Plan Nothing Days

Connecting Points

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Do Nothing Day!

Scripture Reading:  Exodus 16:29 …realize that the Sabbath is the LORD’s gift to you.

Well, wasn’t that fun? I’m referring to the blizzard of Tuesday night and Wednesday. It wasn’t as bad here in Eau Claire as they thought it would be, but it still caused a lot of problems. I wonder how our friends in LaCrosse are fairing? I think they got it a lot worse down there.

Twenty-four hours ago I was putting on all of my winter outdoor gear and getting ready to start up the snow blower for the first time. Two hours later I shut it off. I wasn’t totally done, but at least the driveway and front sidewalk to the house were clear. Living out in the country as I do with an open exposure to the north I get some pretty impressive drifts. I really thought it would be worse than it was – only two sections were over three feet deep. The biggest issue is always along the road. I wait until the plow comes by, and yesterday there was a 3-4 foot bank of snow to remove. I’m sure some of you had it worse.

The reason I tell you all of this is for one very simple reason – I really needed that day off. I stayed at home all day. I played magic blanket for hours with two of my grandchildren (ask Alyssa).  I finished the snow blowing, filled the bird feeders, and watched a couple of hunting shows on television. I went to bed at 9:30 and slept until 6:15. What a gift yesterday was from our great and gracious God.

As I was out working on the snow yesterday morning, my heart was filled with joy. I didn’t have an inkling of complaining enter my mind. The air was brisk. The snow was cold as it sprayed refreshment on my face as I worked. I watched the wind swirl the snow up and over my house in angelic designs. I was reminded of the words of Jesus when He said, “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” I wondered how many people around the world would be brought to new birth by the Spirit of God during the time I was spending moving snow drifts.

This morning, as I shoveled by hand the dusting of snow we received overnight, I felt refreshed. I stopped for a moment and thanked God for the gift of a day off, and made a commitment to be more consistent about taking them. Don’t get me wrong, I take days off, but always with the intention of doing something. Yesterday made me realize how important a total Sabbath day of rest is. God said we should take one every seventh day. I am far from that level of consistency, but I’m beginning to realize the significance of moving that direction.

We have become far too busy and far too crazy about planning. Even our days off have to be planned with all kinds of stuff to get done. We say we’re going to do something relaxing, but the fact that we plan it days in advance makes it seem like work when we do it. A true Sabbath day is a day of nothing. It doesn’t mean you can’t do anything, but it to be a Sabbath you must separate yourself from everything that seems like work. For me, that means separating myself from planning.

There’s no better time to put this into effect than right now, during what many of you feel is the busiest time of the year. Some of you are already shrugging your shoulders and shaking your heads in disbelief that I would even suggest such a thing. But here’s my challenge – take your calendar right now, and every seven days block off one of them. Take a black permanent marker and color the day in so you can’t write anything else in that square. Don’t even write down your recreational plans. Just plan a day of nothing. Then if you spontaneously decide to do something it will be stress free because it wasn’t planned.

I discovered yesterday the joy of such a day. I want more of them on a regular basis. I am sure you do too.

Pastor John

Let’s See Some Joy

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Joyful Celebration

Scripture Reading:  Romans 12:12  Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 

I’m an emotional guy. I especially can’t handle happy endings. I love stories of people who overcome obstacles and tragedies. The tears flow freely every Sunday when they move that bus.

True joy does that to a person. I’ve cried at the end of too many movies to count – from Karate Kid to Rudy. But I don’t think I’ve ever been more overwhelmed with joy at a movie than when I watched Sister Act 2 for the first time. Sister Mary Clarence, played by Whoopi Goldberg, takes a class of musically talented misbehaving misfits and transforms them into a championship choir. One girl in particular is highlighted in her battle to honor her mother’s dysfunctional wishes or pursue her own dreams. She chooses her dreams. Her mother realizes her mistake and comes to the choir competition they have trained for. When she sees her mom enter, she freezes as her performance is to begin. She composes herself, and then…well, maybe you should just watch it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLWhfxq8Jhs

I’ve seen that video clip dozens of times, and I’ve once again had to dry my eyes this morning. It is one of the greatest visual illustrations of joy I have ever seen in a movie.

That’s the kind of joy I want to have when I think of Jesus. That’s the kind of joy I want people to express I worship. That’s the kind of joy our hope in Christ is to produce. In fact, because joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, we who know Jesus and have the Spirit should be better at it than anyone else.

I’m not saying that joy is just an external action. No, joy starts in the heart and is manifested externally in several ways. Joy brings peace when all around us is in turmoil. Joy produces patience in the presence of problems. Joy connects hope with perseverance in prayer. But joy also erupts in a geyser of praise that should freely flow from hearts boiling over with gratitude. (See Dec. 07, 2009 Connecting Points)

I really don’t know what the reason is, but the average Christian today has severely stifled the expression of joy. When the angel appeared in the sky and announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds he said, “I’ve got good news of great joy for you.” Great joy. So great that a whole host of angels appeared at the mention of Christ’s birth and filled the sky with praise. Something has happened to turn great joy and public praise into emotional control and silent privacy.

The Apostle Paul tells us that we are to be joyful in hope. The Apostle Peter said that we are to always be ready to give an answer to everyone that asks us about the hope we have. My question is – without a visible expression of joy in our lives how does the world know we have any hope?

We get way too bogged down in our problems. So what if the Vikings lost – badly? (Stop being joyful all you Packer fans – it’s not nice.) So what if all of my running backs on my fantasy football team are injured entering the first week of playoffs? So what if the economy looks like it’s going down the tubes? So what if…you fill in what has stifled your joy. So what? Your hope isn’t in those things – it’s in Jesus Christ, who lives eternally and has given you His life.

I love the challenge from the prophet Habakkuk – Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,   yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.   The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.  (3:17-19)

So stop looking at the hurts of your past and start looking look at the hope of your future. Then put on your dancin’ shoes and raise a voice of praise, and start letting the joy of the Lord out of quarantine. Someone around you today needs to see it.

Pastor John

God is Faithful – Are You ?

Connecting Points

Monday, December 07, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  God Is Faithful

Scripture Reading:  Hebrews 10:23  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful

I love traveling. I get excited about seeing new things in new places. If I had to choose what kind of places I like to visit it would be a tie between the great outdoors and places with historical significance.  I loved San Antonio because of the Alamo and the missions, but I also love the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with all of its waterfalls and the Porcupine Mountains. Walking the National Mall in Washington was great, but so was walking as close to the edge as I could at Niagara Falls.

One place I’ve always wanted to go but never have is Yellowstone National Park. Northwestern Wyoming and up into Montana has a certain appeal to me. I would probably sit through at least four cycles of Old Faithful eruptions.

Old Faithful was first given that name back in September of 1870 by members of the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition. They were impressed by the consistency of the geyser’s eruptions. Over the years, the length of the interval between eruptions has increased, which may be the result of earthquakes affecting subterranean water levels.

Old Faithful is more predictable now than ever. With a margin of error of 10 minutes, Old Faithful will erupt 65 minutes after an eruption lasting less than 2.5 minutes or 91 minutes after an eruption lasting more than 2.5 minutes.

Old Faithful is more than just a consistent geyser. In 1994, four probes containing temperature and pressure measurement devices were lowered into Old Faithful. The probes were lowered as deep as 72 feet. Temperature measurements of the water at this depth were 244 °F. What’s amazing is that those are the same temperature readings that were measured in 1942. According to geologists, the reliability of Old Faithful can be attributed to one fact – that it is not connected to any other thermal features of the Upper Geyser Basin.

When I read that last statement at Wikipedia.com, it really hit me hard. Old Faithful is so faithful because it remains independent of other thermal influences that surround it. What a challenge for you and me today as we strive to be faithful to Jesus Christ. We will remain faithful only so long as we remain independent of the influences of the world around us.

Such faithfulness begins deep down in our hearts, where the Living Water flows from the fountain of Christ’s life in us. The Holy Spirit maintains the consistent “temperature” of Christ’s temperament so that we can be faithful in our responses to the influences of the world. As the Holy Spirit moves the Living Water in and through all of the channels and caverns of our deepest thoughts and desires, pressure builds. Not the pressure of stress from unbearable circumstances, but the pressure of praise from the hope of glory the Living Water brings to every area of our existence. It is essential that we faithfully erupt with joy and thanksgiving, shooting our praise high into the heavens.  

Our eruptions can quickly change from praise to bitter complaining if we have contaminated the flow of Living Water with worldly influences. When the pressure that builds in our lives is due to a faithless focus on our circumstances, we will erupt with fear, anger, and bitterness. We will become resentful and rebellious. We will become inconsistent, so that those closest to us don’t know what to expect when we begin to spew. The Living Water has been polluted by pride.

So long as we remain uncontaminated by the things of the world, and remain independent of their influences, the Living Water of Jesus Christ will flow though us and erupt in praise to God from the depths of our hearts, no matter what the external circumstances of our lives might be.

I am also challenged by the historical record that indicates that after only a few days or weeks of observation the explorers who discovered Old Faithful were able to give it an enduring name that represented its nature and character. I wonder, after just a few short days or weeks of observing our lives, if others would be able to call us faithful?

Pastor John

Faithfulness

Connecting Points

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Grace Motivates

Scripture Reading:  1 Corinthians 4:2   Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.

Please permit me to review for a moment. Last Sunday we started the season of Advent – the time of the year when we remember the coming of Jesus to the earth in humility and we prepare for His return to earth in glory.

There is a specific pattern to our remembrance and preparation. We start with hope – the hope of the prophets and people that their Messiah would come, and the hope that we have as an anchor of our soul that He is coming again.

During the second week of Advent, we will focus on faith – specifically the faithfulness of our lives as we wait for Jesus to come back.  

Faithfulness, or rather the lack of faithfulness, is all over the news in the past week. A famous sports celebrity has been unfaithful to his wife. As a result, his family is being pounded by the press who get their pleasure from invading people’s privacy. The unfaithfulness of the man towards his wife has resulted in people’s unfaithfulness towards him. Is one more wrong than the other? I’m not saying that his sin should be overlooked, but as Socrates said 400 years before Christ was born, Think not those faithful who praise all thy words and actions; but those who kindly reprove thy faults. Tiger Woods needs to be corrected, but it needs to be done gently with love, not in the destructive fashion of the media.

Unfaithfulness is a serious problem. It reaches far beyond the marriage covenant. Unfaithfulness is common in the workplace. It’s found in the life of the employee who calls in sick when they’re not, or uses work time for personal business. The manager who doesn’t use every resource he’s been given to produce the greatest profit for the owner is being unfaithful. Jesus even used that example to teach faithfulness in the parable of the talents. “The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.’   His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’”

But should we expect faithfulness in a faithless world? Probably not. At least not from faithless people. Back in the 18th century, George Horne wrote, When men cease to be faithful to their God, he who expects to find them so to each other will be much disappointed.

But we who have faith in Jesus Christ must model faithfulness for the rest of the world.  God has called us to faithful living, and has equipped us with the indwelling power of His presence in the Holy Spirit to be able to do it.

Let me highlight a couple of areas where I think we all need to work on faithfulness. Please remember that we have already laid the foundation for faithfulness yesterday when we discovered the motivation for faithfulness – GRACE. Please put all of these items in that perspective or you will simply be ridden with guilt and will resist change.

  • Faithfully Persevere in Ministry – Years ago, a veteran missionary was returning home to the U.S. after several terms on the field. Aboard a ship bound for New York harbor, a secularist challenged him by pointing out the futility of giving one’s life in missionary service. He continued by noting that no one on board ship was paying any attention to the veteran missionary, a sign they apparently considered his efforts quite wasted. The servant of God responded, “I’m not home yet.” The agnostic assumed the missionary was referring to a large crowd that would meet the ship, and he scoffed again when they disembarked—not a solitary person welcomed the missionary. Once again, the missionary said, “I’m not home yet.” A lonely train ride lay ahead as he made his trek from New York City to his small Midwestern hometown. Reaching his destination, the missionary could no longer fight back the tears as the train pulled off. Again, he stood alone. It was then that the inner voice of God’s Spirit brought comfort by reminding the faithful servant, “You’re not home yet.”
  • Faithful church attendance and ministry involvement – All God asks is that we apply the same standards of faithfulness to our church activities that we would in other areas of our life. If your car started one out of three times, would you consider it faithful? If the paperboy skipped Monday and Thursdays, would they be missed? If you didn’t show up at work two or three times a month, would your boss call you faithful? If your refrigerator quit a day now and then, would you excuse it and say, “Oh, well, it works most of the time.” If your water heater greets you with cold water one or two mornings a week while you were in the shower, would it be faithful? If you miss a couple of mortgage payments in a year’s time, would your mortgage holder say, “Oh, well, ten out of twelve isn’t bad”? If you miss worship and attend meetings only often enough to show you’re interested but not often enough to get involved, are you faithful?
  • Faithfully represent Christ in everyday life and lifestyle – An author in Leadership has written, The story we’re called to tell and live and die by is one of risk confronted, death embraced. What’s more, Jesus calls us to walk the narrow way, take up a cross with him, daily. It’s terribly risky business. Ask that bright company of martyrs that quite recklessly parted with goods, security, and life itself, preferring to be faithful in death rather than safe in life. (William H. Willimon) Don Wildman of the American Family Association said it this way – At the very heart of the Christian gospel is a cross—the symbol of suffering and sacrifice, of hurt and pain and humiliation and rejection. I want no part of the Christian message which does not call me to involvement, requires of me no sacrifice, takes from me no comfort, requires of me less than the best I have to give. The duty of a Christian is to be faithful, not popular or successful.

I must stop there, although we have only scratched the surface on this subject. Let me close with this challenge. The Marine motto is Semper Fi, which is Latin for “Always Faithful. In November of 1990, Newsweek magazine ran an article titled “Letters in the Sand,” a compilation of letters written by military personnel to family and friends in the States during the Gulf War. One was written by Marine Corporal Preston Coffer. He told a friend, “We are talking about Marines, not the Boy Scouts. We all joined the service knowing full well what might be expected of us.”

We are in the service of the King. Semper Fi.

Pastor John

What Motivates You?

Connecting Points

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Grace Motivates

Scripture Reading:  Titus 2:11-14   For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 
It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

What motivates you to do what you do? What does it take to give you the ambition to want to do more? These are not just irrelevant questions with insignificant answers. Each one of us is driven by something. Whether we do it carefully and consciously or automatically as a result of years of learned behavior, we all make choices that evaluate the product before we enter the process. Human nature is consistent and motivates us with outcomes.

I believe that the primary outcome that our human nature uses to motivate us is acceptance. Whether we are lost in our sin and seeking a way to cover it with performance, or whether we are saved but continue to try to earn the favor of God and people with our spiritual knowledge and legalistic performance, our flesh overwhelms us with the need for acceptance. In the case of the unsaved person, I can understand their pride that manifests itself in performance to earn acceptance. It’s the only hope they know. But in the case of a saved person, especially in myself, I’m convicted by the power of pride I see when we are motivated to serve our Lord by anything that even remotely resembles the pursuit of acceptance. Unsaved people live to earn acceptance. Saved people are to be free from that bondage and are able to live because they are accepted.

Let me speak to what I think is probably the majority that are reading this – the saved people. What motivates you to serve Jesus? What motivates you to want to know Him more intimately? What motivates you to grow in your knowledge of doctrine? What motivates you to live a holy life? What motivates you to be involved in leadership in your church? Come on, be honest, what motivates you?

I confess I’m motivated far too much by the need for acceptance and to earn the approval of people. The measuring stick of my value is severely warped. I don’t think I’m all that unique. Take at look at how you determine your value as a person. Reflect on how your need to measure your value motivates your choices and behaviors. Go ahead – dig deeper and evaluate how you live your spiritual life and you might discover that your maturity is being measured with a warped stick.

  • You take pride in your theological position because it adds self-determined value to your life and meets some need you have to prove yourself by improving your position.
  • You harbor resentment against others who don’t agree with you because you know you are right, and being right means you have value.
  • You feel obligated to serve in the church because you’ve experienced the guilt trip that comes with most appeals for help. You know that if you don’t serve you’re not as valued as those who do.
  • You believe that your acceptance in the church is somehow connected to the number of ways you are involved. You sense the existence of an inner circle of the elite and wish you could be in it.
  • You strive to live a life of victory over the passions of the flesh and to be upright and Godly, all because you want to feel good about yourself and want others to notice how faithful you are to God.

Now compare your current motivations to the one and only motivation God provides for us – His grace. God reached down from eternity and connected with us at the point of our desperation in sin. God’s grace motivated Jesus to give up His value and become nothing so that we who were nothing could have God’s value. (Philippians 2:4-8) Because of Jesus we who were unacceptable have been accepted. And it is that same grace that is our motivation to live for and serve the One who saved us.

It is the grace of God that teaches us to say no to the passions of life. It is the grace of God that teaches us to live righteous lives. It is the grace of God that makes us eager to serve Him. It is the grace of God that has unconditionally accepted us and qualified us for all eternity to be joint heirs with Jesus of all things. Grace motivates from a position of permanent acceptance. Grace motivates us to serve because we are already valued and have no need to earn more. The grace of God should be and can be your only answer to the question of motivation.

But is it?

Pastor John

Jesus is Coming!

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Current Study: Advent

Today’s Topic:  Jesus is Coming!

Scripture Reading:  Titus 2:13   We wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Times have changed. Things are different now. Some of it is good. Much is not. I miss some of the old things. I think I miss plain old common sense the most. My brother sent this to me the other day and it reminded me that some things have not really improved with time. It is a comparison between high school life in 1958 and the present.

Scenario 1:

Jack goes quail hunting before school and then pulls into the school parking lot with his shotgun in his truck’s gun rack.

In 1958 – Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack’s shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.

Today – School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.   

Scenario 2:

Jeffrey will not sit still and be quiet in class, he disrupts other students.

1958 – Jeffrey is sent to the Principal’s office and given a good paddling by the Principal. He then returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2008 – Jeffrey is given huge doses of Ritalin. He becomes a zombie. He is then tested for ADD. The school gets extra money from the state because Jeffrey has a disability.   

Scenario 3:

Billy breaks a window in his neighbor’s car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

1958 – Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college and becomes a successful businessman.

2008 – Billy’s dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy is removed to foster care and joins a gang. The state psychologist is told by Billy’s sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy’s mom has an affair with the psychologist.  
  
Scenario 4:

Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from the Fourth of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle and blows up a red ant bed.

1958 – Ants die.

2008- ATF, Homeland Security and the FBI are all called. Johnny is charged with domestic terrorism. The FBI investigates his parents — and all siblings are removed from their home and all computers are confiscated. Johnny’s dad is placed on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.  

I also miss some of the simple truths that used to be prominent in the teaching of the church. I know that’s a self-condemning thing to say, because I’m the guy doing the teaching, so I am responsible. I assure you I will work on it. But as I recall my spiritual heritage, there was one topic consistently at the front of everyone’s thinking and teaching – the return of Jesus to take us to heaven. I remember starting most days as a child thinking “could this be the day?”

In our attempt to make Scripture relevant to our modern culture, we have neglected to teach the simple, common sense truths of Scripture. We focus on self-help rather than spiritual hope. We develop multi-step plans rather than depend on God’s majestic purpose. In our attempt to increase our knowledge of God in our personal devotional life, we have put the foundational truths of our faith on the shelf where they only gather dust. We study theology and doctrine at the expense of grace and love. We solidify our stand rather than surrender to the Spirit. We take pride in what we believe when we should be giving praise to the One in whom we believe.

For me personally, the most ignored truth of today’s modern church is the blessed hope of the return of Jesus to rapture His children out of this world into His eternal presence. The Apostle Peter warned us this day would come when he wrote, “You must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3-4)

Now we may not be guilty of scoffing, but we are guilty of following our own evil desires and neglecting to look upward every day for the return of Jesus. And if His people aren’t looking for His return, how will the unsaved people of the world ever be exposed to real hope?

Jesus is coming! This world is not our home. This life is only a preparation for eternity with Jesus. Get your eyes off the race and onto the finish line, where the author and finisher of your faith awaits. Any day now, He will appear in the sky, and we will go to meet Him face to face, in all His glory.

Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen. (Jude 24-25 NLT)

Pastor John