Who Gets All The Attention?

Connecting Points

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Who Gets the Attention?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 28:5  In that day the LORD Almighty will be a glorious crown, a beautiful wreath for the remnant of his people.

Thanksgiving is over and the tryptophan has worn off. The deer hunt is done and the meat is already in the freezer. Black Friday is history and today is Cyber Monday. For me, things look a little more settled right now and a routine has returned. I am happy about that.

One of the things I love about this season is the decorations for Christmas. So many people have taken advantage of the beautiful weather we have had and put up there outdoor lights early and abundantly. As I look at the lights I wonder what the people who put them up believe. What specific decoration is the center of their display? What particular theme are they trying to present. Many times it’s very obvious.

The most frequent theme of Christmas displays is Santa Claus and his reindeer. He’s on the roof of some houses. He’s in the front yard at other homes. Now I’m all in favor of some fun, and I’m not being judgmental, but I must say in all honesty that those displays define the people that live there. I don’t know to what degree it is true, but the materialism of the world has captured their hearts at some level. To them, Christmas is about the giving and receiving of gifts, and God only knows how much His Gift is really appreciated or even understood.

As I was driving around the other night near my daughter’s house in Sun Prairie, I was noticing all the lights at a couple of homes up ahead. As I got closer, I slowed down to observe a spectacular display that looked like a cooperative effort of two neighbors. I did not see a Santa Claus. I did not see any reindeer. There were no elves. There were, however, thousands of lights brilliantly illuminating the surroundings. They were strung from every tree and fence post. They surrounded the windows of the house and outlined the roofline. And in the most prominent position of the adjoining properties, right near the road, were a manger, a star, and a cross.

The theme of their display was not subtle. The beliefs that they held were not private. The attention was not on gifts, but THE GIFT of God in Jesus Christ. Their hope was not in presents, but in THE PRESENT.

In today’s Scripture reading in Isaiah 28, the first of six woes are proclaimed upon the nation of Israel. The first one involves all the attention that is given to man’s accomplishments and man’s desires. The materialism of the people was extravagant. But God was proclaiming an end to such beliefs and values. The wreath of Ephraim’s pride would be destroyed, and the Wreath of God would replace it. God not only demands but is worthy of all glory.

So when you hang your Christmas wreath this year, make sure all the attention of your decorating is on Jesus. Make a statement to your neighbors that Jesus is Lord, and He is THE GIFT that deserves our full attention.

Pastor John

Love God More Than Self

Connecting Points

Monday, November 22, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Love God More Than Self

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 27:9-11  By this, then, will Jacob’s guilt be atoned for, and this will be the full fruitage of the removal of his sin: When he makes all the altar stones to be like chalk stones crushed to pieces, no Asherah poles or incense altars will be left standing. The fortified city stands desolate, an abandoned settlement, forsaken like the desert; there the calves graze, there they lie down; they strip its branches bare. When its twigs are dry, they are broken off and women come and make fires with them. For this is a people without understanding; so their Maker has no compassion on them, and their Creator shows them no favor.

I do not believe that I love God enough. Maybe I never can, but there is one thing that I must use as the litmus test of love – do I love God more than I love myself?

I want to tell you a story of a young woman from Germany. Her name is Rica. She came to America in August as a one-semester exchange student at the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire. Sometime during her first two months here, she was befriended by a student leader from a campus ministry called Navigators. They became friends, and he invited her to church. She accepted the invitation, came, and came again the next week.

The sermon in church that second Sunday she attended was called “You Can Start Over.” During the final song of worship, she turned to her friend and said that she was ready to accept Jesus as her Savior. That afternoon, after lunch, she prayed to receive God’s gift of grace, the forgiveness of sins, made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The following two weeks were very hard for her. Her live-in boyfriend back in Germany became very angry at her decision. He began rejecting her. We met to talk about it, and shared with her the truth that living for Jesus will bring alienation from the world, and cause division between us and the people we once lived to please. She cried. I cried. But she understood, and gave her heart more deeply to the one who had died for her.

Yesterday during worship, she, along with 5 others, was baptized by immersion in obedience to the command of Jesus and was publicly identified as a follower of Christ. As I stood beside her preparing to immerse her under the water, she closed her eyes and tilted her head toward heaven. I have never seen such an expression of peace. The Spirit of God has captured her heart, and she is in love with Jesus. As I quoted the verse I always quote at a baptism – “You are buried with Him in the likeness of His death…” – she completely relaxed and released herself to my control. Then, as I brought her up out of the water – “You are raised to newness of life” – she opened her eyes, still looking to heaven, and broke out in the biggest smile possible as the joy of her salvation flooded her soul.

As a part of her exchange student program, she was scheduled to take an 11-day trip starting this week to visit historic sites in America. Two weeks ago, after receiving Christ into her life, she canceled that trip. Why? So she could stay in Eau Claire and be more deeply disciple by her new family of God so she is better prepared to go back to Germany and share the Gospel. She loves God more than she loves herself.

The prophet Isaiah said that the atonement for Israel’s sin would only be complete when sin was fully removed. When Jesus atoned for our sins on the cross, He paid the full price to have them completely removed from our lives. There is only one reason that sin still pops up in our lives and is an option to be considered – we love ourselves more than we love God.

Rica is willing to give up everything because she loves God more than herself. God forced the nation of Israel to give up their sin. He took away everything from their religious lives that stood opposed to Him – the altars to false Gods and the Asherah poles, which were the sexual monuments to the goddess of fertility named Ahserah. He took away their cities and fancy homes. He took away their basic necessities. He did this because He wanted them to become people of understanding. As they were, loving self more than God, they were living according to their own understanding, loving their own way. God broke them down so they had to depend on Him and Him alone. In that way they would learn to love Him more than self.

My dear friends, I cannot tell you how significant this message is for all of us today. Please do not pass it over lightly. We have become self-centered and self-dependant. We have chosen our own way instead of God’s way. We have chosen to justify all of our connections with the world and all of our pursuits of the world’s pleasures with the rationale of personal rights and benefits, when in reality we are simply loving ourselves more than God.

It is time for repentance.

It is time for revival.

It is time for sacrifice…like the one Jesus made for us, who loved us more than He loved His position and power in heaven.


Pastor John

God Cares…Constantly

Connecting Points

Friday, November 19, 2010

Today’s Topic:  God’s Care

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 27:2-5  “Sing about a fruitful vineyard:  I, the LORD, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. I am not angry. If only there were briers and thorns confronting me! I would march against them in battle; I would set them all on fire. Or else let them come to me for refuge; let them make peace with me, yes, let them make peace with me.” 

Oh how precious is God’s Word. It comes at just the right time to soothe the soul. It exhorts and encourages at the very moment of need. When a cherished friend is needed, God speaks. When doubt and fear have overwhelmed the heart, God’s words of love break through and bring comfort and peace. When commitment wavers, God never does, and He assures us He is still with us and for us. Oh how He loves us. Oh how He cares for us.

God has a word to meet our need this morning. One of these expressions of God’s love is just what we need:

  • God believes I am capable of bearing fruit in His vineyard. He planted me. He pruned me. He shines His light on me. He has connected me to Himself for the food I need to grow. I will bear fruit for the Lord.
  • God constantly watches over me. Nothing can happen to me that doesn’t first pass by Him. He has stopped far more evil against me than I can ever imagine. He has permitted to come against me only those things that will strengthen me so that I can bear more fruit. He is my constant caretaker.
  • God waters me continually. Nothing can happen to me that will leave me thirsty. No scorching sun can dry me out, for my roots are constantly in the Living Water. No frost can kill my leaves for they are constantly moistened by the Holy Spirit’s fresh dew.
  • God guards me day and night. I cannot be harmed by what the world throws at me. I cannot be overcome by the deceptions of Satan in my mind trying to convince me that I am unacceptable and unapproved. I cannot be harmed by the words of people or by their perceptions of who I am. I have been qualified by God to be a partaker of His inheritance with all the saints in glory.
  • God does all these things even when I am not faithful. God says, “I am not angry.” When I sin, He is still watching and watering. When I am prideful, He still protects me.  When I pursue personal preferences, He pleads with me to come to Him for peace. God NEVER EVER quits being God to me!

Let me repeat that – God NEVER EVER quits being God to me!

Thank you Lord for giving me exactly what I needed today.

Pastor John

We Are Overcomers

Connecting Points

Monday, November 15, 2010

Today’s Topic:  We Are Overcomers

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 26:12  LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.

I honestly don’t know where to start. I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of mercy and grace God continues to shower upon me.

My weaknesses do nothing to hurt Him or His work, for it is in my weakness that He is shown to be strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)  

My inabilities do not hinder me, for I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

The forces of evil around me have no authority over me, for greater is He that is in me than He that is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

I do not have to surrender to the world and its influence on me. My faith in Christ gives me the same ability to overcome the world as Jesus had. (1 John 5:4-5)

As I read through the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah this morning, I was reminded of the truth that God spoke to us through the story of Joseph in church yesterday morning. It is a profound truth that is applied infrequently in our everyday lives. It is the truth that in Christ we are overcomers. According to the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:37, we are more than conquerors in Christ.

As I study the life of Joseph in Genesis I am amazed at all of the garbage he overcame in his life. He came from a family that had faith in God, but that faith was misapplied. He overcame the hatred of his brothers that resulted in the devaluing of his life in their eyes as they sold him into slavery. He overcame the attempts of a woman to corrupt him sexually. He overcame false imprisonment. He overcame the fleshly desire for revenge against his brothers. Joseph was an overcomer.

But Scripture confirms that he is not to be the only one. In fact, right here in Isaiah 26 the people of God are given hope that they two will be part of an overcoming. Read these words with discernment from the Holy Spirit:

 As a woman with child and about to give birth writhes and cries out in her pain, so were we in your presence, O LORD.  We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world. But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.

There are days when I feel like crying out in pain as the pressures of the world and the temptations of my own flesh surround me and oppress me. But in the presence of the Lord there is hope. It is there that we realize the truth that we are not in control; that we are not able to save ourselves; that we are not able to give birth to the solutions for our problems; that we are spiritually dead and progressing towards physical death. It is in the presence of the Lord that we are given the hope that the dead will rise just as Jesus did. It is in the presence of God that we are assured that all things are in God’s hands and what man has intended for harm God will turn and use for His good and His glory. It is there, where Jesus where has lifted us to our rightful place of authority with Him (Ephesians 2:6-7), that we find that all that has been done has been God’s work to bring us peace. (Isaiah 26:12)

Whatever is oppressing you; whatever is overwhelming you; whatever is discouraging you; whatever is defeating you; take hope in this – you can overcome the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of your testimony if you love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul, and your strength. (Revelation 12:11 and Matthew 22:37)

Let the words of this song remind you of the price Jesus paid for your deliverance, and of the victory that is ours as overcomers!

Seated above, enthroned in the Father’s love
Destined to die, poured out for all mankind
God’s only Son, perfect and spotless one
He never sinned but suffered as if He did

All authority
Every victory is Yours
All authority
Every victory is Yours

Savior, worthy of honor and glory
Worthy of all our praise, You overcame
Jesus, awesome in power forever
Awesome and great is Your name, You overcame

Power in hand speaking the Father’s plan
You’re sending us out, light in this broken land

We will overcome by the blood of the Lamb
And the word of our testimony, everyone overcome

Savior, worthy of honor and glory
Worthy of all our praise, You overcame
Jesus, awesome in power forever
Awesome and great is Your name, You overcame

Pastor John

Level and Smooth

Connecting Points

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Level and Smooth

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 26:7  The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth.

It was not level and smooth. I thought I knew the shortcut to my tree stand, even though I had only taken it once before from the opposite direction as I left the woods two days earlier. But in the dark it was different. I ended up in the middle of a tangled mess of downed trees and branches, being far noisier than I ever wanted to be. Every step cracked a branch. What should have been a silent approach that took 3 minutes ended up being a loud and potentially deer-frightening approach that took me 15 minutes. It was not a good way to start the day.

What went wrong? Well, I was being pretty arrogant to think that in this new location my skills and senses were so finely honed that I could travel 100 yards through the woods in the dark without getting off course. I needed to be humbled, and I was. No more shortcuts. I will follow the path marked out for me.

As I read Isaiah 26:7 this morning I thought of yesterday’s hunting adventure. I wondered why so many of the paths of life weren’t all that level and smooth. Sure, I’m not completely righteous – who is? But there doesn’t seem to be a consistent connection between the times in my life when I’m being faithful and the smoothness of life. In fact, some of the toughest times have occurred when I am the closest to God. Has God made a promise that isn’t true?

As I contemplated all of this, I remembered to read the rest of the context of Isaiah 26. Here it is in verses five through nine. The footnote numbers are not verse numbers, but reference the application points below.

1 He humbles those who dwell on high, he lays the lofty city low; he levels it to the ground and casts it down to the dust.  2 Feet trample it down—the feet of the oppressed, the footsteps of the poor. The path of the righteous is level; O upright One, you make the way of the righteous smooth. Yes, LORD, 3 walking in the way of your laws, 4 we wait for you; 5 your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. 6 My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. 7 When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.

Here’s what I learned, with each point referenced to a verse above:

  1. Pride causes bumps and potholes in the road of life.
  2. God smoothes out the road of our life using the footsteps of other people, especially those people we have considered to be somehow sub-standard and beneath us. We are humbled when suddenly we are beneath them.
  3. The path God has chosen for my life is already level and smooth, but I may be on the wrong path. I may be walking according to my laws or the laws of the world and not God’s law.
  4. I may be on God’s path, but I’ve gotten ahead of Him and He hasn’t prepared that part of the road yet.
  5. The road isn’t level and smooth because I’m travelling it for my own benefit and not for the glory of God.
  6. Am I really so in love with God that I long for Him more than I long for anything else? Is my relationship with Jesus the single most important thing in my life?
  7. Every bump and pothole in the road is placed there by God so that I become more righteous.

Tomorrow morning I will be walking a different path to my tree stand. But more importantly, I will begin today walking God’s path of righteousness. I will not complain about the bumps and potholes, but will allow my Lord to use them to humble me and make me more like Him.

Pastor John

Perfect Peace

Connecting Points

Monday, November 01, 2010

Today’s Topic:  Perfect Peace

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 26:3-4  You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal.

When I study God’s Word, one of my favorite things to do is to try to comprehend the richness of the vocabulary. Even though I never took any Greek of Hebrew classes in college, I love using the tools that are available to us today to uncover the treasures that are buried in the meanings of words. I did that this morning as I read the twenty-sixth chapter of Isaiah, especially focusing on verses three and four. Here’s what I discovered:

  • You will keep…the word keep means that God stands guard over our lives and watches everything about us to preserve and protect us. In the very next chapter Isaiah writes, I, the LORD, watch over it; I water it continually. I guard it day and night so that no one may harm it. The Lord God is watching over us and guarding our lives. He is keeping us. Just like in the New Testament where Peter writes that we are kept by the power of God unto salvation.
  • In perfect peace…The Hebrew word here means much more than a state of mind. It involves completeness of mind, body and soul. It refers to health and financial provision. It relates to trustworthy relationships with God and with other people. It refers to safety from danger and protection from harm. We must always be careful to balance these promises with the truth that God also tests us and we go through trials in life. But we must never, never minimize what this word means. God can and will bring us to perfect peace if we are completely trusting Him.
  • Whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts…the word mind is interesting. It refers to a form or a framework. It is the word used of man when he is created by God from the dust of the earth and given a form. In addition to the physical framework, it also refers to the intellectual framework of ideas. All our thoughts are to be within the framework of God’s holiness and purpose. God has a framework for our lives, both physically and intellectually. Then we are told to be steadfast within that framework. The word there means to lean on, be supported by, and be refreshed. God’s framework for our lives is to be absolutely trusted. We are to be sustained by it. When our thoughts and activities are within that framework called God’s will, and we trust it completely to sustain every part of our lives, then we will be at perfect peace.

When we fully appreciate and apply the truths of that verse, we will be able to declare with the people in the land of Judah that the LORD, the LORD, is the Rock eternal and we can trust Him forever.

Pastor John