Go Against the Flow

Connecting Points

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Today’s Topic:  God Is Our Sanctuary

Today’s Text:  The LORD spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. (Isaiah 8:11)

I am about to make myself feel old. I want to tell a short story from my daughter’s life but it is forcing me to calculate how much of life has already passed me by. It’s bad enough to think that this story took place 17 years ago, but then I realized that she was already 16 years old at the time. That astounds me! It also causes me to rejoice in the faithfulness of God to guard and to guide our lives.

Anyway, to the story. One day, in my office, as I was reviewing some literature from Focus on the Family, I discovered a t-shirt they had for sale. It would be perfect for my little girl. It said exactly what she was living while in the public high school she attended. On the front of the shirt was a picture of a bunch of fish all swimming in one direction. Right smack dab in the middle of this school of fish was one different colored fish swimming in the other direction. Underneath the picture was written the words Go Against the Flow. I ordered the shirt, and she wore it proudly.

I was so proud of my daughter for how she was living for Jesus in a very difficult environment. I am so thankful for the three friends God provided her who went against the flow with her. I rejoice that she is still living that way today.

Isaiah was another one who went against the flow. He was commanded to by God. God strong armed him. I’m glad God loves us enough to strong arm us when He needs to. Here’s what God said to him:

“Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary;”

Let’s put that into modern day and culturally relevant language.

“Don’t let your imagination run wild thinking about how the government is falling apart and ruining your life. Don’t spend your time imagining that people are constantly plotting against you as an individual or against our country. Don’t get involved in all the critical coffee shop conversations about the economy or the war or anything that makes us doubt that God is in control. Don’t be afraid of terrorists, oil spills, environmental catastrophes, or crashing stock markets. Don’t let the fear of anything dominate your thoughts or dictate your actions. Instead, trust the Sovereign God. He is your sanctuary.”

I don’t think we are aware of how often we choose to go with the flow of culture. I am convinced that we have allowed ourselves to swim along with the current so that we fit in with all the other fish. I believe that we have made a conscious choice to let the world – the people and the material benefits – be our sanctuary.

I looked up the Hebrew word for sanctuary and I was blown away by the definition. It cut right to the bottom of my heart. It powerfully impacted me. The word now has new meaning to me. It gave me the resolve of a salmon on its way upstream to its breeding pool.  I think it is the key to going against the flow; at least it is for me. Let me walk you through it.

The word sanctuary has as its root the word sanctify, which means “to set apart.”  Right away I thought, “To what or whom have I been set apart? How I am living is the evidence of the answer to that question.”

Then I saw the word holy in the definition. My own personal definition of holy is to be without contradiction. So again I thought to myself, “How many contradictions to my faith exist in my life? How many times do I turn and go with the flow, thereby contradicting what I said I believed?”

Then I came to this – “to be honored and treated as sacred.” Bam! That was it. God is my sanctuary where I am treated as sacred and where I am honored. Every time we go with the flow of the world it is because we are looking to be honored and treated with respect by someone. We are all looking to be affirmed. We are all looking for acceptance. But when we go with the flow, those needs will never be satisfied. God is our sanctuary. It is in Him alone that you will be honored. It is in relationship with God that you will be treated as sacred. Not just special, but sacred! And the love you find in God’s sanctuary is unquenchable. It is unconquerable. It is eternal. It is what you long for.

So come on all you fellow saved salmon – let’s swim into the sanctuary of God, no matter how strong the current is against us.

Pastor John

Where’s God In All This?

Connecting Points

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Today’s Topic:  God Is With Us

Today’s Text:  Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us. (Isaiah 8:9-10)

Over and over in the Bible parents are commanded by God to give their children specific names. I’m not sure how I would feel about that. What would you do if you had no choice in the naming of your children?

I know of one case where the father of the baby has been given full naming rights. Mom is worried. Dad is having fun with it. It will be interesting to see how it turns out.

In the Bible, names carried great significance. They were used to define physical traits, to proclaim a child’s purpose, to teach character, and to announce God’s plans to man. Names were much more than a popularity or pronounce-ability issue. They even transcended family heritage and honor, as was illustrated in the story of John the Baptist, whose father was criticized by the family for not choosing a name that would honor someone in the family.

When the prophet Isaiah was about to be a father, God gave him a name for his son. Are you ready for this? The name was Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. It means quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil. God was using the birth of Isaiah’s son to proclaim to the people of Israel what He was about to do to the enemies of Jerusalem.

It’s been a while since we last dove into Isaiah, so here’s a quick refresher. Think fast because it’s going to be fast. King Ahaz of Jerusalem was scared because the kings of Syria and Israel (the Northern Kingdom) were about to invade. Isaiah announced the word of the Lord to Ahaz and told him to stand in his faith. God gave him a sign of a baby born to a virgin. The baby’s name was to be Immanuel, or God with us.

Later, when little Quick to Plunder was born, God revealed his plan to Isaiah. Syria and Jerusalem would be overrun by the Assyrians and destroyed. Then Assyria would attempt to invade Judah. They would conquer most of it but would not be able to overthrow Jerusalem. Twice in the details of the plan God reminded Isaiah of the fact the He was with them. Twice He used the name Immanuel. (See Isaiah 8:6-10)

Things looked bleak for King Ahaz. Two former allies were no enemies. A third and more powerful enemy was on the horizon with troops fully prepared for battle. He was scared. But in it all God had one thing He wanted Ahaz to remember and trust – God is with us! Ahaz needed to remember that God had chosen His people and set them apart for His purpose and His glory. He needed to know that if God is for us, who can be against us!

We need that reminder as well. We need to read and reread Romans 8 until we really believe it and trust it. We need to put every detail of our lives into the context of those promises. We must stop thinking in the flesh and reacting to our circumstances. We must live in the truth that God is with us.

My challenge to you today is this – read Romans 8 as many times as you can, and let the truths sink in. Here are my personal bullet points. Let the Holy Spirit give you your own.

  • I am not condemned, but set free from the penalty of sin.
  • I now live according to the Spirit of God and not according to the flesh.
  • Living in the Spirit of God brings peace.
  • Living in the Spirit brings victory over sin
  • Living in the Spirit brings fellowship with God and the assurance of my relationship with Jesus.
  • The glory of being with Jesus someday overshadows any suffering of today.
  • God knows my heart and my mind and knows exactly what I need to be fulfilled in Him.
  • Therefore, I can trust that everything God does in my life is ultimately for my good and for His glory because I love Him and have surrendered to His purpose.
  • He chose me, He called me, He justified me, and he glorified me…present tense…He glorified me!
  • How can I respond in any other way than to say, If God is for me, who can be against me!
  • He will give me all I need to live for Him.
  • No person has the power over my life to hurt me with their words because God has justified me.
  • No one can condemn me because Jesus constantly intercedes for me to the Father based on His sacrifice on the cross for me.
  • No person nor any event can ever separate me from God because He is with me and His love is unquenchable and unconquerable.


Pastor John


Connecting Points

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Compassion

Today’s Text:  So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

Yesterday I told you there were two things that God had spoken to me while I was on vacation. They are both very closely related. It is obvious that God is preparing me…and you…for something He wants us to do. He wants us to get on with the work He has assigned to us. He wants us to be better witnesses of His saving grace to others. Here’s how He had prepared me to really hear yesterday’s point.

My wife and I were involved in a deep spiritual conversation with three other families we were visiting on our trip. Tough questions were being asked and answered. One couple in particular is being worked on mightily by the Holy Spirit in regards to a total transformation of priorities and possible pursuit of ministry. Their passion to know the truth and to stand on it and stand up for it against all error is obvious. I could see so much of myself in them as they spoke of the deception of so many teachings that have invaded the modern church.

As we talked, I noticed how easy it was to let pride in what we know to be true dominate and determine our attitudes towards those who do not believe as we do. We found ourselves speaking harshly about them as we judged the condition of their hearts by the church they attended or the things they say they believed. We had consciously delegated everyone who didn’t understand the truth of the Gospel into the category of Pharisee and therefore felt justified to speak against them.

That’s when the Holy Spirit addressed me with two thoughts. First, He pointed out to me that when Jesus came to earth He came to a culture that was completely dominated by a false belief system. They had knowledge of God, but denied the truth and saving power of the coming Messiah.

Yet Jesus had compassion on them and ministered to them. (When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36)

He sought to save them. (The Son of Man has come to seek and to save those who are lost. Luke 19:10)

He didn’t condemn them. (For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. John 3:17)

Sure, He confronted the spiritual leaders who were leading them astray because of their own pride. But Jesus never put the average church-goer into the category of Pharisee.

After the Holy Spirit revealed that truth to me, and as I was sharing it with the group, words came out of my mouth that I had not previously contemplated. They were under the direct supervision of the Holy Spirit. After I said them there was a stunned look on the faces of those listening, and there was total silence. Someone finally spoke, and they asked, “Can you repeat that?” I was afraid I couldn’t, but the Holy Spirit gave it to me again.

Now obviously the context of that meeting is different from this article, and the context of your life is different from theirs. But the truth of this statement transcends all of that. Open your heart to receive what the Lord has delivered. Be prepared to be convicted. Be prepared to be enabled to witness about Jesus better. Make a commitment right now that you are going to let God change your heart if it needs to be.

Here’s what the Lord said through me – The hurt we have in our hearts over their condition must always be greater than the pride we take in our position. 

Compassion over condemnation…ALWAYS!

Humility over pride…ALWAYS!

Now, with that  in mind, read the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15 and see how the father reflects this truth in his actions towards his son when he returns home.

Then, with a humble heart, ask the Holy Spirit to transform your heart so that the hurt you have for the rotting sinner will lead you to harvest them for Jesus because they are ripe, rather than letting your heart continue to condemn others because they don’t measure up to what you know to be true.

Pastor John

Ripe and Rotten

Connecting Points

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Vacation Memories

Today’s Text:  Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.   Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.  (John 4:35-36)

What a summer! So much to do and so little time. The more the family grows the more places there are to go. I praise God for the privilege of vacations and for the incredible staff I have, which allows me to relax and be stress free while I’m gone. They are truly a gift from God.

I’m glad God never takes vacations. In fact, it’s in those times of relaxation when I’m on vacation that He does His best work on me. He spoke to me on two specific occasions while we were gone, and I hope you don’t mind if I tell you about them today and tomorrow. They are actually a prelude to the worship service on Sunday.

One of the highlights of our trip was a return to a former church where I was the pastor from 1979 to 1987. It’s in Clear Lake, South Dakota. It was their 125th anniversary. We had been there for the 100th as well when we served there. While we had been in South Dakota, we had become friends with a pastor named Dave. He was a church planter. His father had been pastor of the Clear Lake church in the 60’s while he was in high school. Then, during a time of church renewal, Dave would drive to Clear Lake to preach and lead the church every couple of weeks as they sought to revitalize their ministry.

As Dave and I sat outside after the service last Sunday at lunch and talked, he told me a story that deeply impacted me. Let me set the stage for what he said.

During the worship service that morning there was a slide presentation of ministry memories from the last three years of the church. Several of the slides were of people who had made a confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior as they were being baptized by immersion in a local lake. One of the men was my age. Tears formed in my eyes and ran down my face as I saw the harvest of souls continuing to be brought in by the faithful people of this church and the consistent preaching of the truth.

As Dave and I talked I shared with him the joy I was experiencing at seeing the long-term fruit of the ministry God gave us while we were there. It just so happened that the man whose picture we had seen being baptized was sitting right next to Dave and Dave told me his story.

When Dave was in high school he went to school with this man – we will call him Fred. Dave and Fred were not friends. In fact, no matter what Dave did, he couldn’t seem to get along with Fred. It was a small school, and this really bothered Dave – not just from a personal perspective but from a spiritual one as well. He didn’t know what to do, so he went to talk to his dad – you know, the pastor of the church.

Dave asked his dad why there was this constant conflict between him and Fred. Dave’s dad responded with one simple statement – “Maybe it’s because you’re the one who is supposed to lead him to Jesus for salvation.” Dave ignored that advice at the time, and things never got better as long as they were there. Sometime later, while still the pastor of the church, Dave’s dad died, and they moved away from Clear Lake.

Over 30 years later Dave was asked to go back to that church and start a revitalization program with them to restore their ministry effectiveness in their community. When he got back to the town, God reminded Dave of what his father had told him about Fred. Dave decided to do something about it, and did a search for Fred. Sure enough, Fred still lived in town. Dave called him and went over to his house. Within 30 minutes Dave was on his knees with Fred as Fred repented of his sin and prayed to receive Christ’s forgiveness and eternal salvation.

Then Dave said this – “He was so ripe he was rotten.” Bam! That hit me like a baseball bat to the side of the head. How often do I think that people are so rotten with sin that they are not ripe for salvation, when just the opposite is true?

I hope you will connect with this – stop looking at people as rotten and start seeing them as ripe, ready to be harvested for Jesus. Then become a worker in the harvest field.

Pastor John

Hide and Seek

Connecting Points

Friday, July 09, 2010

Today’s Topic:  God Doesn’t Play Hide and Seek

Today’s Text:  “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” (Isaiah 7:11)

I love playing hide and seek with my grandchildren. But the game is different depending upon how old they are. The older ones are starting to understand how to really play. They are learning to stay quiet while they hide. But the younger ones don’t get it yet, so when they hide and I finish counting, they almost immediately start making sounds to lead me to them. It’s so easy to find them because they give me signs as to where they are.

God never plays hide and seek. He wants to be found. He wants to reveal Himself to those who love Him. He wants to show us who He is and what He can do. He provides us with countless signs marking the path leading to faith. He knows that faith requires a knowable object of faith, and He is knowable and makes Himself known.

What a relief! God wants us to know Him. Granted, some of His ways are beyond knowing. His thoughts are not our thoughts. He is infinite in His knowledge and wisdom, and we are not. But His nature and character can be known, and that is the primary object of our faith. We are not to demand signs that reveal what God can do, for that would be misplaced faith. We may ask for signs that reveal God’s presence for that is faith in who He is.

When God initiated the opportunity for King Ahaz to ask for a sign, it was to be a sign that demonstrated the presence of God. When Ahaz refused to ask, thinking He would be testing God, God initiated the delivery of a sign anyway – because He wants us to know Him and experience His presence. The sign was a baby named Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” God wants us to know His presence.

When we stand firm in our faith that is founded on the presence of God, we will see the demonstration of the power of God. Faith in the power without the presence is no faith at all. That’s why Jesus refused to give the Pharisees a sign when they asked for one. Their faith would have been misplaced. God wants us to know Him for who He is not for what He can do. His activity always emanates from His nature and character. To know Him is to experience His activity. He is the object of our faith.

The ministry of Jesus to His disciples was to get them to know Him so they could trust Him. When He left, He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell them so they could know Him on a deeper and more meaningful way. Their faith grew not because of the powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit but because of the revelation of the nature and character of Jesus to them through the Holy Spirit.

Faith that is placed in what an object can do is shallow faith. Faith placed in the object itself reveals an understanding of the nature of the object and therefore trusts the activity of the object. For example, the first time a father asks his son to jump off the counter into his arms, the child trusts the father to catch him. His trust is not based on the past experience of a catch – they’ve never done it before. The trust of the child is based solely on the character of the father that the son has learned through the knowledge of who he is. He knows the father’s love. He understands the father’s heart. He will experience the father’s power.

God will gladly provide us with all the signs we need to have that kind of faith. He will reveal his presence to us. We just need to ask Him. We’ve been asking for the wrong signs – signs of miraculous power to increase our faith. We’ve been disappointed because we just don’t seem to get an answer. We think God is playing hide and seek. He’s not. We just need to ask Him to reveal Himself for who He is. He wants us to know that first.

Pastor John

Who’s Really In Control?

Connecting Points

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Who’s Really In Control?

Today’s Text:  “Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:…If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:7a, 9b)

Fear came upon them and shook them like the trees of the forest being shaken by strong winds. Their country was ruled by a powerful warrior with a great heritage passed on from his father. Yet they were scared. Their rivals, from whom they had broken away years before, were now alliance with another country and they were on the warpath headed right for them. The enemies were trying to force them into an alliance of three to battle against a larger enemy that ruled the region. They wanted nothing to do with it, but felt like there was no other option. Either way would probably result in their destruction.

This was the situation Isaiah was asked by the Lord to address with King Ahaz of Judah, a descendant of King David. Ephraim, which was the Northern Kingdom also called Israel, had allied itself with Aram, which is Syria. They wanted Judah to join them in a massive war with Assyria. God sent Isaiah to Ahaz to convince him not to enter such an alliance. This scared Ahaz and the people of Judah because they thought for sure that Ephraim and Aram would wipe them out for their non-compliance.

I’ve been in many situations where I felt like I had no options and was being forced to see only one outcome. I’m sure you have also. It’s scary. But I’ve learned something very significant. It took many years of wondering why I was being shaken by the circumstances of life, but I think I have it figured out. After many attempts to stand in my own abilities and wisdom which always resulted in falling on my face, I think I discovered the answer. The fear we feel is generated from the same source as the fear the people of Judah felt – misplaced faith. We fall into fear when our faith is placed in man’s reason and abilities. Faith in God conquers ALL fear.

To come to that conclusion I had to first conquer the greatest fear of all – becoming completely humble before the Lord. I was in denial about how much confidence I had placed in my own wisdom and abilities. I think we all are in such a state of denial. It’s scary to think about letting go completely of every ounce of control of our lives and surrendering it to someone else, even if that someone is God Almighty. We believe very strongly in ourselves – more than we dare to admit. The fear we feel when something goes wrong proves it. Admit it. It’s true.

Once we reach the point of confession of our pride, we will be able to see and trust the incredible power of our Lord. That’s the message Isaiah was delivering to King Ahaz in chapter 7. While the people of Judah were looking at the invasion through human eyes of fear, God wanted them to see it through His eyes of Sovereignty. God is in control of ALL things. He is more powerful than anything He controls. He has more wisdom than any opponent. He is absolutely Sovereign!

King Ahaz and the people of Judah weren’t looking at life that way. They were looking at it from the human perspective. They believed in themselves more than they believed in their God. Belief in self always ends in fear, because we know who we are. We know our limitations and weaknesses. Fear will always be the result when life throws something at us we know we cannot handle. But belief in God knows no fear, because God has no limitations or weaknesses. There is nothing He cannot handle. Fear cannot exist where faith in God abounds.

So Isaiah tells King Ahaz how God sees the situation. The two humanly irresistible armies are nothing more than two smoldering stubs of firewood in the eyes of the Lord (verse 4). It is not possible for them to overthrow Judah (verse 7), and the reason is simple – both of these nations are being completely ruled by man, while Judah has the Lord Almighty as its King (verses 8-9). If the people of Judah will stand firm in their faith in God, they will not fall or fail.

So, please connect with this – if we are in control of our lives; if we are seeing life through our eyes of human wisdom and evaluating circumstances based on our strength and resources, we are shaking in fear because our faith is misplaced. But if we are seeing life through the eyes of our Sovereign King, and have surrendered ALL control to Him, we will stand in true faith and not be shaken by fear. It really is that black and white.

Pastor John

Summer Fun

Connecting Points

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Spiritual Negligence

Today’s Text:  “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” (Isaiah 6:9-10)

Imagine how you would feel if suddenly every connection you had with people using the internet was gone. You were completely off line. That’s how I have felt for the last 13 days as my schedule has not permitted me to sit in my office in the early morning and share with you what God is teaching me through the study of His Word. I have felt totally disconnected.

When I look at the rest of the summer, there are going to be several more extended periods of disconnect, one starting next week. But what a blessing it will be to see family and friends on a trip back to the home state of my wife. My constant and fervent prayer is that your commitment to Jesus Christ will keep you in a consistent state of devotional study. I know you are not dependent upon me for your spiritual health – I don’t want that at all. You have the Holy Spirit to teach you. Keep studying the Bible on your own. Don’t let the summer schedule of vacations, recreation, and pleasure get pushed up into a higher priority position than your intimacy with Jesus.

When the pursuit of God is moved from the top spot on our priority list, we choose to start down a very slippery slope from which recovery is difficult. Many times things have to get pretty tough for us before we wake up to the reality of our situation. All along the slope God’s hand is being extended to slow our slide and pull us back up to the top. But the blindness to God created by the intense light of our pride to pursue our own goals keeps us from seeing His hand. When that happens, we are in danger of sliding all the way to the bottom.

A great lesson can be learned from the historical context of Isaiah’s call to prophetic ministry. The nation of Israel is in trouble. They have succumbed to materialism, hedonism, and humanism. The first five chapters explain their position on the slippery slope of self-indulgence that they chose for themselves by failing to pursue a consistent relationship with God.

Then God call Isaiah to be His messenger, and He gives him the message to speak. We would like to think that at this point God is going to intervene and rescue them from their slide. His messenger must have words of hope, right? Wrong! God says that the consequences of their choice to jump on this slide will have to be fully realized. The will take it all the way to the bottom.

Is God being cruel? No. God is acknowledging man’s free will. God did not force them to make their choice to reject Him. God did not lead them to set Him aside for a time so they could experience what the world has to offer. God did not give them permission to change their priorities. But God did allow them to make their own choices.

When we make choices that hurt us, we tend to believe that God is our first aid kit. We quickly run back into the prayer closet where the kit is stored and take out a few bandages and some anti-bacterial ointment. After a quick application, we put the kit back in the closet and get right back to our lives again, hoping nothing else will hurt us. That’s what the nation of Israel was doing, and that’s what many of us are doing. We run to church on the Sunday’s when we happen to be available and hope that what we hear will carry us through all of the worldly pursuits of summer until we can get back to a normal routine in the fall. All the things we want to do while the weather is nice have suddenly taken on a higher priority than our relationship with Jesus our Savior and Lord. And then we wonder why we are so busy, so stressed, and so unfulfilled by what we thought was going to be all the stuff of summer that would make life meaningful.

We are on the slippery slope of materialism, hedonism, and humanism. And just like God told the people of Israel through Isaiah, He tells us today that our slide will carry us farther than we wanted to go. Our ears will hear these words but we won’t really understand them because we really don’t want to change. Our eyes will see the trouble coming but we will ignore it because we think the benefits of the pleasure will be worth the price we pay. Our hearts will become more hardened to the truth because our pride says we can make this work and have both worlds. Only when we have reached rock bottom will we finally surrender.

That was the message to Israel. That is God’s message to us today. I don’t know where you are on the slope, but if you are on it at all you are in danger. Reach out today and grab the hand of God and let Him stop your slide. Get back to pursuing God no matter how many plans you still have for summer fun. The fun of summer is not worth the recovery period from spiritual negligence.

Pastor John