Define “Christian” Please

Connecting Points

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Define Christian Please.

Today’s Text:  John 3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” 

Let me begin with a statement of praise – God is in control no matter how bad it looks.

The rest of this devotional, no matter how long it takes you to absorb it, is critical and essential. Please take the time to take it all in.

This year’s adventure in democracy leading up to an election is bad. It’s horrible. The verbal bashing of another human being that is justified by one’s own pursuit of power is offensive and downright sinful. But God is in control.

One area that particularly insults me is the free use of the word Christian by people describing themselves as the attempt to snuggle up to potential voters. I must be careful, because I would not in any way assume the right or insight to be able to know the true condition of their heart. But there are some facts about being a follower of Christ that are taught clearly in Scripture, and we can use those truths to determine the reality of a person’s statements.

First, no one can claim qualification for entrance into eternal life with God the Father unless they have come through Jesus Christ. John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Christianity is not one of the ways to heaven, it is the only way. Any reference to revering other religions as equal options is ultimately authored by Satan himself.

Second, it is imperative to know who Jesus is. What value is faith in anything or anyone that is not worthy of faith? Secular culture has minimized Jesus to something only slightly higher than man, when in reality He is God Almighty, equal in every way with the Father. Yet through His incarnation, Jesus became God in the flesh, dwelling on earth as both God and man in their absolute fullness at once. The person who claims to be a Christian and yet denies that Jesus is the One and Only God-Man is not speaking under the influence of the Spirit of God and is under the control of Satan. First John 4:2-3 says, This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,   but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

Third, anyone who uses the word Christian to define their “religious” affiliation must be able to speak clearly and truthfully about the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross. They must be able to clearly, and I might add boldly without fear of personal or political ramifications, proclaim these truths and state their unconditional belief in them:

  • All people are guilty of sin before God and deserving of death by nature from the moment of their conception – Psalm 51:5Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Romans 3:23All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 6:23The wages of sin is death…
  • Jesus Christ, who knew no sin and was never guilty of sin, became our sin for us and died on the cross to pay God’s judgment of death on our behalf.  Second Corinthians 5:21God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Hebrews 9:26 – But now Christ has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 
  • Jesus rose from the dead to conquer death forever for all who believe on Him. First Corinthians 15:19-22If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.   But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.   For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.   For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. Second Corinthians 4:13-14It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.” With that same spirit of faith we also believe and therefore speak,   because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you in his presence. 
  • All who believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord will be transformed and no longer live according to the principles of this world. Romans 10:9 – If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Second Corinthians 5:17 – Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! Colossians 2:8-10 – See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. Colossians 3:1-3 –  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 

Only if all these things are true in one’s life can they be called a Christian. Please do not be deceived by the improper use of the term “Christian” by so many today. Make sure you know what they believe and that their life and political positions reflect the truth of God’s Word.

Pastor John

Whose Plans Are They?

Connecting Points

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Whose Plans Are They?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 17:10-11  You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress. Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines,  though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.

Parts of my garden this year were a disappointment. I had the best tomato plant ever, and the green peppers were good, and the potatoes are bountiful, but there were some things that were terrible. The beans were a bust. The peas were pathetic. And the zucchini were literally squashed. I had the biggest zucchini plants ever and they bloomed profusely, but only one out of every twenty blooms produced a fruit. I miss my stir fried zucchini.

As I reflect on what went wrong, I am stumped. I prepared the soil. It is very fertile, made from compost. Maybe it’s too fertile and is just producing top growth – I don’t know. I planted in the right places. There was plenty of rain this summer. What went wrong? How come we can do everything right and still not get blessed with a bountiful harvest?

That last question applies to more than just gardens. It teaches us an eternal principle that God wants us to know. Here it is – Our plans and preparations are meaningless and unproductive unless God is our priority.

Argue that in your mind and with others all you want, but the truth is unless we are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ and building our lives on the Solid Rock, everything we do will ultimately fail and be destroyed. It doesn’t matter how technologically advanced we become. It doesn’t help that we do all the scientific research to increase productivity. It makes absolutely no difference that we have all the administrative and organizational skills to plan for every possible contingency. If your life isn’t centered on Jesus Christ, and if your hope and strength aren’t in Him alone, all you are doing is feeding futility.

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is in the little book of Hosea. It says, Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you.

So get out your spiritual roto-tiller (some of us might need roto-rooters), dig up the hard ground of your heart, and plant the seeds of his productive priorities. When you do, the harvest is guaranteed.

Pastor John

What Are You Looking At?

Connecting Points

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today’s Topic:  What Are You Looking At?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 17:7-8  In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made.

I have a hard time imagining life back in the days of the early church. There’s no way we can really relate to what it must have been like 1,960 years ago. At least from a lifestyle argument this is true. But it is not true from a faith or philosophical view. The same beliefs that exist today in people’s hearts and minds were prominent back then as well. People’s thinking has not changed. Culture may have changed, and technology has certainly changed, but the heart of man has not.

Around the year 90 A.D., when the apostle John was exiled to the Island of Patmos, Greek philosophers abounded throughout the Roman Empire. They attempted to do what philosophers and scientists today attempt to do – explain life without recognizing the existence of God. One such philosopher was named Epictetus.

To Epictetus, all external events are determined by fate, and are thus beyond our control, so we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. As individuals, however, we are responsible for our own actions, which we must examine and control through rigorous self-discipline. Suffering arises from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power.

This philosophy is not much different than the humanistic philosophy of today. Man has not changed his thinking. Under the power of sin, man still thinks he can control his actions so that they produce good. People still believe that through self-discipline and self-affirmation they can produce their own happiness. How wrong they are!

Epictetus was convinced that attitude and perspective were the keys to managing the problems of life. He wrote, It isn’t your problems that are bothering you. It is the way you are looking at them. He was partially right. His problem was that he taught that we needed to look at our problems through the eyes of fate and human ability, rather than through the eyes of God and His Sovereign control of all things.

That’s what God was trying to tell the people of the world through the mouth of Isaiah the prophet. Chapter after chapter come warnings to nations and people about the consequences of not looking at life through from God’s perspective. In chapter 17, the people of Damascus are told about what will happen to all their hard work that has been done only by looking to man’s ability – it will be obliterated. When it is, then they will finally turn their eyes back to the Lord.

Look carefully at today’s Scripture verse. In the past the people of Damascus had their eyes wrongly focused on three things – religion (the altars), work, and pleasure (Asherah poles, representing the sexual focus of their culture under the false worship of the goddess Asherah). Everything they did in life was motivated by the pursuit of one of these things. They sought to find some kind of peace through a religious experience; they sought to find some kind of worth through the work they accomplished; and they sought to find an escape from the troubles of life through pleasure.

Man has not changed. We still look to these three things to fulfill the deepest longings of our hearts. It is only after we suffer, sometimes severely, the consequences of looking to these things that we finally turn and look to our Maker who knows how to satisfy our every need from the inside out.

So what are you looking at? Is it the things of the earth, or the things of God? But even looking at the things of God is not sufficient. Look to God Himself. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, and look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

Pastor John

Where’s the Joy?

Connecting Points

Monday, September 27, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Where’s the Joy?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 16:9  The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit and over your harvests have been stilled.  Joy and gladness are taken away from the orchards; no one sings or shouts in the vineyards; no one treads out wine at the presses, for I have put an end to the shouting.

Yesterday was such a gorgeous day, and this week promises the same kind of weather. There will be time this week to harvest the rest of the garden, winterize the camper, clean the garage for the winter storage season, mow the lawn, and maybe, just maybe, play some golf.

However, I wonder why I am so satisfied to sit and do nothing when there is so much to be done. There are days when I wonder why life is so mundane. Why do the things that used to bring joy seem simply average and at times even meaningless?

At first I chalked it up to old age and tiredness. But then I read this verse this morning. In context, Isaiah is writing about the nation of Moab, but in application he writes about me…and you.

The more the Moabites became comfortable and proud of their position, the less they depended upon God. They had not yet learned that joy comes only from the Lord. It is a fruit of the Spirit of God abiding within us. It can only be experienced if the Holy Spirit is filling us. He cannot fill us if we are filled with ourselves. So the loss of joy is the direct result of the choice we make to focus on self.

OUCH!

But I needed that ouch. You may have also needed it. Take some time, as I will today, and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the parts of your life and heart where He is not involved, or where His involvement is being restricted by your self-involvement. Then repent of those things and invite Him to fill you. The Joy of the Lord will return and you will be strong again.

Pastor John

Hope In the Middle of Despair

Connecting Points

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Hope In the Middle of Despair

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 16:5  In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it—one from the house of David—one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.

I am overwhelmed with the awesomeness of God and His timing. I had no sooner completed writing the title of today’s Connecting Point when the phone rang. It was my nephew from North Dakota. He drives truck and calls me occasionally from the road. Usually we jab each other about our favorite football teams (he hates the Vikings), and talk about everyday stuff.

Today’s call was different. There was despair in his voice. I asked him what was wrong. He told me that his mother-in-law, who has been homebound on oxygen for the last three years, was being transported to the hospital in Fargo with serious breathing difficulties and was probably not going to make it. Meanwhile, he’s in Grand Island, Nebraska 500 miles away.

As I listened to him my eyes were glued to the title and the Bible verse for today. After he was done sharing what was going on, I told him about God’s timing, and that I had just finished writing the title. I read it to him. He listened tenderly. I read the verse to him. He listened quietly except for the occasional sniffle. I told him about the King who is coming, and that He is our only true hope. Sniffle. I asked him to put his hope in the Lord.

Every day we are surrounded with despair. It overwhelms us at times and it feels like there’s nothing we can do. We begin to believe that all hope is gone. It is at that moment that the Holy Spirit comes with the love of God and says, Put your hope in God. If you listen carefully He is speaking to you right now. Maybe these words from the Psalms will help you hear Him.

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.   My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?   My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”   These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving    among the festive throng.   Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and   my God. You are God my stronghold.  Why have you rejected me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Then will I go to the altar of God, to God, my joy and my delight. I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (from Psalm 42 and 43)

Pastor John

Thanks for Tomorrow

Connecting Points

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Thanks for Tomorrow

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 14:24  The LORD Almighty has sworn, “Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand.”

So, what are your plans for the day? It’s amazing how proficient we have become with planning out our days. We have days planned weeks in advance. We have calendars on the fridge, in our purses (if we’re ladies), and on our cell phones. We lock in dates for activities and trips and kids events and even church events. We get downright discouraged and sometimes frustrated when our plans don’t work out. Most plans are self-centered and self-fulfilling. We make them because of the benefit we will receive. Planning has become our idol.

Agnes Goddard of Oceanside, California tells this story about motives.

My granddaughter, Hannah, begged me long-distance to come help her celebrate her sixth birthday. Unable to resist, I made my plans to join the family. When we sat down for the birthday dinner, my son asked Hannah if she would like to bless the food on her birthday. “Oh, yes, Daddy,” she said. She closed her eyes and began, “Dear Lord, thank you for Mommy and this good food she fixed. Thank you for letting Grandma come here today.” Pausing momentarily, Hannah opened her eyes to peek at me before she continued. “And please Lord, let us have a good time at ‘Toys R Us’ this afternoon.”

 It is very easy for us to run our own lives for our own benefit, isn’t it? What appears on the surface to be a kind gesture or an act of service may actually be an attempt to satisfy some fleshly desire. I suspect that much of what we have on our calendars are plans that are so significant to the building of our own little kingdoms that we would be upset if God interrupted them with His plan.

Here’s a test for you. For tomorrow, clear your calendar of ALL items that aren’t absolutely necessary for work. Take every personal item off. As soon as you’ve done that, close your eyes and pray this prayer – “God, thank you for tomorrow because I know the plans you have for me will be good.” Can you do it? Can you really be thankful for tomorrow when you have no idea what is going to happen?

He was just a little fellow. His mother died when he was just a child. His father, in trying to be both mommy and daddy, had planned a picnic. The little boy had never been on a picnic, so they made their plans, fixed the lunch, and packed the car. Then it was time to go to bed, for the picnic was the next day. He just couldn’t sleep. He tossed and he turned, but the excitement got to him. Finally, he got out of bed, ran into the room where his father had already fallen asleep, and shook him. His father woke up and saw his son. He said to him, “What are you doing up? What’s the matter?”

The boy said, “I can’t sleep.”

The father asked, “Why can’t you sleep?”

In answering, the boy said, “Daddy, I’m excited about tomorrow.”

His father replied, “Well, Son, I’m sure you are, and it’s going to be a great day, but it won’t be great if we don’t get some sleep. So why don’t you just run down the hall, get back in bed, and get a good night’s rest.”

So the boy trudged off down the hall to his room and got in bed. Before long, sleep came—to the father, that is. It wasn’t long thereafter that the little boy was back. He was pushing and shoving his father, and his father opened his eyes. Harsh words almost blurted out until he saw the expression on the boy’s face. The father asked, “What’s the matter now?”

The boy said, “Daddy, I just want to thank you for tomorrow.”

When I think of my past and the fact that a loving Father would not let me go, reached down in his divine providence, and lifted me out of a life of sin, when I think of what he has done for me and then think that he is planning a new thing for me that will surpass the past, let the record show this day in this place that John D. van Gorkom testified, Father, I want to thank you for tomorrow!

Pastor John

Capture Pride

Connecting Points

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Pride Ends In Destruction

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 13:11 and 14:10-11  I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless. They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us. All your pomp has been brought down to the grave, along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you.

One hundred thirty years after the resurrection of Jesus, a stoic philosopher named Marcus Aurelius came to power in Rome as emperor. He brought a degree of civility to the people, and allowed the citizens to speak freely without fear of retribution. It was a time of peace for the nation, and people began to thrive.

In less than three hundred years the nation would collapse. Much has been written about the fall of the Roman Empire, and many reasons are given, including one that blames Christianity. But in all humility, recognizing that I am not an historian, there is one thing that guarantees the collapse of all man’s efforts – pride.

When we attempt to create empires of any kind – from family to financial, from political to personal – and then maintain them according to our own standards, we have set ourselves up against the very nature and heart of Almighty God. The fact that we first attempt to deny the existence of God to remove the potential consequences doesn’t change the outcome. Our pride will end in destruction.

Just look at the prophecy that is spoken by God through Isaiah to the nation of Babylon. Its ruler will join all the previous rulers of pompous political powers in the hopelessness of the grave. They will have to face the fact and admit the truth that their pride ended in destruction.

The same is true in our personal lives. The things that we do for self will cause us to ultimately suffer. The things we do for the Savior bring us security. The treasures we build on earth will all be lost. The treasures we build in heaven are safe – eternally safe.

The key is to be humble, and submit to the will of God not the will of man. It all starts in our minds. The Apostle Paul said, And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. When you think of what he has done for you, is this too much to ask? Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is. (Romans 12:1-2 New Living Translation)

If only the people of the Roman Empire had held on to this truth. They had it, you know. And not only from Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, although that should have been sufficient. They were also challenged by the words of their emperor, Marcus Aurelius, to be humble and guard their minds and thought life from pride. He wrote, ‎”You are what you think – not what you think you are…….Think as a man who acts, and act as a man who thinks. The most important things in life are the thoughts you choose to frame.”

So how’s your thought life? Maybe you think it’s irrelevant to your life. Maybe you have just accepted all the thoughts that speed across the back of your eyes as a part of the human experience. Do you not understand that according to God we are responsible for every thought? The Apostle Paul made it clear that we are when he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write, We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

It is our pride that makes us pretentious and sets us up in opposition to God. We must take responsibility for our thoughts and bring them under the control of the Holy Spirit. When we do, we will be able to experience the perfect peace of God because we are living in the perfect will of God.

Pastor John