Where’s the Hope?

Connecting Points

Monday, November 30, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  The God of Hope

Scripture Reading:  John 5:45-46   “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” 

Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. The word advent is from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming”. It is a season of the Christian church, specifically the period of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus.  

The Latin word adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, and is commonly used in reference to the future Second Coming of Christ. As Christians we believe that the season of Advent serves a dual purpose: it is a reminder of the original waiting that was done by the Hebrews for the birth of the Messiah as well as the expectant waiting that Christians today endure for the second coming of Christ.

The significance of waiting for the Second Coming of Jesus is absolutely dependent upon the truth of His first coming as God in human flesh. Any rejection of the truth of the incarnation of Christ removes any hope for the Second Coming. If the truth is rejected that the birth of Jesus introduced the Savior to the world, then fear will overwhelm any thoughts of His Second Coming. Hope in the future coming of Jesus is destroyed by neglecting the truth that His incarnation was necessary so that we could be forgiven for our sin.

When people deny their personal need for salvation, they place their hope in people or things that will eventually condemn them. Jesus attempted to teach this lesson to the Pharisees in John 5. The Pharisees were the law enforcement agency of Israel. They had declared themselves to be righteous by their strict obedience to every detail of the Old Testament law. But that was not enough. They expanded the law to cover every miniscule detail of life and held people in fear and bondage with an ever-watchful eye. They pinned their hopes of salvation on the law of Moses and how they interpreted it for everyday life.

But Moses was not their Savior, and would instead become their accuser before the Father. The hope of the people had been ignorantly placed in the wrong person. If only they had read the writings of Moses with spiritual eyes that were open rather than eyes blinded by personal ambition and recognition. If they had, they would have read in Genesis 3:15 that an offspring of Eve would one day crush the head of Satan, a clear prophecy of the coming of Christ the Messiah.

Or they would have understood that when Moses recalled the story of God’s covenant with Abraham, the father of their nation, he referred to Jesus Christ. God told Abraham “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:2-3) Abraham knew what that meant. Jesus confirmed it when He said “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad.” (John 8:56)

The Pharisees should also have seen that when Moses wrote the record of the life of Jacob, later named Israel, and the blessing he bestowed on his twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of their nation, he referred to the coming King whose reign would bring eternal obedience. Jacob said to his son Judah, The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. (Genesis 49:10)

And they certainly would have understood that the Messiah would be the prophet to whom they were to listen if they had discerned the truth of Deuteronomy 18:15 which says, The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

Because they had not clearly read the Scriptures, they missed the Messiah when He came. They rejected the truth of Jesus. They believed in the coming of a Messiah, but when He came they missed him because they had not accepted the truth of who He would be.

Many today will miss the Second Coming of Christ because they have rejected the truth of the first coming of Jesus. They have no joyful expectation of the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) because they have pinned their hopes on the wrong thing. Someday, when they stand before God as judge and try to proclaim their worth to enter heaven, everything they hoped in will declare them guilty. Their money will not buy their way in. Their reputation will be tarnished eternally by the truth of their sinful nature. Their good works will be revealed as filthy rags when the light of the glory of God shines on them. All they hoped for will be lost, and they will stand condemned.

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must tell them about Jesus. They need to discover true hope.

Pastor John

Reasons for Thanksgiving, part 2

Connecting Points

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Current Study: Thanksgiving

Today’s Topic:  Reasons To Give Thanks

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 107:1-2  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.   Let the redeemed of the LORD say this

As promised yesterday, here are the rest of the New Testament reasons to give thanks. I know today is extremely busy for most of us, but please take the time to be in the presence of the Lord with praise. It will make a huge difference in how the rest of your day goes.

Give thanks for…

  • A generous spirit in us as a result of our salvation- You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.   2 Corinthians 9:11-12
  • The generosity of God – Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! 2 Corinthians 9:15
  • The love we have for others – ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints,   I have not stopped giving thanks for you. Ephesians 1:15-16
  • The privilege of being partners in missions – I thank my God every time I remember you.   In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy   because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. Philippians 1:3-5
  • God’s qualification of our lives and our future inheritance – joyfully   giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you  to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. Colossians 1:12
  • The peace of Christ in our hearts – Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.   Colossians 3:15
  • The energy and endurance to work for Jesus – We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers.   We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3
  • The knowledge of the truth – And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe. 1 Thessalonians 2:13
  • The joy our lives in Christ bring to others – How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9
  • It is God’s will to give thanks in everything – give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:18
  • Growing faith and love – We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. 2 Thessalonians 1:3
  • Choosing to be saved – But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you  to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 2 Thessalonians 2:13
  • Being appointed by God to serve Him – I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 1 Timothy 1:12
  • Our government leaders – I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—  for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 1 Timothy 2:1-2
  • All of God’s creation – For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,   because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. 1 Timothy 4:4
  • The coming kingdom of God – Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. Hebrews 12:28
  • The reign of the King We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign. Revelation 11:17

Happy Thanksgiving.

Pastor John

 

 

Reasons For Thanksgiving

Connecting Points

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Current Study: Thanksgiving

Today’s Topic:  Reasons To Give Thanks

Scripture Reading:  Psalm 107:1-2  Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.   Let the redeemed of the LORD say this

As promised yesterday, here are the New Testament reasons to give thanks. Because there are 34 of them, I’ll send half today and half tomorrow. Be blessed with an abundance of thanksgiving as you read them.

Give thanks for…

  • daily provisions of foodTaking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, Jesus gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. Matthew 14:19
  • the Redeemer of the world Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. Luke 2:38
  • the healing power of Jesus – One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.   He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him-and he was a Samaritan. Luke 17:15-16
  • that the Father hears our prayers – So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” John 11:41
  • to encourage others in the middle of a crisis – After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.   They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. Acts 27:35-36
  • fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ – The brothers there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged. Acts 28:15
  • the faith of others living for Christ – First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. Romans 1:8
  • freedom from sin – But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.   You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Romans 6:17-18
  • freedom from the old nature of death – What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?   Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:24-25
  • freedom from legalism – He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.   Romans 14:6
  • God’s grace in Jesus Christ – I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 1 Corinthians 1:4
  • The gifts of the Holy Spirit – I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.   But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue. 1 Corinthians 14:18-19
  • Victory over death – But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:57
  • Answered prayer – Then many will give thanks on our  behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. 2 Corinthians 1:11
  • Triumphant living for the glory of God – But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.   2 Corinthians 2:14
  • People getting saved by God’s grace – All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians 4:15
  • Compassionate hearts of others – I thank God, who put into the heart of Titus the same concern I have for you.   2 Corinthians 8:16

Don’t let the stress of the holiday preparations quench your thankful spirit.

Pastor John

 

 

Jesus Gave Thanks!

Connecting Points

Monday, November 23, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic: Jesus Gave Thanks!

Scripture Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

I love this week of the year. If I had to rate it, it would be in the top 50 or so. Actually, it would be in the top three. For as long as I can remember from childhood, Thanksgiving week has always been the time of my fondest and deepest family memories. My kids all make fun of me for this and will understand when I say, “This is so special.” At some point during the Thanksgiving dinner I will probably say that with tears in my eyes. Last year one of my sons imitated me early in the meal and everyone roared with mocking laughter. I love my family!

This morning, as I started to put together a list of all the reasons the New Testament provides for us to be thankful, I stopped at the third one I came to. I guess I will go into that list deeper tomorrow, but for today God stopped me and made a connection with me at this point.

Jesus is just hours away from His crucifixion. He’s in the upper room with His disciples, and He’s telling them the details of His suffering that is at hand. Then, in a symbolic gesture incredibly deep with spiritual truth, Jesus takes the bread. Let’s read how Matthew relates it to us in his Gospel.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Two times Jesus gave thanks. He was thankful for the bread and thankful for the cup of wine. But His thankfulness goes far deeper than mere habit or courtesy of praying before a meal. In fact, they were already eating, so any blessing of the food had already taken place.

Just think what the bread represented in the plan of God and in the understanding of the Son. The bread was symbolic of His body – the physical body that would soon endure excruciating pain and suffering. He would be spit upon and struck, beaten and bloodied, crowned and crucified. His body would suffer more than we dare to image but not more than we deserve ourselves because of our sin.

The cup of wine represented the blood of Jesus. Once shed on the cross it would become the once-for-all covering for our sin. Every sacrifice for sin required the shedding of blood – the expelling of the source of life from the physical being. Jesus knew that on the cross His blood would be spilled out. He knew that the weight of sin would crush His heart and His chest cavity would fill with blood as He took His last breath and gave up His life for ours. He foresaw the spear thrust into His side so that His blood could be shed to meet God’s righteous requirements and provide eternal forgiveness.

Yet, seeing it all with His infinite mind’s eye and knowing the suffering that was ahead, Jesus gave thanks!

I am in awe of my Lord! I am ashamed of myself. I complain. I grumble. I criticize. I find fault. I want change. I want to be more like Jesus. Jesus gave thanks!

I think I’ve discovered a connection. Being thankful is the product of a surrendered heart. Self-centered hearts aren’t thankful. Jesus was fully surrendered to the will of God, so He could be thankful for every step, even suffering ones, that He was directed to take. He had His eyes fixed on the finish line, not the competition of the race. It is in full surrender that thankfulness abounds.

Jesus, forgive us for being self-willed and not surrendered. Forgive us for complaining and criticizing when we could be content in knowing that You are in control. May we express gratitude rather than grumbling. May we learn to be thankful before, during, and after suffering as was Jesus.

Pastor John

God’s Affirmation

Connecting Points

Friday, November 20, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  God’s Affirmation

Scripture Reading:  1Peter 5:10 (NIV)  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 

I am overloaded with blessing today because of the many truths in this one verse. In order to be brief, please enjoy a bulleted format of connecting points today. Choose the one or several that best fit your needs today.

  • All grace is from God, and God gives grace generously. His grace is sufficient for every need. His grace has conquered sin and death (Romans 5:20-21). Every suffering, every trial, and every difficulty is yet another opportunity to experience the grandeur of God’s grace as He sustains us and supplies our every need. Our sinful flesh deserves the suffering. Our suffering Savior is God’s gift of grace that calls us to eternal fellowship and glory. Each hardship is God’s activity to reveal His glory and strengthen our bond with Him.
  • Suffering is temporary – the glory to which we have been called is eternal.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. My friends, please take time to read this entire passage of Scripture in 2 Corinthians 4:6-18.
  • God Himself is affirming me. This is my personal connecting point for today. When I used to be in business, it was nice to get words of affirmation from my manager, and then from my district manager, but I will never forget the time I got a call from the owner of the company. When the person responsible for the bottom line calls, it means more. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)
  • God Himself will deliver the grace you need to accomplish four things:
    • He will restore you. The Greek word means to render fit, sound, and complete; to put things in order. God is personally setting all things in order in your life so you are fully equipped to do His work. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
    • He will make you strong. This is the only place in the entire New Testament where this word appears. It is probably derived from the same root word used in Ephesians 6:10 where Paul tells us to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might so that we can stand against all the attacks of our enemy the devil. God Himself is providing all the strength you need to resist the devil and stand strong in the midst of all trouble.
    • God Himself will make you firm. He will establish you. He will make you stable. Stability is not a pipe dream. It is a reality for all who live wisely, recognizing that wisdom comes from God alone through our faith in Jesus Christ. God is the personal source of stability. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. (James 1:5-8).
    • God will make you steadfast. The Greek word here refers to the placing of a solid foundation upon which anything can be built. That foundation is Jesus Christ, the Rock of our salvation. This same word is used to describe the three building materials of a solid foundation.
  • Faith – continue in your faith, established and firm. (Colossians 1:23)
  • Hope – established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. (Col. 1:23)
  • Love – And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,   may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,   and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)

God Himself will provide for you. God Himself affirms you. God Himself is at work in you. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Pastor John

We’re Being Perfected

Connecting Points

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  Suffering Brings Perfection

Scripture Reading:  1Peter 5:9 (NIV)  Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

I want to encourage you today with one word from 1 Peter 5:9. It requires looking at the verse in a different translation. The New American Standard Version reads – But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. I want to focus on the word accomplished.

Did you know that suffering is accomplishing something positive in your life? Hard to believe while we’re in the thick of it, but it’s true. The Greek word in the original text here is epiteleo, and it means to bring to an end, to complete, to perfect. It is the same word the Apostle Paul chose to describe the completion of the work God is doing in our lives when he wrote to the people of Philippi. He said, “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (emphasis mine)

Here’s my simple yet profound connecting point for today: All suffering of all Christians is the same kind – the kind that moves us towards experiencing the completion of the character of Christ. The types of suffering people experience may be different, but the reason for all suffering is the same. God is completing a grand work in us to perfect the life of His Son Jesus.

It doesn’t matter whether the suffering was self-induced by our own choices, or people-induced because of the choices of others. It is all God-designed and God-controlled for one primary reason – to train our character by testing our faith. Peter says that the knowledge of this process being active in all of us is the motivation for us to unite in our stand against the devil who seeks to stop the process.

Satan doesn’t want Christians to act or think like Jesus. He doesn’t want us to be a threat to his singular purpose to destroy as much of God’s creation as he can – especially the part of it created in His own image. He seeks to eliminate the proof of the resurrection of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit by discouraging, defeating and devouring the faith of every believer. He wants us to look just like the unsaved people of the world so that none of them have any hope of change.

But the work of God to perfect the life of Jesus in His children will not and cannot be stopped. It can be hindered by our responses to how God is working, but in the end it cannot be stopped. So resist the devil, and stand firm in your faith. God is working through each and every situation of your life to produce the character of Christ in you. Nothing about your current situation surprises Him or overwhelms Him. It has been designed by Him to bring the fullness of fellowship with Jesus to your life. It is the same for all of us. Let us together stand firm in our faith.

Pastor John

Get Up!

Daily Devotions

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Current Study: 1 Peter

Today’s Topic:  Stand Firm

Scripture Reading:  1Peter 5:9 Resist him [the devil], standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

One of the most enjoyable things I get to do with my oldest son is take a trout fishing trip every spring to the Peshtigo River in Eastern Wisconsin. I look forward to it every year. We camp in a rustic national forest with no modern conveniences whatsoever. We really rough it. We sit around the campfire in the morning and cook breakfast. We fish all morning. We nap after lunch. We fish until supper. We sit around the campfire all evening and wonder when the bears will arrive to check out our food.

But this fishing trip is also one of the scariest and most tiring things I do. No, not because of the bears, but because of the strength of the river. Depending on the amount of rain that has been falling the river can be rushing rapidly. Two years ago it was almost impossible to fish. Even when the river is low and the flow is slow, there are slippery rocks below so you have to watch where you go.

To catch the fish, we wade through the river. Every step has to be carefully planned to avoid falling in and being washed away in the current. The best way I’ve found to remain upright and have the best opportunity to catch fish is to walk upstream, against the flow. This takes great strength and alertness. Firm footing is hard to find. Every step is a step of faith. The water is dark and in most places the bottom can’t be seen. But we know the bottom is there. We know the rocks are there. We know the footing can be firm if the placement of the foot is correct. It takes strength and resolve to go against the flow, but the exhaustion we feel is quickly dispelled by the sound and smell of trout in the frying pan.

I have never seen a successful trout fisherman who sits complacently. Those who would sit in the river will be at the mercy of the current. They will quickly be swept away. It is less dangerous to stand than to sit.

Unfortunately, in the spiritual world today, far too many Christians have decided to sit complacently in the rushing current of culture. They are being swept away by the flow of faithless philosophy and floundering folks. Far too few Christians are standing firm in the river of the world and going upstream against the flow. It seems most think it’s not worth the fight.

We cannot follow Jesus and go with the flow. Standing firm in the faith and resisting the devil requires great strength and resolve. It takes training and discipline, but Jesus has called ALL of His followers to stand. Sitting complacently and enjoying the free ride down the river is not an option, and it’s not free. Those who do not stand will be bruised on the rocks. They will be swept under in the rapids. They will go over the falls and plunge to their deaths. Only those who stand and go against the flow will survive. But it will be a fight.

  • Those who have stood firm in the past have called it a fight. Fight the good fight of the faith (1 Timothy 6:12).
  • They have fought the fight and will receive the reward. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.   Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)
  • They have been obedient to the teaching they received. Timothy, my son, I give you this instruction…so that by following them you may fight the good fight,   holding on to faith and a good conscience. (1 Timothy 1:18-19)
  • They have drawn a distinct line between the spiritual and the worldly. For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.   The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.   We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
  • They have equipped themselves with everything they need to win the fight and stand firm in their faith. Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6:10-13)

So get up from your spiritual lazy-boy which is being swept away by the current of culture. Put your feet firmly on the Rock. Resist the devil. Go against the flow. Stand firm in your faith. Whatever strength it takes to stand will be supplied by the One who stood for you and died. He did it for the joy that was set before Him. He didn’t sit down until the fight was over (Hebrews 12:2). Get up. Your fight is not done.

Pastor John