Priorities – Part 2

Connecting Points

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Today’s Topic: Priorities – Part 2

Today’s Text: Luke 4:1-2 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

I know, it’s Tuesday and it’s supposed to be my day off. But this is a wrangled week. Tomorrow I have some outpatient surgery done that will lay me up at home for a couple of days so I’m working today. Nothing serious, but will take a couple of days to heal. If I’m up to it I might be back on line on Thursday, but hopefully Friday for sure.

I have an assignment for you for the next few days. I will be spending some time contemplating the whole priority issue we reviewed yesterday and deepening my understanding of the Lord’s words about denying self. To help with that process, I want to really study the life of Jesus in one particular experience He had when He was tempted to connect himself to the world’s system and values. I think it would be beneficial for all of us to spend some time looking at it.

The event we will look at is the temptation of Christ in the wilderness following His baptism. Let’s read the story and see how the Holy Spirit draws some connecting points to our own lives as He helps us understand the temptations we experience to seek our value and purpose from the world. I have combined the stories from Matthew and Luke into one so we can get the whole picture.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The devil then led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Then the devil led him up to a very high mountain and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor.  And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you bow down and worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” Then the devil left him until an opportune time, and angels came and attended him.

Three specific temptations that manifest themselves in a variety of ways in our lives today. Some are very obvious. Most are very subtle and subversive. Do you recognize them?

  • The temptation to not trust God for our physical needs
  • The temptation to try to mingle the pleasures of the world with the promises of God
  • The temptation to find our value and status from the world and not from God

I trust that the Holy Spirit will teach us all to recognize them and defend against them with the authority of God’s Word as Jesus did. This will take effort. Don’t just skim over this. Submit to the teaching of the Holy Spirit as He reveals to us the specific areas of our lives where we have fallen into sin. Denial does not help us. We must open our hearts and our minds to the cleansing and purifying work of the Holy Spirit. After all, we say we love the Lord our God with all our heart, our mind, our soul, and our strength. Maybe the priorities of our lives should reflect that.

Pastor John

 

Priorities

Connecting Points

Monday, January 24, 2011

Today’s Topic: Priorities

Today’s Text: Matthew 16:24-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

What an exciting day yesterday. I couldn’t have planned the outcome better. Everything came together perfectly. People were enthusiastic. Some even stood to experience the victory. It was a wonderful worship service.

Ah ha! Gotcha! How many of you are willing to confess right now that you thought I was talking about the football game? I know that was an important event in the lives of Green Bay Packer football fans, but why does it capture us so completely that it at times overwhelms our sensitivity to the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Yesterday’s worship service couldn’t have been more timely. It was planned long before we knew that there was going to be an NFC championship football game involving the local favorite. It had everything in it that prepared us to respond correctly to whatever happened in the game. Today will be the test as to whether we learned anything or not.

In the songs we sang, the Scripture we read, and the teaching we received, there was a consistent theme of surrender. Over and over again we were challenged with the words of Jesus who said, with my personal points of emphasis added, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?

  • There are no exclusions or exceptions – anyone who wants to follow Jesus MUST make Him the priority of their life
  • There are no additions allowed – anyone who wants to find the real and full meaning and purpose of life must first lose their own life and take up the cross of Jesus Christ.
  • There are no advantages to replacing Jesus with the things of the world – NONE. All things of this world will fade and be lost, even the joy of a football game. But the joy of knowing and serving Jesus is eternal.

At the conclusion of the service dozens of people stood to commit these truths to the heart and soul, and to begin to place Jesus on the throne of their lives. It was incredible. They are the ones who are today experiencing the real victory – the spiritual victory over sin and the flesh. They are the ones who will spend today talking more about Jesus than they will the Packers of the Steelers or the Jets or the Bears. They are the people who will show more enthusiasm in their speech and have more bounce in their step, and it won’t be because a football game turned out the way they wanted – it will be because they are living for Jesus and know the incredible grace it took to bring them the victory they now have.

Already the plans are being made for day of the Super Bowl. Parties are being planned. Tickets are being bought by some. Calls are being made to friends to see if they could connect to watch it together. People are enthralled with the hope of a victory in a game that has no guarantee to take place. And even if it does, and even if their team wins, what will it really profit them? Is our value system so messed up that we find our worth in what our favorite sports team accomplishes?

My friends, if my team were in the Super Bowl I would be excited also. But I pray – I’m on my knees today as I was in church yesterday – that NOTHING would ever be more important in this life than the love of Jesus and following Him. May we be as enthusiastic about sharing the Good News of salvation with people as we are about talking about the game.

Pastor John

 

 

Am I A Shelter?

Connecting Points

Friday, January 21, 2011

Today’s Topic: Am I A Shelter?

Today’s Text: Isaiah 32:1-2 See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each man will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land.

Brrrrr!!! It’s cold this morning. Twenty-five below at my house at 6:00 AM. Makes me wish for a hot sunny day, but then I know I’d complain about that also and be looking for a shady place or some air conditioning. So, we bundle up and live with it. On the bright side, the sun came up again, and there’s hardly any wind. Sure is nice to have a working furnace in the house and a warm office from which to work. Everyone needs shelter from the weather.

The nation of Israel sure went through a lot of “weather” changes, if by weather we mean political and spiritual issues. When they obeyed God, He upheld His covenant of blessing with them. When they disobeyed Him, He upheld the consequences stated in the same covenant. God always fulfills His covenants.

In chapter thirty-one of Isaiah, which at first glance at today’s Scripture makes it appear we have skipped completely, God continues to discipline His people for their rebellion, and also declares the punishment that will fall on the nation of Assyria for rejecting Jehovah. Then in chapter thirty-two God gives a great statement of hope – a King will reign in righteousness.

From a historical perspective, this refers to King Hezekiah, whose reign was one of righteousness and peace. But from a spiritual and prophetic perspective this promise declares the coming of Jesus Christ as King. What joy I find in these words – Jesus is a shelter from the wind, a refuge from the storm, a stream of living water that nourishes and brings life to the desert places, and the rock that provides shade and protection from the scorching sun of sin.

What joy there is in those thoughts. What refreshment of my spirit there is in relationship with Jesus. He stabilizes my life when the winds of adversity blow against me. He protects me from the storms of crisis and gives me peace even in the midst of them. When the thirst of my soul is no longer satisfied with the water of the world and my pursuits have dried up like the sands of the desert, a spring of living water bubbles up from within and satisfies my every longing. And when the stress of life saps my energy like the heat of the noonday sun God invites me into the shade of His presence and I find rest.

Wait…there is a challenge tucked away in the midst of these blessings. Do you see it at the start of the second sentence? The New International Version translates this so that these things are to be true of us as well. We are to be shelters from the wind for others who are unstable. We are to be a place of refuge and peace for those around us who are being battered by the storms of life. We are to be like streams of fresh and refreshing water for those who are not finding satisfaction from the ways of the world. We are to be the place of shade and rest for those whose strength has been sapped by the scorching sun of sin.

You and I. We are the representatives of the righteous King to those living in a weary land. Just as Jesus is our shelter in the time of storm, so are we to be a place of protection for our friends and neighbors when they are being pounded by the winds and waves of adversity. But wait, we are to be like the Rock to more than just friends and neighbors. It is the love of God that will transform our enemies, and what better way to show them His love than to offer them help and hope when they are in their greatest need.

How I praise God for being my Rock, my Refuge, my shelter. Yet I am convicted that I am not those same things to others around me. Lord, make me a servant to others, no matter who they are, that they may see the your love and the hope of glory in me, that they may discover the peace they long to know in you and you alone.

Pastor John

 

Can He Really Do It?

Connecting Points

Friday, January 14, 2011

Today’s Topic: Who Do You Believe God to Be?

Today’s Text: Isaiah 30:27 See, the Name of the LORD comes from afar, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; his lips are full of wrath, and his tongue is a consuming fire.

Henry Blackaby, in his magnificent study entitled Experiencing God, makes this statement –

When God speaks, what you do next reveals what you believe about God.

With brevity and precision that statement dissects our hearts. Here are some profound truths to think about over the weekend. May they bring initial unrest to our souls followed by the peace of God from knowing our faith has been strengthened.

  • God spoke and said, Whoever calls on my Name shall be saved. Whoever believes on the One and Only Son of God shall have everlasting life. If we will confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us for those sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. So why is it that we still live under the bondage of sin, struggling with it, seeking counseling for it, and in some cases resolving to just live with it? Do we really believe God to be who He said He was and to do what He said He would do?
  • God spoke and said, I have qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. For I have rescued you from the dominion of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of the Son I love, in whom you have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. So why is it that we still live with such connections to the worldly kingdom? And why is it that we still struggle to qualify ourselves in the eyes of others, giving them the right to define us and approve us? Do we really believe who God is and what He said He would do?
  • God spoke and said, You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. So why is it that we still question whether or not we are ready to witness to the unsaved, or go to the mission field, or serve in the local church, or do any of the work of God to which He has called us?
  • God spoke and said, See, I am coming, with burning anger and dense clouds of smoke; my lips are full of wrath, and my tongue is a consuming fire. You will sing…your hearts will rejoice…for I come to shatter your enemies and deliver you. Then why is it that we get so bent out of shape about what’s wrong with our world? What does the grumbling and complaining and critical spirits say about who we believe God to be?
  • God spoke and said, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. So why do we still worry? What does that say about who we really believe God to be?
  • God spoke and said, If you have the faith of a small mustard seed, you can say to a mountain, move from here to there, and it will move. As far as I know, God has never asked anyone to move a mountain, but He has asked us to do some pretty out-of-the-ordinary things in our lives. You have heard Him speak to you about those things before. They may involve a career choice, a call to ministry, a sacrificial gift to a church, or one of a million other possibilities. The point is, you have heard Him speak to you. He gave you His direction and purpose for that time of your life. Did you obey? If not, what does that say about who you really believe God to be?

I am very deeply struggling with one thing in my life right now in this regard. In thepast I have heard God speak about our church’s ministry. Many people have. We look around and see God at work in spectacular ways. We are literally overflowing on Wednesday nights with children and youth. One class packs sixteen 3-4 year olds into an 8×10 room. We have heard God speak a vision to us for expanding our ministry. He specifically said, Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back, lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. For you will spread out to the right and to the left. (Isaiah 54:2-3)

We have started that process. Actually we started it over 7 years ago when God spoke those words to some of us. So does our current activity as a church continue to reflect good faith in who God is and what He spoke? And do our current personal financial decisions and our sacrificial giving to the Lord reflect faith in God who spoke and said, Seek first my kingdom, and I will provide everything else you need? Are we convinced that we are moving forward according to what we believe to be true about God, or what we know we can do for ourselves? When all is said and done, will it be said of our church that God did something beyond human ability, or will we just be another church that accomplished a nice goal but the world takes no special notice of it because it was man doing it?

When God speaks, what you do next reveals what you believe about God.

Pastor John

 

Contrasts

Connecting Points

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Today’s Topic: Salvation and Strength

Today’s Text: Isaiah 30:15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”

The thirtieth chapter of Isaiah is one of contrasts. In it we see the rebellious nature of man and the gracious nature of God. Our pride seeks to protect us from looking at the reality of our nature. Our hearts long to know the depths of God’s grace. The truth is, the magnificence of God’s grace towards us cannot be fully comprehended unless we also understand the depths of our depravity. It is where sin abounds that grace abounds more.

We are taught by our flesh and all those around us under the influence of their flesh to avoid any focus on our faults. We grade our spiritual condition on a huge curve of comparison. So many people are worse than us, and very few are better, so we believe we are in no real danger of flunking. But when compared to the holiness of God, all of us fail, and all of us need forgiveness, and none of us can save ourselves. This is the truth that makes the grace of God so grand.

The contrasts between our condition and God’s compassion in this passage have really spoken to my heart this morning. May they bless you as well. You may want to open your Bible and follow along, or just click on the link to each verse. But please read each point carefully and make the personal applications the Lord has for you today. I guarantee that it will bless you with a deeper appreciation of God’s grace.

Man’s Rebellious Nature (verse 9):

  • We tend to devise and pursue our own plans rather than God’s – verse 1
  • We seek protection and provision from the world and not from God – verses 2-5
  • We build ourselves up in our own eyes by oppressing others – verse 12
  • We make ourselves look good to others by lying about who we are – verse 12

(Note the serious consequences of not being honest about who you are – verses 13-14)

  • We even reach a point where we don’t want to hear the truth anymore and reject all attempts by God to help us – verses 10-11

Now notice God’s Grace:

  • God longs to be gracious to us even during our worst rebellion – verse 18
  • God rises above our stubbornness to be compassionate towards our needs – verse 18
  • God reveals truth to us through adversity and trouble – verse 20
  • God walks with us constantly and gives us specific direction – verse 21
  • God provides for our every need and will bring out the best in everything He gives us – verses 23-24
  • God will heal all the wounds of our suffering – verses 25-26

I know we are all very busy, and that taking time out for lengthy devotions every day is difficult. I’m thankful that you take the time each day to even consider reading what the Lord has shared in my heart. But I would encourage you to take some additional time today to really let God’s Word speak to you about our own tendency toward self-sufficiency, which is rebellion against God. Then, when it seems that you have a good grasp on the reality of your own sinfulness, let the splendor of His grace shower you with salvation and strength. After all, God has said,

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength…”

Pastor John

 

Measuring Stick

Connecting Points

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Today’s Topic: Measuring Rod

Today’s Text: Isaiah 29:19 Once more the humble will rejoice in the LORD; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.

It’s just too true: we all fall into varying degrees of discouragement at times. We tend to fix our eyes on the here and now instead of the soon to be, and as a result we get bogged down in what’s wrong instead of rejoicing in the hope of the coming righting of all wrongs. Then, as if we need to make matters worse, we go to great lengths to devise our own plans for fixing it all, only to have our lives more completely turned upside down.

Isaiah recognized that problem in people. He saw the inward spiral of self-fulfillment and how we are trapped in the vortex of vanity. He wrote, the wisdom of the wise will perish, the intelligence of the intelligent will vanish.” Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, “Who sees us? Who will know?” You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, “He did not make me”? Can the pot say of the potter, “He knows nothing”? (Isaiah 29:14-16)

All the plans of man will fail. We will start thriving when we learn that, rather than just surviving. When we finally fall on our knees in humble surrender to the plans of our Provider and Perfecter of our faith, we will be rescued from the whirlpool of worldly wants and transported into the peaceful port of God’s purpose.

At the end of this chapter in Isaiah, in verses 22-24, there are several clues to how this transformation can happen in our lives:

Therefore this is what the LORD, who redeemed Abraham, says to the house of Jacob: “No longer will Jacob be ashamed; no longer will their faces grow pale. When they see among them their children, the work of my hands1, they will keep my name holy2; they will acknowledge the holiness of the Holy One of Jacob3, and will stand in awe of the God of Israel4. Those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding5; those who complain will accept instruction6.”

  • When we begin to see everything as the work of God…
  • When we keep the name of God Holy…
  • When we apply the holiness of God to every area of our lives…
  • When we live in complete worship of God…
  • When we commit to following God’s way and not our own we will be made wise…
  • When we learn to praise God no matter what the circumstances we will gain understanding.

Picture a ruler…you know, a measuring stick. It’s six inches long. Each inch is one of the above challenges. How do you measure up? I know I’ve got some growing to do.

Pastor John