On Whom Do You Depend?

Connecting Points

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Today’s Topic:  On Whom Do You Depend?

Today’s Text:  See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and warrior, the judge and prophet, the soothsayer and elder, the captain of fifty and man of rank, the counselor, skilled craftsman and clever enchanter.

(Isaiah 3:1-3)

Isaiah’s admonition from yesterday at the end of chapter two was to stop trusting people when we should trusting God alone. As chapter three begins he carries over that thought and describes for us the types of people we tend to trust. But before I expound on this, let me state clearly that I believe God has made us relational people and that we need to be in relationships with other people. That is foundational to the concept of church. However, our faith, trust, and hope are not to be placed in people, but in God alone. People may bring us happiness, but God alone is the source of our joy.

Unfortunately, many of us turn to our horizontal relationships with others as our best option when we get in trouble, when we need help, or when we need our ego stroked and our sense of value enhanced. We turn to our friends for comfort, support, and fun, which is not wrong unless those friends are our first option instead of Christ. This may sound harsh, but it is true – our relationships with people are actually dysfunctional if they are used as a substitute for our relationship with Jesus. It is sad but true – we tend to depend on people more than our Lord.

According to Isaiah, Jesus Christ will fight to maintain the priority position of our lives. When anyone or anything moves into competition with Him, He will move to eliminate it. We are in denial most of the time about the purpose of troubles and trials we are experiencing. They are most likely the hand of God moving against people and things we have allowed to compete for time and trust. That’s what Isaiah is about to show us in today’s Scripture passage.

Here’s the list of people and things that compete with God for our trust and relationships:

  • Provisions and Possessions – The Lord is about to take away all the supply from His people. Remember what Jesus said? Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all the things you need will be supplied for you. (Matt. 6:33)
  • Military Power – The hero and the warrior – the security we find in our freedoms will be attacked, because we are to find our peace in our relationship with Jesus Christ. He is our one and only Hero.
  • Judges – Some of us trust in our justice system. We love going to court to get retribution or restitution. Justice is to be found only in the coming King, and we are to wait patiently for it.
  • Prophets – So many people are following feel-good preachers today. They smile and squint and say anything that makes you feel good about who you are, while avoiding the issue of sin and its consequences. They fill you with false hope and temporary emotional comfort, but when the real trials of life come up they choke you. You must depend on the truth of God’s Word alone.
  • Soothsayer – These are fortune tellers and psychics. The practice of such things is condemned throughout the Bible. It is our attempt to see more than what God wants to reveal, because we don’t really trust Him. It is not just a harmless pastime – it is an attempt to gratify some self-centered need for knowledge, security, or affirmation. It is contrary to dependence on God.
  • Elder – This is simply a person with wisdom gained from years of experience. Some of us trust in our parents or grandparents way to much. Some have found other older and wiser people to be their “go-to” person. There is Biblical support for such mentoring, but not to the extent that some people do. Don’t let the wisdom of your elders become the source of your wisdom. What they say still has to be in line with what God has already said.
  • People of Position and Honor – The Captain of fifty and the man of rank – I used to think it was really cool to talk about important people I had met. I discovered I was simply trying to hitchhike on their reputations to improve my own status. I was guilty of letting other people qualify me. Only Jesus Christ can do that.
  • Counselors – Nothing hurtful intended here towards those who are counselors, but people have become far too dependent upon them. Sometimes…not always…but sometimes, I think that the counseling becomes a bondage that perpetuates the problem. In Christ there is deliverance and freedom.
  • Skilled Craftsman – Many people depend on the quality and quantity of possessions. They are nice people because they have nice things. But who are they after a fire or an accident? Possessions cannot bring contentment, but Christ can.
  • Clever Enchanters – King James Version says “Eloquent Orator”. Actually, according to the Hebrew, the two need to be combined. These are the Eloquent Enchanters of our day. I believe our country is being led by one of them. Many have put their hope and trust in Him. Don’t let clever communication corrupt you and turn you from Christ.

Isaiah has laid it out clearly – “Don’t trust in man or man’s things.” Now it’s up to you to decide how much of this connects with you and keeps you from connecting completely with Christ.

Pastor John

That’s What Faith Will Do

Connecting Points

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Today’s Topic:  That’s What Faith Can Do

Today’s Text:  Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?   (Isaiah 2:22)

Just when we get all excited about a new possibility inevitably something happens that has the potential to throw us into a fit of frustration. These are the tests designed by God to answer this question: In whom do you really trust?

I have permission to share this story. One of our church members and his wife are in the process of adopting a baby boy from Ethiopia. On Friday of last week they had their home visit from the adoption agency, and everything was in perfect order. All they had to do was come up with the next payment of $1200 to keep the process moving. They were so very excited.

On Saturday, as they visited a friend, something went wrong with their handicapped accessible van that they need for the transportation of their son. After extensive investigation into all the “symptoms” Jordan was convinced he had blown a head gasket…on the vehicle. He didn’t blow his. The cost to repair? You guessed it. $1200. Jordan admitted to me on Sunday morning that this was a test. He had already decided to trust God, but it was hard because now he would have to rearrange all his finances to make both the car repair and the adoption happen. But he was resisting taking this into his own hands and moving ahead in his own wisdom. He really wanted to see how God would handle this.

This morning I received this email from Jordan. Get the Kleenex ready.

Well, apparently we must have passed the test! I received a phone call from Scott Soden yesterday and he informed me that it seems to be only the water pump and NOT the head gasket. PRAISE THE LORD!!!

I truly believe, following along with your sermon, that we all have to go through tests day to day in order to strengthen our faith. Last Saturday, when I thought the head gasket had blown; all the elements would have indicated this to be true. Coolant on the ground (check), low coolant level (check), too hot of an engine (check) and the oil was even too full (almost three times too full) with an “orange-ish” tint to it, indicating coolant in the oil (CHECK)… I checked and re-checked the oil to make sure I wasn’t missing something. The van had been sitting close to an hour, so there is no way the oil could still be 2-3 times too high on the dipstick, right? Another man there even took a look and confirmed that it seemed like there was coolant in the oil.

Like I said, I believe this was a test. I don’t think I aced the test, but I do believe I passed it. There are certainly areas of the day that I have been reflecting on that I could have acted out differently. All in all, though, I was surprised at how much peace I had come over me through the whole ordeal. Initially it was going to cost every penny we had in our adoption fund, but God had a plan. “Conveniently” I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I run fully synthetic oil in the van and that when the synthetic oil is extremely hot, it looks differently than regular oil and carries an “orange-ish” color. This led me to believe there was coolant in the oil, which would indicate issues with the head. “Conveniently” it was really hot out, which prevented the engine from cooling down quickly and what kept the oil too full.

In the past this would have been devastating news, but God was there with me. Instantly the thought “everything will be fine, God will provide.” kept going through my head; and I BELIEVED IT. I knew God has a plan and that all would be just fine. I just didn’t realize His plan would be so great, I should have, but I am only human. It will not be costing us every penny of the adoption fund. In fact, we won’t even have to touch this money! It will only cost 1/6th of what I initially thought!

SO, I guess I just wanted to pass along this wonderful PRAISE offering to our Lord. The power of faith and prayer is truly amazing. I just want to thank the Lord for providing our every need, even before we know what it is.

Humbly HIS,

 – Jordan 

Stop trusting in man, who has but a breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he? (Isaiah 2:22)

Pastor John

Empty Yet Full

Thanks to Rebecca Carey for the follow up to yesterday’s sermon I preached on Abraham. You will be blessed by what she writes even if you weren’t there to hear it.

Emptied and Yet Fulfilled

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.Hebrews 11:17-19 (NIV)

            We never in our deepest contemplations would have thought to seek God on our own.  Our own is selfish and corrupted and entirely devoid of any desire that could be considered good.  We will attach ourselves to things and cling to them to the ruination of our person.  And when God asks us to let go and unseat the throne of our heart solely for Him, we may….but with strings attached.  We haven’t really let go at all.  Things are our sustenance; the way we survive.  If we let go, we would be left with nothing and completely empty!  Hold onto that thought and meditate upon it, because that is exactly where our Lord wants us to be.

            A.W. Tozer associates Abraham’s inner struggle, in obedience to God in sacrificing his son on the altar, to something other than Christ being on the throne of his heart.  He says, “Self is the opaque veil that hides the face of God from us…we have but to look into our own hearts and we shall see it there, sewn and patched it may be, but there nevertheless, an enemy to our lives and an effective block to our spiritual progress.”

            The moment Abraham heard those words from the Lord, “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love…and offer him…as a burnt offering.” his world must have come to a sudden stand-still.  It was a moment that could not be retracted nor escaped.  It was a direct command from his Lord, whom he served with all his heart – and yet, all his heart was not what the Lord possessed.  For Abraham had something else on the throne of his heart that hindered him from what the Lord was accomplishing in his life: God wanted full possession of Abraham’s heart yet Isaac stood on the very throne; the promised one, the apple of his eye.  The goal of God’s command appears to be the stripping down of the very veil that kept Abraham from a relationship so close-knit with his Lord that there would be  no knowing where God began and Abraham ended.  I have tried to imagine what Abraham’s anguish must have felt like and I could not fathom it.  Until things become too personal.

            God does not want our services, our gifts, or anything we have to offer Him.  In fact, all these things stand in the way of God’s free working and growth of our spiritual lives.  All of this that we deem appropriate to offer has a place on the throne of our hearts.  God cannot have complete possession of us until all is removed.  The things on the throne are veiled behind one tough word to swallow – Self.  Self poses as an innocent bystander when in actuality it is cold, fierce, unmoving and governs the throne of our hearts with an iron grip. We must cast away the telescope which shows us only the pretty shimmering clothe of that veil and employ the microscope as God sees things and we will see that self is robed in these ugly, glaring colors:

  • Self-righteousness
  • Self-pity
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Self-love
  • Self-protection
  • Self-honor
  • Self-effort
  • Self-faithfulness
  • Self-nurture
  • Self-knowledge

            When self is alive, it is impossible to please God because self suffocates faith – and faith is what pleases God.  (Hebrews 11:6)  We must return to the poor, aged man wrestling with the very thought of raising the knife to his child and then burning him in front of the God whom he had considered righteous and pure.  A thousand questions must have hurled themselves at God from the lips of Self within him. Foul curses and angry threats to the person of Abraham who was called at that moment to dethrone self and all it held onto – namely, his son Isaac.  It must have been painful for Abraham, perchance as painful as Christ’s last prayerful moments in the garden when he sweated blood upon the ground in dire agony of what was to come.

            And then came the moment when his world gasped a life-giving breath of air as all started moving on its course again; a forever changed course;  the moment when Abraham decided that God was able to raise Isaac from the dead to carry out His promises through him. (Hebrews 11:19)  At that moment, self was wrenched from the throne of Abraham’s heart and there God graced its seat with His presence – in finality!

            What is it in our lives that hides behind the veil of self?  What things hold onto the throne of our heart that must be wrenched away with a decision to trust God and His doings no matter what He chooses for our walk? For He as promised not to harm us, but to give us a hope and a future of spiritual prosperity  in Him (Jeremiah 29:11-12) with the absolute assurance that nothing can tear us from his hand.(John 10:28)  What then do we fear? Pain?  Yes, it will be painful to tear self apart from the new creation of you because it is woven so tightly.  Loss?  Yes, we will lose all – yet we gain all because Christ has won us, and Christ is our All in All.  Failure?  Yes, self will fail but Christ will prevail as He lifts us higher in Himself, for He reigns on the throne of our hearts. 

“Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life, hoping ourselves to rend the veil.  God must do everything for us.  Our part is to yield and to trust.”  A.W. Tozer (The Pursuit of God)

            When self is gone, we have nothing to offer Christ – and so He has everything we have to offer. Just ourselves stripped of all pretension and masquerade.  Only a pure clay pot, fired and stamped with His mark on our life, painted beautifully by the victory of the testings of a Loving Savior.  Don’t you ever wonder what level of faith and joy Abraham gained from losing everything for the sake of a command from his God?  I do.  And I would welcome the rain on my spiritual life if only for the growth it brings as He reigns upon my heart’s throne.

            In Him be emptied so that in Him we may be fulfilled.  Amen!

Lower Yourself

Connecting Points

Friday, May 21, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Lowering Our Opinion of Self

Today’s Text:  The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled), for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty, and all the oaks of Bashan,
for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall, for every trading ship and every stately vessel. The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,

(Isaiah 2:12-17)

Pride is such a deadly enemy because it makes itself appear in every form as a friend.

Isaiah understands that the corruption of culture is completely the consequence of people’s pride. We have placed our trust in what we are able to accomplish rather than what God has already done. And then, to bring pride to its ultimate expression, we even take what God has done and give ourselves the credit for it and control over it.

Notice in this passage of Scripture the five expressions of pride and how God will deal with them:

  • Creation – Society has become guilty of worshiping the creation rather than the Creator. (Romans 1:25) The emphasis on elevating animal and plant life to equal status with human life is absurd, and denies the Creator’s image in each of us.
  • Comforts – People are building treasures for this life, and every lofty tower that provides comfort is a denial of our need to depend on God for every earthly need.
  • Construction – Mankind takes great pride in what they are able to build. Every fortified wall we build is a denial of our need to depend on God for our protection.
  • Confidence – We have learned to depend on ourselves. Our culture is built around providing for self, defending self, and having confidence in ourselves to improve the quality of life.
  • Commerce – We have built an economic system that has become our hope for survival. The trading ships and stately vessels are symbolic of our demand for financial security, and we have put our hope for that security in a system we have built for ourselves.

But notice what God says – The arrogance of man will be brought low and the pride of men humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.

My friend, what happens to your heart when something you own is taken from you? Does it end up revealing to you that it actually owned you? God does not share His glory. God does not distribute worship around to the idols of our own making. God is a jealous God, and will fight to keep what is rightfully His. He is not envious, for that is sin. But He is jealous, and He will fight to keep you. He will begin to remove everything that interferes with your relationship with Him. He will bring trouble upon you until you open your eyes and surrender the throne of your life back to Him. This is because He loves you!

Take some time today to evaluate your heart in the five areas above. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you any pride that has crept in any area. Then confess that pride, and surrender to the control of Jesus Christ. It is imperative for the days ahead – days of severe testing and tribulation upon the Christ-less cultures of the world – that we stand courageously for Christ at all cost. That is only possible if we are fully committed to him and not to our culture.

Pastor John

Culturally Correct?

Connecting Points

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Rich Yet So Very Poor

Today’s Text:  You have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans. Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made. So man will be brought low and mankind humbled—do not forgive them. (Isaiah 2:6-9)

This morning I got ready for work the way I always do. After doing some computer work and checking up on all my friends on Facebook, I made coffee and ate breakfast. Of course I also showered and got dressed, for those of you who need more details. As I put on the special Avon men’s after shave cream I use to keep my skin moist and young looking, I looked in the mirror.  After getting over the initial shock, which takes a lot less time now because I’m getting so used to what I see, I checked my face carefully for any signs of aging or skin issues like moles. You’ll be happy to know that I look younger today, and there’s nothing wrong with my face. Let the debate begin…

The Book of Isaiah is like a mirror. The first five chapters are a reflection of what society looks like when God is removed from culture. If we look into it closely, we can see the spiritual age spots, moles, and signs of cancer that develop when people don’t take care of their souls.

As Isaiah looks into the cultural mirror of ancient Israel, he sees what we see in our culture today. Over the next few days we shall take a much needed look at what sin is doing to our society as its people continue to ignore God and place their faith in what the world has to offer

In his very first look in the mirror, Isaiah sees some things we wouldn’t necessarily think are all that horrible. I mean, we would think that we would read about murders and rapes and corruption. That’s the real news of a decaying and decadent culture, isn’t it? But Isaiah sees this:

  • They are full of superstitions from the East – People are being influenced by and living under the philosophies of Eastern Mysticism.
  • They practice divination like the Philistines – People are fascinated by and practicing divination…fortune telling, astrology, psychic prophecies, etc.
  • They clasp hands with pagans – People are forming partnerships in business, marriage, and casual friendships with pagans…people who live only for the flesh and deny any need for God.
  • Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures – People are captivated by wealth and prosperity.
  • Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots – People are content and feel secure because of their possessions and the power of their political rulers.
  • Their land is full of idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made –  People believe that their value comes from their performance and their status at work.

It’s pretty apparent that the effects on culture of rejecting God are the same today as they were in Isaiah’s day. But the worst part of this picture is that the culture of the church has become just like the culture of sin in many ways, because God’s people are the one’s turning away from faith in Jesus Christ to adapt to the world around them. The average Christian is in denial about the poverty of their spiritual life because they are so enamored with the seeming wealth they are receiving from the world.

Many Christians today have lost a true spirit of discernment about the influence of sinful practices in their lives. They are in denial about how much their choices to just have fun in the world are sapping their spiritual joy and leaving them fighting inner battles with no real hope of victory. We have lost our first love – the love we once had for Jesus Christ because of His death on Calvary and the grace of God extended to us for the forgiveness of sins. The love that filled our hearts with a passion for obedience and surrender to Jesus. The love that once dominated our decisions. We have chosen to love the world and the things in the world. We have chosen to shake hands with sinners and seek their approval. We have chosen to affirm ourselves, rather than believing in the affirmation of God through Jesus Christ, thus becoming guilty of worshiping self as an idol.

It is time for us to turn from our wicked ways. It is time for the Church of Jesus Christ to set itself apart from the world and rise above the status quo. It is time for the age spots, moles, and signs of spiritual cancer to be healed by Jesus Christ so that we can shine forth the light of His grace. We must look in the mirror of our culture, and when we do we must recognize our role in making it what it is.

Now, about that debate on how I look…I don’t care what you say, as long as you don’t see the sin of the culture in me.

Pastor John

Learning and Following

Connecting Points

Friday, May 14, 2010

Today’s Topic:  The Desire to Learn

Today’s Text:  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”   (Isaiah 2:2-3)

What a beautiful word picture in this passage of Scripture. Prophetically it refers to the Millenial Kingdom when Jesus Christ reigns the entire earth from Jerusalem. Symbolically it refers to the church of Jesus Christ and has the following applications:

  • It is the will of God that the church of Jesus Christ be established and raised up above all other religions. As followers of Jesus, we must not fear or back down from other religions. We need to boldly proclaim the Name of Jesus to the world.
  • This will result in the people of the world streaming to the church. Now I know I must be careful here and not give the impression that I believe in Kingdom Theology. But I do believe that there will be people from every tribe and language and nation that will come to Jesus Christ for salvation prior to His return to set up His Kingdom. Therefore, we must believe that there are people around us every day who want to hear about Jesus, and we must tell them.
  • The people that come to the church are doing so because they have a desire to be taught to be followers of Jesus. They are tired with running their own lives and suffering the consequences of sinful choices. They are exhausted from trying to find purpose and significance for their lives. They are hungry for truth.

We have an incredible opportunity in this era to reap a huge harvest of souls for the King. But there is one thing that stands out to me as interfering with this harvest actually happening – many people who are in the church have closed the damper on the fire of desire to know God’s ways. They have replaced their desire to follow God’s paths with a desire to pursue a path of their own making. The result is that the people of the world who long to come to the house of the Lord to know Him and His truth are confused. The Holy Spirit has given them a glimpse of God’s power to transform their lives but they are having a difficult time finding living examples of it.

My friends, we must return to our first love – our love for Jesus Christ and His truth. We must desire to learn from Him. We must pant after the streams of Living Water the way a deer pants after a brook. We should be modeling a completely transformed lifestyle that is clearly identifiable by the world as the living proof that Jesus is alive. We must re-prioritize our hearts and minds so that the passion for Christ exceeds and dominates ALL other passions and desires.

When we do this, the world will beat a path to our door. Some will come in anger to destroy us. Many will come in humility to meet our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We do not fear the first group. We must fear not being ready for the second group.

Pastor John

The Goal of Discipline

Connecting Points

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Today’s Topic:  The Goal of Discipline

Today’s Text:  I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities. I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” Zion will be redeemed with justice, her penitent ones with righteousness. But rebels and sinners will both be broken, and those who forsake the LORD will perish. (Isaiah 1:25-28)

We have probably all laughed at this. We have probably all said it to our children in one way or another. I remember the first time my dad said it to me, and it confused me. Just before the paddle came down across the padded place designed by God to absorb the pain of discipline, he said, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”  Yeah, right! That made no sense to me. Couldn’t he see the tears in my eyes and hear the pain of my screams? He had no tears. He didn’t scream. But now I understand what he meant, having felt the deep emotional pain of intentionally causing temporary pain through discipline to bring about permanent change resulting in blessing.

The story of God’s relationship with His chosen people Israel is like a broken record of pain and blessing. It just keeps repeating itself. But God never gives up on His children. He never stops loving them. He never stops seeking their good. He never stops working to improve them. And in His love, He never stops disciplining them to bring about change.

There is a wonderful New Testament revelation found in the book of Hebrews about the relationship between love and discipline expressed by our heavenly Father. It says, And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

Isaiah understood this relationship between love and discipline 600 years earlier when he explained to the people of Israel why God was going to discipline them for their sin. God’s discipline is ALWAYS intended for our transformation, restoration, and blessing! The discipline we may be under right now as a result of our sinful choices is proof that we are under the loving care of the Father. And when we discipline our children, it must be in the same spirit of love.

I did not always do this correctly. My kids are shouting “AMEN” as they read this. There were far too many times I disciplined my kids out of frustration. Yelling accompanied the “discipline” because things were interrupting me and my schedule, or interfering with my outcomes. Anger was expressed, not at the sinful behavior, and even when there was no sinful behavior, because my pride of what I wanted super ceded what was best for the children. Come on, admit it…you’ve done or maybe even are doing now the same things with your kids.

But God’s discipline is ALWAYS intended for our transformation, restoration, and blessing. He ALWAYS has our good in mind. That’s not always true of us, is it?

We must put aside our preferences and our pride when it comes to the discipline we receive from the Father in heaven AND when we administer discipline to others. It must never be viewed through eyes of pride or expressed through words and actions of frustration. Frustration is…dare I say ALWAYS…the result of pride. Pride keeps us from understanding what God is doing to transform and restore us so we can receive His blessings. Pride forces us to respond to others with frustration and anger because their actions are interfering with what we think we need at that moment to feel blessed.

Think about this carefully today. Don’t just glance at this devotional and move on. Meditate on it…it will change how you understand everything that is going on in your life right now.

Pastor John


Connecting Points

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Forgiveness

Today’s Text:  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”  (Isaiah 1:18)

The company of the discouraged is a very noble company. Not too long ago, the Hayden Planetarium in New York City issued an invitation to all those who were interested in applying to be a part of the crew on the first journey to another planet. Eighteen thousand people applied. They gave the applications to a panel of psychologists, who examined them thoroughly and came to the conclusion that in the vast majority of incidents, those who applied did so because they were discouraged with their lives here and hoped they could find a new life somewhere else.

People love to get invitations. It seems like we interpret them as a means of escape from the drudgery of our routine lives. But not all invitations are accepted.

I remember a time when the oldest of my grandchildren were still very young and afraid to climb up into the playhouse we have for them in the back yard. No matter how many times I would stand behind them and encourage them to “go to the top”, they just wouldn’t climb the ladder. Then it dawned on me to climb up first and invite them to come up to where I was. It worked! With my hand extended and a simple “Come on up here,” they climbed right up.

Isaiah reminds us of the invitation the Lord offers to anyone and everyone who wants to “come on up here.” Jesus invites us to come together with him and reason with Him so that we can be forgiven of our sins. The Hebrew word for “reason” has several meanings. It means,

  • to prove – come together with God and let Him prove to you who He is and what He says
  • decide – God always gives you the choice to believe or not
  • judge – He wants everyone to know He is the ultimate Judge and will condemn all sin
  • rebuke – He rebukes all sin and offers an alternative of righteousness
  • correct – He will provide the power of His Holy Spirit to correct all our sin issues
  • be right – He will make us right

The invitation God extends is for the forgiveness of sins and the removal of shame. That’s what Jesus paid for on the cross. Hebrews tells us that, in an act of enormous courage and defiance, Jesus “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Hebrews 12:2) and then adds, significantly, that he is now seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and ascension—the going down and coming up of the Son of God—open the way not only for the forgiveness of our sins, but also for the lifting of our shame. For these are ingredients in the accepting grace of God and in the invitation to union with God’s Son. (Melvin D. Hugen and Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Books & Culture)

What a marvelous invitation from Jesus – the forgiveness of sins and the abolishment of shame. No matter how dark the stain of sin, the blood of Jesus Christ makes us white as snow.

For those who have already said yes to His invitation, there is still a responsibility. We are now the ones who stand at the cross with the resurrected Jesus and extend the invitation to others. We do not walk through life telling people to go to the cross: we walk with them and invite them to come with us to the cross. Today, and every day, become the living invitation others need to experience the grace of God. They are looking for what we have.

Pastor John

Pure Worship

Connecting Points

Monday, May 10, 2010

 Today’s Topic:  Pure Worship

 Today’s Text: Hear the word of the LORD… “The multitude of your sacrifices- what are they to me?” says the LORD…When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:10-17)

 It was exciting to see. It was humbling to experience. Really humbling. It produced a level of thanks and praise in my heart I hadn’t experienced for a while. All the glory goes to God. I am amazed that I am included the Savior’s plan.

 Several months ago we made a decision at church to remove all the pews and put in chairs so we could increase our seating capacity. We went from being able to seat 250 in pews to around 280 in chairs, with some space for overflow. Yesterday we needed the overflow. Extra chairs were set up in the back. But there was a spirit of enthusiasm there that was far more significant than the number of people. Every part of the service engaged the congregation. Every song of worship drew our attention to the throne of God. The Word of God went forth with power and conviction and the Holy Spirit used it to change hearts. It was so very meaningful to me.

 Now set that experience up against what happens in far too many churches today. It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s thousands of years old. Isaiah wrote about it. Jesus spoke of it to the Samaritan woman at the well. It continues today in the sanctuaries of churches and in the hearts of people. It has many names – Formality, Tradition and Hypocrisy are the three that come to mind the quickest. But they all have one and only one cause – pride. It is pride that motivates us to enter into a worship service with the intention of trying to please God and earn His favor. It is pride that puts importance on tradition rather than truth. It is pride that elevates form over function. It is pride that puts on a weekly show that is contrary to the true condition of one’s heart. And God hates pride.

 I have just one simple connecting point today in the form of a question: Why do you go to church to worship?

 Read carefully what Isaiah wrote, and let the Holy Spirit move you to consider this…worship is a lifestyle of surrender and sacrifice. The Apostle Paul said, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. (Romans 12:1)

 I am thrilled that I worship in a church with people who live out their worship every day. I pray that more will continue to come and find the truth.

 Pastor John

Impacting Culture Follow-up

Connecting Points

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Impacting Our World for Christ

Today’s Text: Unless the LORD Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:9)

I’ve had three days to think about what I wrote on Monday. Three days to see how well I do at impacting the world around me for Jesus. I’ve discovered it’s much easier than I thought, as long as I truly care enough and am compassionate enough to do it.

Monday evening and Tuesday were spent at our daughter’s house at the special invitation of our grandson. He didn’t want me to miss his spring music concert at school. I didn’t want to miss it either. My wife and I travelled the 3 hours (road construction delayed us) to Sun Prairie to see the kids. It was hard to leave all the work piled up on the “to do” lists that have become oversized since returning from Africa. But caring about people and impacting them with love is more important than any list of things I need to do for me. Acting on it impacts our world for Christ.

While there I stopped in a sporting goods store to pick up a stool to sit on while turkey hunting. My season started yesterday. I spent some time with the cashier as it wasn’t busy, and had the opportunity to say just one thing to him of any value. We talked about turkeys and calls and guns, but then the conversation got serious for just 20 seconds. He made a mistake on the cash register and had to start over. Under his breath he cursed and said “Jesus Christ”. I spoke gently and said, “Oh, I know Him. I have a personal relationship with Him? Do you know Him too?” He froze, and did not respond. He simply finished the transaction. Loving Jesus more than loving the praise of people impacts our world for Christ.

Wednesday morning arrived and the alarm scared me at 3 a.m.. I couldn’t find the button to shut it off. I quickly got dressed in my hunting clothes, ate a breakfast bar, and headed out for my son’s house to pick him up. By 4:45 we were sitting at the base of two trees in the woods waiting for the first sounds of turkeys. Shortly after light, Jason began striking the hen call. If there were any toms in the area they would let us know by gobbling. It was silent. For the next 75 minutes it was silent. We decided to move so we could find the turkeys. We weren’t comfortable staying in a place that didn’t lend itself to accomplishing our goal. So it is with our spiritual lives. If our goal is to impact our world for Christ, we must keep moving out into the world to find the people.

We parked the vehicle a little closer to the center of the property and started walking. Suddenly there was a tom sneaking across the field. We dove to the ground and avoided detection. I saw where he was headed and told Jason I would cut him off. I thought I could move that way unseen. I was wrong. He saw me and turned and ran the other way. I tried to stalk him but spooked him instead. He knew I wasn’t supposed to be there. The way I looked and behaved and moved gave me away. He didn’t want anything to do with me…just like a lot of unsaved people who may be spooked by the hypocrisy of my life when I look and behave and move like a sinner rather than the follower of Christ I have told them I am. Consistency impacts our world for Christ.

After the turkey flew, Jason struck the call again to see if there was another tom in the area. Way off in the distance to the west we heard a gobble. A turkey’s hearing is amazing. Every time Jason yelped with the call, that old tom would gobble. We decide to pursue him. We walked about 800 yards, using trees and thickets as cover, to a place we knew would be the perfect ambush location. We crawled on our bellies up to two trees and sat down. Jason started calling. I was so blessed that my son, who shot a huge tom last year, chose to spend his one available hunting day this year helping me get a turkey. What a servant heart he has. Serving others impacts our world for Christ.

As Jason Called, the gobbles got more distant-sounding. But that was only because he was two ridges away and had gone down between them. When he reached the top of the nearest ridge, we knew he was coming for us. Well, not really for us. He was searching for the hen that Jason’s calling was imitating. It took almost an hour, but suddenly, rising up over the edge of the hill in the field in front of us, was a nice tom turkey. He was on full alert, looking for the hen. Jason stopped calling. We both froze. But I froze in a prepared position with my gun raised and aimed right at him. He kept coming. Jason told me later he wondered how long I would wait before I shot. At 20 yards I fired, and the turkey fell.

Immediately Jason jumped up and shouted, “That was an amazing hunt.” Wait a minute, I shot the turkey. Yet to him it was an amazing hunt because he participated in harvesting a bird. You see, teamwork impacts our world for Christ. As does searching for the lost. As does calling them to Christ. As does being prepared and in a position to give them the Gospel when they come close…both barrels if necessary.

We have all been called to have the compassion of Christ for others. We have all been granted the heart of Jesus that cares for people and serves them. We have all been called to go and seek the lost. We have all been called to witness. We have all been charged by the King to make an impact on our world. It’s time to get started…I hear the alarm going off.

Pastor John