A Conspiracy of Love

Connecting Points

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  A Conspiracy of Love

Scripture Reading:  1 John 3:16  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 

As we brace for a major winter storm that could disrupt lots of our family plans for Christmas, let us not become so worrisome that we forget to celebrate the transcending power of love. Love broke through the farthest boundaries of the universe and stepped into the world in a manger. Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.

If our plans are able to be realized, I will be on vacation all next week visiting family in the Dakotas. So until I return on Monday, January 4th, may this Advent poem written by Dave Veerman carry you through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

LEGACY

                                                  Your life is like the morning fog-

Like the fog

  a morning mist

    life flows and ebbs

      until sun kissed

  Of days and years

    at Noels past

      we await

        but done so fast

    Delighted squeals

      and paper torn

        our family’s joy

          each Christmas morn

      So my wonder

        at the tree

          how many yuletides

            left for me

                                             It’s here a while,

Not long ago

  in manger lay

    the Holy One

      a price to pay

  Thirty years

    plus three invested

      the twelve and more

        supremely tested

    Faithfully

      they passed the Word

        loving, serving

          many heard

      We their heirs

        live through the ages

          write our account

             on fresh pages

                                                   then it’s gone (James 4:14, NLT).

Parent, child

  new generation

    sharing Truth

      the Incarnation

  Christmas gift

    amazing story

      grace unfurled

        revealed glory

    This baton

      to hand along

        faith to faith

          the future strong

      Knowing not

        just when I’ll see

          my chapter

            in this legacy

And so soon

  the race is won

    at journey’s end

      I kiss the Son.           Hallelujah!

Modern Day Miracle of Love

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Modern Day Miracle of Love

Scripture Reading:  2 Corinthians 9:8, 10-11   And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 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.

Monday morning I received this email – For those of you who don’t know yet, we served 196 people last night!  What an amazing night, and that the Lord multiplied the food so all were served, with some left over!

Several weeks ago in church we learned about a new ministry in our city that is an outreach to the unsaved trapped in the bondage of drugs, alcohol, homelessness and unemployment. The founders of the ministry are truly acting under God’s power and in response to God’s vision. As a congregation, we accepted the challenge to get involved and help them in any way we can.

One of our shepherd groups in our church decided to prepare and serve the weekly meal served at the ministry on Sunday evenings to about 50 people. They recruited additional volunteers from the congregation to help provide food because this would be their Christmas dinner and they should expect up to 100 people. Everything was organized and prepared to meet that need. Little did they know that God had much bigger plans.

Someone decided to promote the event on Facebook. A big story about the ministry appeared in the paper on Sunday. The meal planning team did not consider the effects of such publicity, but they had been praying. One of the members of the planning team put it this way as he wrote about what happened.

We had all been praying about how we were going to serve all the people predicted last night…Since none of us had experience cooking for that number of people, we started discussing the menu, and since B-side has no cooking or storage or cleaning facilities, we had to do everything at home or church and take it there in roasters. We ended up getting about 50 lbs of ribs, six small turkeys, Cheesy Hash Browns, Baked Beans, and buttered dinner rolls. We also managed to get 90 cupcakes and a large sheet cake. One member of our team said she had heard that one pound of turkey could feed two people, so while it might be close, we thought we could feed up to 100. As you may have noticed, there was an article about B-side in the Sunday paper, so I was praying that we would have enough to serve a good meal to MORE than 100. We got setup with extension cords and started tripping circuit breakers everywhere. As we started serving someone came by and said we were up to 165 people and still coming. We all stared at each other, praying for God to provide. HE DID! We had enough to serve over 190 people. It wasn’t quite what Jesus did with 5 loaves and 3 fish, but God provided. What is even more surprising is that only the last 6 plates didn’t get potatoes, and the last 2 didn’t get beans, and the last of the ribs went on the last plate. I saw one of our men putting the last of the turkey in a zip lock bag, and there may have been enough to make 2-3 turkey sandwiches!!!!! God not only provides, He does it in the exact portions needed! We serve an awesome God, and if you are willing to stretch yourselves a little, He will use you to do amazing things!!!! What a blessed night.

Here’s the email we got from Matt and Suzi, the Directors of B-Side Community in Eau Claire:

Hello friends!!
We can’t thank you enough for your serving hearts tonight!!! We never expected that many people and for there to be enough food like there was, was incredible… thank you for all your planning and hard work… I pray through the craziness people were blessed and even though there wasn’t an actual message tonight, that Christ’s love and message through serving and loving people was evident… I know it was powerful for me to watch God tonight… in so many ways! You all were amazing!! Thank you thank you!!! What a blessing!
God Bless you!!!
Love,
Suzie and Matt

It is in giving that God provides the greatest blessing. He has promised to always provide enough for us to give generously. Merry Christmas, and happy giving!

Pastor John

Maturing in Love

Connecting Points

Monday, December 21, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Maturing Love

Scripture Reading:  Matthew 1:20-21  An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

It is the theme of more songs than any other subject. It is the subject of more prose and poetry than any other topic. It is the topic of more conversations than any other item of interest. It interests everyone even before we understand we are interested in it. We were designed by our eternal Creator to need it, know it, experience it and show it. It is love.

The love of God that we have the capacity to know and experience is far greater than the counterfeit defined and desired by the world. What the world calls love is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy self, and should not be called love at all. The essence of love has nothing to do with emotions. It has even less to do with hormones. Love may produce emotional responses, but it is not found in the emotions. Love is volitional, not emotional. Love is found in the will of one’s heart.

The love of God is not based on His emotional connection to mankind, for there is nothing in our sinful nature for Him to desire. Love is itself an attribute of God, not a product of any of His other attributes. His nature is love, and therefore His actions are all loving. Even in His judgment of sin He declares His love for the sinner. Jesus came to earth to be judged for our sin, yet God sent Him as an expression of His love so that we might be forgiven and experience His love.

As I read the story of Joseph I am impressed by the nature of his love. What kind of love was it that would move Joseph to listen to the angel and take Mary as his wife after she was already pregnant and declared by society to be an adulteress? How great the love he knew that he would forego the stoning required by the law and marry her. How strong the love he lived that he would put his own reputation and career at risk for the sake of honoring God. How secure he was in the love of God to prioritize obedience to his Lord over acceptance of his culture. How confident he was of God’s love that the opinions, scorn, and even rejection of his friends were not allowed to influence his decision. What love Joseph knew!

We are in desperate need of this kind of love. As the Apostle Paul said, 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 NIV)

We may think we know what love is, but the reality is probably that we don’t. How many of us would dare to presume that we know the depth and width and length and height of God’s love? But according to Paul we can. We must not be satisfied with less than the fullness of God’s love. So here’s a measuring stick to help you determine where you are in the process of understanding the love of God. May the Lord use it to bring you to maturity in love so that you fulfill the promise of Jesus when He said that the world will know we are Christians by our love.

These are the five stages of love’s maturity. Stage one is actually not love at all, but must be the starting point because it’s where we all begin apart from Christ.

1.    The love of self for self’s sake – All choices are made for the benefit of self because love of self has been chosen as one’s highest priority.

2.    The love of God for self’s sake – All choices have a spiritual appearance, but God is worshipped and served only so long as self is well served.

3.    The love of God for God’s sake – Now love is beginning to truly be experienced. We love God not for what He does for us but exclusively for Who He is.

4.    The love of self for God’s sake – We now see ourselves in light of God’s grace that has forgiven us, accepted us, and qualified us as His eternal child.

5.    The love of others for God’s sake – This is the fullness of love – the sacrifice of one’s self for the sake of another.

It was the love of others for God’s sake that moved Joseph to consider God’s purpose and take Mary as His wife. It was the same love that had sent Jesus to her womb. God’s love is unique to Him, but shared with those who are His. Each one who has been born of God has inherited the love of God. We can and we must know it, experience it, and live it.  

Pastor John

Motivated by Love

Connecting Points

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Living Love

Scripture Reading:  Luke 11:42  “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.

I would rather do simple things motivated by the love of God than great things tainted with even a hint of pride.

That statement was born in my mind this morning as I was reading a devotional from Brother Lawrence, a monk from the 17th century who wrote the book Practicing the Presence of God. I was deeply challenged with his words when he wrote, We ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.

When Jesus came to earth as the living expression of the love of God, a stark contrast was created. The culture into which Jesus was born was one of great pride, manifesting itself in mandated obedience to the law that had been translated and twisted to accomplish self-righteousness. Jesus entered this world of self-centered sin with the liberating language of love. The contrast created conflict ending in crucifixion

It was in the midst of a meal that the contrast created such conflict that the religious leaders of the day began to actively pursue the elimination of the Messenger whose words threatened their prideful positions and possessions. You can read the complete story in Luke chapter 11.

In His response to the legalistic position of the Pharisees, Jesus declared six things that He saw as woeful behavior in them. It is the very first one that to me is most significant, because it expresses the contrast that caused the conflict. The Pharisees were so intent on obedience to even the tiniest aspect of the law that they completely ignored love to people based on the love of God.

The Pharisees were so concerned with their image that they even placed a tenth of their garden herbs in the offering at the temple. Yet when it came to helping the needy and the hurting, they separated themselves from such activity for fear that they would somehow become ceremonially unclean for worship. Their image had become more important to them than the expression of the love of God.

Jesus addressed this issue first in His response to them. He told them that the love of God and the loving treatment of people were to be most evident in their lives. Obedience to even the simplest laws of God was important and not to be neglected, but obedience was never to overshadow love. Obedience is never an end in itself. In fact, the self-righteousness and image-consciousness attached to obedience not motivated by love is woeful in the eyes of God.

Love is to be the reason we live and the motivation for all activity. Legalism chooses what is beneficial to self. Love chooses only what is beneficial to others. Maybe this would be a good time to review what the Bible says about a lifestyle of love.

  • Love is more important than miraculous spiritual gifts – If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 
  • Love is more important than knowledge and faith – If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 
  • Love is more important than sacrificial giving – If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.
  • Love is to expressed in every aspect of our personality, lifestyle, and relationships –
    • Love is patient and kind.
    • Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 
      or rude.
    • Love does not demand its own way.
    • Love is not irritable
    • Love keeps no record of being wronged.
    • Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 
    • Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 

Many times I think we fall into the trap of the Pharisees, somehow hoping our actions will bring credibility and value to our lives. God’s love alone can do that. His love qualified us. No amount of obedience can improve our standing before God. We have already been given full rights of inheritance as the children of God. The love of God has conquered the need for self-affirmation. As a result, let the love of God motivate all of your actions. True love always benefits others. We can live that way now because we’ve already received all the benefits of God’s love.

Pastor John

 

I’m Still Standing

Connecting Points

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  I’m Still Standing

Scripture Reading:  1 John 3:1  How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!

All I was doing was putting on my socks. I did it the same way I do every morning. I don’t know what happened. By the time I got to the kitchen for my bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats and my coffee, I couldn’t stand up straight. I am currently experiencing the kind of lower back pain that blurs the vision. It is sapping my strength.

As I sit here at my desk I wonder if I’ll be able to get out of my chair. Getting out of the car was a struggle. One of the many well-conditioned muscles :) of my back has decided to cramp up and I don’t know how to uncramp it. I am sitting differently. I look goofy when I stand. (Stop it. I know I look goofy anyway. And don’t make me laugh because it hurts too much.) It’s probably obvious that the pain is affecting my ability to think and write.

Even though the pain has changed my physical positioning, it is not affecting my permanent position as a son of the Most High God. Hallelujah for that. Pain can’t stop love, and the love of God has been lavished on us. King David knew about this love when he wrote this in Psalm 36:

How priceless is your unfailing love!

Both high and low among men find  refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; 

you give them drink from your river of delights.  For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.

The Apostle Paul declared that by the power of God’s love our position in Christ is eternally secure.

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39)

Paul also wrote that the power of God’s love is what put us in that permanent position in the first place.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,   made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.   And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,   in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)

When trouble comes; when pain increases; when strength is sapped and needs to be replenished, follow the advice of Ephesians 3:16-19.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being,   so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. 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.

I’ve been lavished with love by my heavenly Father. The pain in my back, or pains in the neck, can’t change His love for me or my stand in Him. So I’m going to have a “count-it-all-joy” party today, knowing that Jesus is teaching me the depths of His love so that I can be filled to the brim with the fullness of God. Anybody want to come to the party?

Pastor John
  

What Love!

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Love

Scripture Reading:  Galatians 4:3-5  We were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. 

What made him do it? He was a free man. Not only had he never been a slave, he had spent his entire life working to free slaves. So what made him voluntarily become a slave?

For years Jack had been the voice of truth and reason in his small southern community. But he was opposed to the slave trade that was ingrained in the everyday experience of the socialites with whom he lived. He took a public stand on his position. His words cut deep into the hearts of those who bought, sold, and owned fellow human beings. The respect that so many had held for him was soon rejected and turned into hate. In an attempt to discredit and discourage him, the town folks flaunted their slaves more publicly than ever. They lost all compassion and concern for the lives of the slaves, and soon physical mistreatment and abuse was heaped high upon the already crushed spirits of the slaves.

Then Jack did something incredible. It was unexpected and unbelievable to the slave owners and to the slaves themselves. Jack sent a letter to the owner of the slave market. In the letter he referred to the Code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi had been the sixth king of Babylon in 1790 B.C. In this Babylonian law it was written that “an individual might sell himself into slavery.” So Jack suggested to the slave market owner that he would like to be sold as a slave. The slave trader agreed, accepting Jack’s contingency that in exchange for his slavery, one slave scheduled for sale that day would be set free.

On the appointed day, Jack placed himself on the trading block in the town square, and the bidding began. The hatred of the people directed at Jack for trying to stop slavery soon boiled over into enormous bids. Everyone wanted their chance to get their hands on Jack. They truly thought that this would silence him.

But they had not counted on the power of love. After the sale, as Jack’s clothes were torn from his body and he was literally dragged away in chains, the announcement was made that the next slave up for sale would not be sold, and instead would be set free. Everyone shouted in angry disapproval until the slave trader held up his hand and told them that the purchase price for Jack included the freedom for one slave. When asked why he would do such a thing, the slave trader replied, “It wasn’t my idea. It was Jack’s.”

The crowd went silent. Heads hung in shame. One by one they turned and walked away until only Jack, his new “owner”, and the freed slave were left. Then, with tears streaming down his face, the slave reached out and hugged Jack and simply said “Thank you.” Then, turning to Jack’s purchaser, the slave said, “Master, I would like to become your slave as well on one condition: that you set Jack free.”

The slave owner fell to his knees and cried out to God in heaven, “How can I resist such love?” He stood to his feet, unshackled Jack, and released him and the slave. They were both free.

What made him do it? Love. The same love God displayed when He sent His one and only Son to the earth. From the freedom of heaven He was born under the law so that He might set us free from slavery to sin. And for those who have been set free, that same love of God is to flow through us to bring the hope of freedom to those still in the bondage of sin. So I ask you, how will the love of Jesus be seen in you today so that someone is set free?

Pastor John

Joy to the World

Connecting Points

Monday, December 14, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Joy to the World

Scripture Reading:  Luke 2:10-11  …the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come.” These familiar words from a popular Christmas Carol are ringing in my ears this morning. As I went to my laptop at home to start writing my Connecting Points, there on my computer was an email from someone in the church. She had submitted a prayer request yesterday in the worship service for a close friend who needed to be saved. The friend and her husband are going through a serious financial crisis right now and may even lose their home before Christmas. We prayed for her friend’s salvation and for God to reveal Himself miraculously to them.

Here’s a portion of the email that arrived in the middle of the night. I know it’s late, but I just can’t wait to tell you!!!!  I don’t think I’m gonna get any sleep tonight, I’m sooooo excited!!  Shawna has accepted Christ as Lord of her life!  This is awesome!!!  I am going to send her that book [you gave me].  We are going to go through it together at night.  We already talk every night, so it will be really cool to be able to talk more about how God is working in our lives.  I have always talked about how great my faith is, but it really didn’t hit home for her until today.

When I got home from church I found Shawna online and asked her how she was doing.  She said her life was hopeless and that there was no way it was going to get better.  I said that I put in a prayer request for her and I can’t wait to see what God does with them.  She said that she felt so hopeless that she didn’t think even God could help them.  I told her that God was the ONLY one that could help them and that all he wanted from her was to give Him her trust and let Him handle the rest.

By the time we got home from the Christmas program Shawna had made a complete 360!!!  She was laughing, singing and just plain happy.  She told me that she prayed and told God that she just gave all that was going on to Him and that whatever he wanted to do with it was ok with her. Not even 2 hours later they had a few things pull through and it looks like they are going to have a small but BLESSED Christmas and their house to boot!  The best part is that she’s more excited about the blessed part than the stuff.

“Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Hallelujah! This event illustrates wonderfully what the Lord was teaching us yesterday in church. JOY is Jesus Overcoming You. Joy happens when Jesus comes. Joy happens when Jesus takes over. Joy happens when we let go and let God. Joy happens when the Holy Spirit produces the life of Christ in us. Joy is not contingent upon circumstances. Joy abounds in the life of anyone who has Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and has their focus fixed on Him.

The good news of Jesus is for all people. Race doesn’t matter. Status doesn’t matter. Looks don’t matter. Education doesn’t matter. The angel’s announcement to the shepherds in the fields was for all the people, and it was good news that brought great joy. The Savior has come. He has come to save people from their sin and to give them hope again. 

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the joy of Christmas than with the good news that Jesus has come to save another person from their sin. From an eternal perspective, does anything else really matter? Rejoice with us, and give thanks to God. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!”

Pastor John

Addendum:

Here is the list I promised to publish from yesterday’s sermon.

Top Ten Ways to Guarantee Unhappiness

10. Make happiness the aim of your life instead of bracing for life’s troubles and growing from them.

9. Don’t give yourself wholeheartedly or enthusiastically to anyone or to anything.

8. Take personally, with a chip on your shoulder, everything that happens to you that you don’t like.

7. Always compare yourself unfavorably to others, which is the guarantee of instant misery.

6. Don’t trust or believe people, or accept them at anything but their worst and weakest. Be suspicious. Impute ulterior motives to them.

5. Be right, always right, perfectly right all the time. Be the only one who is right, and be rigid about your rightness.

4. Be a perfectionist: condemn yourself and others for not achieving perfection.

3. Get yourself a good worry—one about which you cannot do anything but worry.

2. Lose your perspective of things, and keep it lost. Don’t put first things first.

1. Make little things bother you: don’t just let them, make them!