • You anoint my head with oil – The Lord confirms to me that I am His child forever, set apart for His service, healing all of my sin.
  • My cup overflows – I am experiencing abundant life; there is fullness to every aspect of life because of the blessing of the LORD’s presence.
  • Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life – The LORD causes all things to work out for good because I love Him and I am living according to His purpose for my life.
  • I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever – I am constantly motivated by the hope of glory – the guarantee of a home in heaven forever in the presence of the LORD.

Which of these baths will you enjoy the most today?

Pastor John

HE DID IT!

He Did It

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Psalm 22:31  “…for he has done it.”

I have a grandson who is quite the talker. He must have inherited his grandpa’s need to verbally process information. When he was about 14 months old he started drawing attention to all of his accomplishments by yelling, “I did it!” After every attempt at anything, from drinking milk to dropping a toy on the floor, he would come running up to me and say, “I did it!” He would try anything you asked him to do just so he could say, “I did it!” He was so proud of his accomplishments, and he loved the praise that it brought from me. I know that someday the statement “I did it!” will turn into “He did it!” when it is convenient to blame someone else. But maybe, if he’s taught well, when he says “He did it!” he will be praising the accomplishment of Someone else and not blaming his own mistakes on them. I think he’s well on his way to that, because even at that early age he learned to give credit to others for their accomplishments. It would bring such joy to my heart when he would turn to me after I did something and say, “You did it, grandpa!”

The 22nd Psalm is another of the Messianic Psalms that prophetically about Jesus Christ. It specifically deals with His suffering and crucifixion. Jesus even quotes from the Psalm while hanging on the cross when He says, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The Psalm describes the horrors of the suffering Jesus withstood to redeem us from our sin.

  • He experienced the loss of human dignity and respect– But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
  • Doubt was cast on His Deity – “He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
  • He suffered brutal physical beatings – I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint…I can count all my bones;
  • He lost His desire to keep going –My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.
  • He was totally dehydrated –My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.
  • He was nailed to a cross –Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.

But during the entire ordeal, He trusted in the Deliverer who would not despise or disdain the suffering of the afflicted one (vs. 24). Jesus knew that God would not abandon Him to the grave, but that He would see the light of glory again, this time as death’s victor and not death’s victim.

My grandson helped me to imagine and visualize a wonderful scene in heaven. Prior to His coming to earth, Jesus had been asked by the Father to carry out the mission of redemption. Jesus agreed. Then, following His resurrection from the dead, when Jesus ascended to heaven to present Himself to the Father as the sacrificial offering for all mankind’s sin, He says, “I did it!”

Imagine the rejoicing that breaks out in heaven when Jesus speaks those words. Imagine the praise the Father bestows upon the Son for accomplishing the task. God proclaims that what Jesus did is so important that future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn—for he has done it (vs. 30-31).

Jesus did what I could not. It was impossible for me to accomplish the forgiveness of my own sins. I was not able to say “I did it!” But I am able to say “He did it!”  Jesus Christ has accomplished for me what I could not accomplish for myself. I want this statement to become my new favorite phrase – “He did it!”  I want to spend the rest of my days making sure that everyone knows that He has done it! And then, one day, when I stand in His presence and see Him face to face, I will say, “You did it, Jesus!”

Pastor John

In God We Trust

In What Do You Trust?

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Psalm 20:7-8 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.

Psalm 21:7  For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

Christopher D’Olier Reeve (September 25, 1952 – October 10, 2004) was an American actor, film director, producer, screenwriter, author, and activist. He achieved stardom for his acting achievements, in particular his motion picture portrayal of the comic book superhero Superman.

On May 27, 1995, Reeve became a quadriplegic after being thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition in Culpeper, Virginia. While approaching the third in a series of jumps, Reeve’s horse made a refusal. Witnesses said that the horse began into the third fence jump and suddenly stopped. Reeve fell forward off the horse, holding on to the reins. His hands somehow became tangled in the reins, and the bridle and bit were pulled off the horse. He landed headfirst on the far side of the fence, shattering his first and second vertebrae. He required a wheelchair and a portable ventilator for the rest of his life.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.

I wonder what we choose to trust that has the potential to collapse and fall. For example, there are still people alive today who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. That dark period in our nation’s history was the result of the stock market crash in 1929. Even today many people are still suffering from the effects of the financial collapse of 2007 because they have placed their trust in their financial security.

Some of us build comfort zones into our lives that we think will provide us security. It could be that we have placed our trust in a relationship because of the value and affirmation we feel from the other person. Or maybe we choose not to be in a relationship because previous trust was broken and we have decided we can only trust ourselves.

It is possible that we have decided to trust our abilities to accomplish things that will earn us the accolades we need to affirm ourselves. We have chosen to trust our performance as a means of validating our worth.

Or maybe – just maybe – we have put our trust in our ability to create an image of success and security based on status that is measured by the world’s definitions – wealth, possessions, prestige, power, and personality. But inside we know we can never measure up to what we want people to believe about us, and if they could see the weakness and pain in our lives they would be disappointed.

We must ask ourselves one of the most significant questions we can ever consider – In what have I placed my trust?

There is only place where absolute trustworthiness can be found – in the Name of the LORD our God!  He alone will never fail. He alone will never collapse and fall. He alone will never throw us off. In Him alone will we rise and stand when all around us is crumbling to the ground. Through the steadfast love of the Most High we shall not be moved no matter how the earth shakes.

O LORD, in your strength we rejoice, and in your salvation we greatly exult! (Psalm 21:1)

Pastor John

Be Conspicuous

Be Conspicuous

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Psalm 20:5  May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners!

Believe it or not, I’m already thinking about fall. I have to. I need to be prepared for one of my favorite activities in life – stalking whitetail deer with my bow. I’m already thinking about scouting, tree stand placement, shooting practice, and concealment.

Being inconspicuous is absolutely essential when bow hunting deer. The three main senses a deer uses to detect danger are sight, smell, and hearing – all of which are far superior to mine. If I hope to get close enough to a deer to be able to have a quality shot, I need to conceal three things:

  • my appearance by looking like my surrounding environment;
  • my smell, by covering up my natural human odor with natural odors of my surrounding environment and other animals, some of which really stinks (like raccoon urine);
  • and by being silent so I am not detected by the sounds I make unless I am intentionally trying to attract a deer by sounding like one of them.

If I do these three things well, and have scouted for good tree stand placement, I stand a pretty good chance of accomplishing my goal.

None of this has anything to do with serving Jesus Christ. All of these techniques are diametrically opposed to how Jesus Christ wants me to live my life as His representative in the world as through me He seeks to save the lost.

Unfortunately, far too many Christians think following Christ is best accomplished through concealment.

  • Their appearance looks just like their environment. They choose to conceal Christ and blend into their cultural surroundings.
  • They cover the naturally sweet smell of Christ’s love by putting on the stink of their surroundings, or even using the latest scent covers that neutralize the ability of others to smell anything. It’s called tolerance.
  • They intentionally remain silent about their faith so that no one around them is scared off by religious language.

Concealment is NOT the call of God.

Being conspicuous is.

King David proclaimed it in Psalm 20 when he said, May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! The Hebrew word for banners literally means to be conspicuous. A person does not raise a flag in hopes that no one will see it. They raise their banner to reveal that for which they stand! They intend to let everyone know in what they truly believe.

Christ calls us to be conspicuous. He calls us to shout for joy over our salvation. He intends for us to raise a conspicuous banner in His name and for His glory.

Last year, after silently stalking a deer through the woods, being as inconspicuous as possible, I let out a shout after I shot her. I didn’t care what other deer in the area heard, because I had accomplished my goal. In fact, two other deer came to investigate what had happened even though I had shouted. (Not a recommended tactic to attract deer.)

But letting out a shout about your salvation is God’s recommended tactic for attracting more people to Him. Being conspicuous is how He has chosen to attract others. So be conspicuous by letting your appearance resemble Christ, your smell be that of His love, and your only silence by to refrain from speaking evil about anyone, and but boldly speaking up about Jesus.

Happy Trails!

Pastor John