Die Twice or Live Forever

Connecting Points

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Die Twice or Live Forever

Today’s Text:  Revelation 21:1-8  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

I have just finished doing something I have rarely done. I’ve written a sermon that can be delivered in under 10 minutes. I know, many of you are shocked. You probably don’t even believe it. Some are even thinking how they wish that was the norm every Sunday. Well, this sermon is not for Sunday. It’s for the funeral of my dear friend Chuck Canaday. And even though it may seem very similar to last Friday’s post, I wanted you to read it. My prayer is that if you are already a Christian, the splendor of your salvation and the hope of glory will inspire you today to live publicly for Jesus. If you are not a Christian, I pray that the Holy Spirit will penetrate your heart with the grace of God and you will discover life today.

Death.  The end of life. The Bible teaches us all we need to know about life and death. It is the theme of the revelation of God to us. He created us to live. It was intended to be perfect. But man couldn’t resist the desire to please himself rather than His creator, so he gave in to the temptation that there was more to life than what God could offer. His rebellion against complete trust in God is called sin, and as a result, death has come upon mankind.

 Death is the ultimate consequence of sin. Death proves that all people are guilty of sin, for all die. Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— Romans 5:18 Consequently, as the result of one trespass condemnation came upon all people.

For those who do not believe on Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, death happens twice. Once, at the end of life on this earth, when all recognition and experience of anything related to life ceases. Then again at the beginning of eternal condemnation in the fires of hell, where there will be physical and conscious awareness of all pain and suffering without the possibility of relief. No comfort from friends. Total aloneness. Total pain and suffering. Totally deserved because of sin and the rejection of the Savior.

The fact that all people die is proof that all have sinned. Except in one case, when one man died voluntarily rather than consequentially. 2 Cor. 5:21 tells us that He who knew no sin, had no sin nature, and never committed any sin, died as an innocent one who voluntarily took our sin and guilt on himself. His death became the once-and-for-all payment to God for our individual guilt, and His resurrection guarantees that He is coming back to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Hebrews 9:26-28

But for those who believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and have repented of their sin and confessed Jesus as Lord of their lives, there is no death.  The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23) The gift of God is not like the sin of man. Here’s what God says to us in Romans about His gift of salvation through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross:

His gift is sufficient for everyone. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 

The gift makes us right with God Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 

His gift gives life  just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings eternal life.  His gift forgives sin  For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

As I stood around the bedside with the family after Chuck had passed into eternity, I remember saying this to them – Chuck has not died. As a child of God he was set free from the bondage of sin and death and he simply passed from this life into his eternal one. He never experienced death.

Every individual is responsible to God for their sin. Jesus died to make forgiveness possible. Jesus rose from the dead to make eternal life available. But you must decide to trust Jesus to save you. Your church can’t do it. Your good works can’t do it. Only Jesus can do it, and He will if you will just give up and surrender your life to Him in faith. Please read these verses carefully found in Titus 3:3-8. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us. But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. 

Jesus said, “I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” Chuck took the final step into eternity last Thursday. But He had already been living in the reality of eternal life for years. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

Pastor John

Perfect Peace

Connecting Points

Monday, August 30, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Perfect Peace

Today’s Text:  …for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:9)

We know a lot of stuff, don’t we? We are flooded with information from countless sources. Some of the information is irrelevant to us. Some is indispensable. Some is stored away in our brains as potentially significant. Some knowledge is actually applied and it changes us. That’s the stuff we really believe. The knowledge that results in activity is the stuff we choose to believe.

The knowledge of people leads us to believe something about them, which results in a decision about relationship with that person. But also at play is the other person’s knowledge of us. In any deepening relationship these two elements of knowledge exist – our knowledge of them and their knowledge of us. The fundamental goal of any great relationship is to have two people who understand that they want to know and to be known.

This is to be the same goal of any individual who seeks a relationship with God. We seek to know Him and to be known by Him. Not only do we seek it, but it is the deepest desire of man’s heart. We do not fully understand love until we also understand the desire to know and to be known. The Apostle Paul connected the two in 1 Corinthians 13:12 when he wrote about the fulfillment of knowledge in the context of love’s expression. He said, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

I would assume (I know, that’s dangerous) that you already know that God knows all. But I’m not so sure we live like we believe that knowledge. Hannah, the mother of Samuel, spoke of this when she thanked the Lord for her son. She said, “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” If we truly believed that God knows all, especially that He knows all about us, it would change the way we speak and behave. The Bible says, “One perfect in knowledge is with you.” (Job 36:4)

The reason I went down this path today is because of the incredible hope there is in Isaiah 11:9. There is a day coming when the knowledge of the LORD will fill the earth. That means that not only will all the earth understand that God knows all, but that all the earth’s inhabitants – human and animal alike – will be under the complete power of the knowledge of God. What I mean is this – the earth will know God as it is known by God. People will know God as they are known by God. Animals will know God as they are known by God. And this will be the result:

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Perfect peace.  Not as a result of man’s efforts, but as a result of God’s intervention into man’s mess. Jesus will come as King. When He does, there will be perfect peace on earth. All creation will be redeemed from the effects of sin. But there’s more good news – you don’t have to wait for that to happen in the physical realm to experience the peace of God today. It starts in your heart, in the spiritual realm, when you come to Jesus for salvation. Let the knowledge of Jesus Christ and His death on the cross be more than just head knowledge. Believe it. It will transform your life and give you perfect peace.

Pastor John

Death Brings Life

Connecting Points

Friday, August 27, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Death Brings Life

Today’s Text:  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31)

Death. The end of life on earth. But not necessarily the end of life. That depends on what you believe life to be.

Yesterday a dear friend died. I first met him in 1987 when I moved to Wisconsin. He was on the leadership board at the church I came to pastor. During my time at the church, we became next door neighbors. My family was invited to all his family celebrations. He treated me like one of his sons. He allowed my family to swim in his pool. He allowed my kids to play in his yard and climb his trees and scare his wife. Over the years we have stayed close. Next week, at his personal invitation, I will conduct his memorial service. He gave me 10 minutes to preach. Hahahahahahahaha.

I was at his bedside with the family hours before he died. I arrived back to his room minutes after he went into the presence of the Lord. We sang a song and prayed. No more crying there, we are going to see the King. No more crying there, we are going to see the King. No more crying there, we are going to see the King. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! We’re going to see the King. The room was filled with the certain hope of reunion in the presence of the King.

Chuck left me specific instructions about what to say in my 10 minute message. Short and simply, it is to be about everyone’s need for salvation through Jesus Christ the Lord and King. As I stood around the bedside with the family after he had passed into eternity, I remember saying this to them – Chuck has not died. As a child of God he was set free from the bondage of sin and death and he simply passed from this life into his eternal one. He never experienced death.

Death was not created into the original order of things. God created everything in perfection. The very mention of the word evolution in any form, even the so-called Christian version of an old earth that allows for it, is a denial of the very nature of God. Death is the ultimate consequence of sin. Death proves that all people are guilty of sin, for all die. (read Romans 5:12-19) Evolution is impossible if one believes in God because death could not have occurred prior to man’s sin.  If it did, then what did Jesus die for? If death is not the consequence of sin, then the death of Jesus has no purpose in the redemption of mankind.

The fact that all die is proof that all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Except in one case, when one man died voluntarily rather than consequentially. He who knew no sin, had no sin nature, and never committed any sin, died as an innocent one who voluntarily took our sin and guilt on himself. (2 Cor. 5:21) His death became the once-and-for-all payment to God for our individual guilt, and His resurrection guarantees that He is coming back to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. (Hebrews 9:26-28)

Every individual is responsible to God for their sin. Jesus died to make forgiveness possible. Jesus rose from the dead to make eternal life available. But you must decide to trust Jesus to save you. Your church can’t do it. Your good works can’t do it. Only Jesus can do it, and He will if you will just give up and surrender your life to Him in faith. Please read these verses carefully found in Titus 3:3-8. Once we, too, were foolish and disobedient. We were misled by others and became slaves to many wicked desires and evil pleasures. Our lives were full of evil and envy. We hated others, and they hated us. But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins and gave us a new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us because of what Jesus Christ our Savior did. He declared us not guilty because of his great kindness. And now we know that we will inherit eternal life. 

Jesus said, “I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” Chuck took the final step into eternity yesterday. But He had already been living in the reality of eternal life for years. You can too. Just come to Jesus and repent of your sin. He will forgive you and accept you into the Family of God. He will qualify you to be an heir of all things in eternity. I know it’s what you need. I also believe it’s what you really want. I would be more than happy to show you the way if you will just write to me.

Pastor John

Right is Always Right

Connecting Points

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Truth Reigns

Today’s Text:  He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. (Isaiah 11:3-4)

If it’s right it’s always right. Unfortunately the vast unregenerate public out there doesn’t believe that. From the average citizen to the heads of state, there is a general consensus that truth is relative, and should be allowed to be influenced by circumstances, experiences, and emotions. Even in the Body of Christ, the true church, there is a movement to negotiate truth based on personal needs and desires and social context. But truth is truth no matter what the context, and right is right always.

Imagine the consequences of relative truth and negotiable right. We don’t really even have to imagine. Just look around. Men and women turning to sexual pleasure outside of marriage just to please their fleshly passions, and justifying it with a myriad of rationalizations designed to protect their false image of righteousness. People pursuing possessions at an uncontrollable rate using debt to buy what they think is happiness, all because they believe they deserve it and it will validate their self-worth. Employees and employers alike climbing over people up the ladder of status and position, justifying the pain they cause by proclaiming that everyone should live by the law of survival of the fittest.

Wait, there’s more. Any and every action that produces a self-defined good can be justified as right in people’s minds. The college student’s desire to get into medical school so they can fulfill their passion to be a missionary doctor may only be fulfilled if they pad their academic record, so they cheat. That’s justified according to today’s philosophy of relativity, right?

Oh how far we have come from the Biblical truth of righteousness. How my heart longs for the return of the Righteous One. He will not be swayed by public opinion. He will not be influenced by fleshly passions. He will not negotiate truth based on emotions. His truth is not the product of His experiences, but rather His truth is the expression of His nature. His character is consistent – perfectly consistent – for He has no need of approval or affirmation. He is Who He is – the great I AM. He is the One and Only Eternal God, incarnate in Jesus Christ. He died to pay for each one’s sin, and then rose from the dead to conquer sin and death forever. And He is coming again to establish His kingdom based on truth – non-negotiable truth. Righteousness and justice will be found on the earth once again.

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. But until you do, may we proudly and courageously stand for your truth – the only truth.

Pastor John

New Growth

Connecting Points

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Today’s Topic:  New Growth

Today’s Text:  A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD—and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.    (Isaiah 11:1-3)

Last summer a friend of mine came over to my house to help me cut down a couple of trees that were dying. He’s a marvelous tree climber, and has all the ropes and tackle necessary to make the branches and trunk fall in just the right spots. It was a big job, and I was tired by the time it was done. There were a lot of branches to haul into a pile, and there was a lot of firewood to stack.

My plan was to use my chain saw at a later date to cut off the stumps at ground level so they didn’t interfere too much with the growth of the new lilac bushes I planted. Well, the stumps still stand. And now there are shoots of new trees sprouting 3 feet high from the side of one of the stumps. It doesn’t look good. In fact, just the other day, a guy was driving by and stopped and asked my wife if we would hire him to remove the stumps. He obviously thought they were pretty ugly also. (Hmmm…What a strange expression – pretty ugly.)

Anyway, now that I’m refocused from my mental diversion into antonyms, I was thinking about those new shoots of trees from the old stump. I really do miss that tree. It would be nice if it grew again. I wonder what those shoots would ever amount to if I pruned them and let one of them grow? I know it would take a long time, but someone, someday, would enjoy the fruit of my endeavor.

History tells us that nations, like trees, tend to die. They cease to be productive. God tells us the reason for this is that they move down a political path that rejects the truth of His Sovereignty. Death is always the result of rejection of God. Sometimes nations die a slow death of moral and social decay. Sometimes they are cut down before the decay causes further damage to surrounding territories. In the tenth chapter of Isaiah, God cuts down the nations that have rejected Him. See, the Lord, the LORD Almighty, will lop off the boughs with great power. The lofty trees will be felled, the tall ones will be brought low. He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax…(Isaiah 10:33-34)

God’s judgment always has a two-fold purpose. First, it is to destroy sin. Second, it is to restore life as He intended. Whether we are destroyed or restored is our choice and depends upon the humility of our hearts to repent of our sin and surrender to God’s purpose for our lives. The same is true for nations. When there is humility and repentance, there will be restoration. God promises it. It may take a long time, and we may not be around to see the full effects of the restoration project, but God is faithful to accomplish it.

God’s faithfulness is guaranteed in the very next verse after He describes the chopping of the trees. The stump is going to produce a new shoot – a Branch that will bear the fruit of restoration. This is the spiritual truth illustrated by the stump in my front yard. Jesus Christ will spring forth from the tree of Israel that was cut down because of its sin. He will be filled with the Spirit of the LORD and He will be qualified with wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, and power to restore the Kingdom and reign as its King. He will bring to the people the delight of living in awe of God.

What we see is the principle of pruning to perfection. It’s what God may be doing in your life right now. At the minimum He’s clipping off the unproductive and sinful branches of your life so that the righteous branches can bear more fruit. At times it seems like He’s cutting down the whole tree. Some people need that. They need to be left with a stump in order for the Branch to sprout fresh and bring them life again. To whatever degree God is pruning you, let Him. Sure it hurts – but the new growth will be much better and you will delight in it.

Pastor John

Feed the Fire

Connecting Points
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Fuel for the Fire

Today’s Text:  The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers. The splendor of his forests and fertile fields it will completely destroy, as when a sick man wastes away.  And the remaining trees of his forests will be so few that a child could write them down.  In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down but will truly rely on the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. (Isaiah 10:17-20)

Recently I enjoyed several days of camping with my family. All the kids and grandkids were there at one time or another. We shared meals and spent time in the boat and on the beach. We did nature walks through the woods with the grandkids. And we had campfires. I love campfires. It’s the best time of the day, so as much as possible, we keep the fire burning all day to make the whole day great. Anytime there’s any stress at all you can just go sit in a lawn chair by the fire and relax. It’s therapeutic.

But fires take fuel. On the weekend we camped we stayed through Monday, so Sunday afternoon, when all the other campers were leaving, I took the Jeep and drove through the campground looking for firewood that had been left behind. I came back with enough wood to last us Sunday and Monday and still brought some home for the next trip.

Yesterday on Facebook, a friend from down south posted something that got me thinking about fire and fuel. Then this morning I read the passage above from the book of Isaiah. I’m now more convinced than ever of the truth I heard from my friend. He said, in my paraphrased version, that we have no right to ask the refining fire of God to come upon us unless we are willing to become the fuel!!

When God’s people had wandered far enough into the ways of sin, the Light of Israel became a consuming fire to purify them. He burned everything so that those who were willing to be refined would rely upon Him alone and not on their own wisdom and strength. That is what God wants to do to each one of us – refine us with fire so His light shines in and through us.

As we sat around the campfire, making sure the kids didn’t get too close, we took turns poking at it and moving coals around so that everything would burn as brightly as possible. We added more fuel when necessary. In our spiritual lives we must do the same. We must let the Holy Spirit poke around in our hearts and minds and stir up the coals that are blackened with sin. We must search the entire campsite of our lives for any fuel that has been left behind by past failures – fuel that will ignite into sin if not burned in God’s Holy fire first. We must want the fire of God’s holiness to burn as brightly as possible is us.

So today, spend some time looking for firewood. Then let the Holy One become the flame in you that burns every log, stick, and woodchip so that you no longer rely upon yourself, but on the LORD!

Pastor John

Nothing To Fear

Connecting Points

Monday, August 23, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Nothing To Fear

Today’s Text:  For he says: “‘By the strength of my hand I have done this, and by my wisdom, because I have understanding… Does the ax raise itself above him who swings it, or the saw boast against him who uses it? As if a rod were to wield him who lifts it up, or a club brandish him who is not wood! (Isaiah 10:13, 15)

This past weekend I was blessed to be able to spend two days at my daughter’s house helping my son-in-law with a construction project. There was electrical wiring to install, insulation to put in place, and sheetrock to hang on the ceiling of a bedroom in the basement. We worked hard, and everything came together nicely.

When my time there was done, I realized something. Not once did any of the tools I used turn on me. My hammer never once redirected its focus to my thumb. My cordless drill never once impaled me. The wiring didn’t entangle me. The insulation didn’t wrap itself around me. I was in complete control of every tool and every piece of building material, and it did exactly what I directed it to do.

This may sound incredibly simplistic to you; maybe even foolish. Of course none of those inanimate objects did anything to you. They don’t have a mind of their own. They can’t make conscious choices. They are totally at the disposal of and subject to the will of the owner and operator. 

But take a moment and think about the application of that simple truth to our understanding of the Sovereignty of God. In the context of Isaiah 10, God is speaking to the King of Assyria who has become prideful about his ability to dominate the world political scene. This arrogant king believes that it has been by his own strength and wisdom he has been able to conquer the nations of the world. But God is going to teach him who’s really in control.

Every political power currently in place is there because God has ordained it, (Romans 13:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17) and is being used for the accomplishment of God’s glory. Every politician in office anywhere in the world is a part of God’s perfect plan for the building of His Son’s Kingdom. In fact, every governmental power is seen as an inanimate object in the hands of a Sovereign God who controls all activity and outcomes. Any pride taken by any official for their accomplishments is seen by God as insubordination.

I see two applications of this truth to my personal life today:

  • I do not need to fear the political powers of the present. The threats of terrorists, the corruption of capitalism with communism, and the demise of democracy not cause me alarm. They are but another step in the destruction of humanism as God calls people to trust Him alone and prepare for the King who is coming!

Pastor James McDonald wrote this just today on his devotional blog – Worried about world powers? World War 3? Terrorists? Market crashes? Biological warfare? Understand this from Isaiah : “[God] who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.”

What ever happened to Napoleon? Didn’t he die in exile on an island somewhere? Or Alexander, the not-so Great? Hitler? Or the maniac leaders of our generation – Osama bin Laden or what was his name, Sadam Hussein? Their influence is hardly a blip on God’s monitor. They may cause us to bite our nails and worry, but God isn’t pacing, or wringing His hands. Just as soon as He’s ready He will reduce those leaders to nothing and He will do it with His feet up.

Isaiah says in effect, “Don’t you get it? God doesn’t read the New York Times. If He did, it wouldn’t make any difference. Nothing stops God’s unalterable purposes in this world!”

I can’t wait for that day in heaven when we get to hear history’s real story – when we read God’s script and realize all He was doing behind the scenes. Just imagine the drama of God’s continuous, all-wise intervention in the sinful machinations of human armies and governments. To think that not one of His purposes is ever delayed or frustrated – not even for a moment. We will be amazed, stunned, and captured by God’s awesome control of human affairs.

When will we embrace the reality of God’s awesome control over history? History is and always has been God’s ballgame. He decides who gets on base, who pitches, who scores. He calls one man out and advances another runner. Don’t try to figure it out.

  • Finally, I need to be very careful that I don’t take any pride in what I consider to be my accomplishments. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13), but apart from God I can do nothing (John 15:5). I must, as you must, give God all the glory for everything that happens, and recognize by faith the He is in control…ALWAYS and FOREVER!

Pastor John