Memorize and Model

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Psalms 119:9 – 16 How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, O LORD; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Children’s minds are amazing. Their capacity to memorize is incredible. I see it continually in my grandchildren. After just one or two readings of a book they can recite whole sections of it. I love to test their memories. From the time they were old enough to talk I would sit them on my lap with a familiar book, and while reading I would intentionally leave out a word – any word. They would immediately correct me. Children have a marvelous capacity for memorization.

Because of that we must consider what we are feeding into their minds. Just as they memorize the words of a book and their context for usage, so they are memorizing the scripts of television shows and movies and forming contextual philosophies for usage. Their behavior is being shaped by what they are learning. As their parents and grandparents, we have the incredible privilege as God’s stewards of their young lives to mold them into people of moral purity. We have the right and more importantly the responsibility to regulate the input into their minds.

Most, if not all of us, deeply desire that our offspring grow up to be committed followers of Jesus Christ. It would be the highlight of being a grandparent for me to have each of those grandkids come to me at some point and ask, “Grandpa, how can I keep myself pure and live for Jesus alone?” It brings tears to my eyes now as I think about that. But for that to happen, there must be from within them a deep desire to want to be pure before the Lord. Where will that desire come from if not from the mentoring and modeling of their parents and grandparents? It is our primary responsibility. The desires of their heart are naturally wicked as declared by Jeremiah when he says, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Every tendency they have will be to fulfill the desires of their flesh. What we allow them to see and learn from us is what they will imitate. It is not sufficient to hand them over to the Children’s Ministries of your church and hope they will be able to show them the way. It is not wise to simply read them a Bible story or hand them a Bible story book so they can read it before they go to bed each night. It is imperative that they see those truths being lived out each day in our own lives.

When I was a little boy, Scripture memorization was highly regarded in our church. It was not just an exercise, but it was enthusiastically pursued by parents and teachers alike. I can still remember large passages of God’s Word that were required memory verses in every class we attended. One of them was this portion of Psalm 119. You probably learned it too. If you’re over 40 the chances are you learned it in the King James Version, so repeat with me – “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”

Now ask yourself this – “Is that happening?” Does the Word of God still hold such a treasured place in your heart that it keeps you from sinning against God? Are you the mentor and model of moral purity that your children and grandchildren want to see and imitate? Maybe it’s time for each of us to evaluate our deep desire to keep our way pure before God. This is the day we should re-commit to living our lives according to God’s Word and to seek Him with all our heart. Today is the day to begin hiding God’s Word in our heart so that we might not sin against Him. Then tomorrow might be the day that your child or grandchild approaches you and asks how they can live for God like you do.

Pastor John

Trust Produces Obedience

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, November 13, 2017

Psalms 119:1 – 8 Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD. Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

NOTE: Today we come to the longest of the Psalms – the 119th. It is an acrostic, with each section of verses starting with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Each section will be the basis for one devotional. The primary focus of the entire Psalm is the Word of God. Its truths are timeless and trustworthy. May the next few weeks of study bring you into a deeper understanding of the authority of Scripture and its practical applications to our lives. Please read each day’s selection carefully. I will make a short comment on just one highlight that I find, so take the time to let the Holy Spirit direct your thoughts to others key points He wants to show you.

The world of sports has been rocked over the last few years by the release of information that many of the stars of the game are guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. This minimizes the athlete’s accomplishments and their reputations have been destroyed. As a member of a professional team, their lives are judged by the rules of the game. The fame they had achieved has become infamy because they pursued personal glory at the expense of respect for the rules. They have been brought to shame rather than fame.

The foundation of all blessing in life is moral integrity, and the basis for moral integrity is the law of God. It is the only truth. God does not bless those who do not live their lives according to His law. So many of the things we call blessings are simply temporary deceptions of Satan that lull us into a false sense of personal security and pride because they were achieved by our own means and according to our own rules. They are not truly blessings of God. Only the things received through obedience to God’s laws can be counted as true blessings. Time will tell which is which in your life, just as it has in sports.

The key thought for me in this first section of Psalm 119 is this – Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!

It is imperative that we understand that the intent of our heart determines the validity of our obedience. Integrity is decided not developed. It is our tendency to want to review the rules before agreeing to them. How many of us have put a check in the box on our computer that states we have read and agree with the user’s policy without actually reading it?  We trust the character of the company that produced the software. We make a commitment to obey before we even know what we are being told to do. It is the intent of our heart to obey.

That is the kind of faith God demands of us. His laws are based in His character, and His character is trustworthy. Unfortunately for many of us we feign commitment. We say we trust God and will follow His commands, until we discover one that conflicts with our personal goals and lifestyle choices. We must admit that we have strings attached to our commitment to God, and the main string is that His laws must conform to our own view of life. If they don’t, then we reserve the right to reject God’s laws and write our own. We have never fully decided to follow God.

We must ask ourselves, “Am I steadfast in obeying God’s decrees? Have I fully surrendered my life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the authority of His Word? Am I a person of moral integrity, and will it be proven by my choices to obey God’s laws as I learn them?”

May the answer to all those questions be a resounding YES!

Pastor John

 

Only One Gate

LifeLink Devotional

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Psalms 118:19 – 29 (NIV) Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD. This is the gate of the LORD through which the righteous may enter. I will give you thanks, for you answered me; you have become my salvation. The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the LORD has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. O LORD, save us; O LORD, grant us success. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. The LORD is God, and he has made his light shine upon us. With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will give you thanks; you are my God, and I will exalt you. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.

In November of 2007, I was corresponding with several people of different faiths. I responded to an email I received from the leaders of Islam around the world who are inviting Christians to come together with them for peace based on our mutual understanding of the two great commandments on love – Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. My response was gracious but firm – we cannot come together on the basis of our love for God and others unless we first come together and agree on God’s love for us.

The people of the world do not understand that faith is not about our love for God, but about God’s love for us. The Apostle John put it this way – This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…We love because he first loved us. My Biblical stand on this subject was not well received.

(For your information, the interfaith dialogue pursued 10-years ago by the Muslim community has  developed into the current Interfaith Community promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood. Calvary will be hosting an event sponsored by the TIL Project (www.tilproject.com) on Thursday, November 30, at 6:30 PM to address the Biblical response to the Interfaith Community dialogue.)

The theme of today’s Psalm is the enduring love of God and His goodness towards those He loves. In the first 18 verses, the Psalmist reflects on the various expressions of God’s love He has experienced, resulting in an abundance of thanksgiving to God. He desires to be in the Presence of the One who loves him so completely so that he may thank Him personally. He asks God to open the gates of righteousness so that he may enter.

In my email correspondence with Muslims, I have asked them to explain to me how the gates of righteousness are opened for them so that they may enter the Presence of the LORD. Their answers are shallow and avoid the real issue of man’s sin. Basically, I was told that God honors all sincere hearts who seek Him and He forgives anyone who asks for it without the need for a mediator. They, in agreement with the Orthodox Jewish responses I received, have developed a religious system that provides for their salvation without the need for a Redeemer. They will do, say, and believe anything that eliminates Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. In fact, as the Jewish and Muslim respondents corresponded with each other they were excited to accept each other’s views as being just another means of salvation, and they challenged me to accept their way as equal truth with the Bible’s.

However, only the Bible is truth, and it states that there is only one gate through which the righteous may enter. There is only one way of salvation. He is Jesus Christ, the rejected stone. He is the complete and enduring expression of God’s love to mankind.

Unless we know Jesus, we cannot know the love of God, nor can we truly love God or our neighbor. For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall never perish, but have everlasting life.(John 3:16)

In His love God sent Jesus to be born of a virgin – free from the nature of sin because He had no human father. He was rejected and put to death by those to whom He came, but in His death, He provided salvation, and for those who believe in Jesus it is marvelous in our eyes.

This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Yes, today is a day in which we can rejoice and be glad, but this verse actually refers to “the day” when Jesus died for our sins. He made His Light shine upon us. We have become the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. The gate has been opened, and with boughs in hand we join in the festal procession right up to the horns of the heavenly altar where Jesus made His sacrifice for our sins. It is there that we give thanks to the Lord, for His love endures forever.

Do you see Him sitting at the right hand of the Father on the throne? Jesus is the love of God who endures forever. Give thanks.

Pastor John

Unquenchable Love

LifeLink Devotional

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Psalm 117  Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD.

There is a mathematical law that states, “The whole cannot be greater than the sum of all the parts.” It is also true that the whole cannot be less than the total of all the parts.

When we consider the greatness of God and His perfection, we understand that each individual characteristic, or “part”, must also be perfect or the total cannot be. We cannot ultimately define God in finite terms like “parts” and “totals” because God is infinite and the parts cannot be separated, but it helps me to understand His greatness in these terms. The perfection of God is consistent with the perfection of each of His characteristics. If He were not perfect in even one of them, then as a whole He would not be perfect.

The reason I present this is because as we seek to more fully understand His greatness, we must look at the greatness of the parts. The Psalmist understood this, and in addition to declaring the greatness of God he also declared the greatness of God’s characteristics. It is both logical and practical to ask for a clarification of greatness by asking for a description of the greatness of the parts. The psalmist does this, and he declares the greatness of God’s love and faithfulness.

God’s steadfast love and His enduring faithfulness are the theme of many Psalms. Here is one of my favorites:

Psalm 108:1-5

1   My heart is steadfast, O God; I will sing and make music with all my soul.

2    Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn.

3    I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples.

4    For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

5    Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.

It is because of God’s great love and faithfulness that my heart is steadfast, even in times of impending sorrow and grief. The response of a steadfast heart is praise, and each day as I awake I praise the Lord for His greatness. I am tempted to praise Him for what He does, and the time will come for that – but for now I praise Him for Who He is.

I think we all need to recognize that a steadfast heart comes primarily from a recognition of God’s greatness and secondarily from an understanding of the great things He does. Do not base the stability of your faith on activity but rather ground it firmly in the Person who in His greatness carries out the activity. As you consider His greatness, consider specifically the perfection of His love. It is higher than the heavens, as expressed in this great hymn of praise:

The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star, and reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care, God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled, and pardoned from his sin.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above, would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole, though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

My heart is steadfast, O God, because I trust your unquenchable love.

Pastor John

Culture’s Casualty

LifeLink Devotional

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Psalm 117:1-2  Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! 2  For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD!

I heard the story of a man who went to the pastor’s office with a burning question. “Pastor, is it proper for one man to profit from another man’s mistakes?” The pastor thought for a moment, then responded, “No, a man should not profit from the mistake of another.” Wanting to be certain, the man asked, “Are you sure, pastor?” “Of course I’m sure. In fact, I’m positive,” said the pastor. “Well then,” said the man, “would you please give me back the $200 I paid you to perform my wedding ceremony!”

Commitment is contemporary culture’s casualty. Everything today is about choice. Even after a choice is made, we reserve the right to re-choose. I don’t really believe we see or understand the depth of the Devil’s deception. It seems that in every area of our lives we have declared the right to keep our options open, just in case there is greener grass across the next fence. Commitment is only valued until the next choice comes along. And when commitment is sacrificed on the altar of choice, compromise rises from the ashes as a sweet delight to our flesh but as a sickening incense before God. Inconsistency reigns in our culture in direct contradiction to the character of the Almighty.

Imagine for a moment that you have just been involved in a terrible car accident that will cause your death within the next 5 minutes. While you are still conscious you want to tell your family three things – how you feel about them, how you want to be remembered, and how they should live. Remember, you have less than five minutes to write the note. What will you say?

I don’t know what the circumstances were that motivated the writing of the 117th Psalm, but it is the shortest of all the Psalms. It’s as if God sets it apart as the condensed and complete content of His character and how we are to remember Him.  He tells us how He feels about us – great is his love toward us. He tells us how we are to remember Him – the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. And He tells us how to live – Praise the LORD.

One thing stands out powerfully and clearly to me today – God made a choice to love me and He is committed to that choice.

I praise Him for His commitment of everlasting love and faithfulness. His choice is eternal. Compromise is not in His character. While life around me shouts with inconsistency, I will shout the consistency of my God. While the world around me celebrates choice, I celebrate the choice of God to love me, and I choose, once and for all, to love Him and be faithful to Him.

While the world around me becomes more and more committed to protecting choice, all the while destroying commitment, I become more and more committed to one choice – the choice of Christ – and I give up the right to ever choose again. I praise the great love of God towards me. I praise the faithfulness of the LORD which endures forever. I will shout it loudly with my life, and when appropriate I will use words.

I invite you to do the same. Commitment is not the casualty of Christianity – it is the cornerstone.

Pastor John

Death to Self

LifeLink Devotional

Monday, November 6, 2017

Psalms 116:15  Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints.

I can’t recall how many times I have used this verse at the funeral of a precious saint who lived their life to the honor of Jesus Christ. But today, as I read the 116th Psalm, I was overwhelmed with the need to see this verse in a new light. The context of the entire Psalm is deliverance from death and the grave so that we can live now to the glory of the Lord. Maybe the death spoken of here as being precious to the Lord is the death to self we all must die every day.

Many years ago the Pogo cartoon character made a statement that revealed the real cause of human problems. He said, “We have found the enemy and he is us!”

We have spent far too much time and energy fighting the wrong enemy. We are quick to blame the devil or someone else for all of life’s problems. We continue to beat our heads against an imaginary wall fighting an enemy that does not exist, while the real enemy is within. We are self-satisfied, self-centered, self-sufficient, and selfish. Adam blamed Eve for his sin but his problem was with self. Eve accused the serpent for causing her sin but her enemy was self. Sin originated with self and sin continues today because people refuse to let go of self. The self we so desperately cling to will be lost until we learn to let go of it. We should not be amazed that Jesus once said that in order to find ourselves, we must first lose ourselves (Matt. 10:39). Yet, most people are desperately clinging to self.

Riley Walker tells the following story to illustrate – This week a little bird reminded me of self-centered people who are destroying themselves while fighting an imagined enemy. You may consider this strange, but the bird is attacking its own reflection that it sees mirrored in our basement window. The bird repeatedly attacks the basement window. I have seen this phenomenon before and have wondered why some birds do such a thing. I recently found out why. A bird who attacks itself in a mirrored reflection is usually a male bird who has certain territory that he claims as his own. If another male bird enters his territory, he attacks it. Occasionally a male bird claims a piece of territory that has a house in it with glass windows. When the light is right he sees a reflection of himself and thinks it is an enemy intruding on his territory. He will consistently attack his reflection until the reflection is somehow eliminated, or until he gets disoriented, or until he kills himself. They beat their heads against their own reflection, thinking they are fighting an enemy, while all the time the real enemy is inside. Every human problem is caused by each individual attempting to make self the center of life. You can see how problems would arise with everyone wanting his or her own private self as the center. You have probably heard some say, “I never had any problems until I met him,” or “I do not have any problems when I am by myself.” What they say is true because a person who is around only himself has no rivals.

Paul said that we must die to self and live for Christ (Rom. 6:11). He said of himself: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). When we are in Christ and Christ is in us, we become one with Christ and one with everyone else who is in Christ. We are no longer threatened by our own reflection because self is no longer our goal; Christ is. Self is the real enemy and until you give self up to Christ you will never find life or peace or happiness.

The 3rd chapter of Colossians is an essential read for those who are struggling with self, as I do. In case you don’t have your Bible handy, here it is. Study it. Meditate on it. Obey it. For precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of one of His saints. Let it be your goal to die today and live for Christ.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Pastor John

Not To Us

LifeLink Devotional

Friday, November 3, 2017

Psalms 115:1  Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.

Early one morning I made a quick stop at a 24-hour department store to pick up one last birthday present for one of the grandkids. As I entered the store the gentleman who works as the greeter smiled and said, What a beautiful day.” I responded to Him, “We can be thankful for every day that God gives us.” He smiled bigger and agreed.

On my way out of the store as I was paying for the present, the same greeter came over to talk to me. He noticed the cool kids item I had and we started talking about grandkids. The clerk was listening, and said, “Your grandkids are sure going to love you.” I immediately responded, “They do love me, but it’s not because of what I give them.” The greeter immediately chimed in, “Yeah, it’s because of the time you spend with them.” I emphatically agreed with him.

That event caused me to consider the difference between relationships that are based on my performance and those that are based on the true expression of love. It seems so easy for us to draw attention to ourselves in the everyday situations of life. We strive to be noticed. We work hard to get ahead. We do everything we can to make a name for ourselves. All this is done with the expectation of improved acceptance by others.

But for the devoted follower of Jesus Christ, acceptance is not based on my performance, but on the work of Jesus Christ to establish His love in my heart. What we do is nothing compared to what God does. Our activity is meaningless unless it springs from the life of Jesus in us and has eternal significance. Our status cannot begin to compare to the exalted position of almighty God, and if we recognize His status in us there is no need to seek to improve upon it. Any attention we draw to ourselves is idolatry. All glory is due to the Lord, and to Him alone. He alone is truly worthy of praise and honor.

The 115th Psalm is a marvelous expression of praise to an awesome God. It contrasts the life of a faithful servant of God to the life of those who seek their own glory. As you read it, you will see the futility of worshiping the idols of human design. We all have them, and we use them to try to achieve human recognition. We use them to improve our status with people. We use them to try and improve our value.

Every one of these idols, from possessions and performance to prestige and power, is inanimate and unable to meet the true longings of our spirits. Only a living Spirit can truly relate to our spirit and fulfill us. Only a living Spirit can love. Only a living Spirit can be faithful. We may love money, but it cannot love us. We may love power but it will only corrupt us. We may love the prestige of our position, but it does not bring peace because we must work so hard to protect it. We may love the attention our performance brings us, but it is soon forgotten and soon outdone by someone else’s performance. Any glory that is sought for self will bring us the same end result as the idol that we used to achieve it. Verse 8 says clearly that “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”

Just think, anyone who seeks their own glory and uses the things of the world to accomplish it will end up just like the things of the world – unable to relate to others on a personal level. The more we seek the things of the world the more we destroy the very thing we truly long for – the ability to love and be loved. That should wake us up.

But those who live in the love of God and experience His faithfulness, giving all glory to Him for everything in their life, will be blessed. The LORD remembers us and will bless us: he will bless those who fear the LORD—small and great alike. May the LORD make you increase, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

 

The choice is yours. Pursue unresponsive and unproductive idols of human creation that cannot meet your deepest need for love and security, or pursue the Creator who will satisfy you completely with His love and faithfulness. To Him and Him alone be all the glory. AMEN!

Pastor John