Make Me A Servant

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Psalms 119:121 – 128 (NIV) I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors. Ensure your servant’s well-being; let not the arrogant oppress me. My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise. Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees. I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes. It is time for you to act, O LORD; your law is being broken. Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.

Music has always been an important part of my life. When our children were growing up it was an important part of our family. Our favorite children’s music was sung by a big blue talking songbook named Psalty. He had three children – Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm. I loved Rhythm. Our kids were involved in performing Psalty musicals in church. Guess who got to play Psalty. Yep! I did. I was dressed in a big blue box painted to look like a songbook. It was so much fun.

I can still remember many of those great kids songs. The best thing about Psalty songs was that their message was for adults too. They taught true Biblical values and character. One of them we still sing occasionally in church today. It goes like this:

Make me a servant, humble and meek

Lord let me lift up those who are weak

And may the prayer of my heart always be

Make me a servant

Make me a servant

Make me a servant today.

Three times in today’s Psalm the author refers to himself as a servant of God. A servant is defined in its simplest form as one who works for another. It can mean either forced labor or voluntary labor. When servants were more popularly known as slaves, the labor was forced. At least in our culture that type of forced labor has become illegal. We learned that forced labor destroys dignity and denies liberty. In contrast to that, true liberty motivates voluntary service. He who has been truly set free becomes a voluntary servant of the one who granted liberty.

Prior to being elected President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln abhorred slavery. One day he went to a slave auction. He bid on a young woman and bought her. As they walked away from the town square, he said to her, “You may go. You are free.” She didn’t know what that meant, so she asked Mr. Lincoln, “Do you mean I am free to go anywhere I want to go?” He replied that she was. “Do you mean I am free to do whatever I want to do?” Again Mr. Lincoln said yes. “And do you mean I am free to be whatever I want to be?” Once more he said yes. Her response startled him. “Then I choose to go with you and be your servant.”

True freedom is found in serving the one who provided our liberty. To understand that completely we must first appreciate our freedom. The awesome grace of God that has been applied to our lives to set us free from the bondage of the law and sin and death cannot be over-estimated or over-emphasized. Those who minimize it are not truly free. Those who are not truly free still serve themselves in an effort to attain freedom.

But those who know and fully appreciate the marvel of mercy and the greatness of grace become servants of God who paid the full price for our freedom in His Son Jesus. We no longer serve ourselves, or demand to be served by others. We have been transformed by the nature of the Ultimate Servant who said, “The Son of man has come not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  We are now servants of God, and our voluntary labor is to serve others.

So, take off the old garments of self-serving sin, and put on your big blue box. Join me on the stage of the world and sing the song of joy that comes from your liberated heart – Make me a servant, humble and meek…

Pastor John

Double-minded

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, December 18, 2017

Psalms 119:113 – 120  I hate double-minded men, but I love your law. You are my refuge and my shield; I have put my hope in your word. Away from me, you evildoers, that I may keep the commands of my God! Sustain me according to your promise, and I will live; do not let my hopes be dashed. Uphold me, and I will be delivered; I will always have regard for your decrees. You reject all who stray from your decrees, for their deceitfulness is in vain. All the wicked of the earth you discard like dross; therefore I love your statutes. My flesh trembles in fear of you; I stand in awe of your laws.

Here’s a true to life story for you from another pastor.

When I was in college, I attended a weekly Bible Study with several friends. We tended to get into some pretty deep discussions about spiritual truth. One of the members of the group was very good at bringing the lesson down to a point of personal application. I remember one Bible Study in particular when we were discussing hypocrisy. We had looked at several passages of Scripture that stated God’s hatred of being double-minded. Our leader knew that there was at least one person in the group who had a people-pleaser personality. He knew this young man would change his position on issues and beliefs depending on his perception of how it might please the people he was with. So he posed a very simple yet plausible hypothetical situation.

Assume for a moment that you are back in high school, and the elections for class president are to be held tomorrow. There are two candidates. Candidate one is very popular and well liked. He is always seen hanging with the “in” crowd at school. You are not in that crowd, but you wish you were. In the public forums, he seems to have all the right answers to the questions of school issues and administration. You talked to him this morning and he was passionate about breaking down the status barriers between the “in” crowd and the rest of the students. Then at lunch you overheard him say to his closest friends, “I can’t wait to get elected. I’m going to make all of you stand out above the crowd even more than before.”

Candidate two is not so popular or well-known. He is not an athlete, and certainly not one of the “in” crowd. He attempts to answer all the questions but stumbles slightly over words as he responds. But when his words are evaluated, he has consistently stood for the same values. He may not have the outward appeal, but he is a young man of integrity in what he believes.

At this point the group leader asked a simple question – “For whom do you vote?”  I answered quickly that I would vote for candidate number two because I could trust him. The leader looked right at me and said, “Then Frank, you have just voted for your opponent.”

OUCH!  At the time that really hurt. It was so true. I knew I needed to change. But within days I had forgotten that admonition and returned to my comfort zone of pleasing people. I wish I would have listened back then, instead of wasting so many years being double-minded and unstable in all of my ways.

If you were the candidate, would you vote for yourself? Those who put their hope in the word of God and live according to His law are not double-minded. They are people of integrity who can be trusted.

Are you such a person?

Pastor John

 

Get in the Right Line

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, December 15, 2017

Psalms 119:105 – 112 (NIV) Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. I have suffered much; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. Accept, O LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.

It was their first day in heaven. God says, “I want the men to form two lines. Line one is for all the men who felt that they led their families with the spiritual authority I gave them, and line two is for all the men who felt inadequate. As for all the women, please follow Peter as he has something special to talk to you about.” The men quickly hustle to their lines. Line two grows longer and longer until it’s over 100 miles long. Line one has only one man it. God said to the men in line two, “Why are you here. I did not create you in Christ Jesus to be inadequate. I created you in my image to lead and represent me with confidence. At least one man did that. Tell them sir, why you are in this line.” The lone man in line one replied, “I’m here because this is where my wife told me to stand.”

Feeling inadequate is a full-blown epidemic of society. We are surrounded with images and messages that convince us of our inabilities and make us feel inferior. Television, movies, magazines, and advertisements all depict culture’s choice of body style and appearance. We are bombarded with input that screams lies about our inadequacies to measure up. Lies like:

  • Women will only be happy, accepted, and appealing if they are slender.
  • Men are only acceptable if they have rock hard abs and no body hair.

From the clothes we wear to the beverages we choose to drink, we are being convinced that the highest pursuit of life is to be accepted by society, and no matter how well we listen to culture’s call, we still feel miserable.

This conditioning carries over into our spiritual lives as well. We all wonder at times if we will ever measure up to the high standard that seems to be set by the heroes of the faith written about in the Bible. The last several weeks have been especially hard for us. Every section of this 119th Psalm so far has been a spiritual benchmark of faith and trust.

The constant reminders of the Psalmists love for God’s Word and his obedience to it have been tough on some of us. When will we ever have the confidence to say that those things are true of our lives? Even today this section starts out with a high standard of spiritual connectedness to God. The Psalmist declares that God’s word is his light for every step he takes in life. He proclaims his oath and confirms it that he will be obedient at all times, even when he is suffering. He even states that the praises of his mouth to God are not forced but flow willingly from his heart as the natural expression of gratitude for God’s love. How can we measure up to that?

But wait. What’s this we read in the next phrase? Is the Psalmist admitting that he really struggles with his human nature like the rest of us?

Yes he is!

Look at what he says – though I constantly take my life in my hands.

What? Is this elite spiritual example admitting to continual struggles with self-centered living?

Yes he is!

In fact, that’s one of the fascinating things about the Bible – it shows real people living real lives of real inadequacy.

  • Abraham takes his life into his own hands and sets aside his faith to protect his wife by lying about who she is…twice.
  • Moses shows his feelings of inadequacy when he argues with God about his ability to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt, and then is not allowed to enter the Promised Land because he took his life into his own hands.
  • Peter declares his superior faith and steadfastness and then takes his life into his own hands and denies Jesus…three times.

Yet in every one of these situations, and many more besides, God does not reject any of them. His grace rescues them from themselves.

  • Abraham is still given his promised son.
  • Moses leads the people out of slavery and then is taken directly to the true Promised Land of God’s presence.
  • Peter is forgiven and restored and equipped to lead the early church.

Even when they failed, God did not, and He never will. Once we have made an oath of commitment to serve the Living God, He is faithful to overcome all our inadequacies and failures.

The Apostle Paul is a great example. He had taken his life into his own hands until God interrupted his life on the road to Damascus and chose him to plant churches rather than destroy them. Later in his life, Paul wrote these words.

Here is a trustworthy saying…if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself. (2 Timothy 2:11 – 13)

So, on the count of three, we will all move in unison from line two to line one, because God is faithful to overcome ALL our inadequacies.

Ready? One…two…Three!

Pastor John

 

Live Wisely

LifeLink Devotions

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Psalms 119:97 – 104 (NIV) Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.

We can learn a lot about a person’s life by listening to their last words. Here are some famous last words of people who were obviously not very wise.

  • Don’t unplug it. This will only take a minute to fix.
  • Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.
  • You can make it. That’s a slow-moving train.
  • Watch me dive from that bridge.

These people all had one thing in common – they impulsively set aside wisdom for the sake of immediate gratification. I do that too. So do you. We get wrapped up in the excitement of a moment and make decisions to do or say things that are very unwise and sometimes deadly. We hurt ourselves and we hurt others.

The cause of this inconsistency is addressed in today’s passage of Scripture. In it we have a three-fold description of people who are unwise and a comparative description of the person who is consistently wise.

First, unwise people live by a double standard. They have decided that personal gratification is their highest goal, so any “truth” that accomplishes their goal is acceptable. Their behavior is unpredictable because they have no consistent standard of moral choice. One moment they appear to be obedient to God’s word, and the next moment they are doing something sinful. Whatever standard allows for the greatest immediate pleasure or value is the standard by which they live.

In contrast, the wise person has chosen one moral standard of truth – God’s commands – and lets them govern every part of their life. Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me.

Second, unwise people have a lot of knowledge but don’t seem to be able to apply it to everyday life. They may even be the teachers of others, but their teaching is shallow and unhelpful because it is not applicable to bringing fulfillment in life. Their pride in what they know has become the goal of their life, rather than the application to their life of what they know.

On the other hand, the wise person learns God’s statutes and then meditates on them so he knows how they apply to his life. He is then able to give insight to others rather than just facts. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.

Third, the unwise person is always grumbling and complaining about what’s going on in life. They become cynical. They lose hope. They cannot lie down in peace at night and get a good night’s sleep. Nothing is ever right. Nothing is ever good enough. They have long ago moved off the proverbial home on the range where seldom is heard a discouraging word. It’s all because they don’t understand life, nor do they understand the God who controls life. They don’t understand because they don’t obey.

Freedom is perfected in obedience. Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  By comparison, the wise person has understanding and is at peace because they have chosen to obey God’s precepts. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts.

We all have a choice – to live unwisely or wisely. As for me, I choose with the Psalmist and proclaim, Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long…I will keep my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. I will not depart from your laws, for you yourself will teach me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Pastor John

 

Be Faithful

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Psalms 119:89 – 96 (NIV) Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. To all perfection I see a limit; but your commands are boundless.

When I first started out in ministry I pastored very small country churches in South Dakota. To support my family I worked in business, first as a retail store manager and then later as the program director of a radio station. In both of those positions, I was responsible for hiring, managing, and if necessary firing the staff. It wasn’t nearly as bad as it is today, but even back then it was becoming difficult to find responsible people who would work hard.

There was a reason that most of my employees in the retail store were over the age of 35. They were dependable and had a positive work ethic. But at the radio station, the younger staff offered unique challenges. Work was not a priority. I covered shifts on the air far too many times for people who came up with all kinds of excuses for not being able to get to work. Some of them are hilarious now.

  • I have a hangover from last night. (This one came at 8:00 a.m. from my night announcer who was on the air last night from 7 to midnight and wasn’t scheduled until 7 tonight)
  • We got a lot more snow where I live than you did, and I can’t get out of my driveway. (this from a man who lived 10 miles out of town)
  • I woke up with a bad headache today, so I took some aspirin. Unfortunately I grabbed the wrong bottle and they were actually sleeping pills, and I just can’t seem to wake up. (yet he was awake enough to call me with that story)

The interesting thing about all these excuses is that they came from the same guy. Needless to say he was fired. I’m glad he never used the excuse I heard from another employer who had an employee say, I can’t come to work today because I’ll be stalking my previous boss who fired me for not coming to work.

Some people just aren’t faithful. Praise God that He is! Consider again the words of the Psalmist – Your word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.

Imagine what life would be like if every day we had to wonder which of God’s promises would not come true.

Imagine if during your prayer time God’s voice would be heard to say, I’m sorry, but I’ve decided not to answer prayer today.

What if the sun failed to rise and we were stuck in darkness even for one day?

What if our hearts all stopped and started randomly throughout the day?

How terrifying would it be if God withdrew His Holy Spirit from the world and allowed Satan to reign for one day on the earth?

Where would we go for hope if God was not faithful?

As God’s people, we are to be the living testimony of God’s existence by modeling God’s characteristics. We are often challenged in sermons and books to be people of love and compassion like Jesus. We sometimes hear the call to be merciful and to be peacemakers. We occasionally listen as we are prompted to be humble and meek. But how often have we heard that we are to be faithful?

Faithfulness seems to be a dying quality of Christianity. Not for everyone, and hopefully not for you, but in enough quantity that it raises a red flag of warning and admonition.

  • What has happened to faithfulness in marriage?
  • Where is the faithfulness to God’s purity before marriage?
  • Where are the faithful employees that serve their employer with joy as unto the Lord?
  • Where are the faithful employers who consider their employees more important than the bottom line?
  • Where are the faithful stewards of God’s resources who use their money primarily for His Kingdom and not their own?

Why is faithfulness dying? I believe it’s because we have taken God’s faithfulness for granted. We can only be so faithful as we understand God to be faithful. Faithfulness, like all spiritual virtues, is a product of the Holy Spirit’s fullness in us. Unfaithful people are unfilled people. Filled people are faithful people, because the Holy Spirit cannot deny His nature.

Our lives will reflect all of the character of God when the Holy Spirit is given access to every part of our life. God has promised to give us life – abundant life. And He will do it because He is faithful!

Pastor John

Unending Happiness

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Psalms 119:81 – 88   My soul faints with longing for your salvation, but I have put my hope in your word. My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?” Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees. How long must your servant wait? When will you punish my persecutors? The arrogant dig pitfalls for me, contrary to your law. All your commands are trustworthy; help me, for men persecute me without cause. They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts. Preserve my life according to your love, and I will obey the statutes of your mouth.

Two weeks after the big wedding, the church secretary received a letter from the newlyweds with instructions to put a thank-you into the Sunday worship folder. It read,

Dear Friends,

Thank you all for coming to our wedding. It was beautiful that you brought our happiness to a conclusion.

Love,

John and Cindy

While I was in Israel recently, the Lord provided me with a truth statement that is constantly on my mind. Circumstances do not cancel God’s promises. Yet in everyday life, we allow circumstances to dramatically influence our emotional state. Circumstances can and do bring our happiness to a conclusion.

When troubles impact our lives, our soul faints with longing for deliverance. We cry out for comfort. Our endurance of pitfalls and persecution wears thin. Our natural defense mechanisms take over. We transfer our energies into other activities to occupy our minds. We escape the pain of our emotions with some form of temporary high. We hope that time will heal us so that we can try again when the memories have faded. After all, we truly believe that trying harder fixes everything.

Dr. Larry Crabb tells this story.

I was talking with a 29-year-old woman recently. She told me how she was changing and how happy she was that her life was going well. She shared all the victories and good things. In the course of our conversation over lunch, she said she was glad to be alive as a person. Things were going her way for the first time in a long time. She was a happy person. And as I listened, it became clear that she always referred to herself as a person and never once as a woman. After about twenty or thirty minutes, I said to her, “You’ve been talking about yourself, and in every case you refer to yourself as a person. Are you glad you’re alive as a woman?” When I asked that question, she began to tear up. That led to a long, tearful discussion of the fact that she had been sexually abused, and as a woman, she felt useless and dirty. As a woman, she had no joy, but on the outside she was doing super. At the core of her being, she was not the happy woman she seemed to other people.

I suspect when most of us have problems in our lives, we simply try harder. But today’s Scripture reminds us that trying harder is like putting a wineskin into the smoke. I was fascinated by that metaphor, so I did some research. The New Testament gives us a clue when Jesus says, Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. For wineskins to be useful they must be flexible. When exposed to heat and smoke, skins dry up and crack. They become inflexible and useless, unable to hold their contents.

Maybe that’s how you feel today. The heat and smoke from your circumstances has dried you up and you feel useless. Your happiness has been brought to a conclusion, and you believe your only hope is to try harder in some other area of your life to prove your worth.

But that is not your answer. Your answer is found in God’s love for you. The Psalmist knew this when he wrote, Preserve my life according to your love. God is faithful to accomplish every promise of His word in your life. Every word is trustworthy. Circumstances may appear to wreck your life and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. Your broken life is not lost or useless. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan of love.

Your happiness is not concluded, because happiness is a by-product of the joy of your salvation in the Lord, not a by-product of circumstances. You may feel dried up and parched like a wineskin in the smoke, but your faith can overcome your feelings and you will remember the promises of God. Your life is secure. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:31-39)

Pastor John

 

Godly Shame

LifeLink Devotional
Monday, December 11,2017

Psalms 119:73 – 80 Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands. May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word.  I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me. May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I may live, for your law is my delight. May the arrogant be put to shame for wronging me without cause; but I will meditate on your precepts. May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes. May my heart be blameless toward your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.

She came into the house for the first time when she was two. Her adoptive parents were thrilled that she was there. She would be the fourth child, and the first girl. Her three older brothers weren’t sure of this new arrangement.

Things went well for a time, but by the age of 12 things went bad. Very bad. She showed no respect for authority and no response to discipline. She began experimenting sexually with boys from school by age 13. She ran away at age 16, got pregnant, and got married. The state took the child away from her because of abuse. She had at least three other children, all of whom were remanded to state custody because of abuse.

Her parents discovered when the adoption records were opened that she had been seriously abused before she was 2, including broken bones. Every attempt was made to reconcile and restore, but her path was chosen. The last her family heard from her was almost 15 years ago, when she called to tell them she was leaving her life as a prostitute in Las Vegas because she decided she was a lesbian, and wanted her adoptive father, a pastor, to marry her to her girlfriend.

He refused.

Imagine the heartbreak of those parents. Imagine how ashamed they must have felt. Two Godly people serving the Lord and offering an opportunity for an abundant life to a girl in need, and she rejected it. The mother died without ever being able to reconcile the relationship. How this must have crushed her maternal heart. The father is still alive, and prays for her, knowing that God is mighty to save. Her brothers wonder where she is, and if she’s alive. Once they talked about starting an investigation to find her, but she changed her name and they assume she doesn’t want to be found.

The arms of love, compassion, and forgiveness are open, but it’s up to her to turn and run to them and take delight in the ways of God. Only then will the shame be turned into rejoicing. That’s what the love of God does. He forgives, restores, and rejoices over us when we repent.

Now imagine the heartbreak of the Creator whose hands made and formed us, when we do not take delight in His ways and seek to understand His commands. Imagine what happens to the heart of the Father when one of His children is looked upon with shame by the other members of the family.

This, I believe, is what the Psalmist wants us to understand today. Two times he refers to people who fear God looking at his life, and two times he prays that their response would be positive and that he would not be ashamed.

May those who fear you rejoice when they see me. May those who fear you turn to me.

If their response is anything else, then he says he will be put to shame. He understands that he has a responsibility to his Father and to his family to learn God’s ways and walk in them. Anything less brings shame to the family.

Now I’m not heavy into shaming people, but shame is a Biblical principle. Look at what the Apostle John says in First John 2:28 – And now, dear children, continue in him, so that when he appears we may be confident and unashamed before him at his coming.

It’s unfortunate that our culture has made shame a sin in order to cover up the shame of sin. But when we sin, we should be ashamed before our Creator. When we sin, we must expect others in our spiritual family to be ashamed as well. It’s not supposed to feel good.

Someday I pray that my sister comes home. I pray she’s still alive. I pray that the shame she must feel will be overwhelmed by the love and compassion of a Heavenly Father as she remembers her early teaching.

But even more important to me than that is this: that my life would never bring shame to my Father in heaven, or to His family.

Pastor John