Connecting Points

Monday, January 10, 2011

Today’s Topic: I See Hypocrisy

Today’s Text: Isaiah 29:13 The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.

Last Saturday was a very busy day for me. My wife rose early and went over to the grandkids house to babysit, and I remained at our house to get some work done. We have the blessing of having some students from the Moody Bible Institute Men’s Collegiate Choir staying at our house this weekend while they are in Eau Claire for a concert at our church on Friday night. I needed to get the house ready. Not only that, but on the following Monday, a week from today, our very dear friends Dudley and Inge arrive back in the States from Swaziland and they will be living with us for the next three months.

The details of my duties are not important, but suffice it to say they covered cleaning, carpentry, and cataloging. It took me well into the afternoon to get it all done, and there is still more to do. My point in telling you all of this is simple. While I did those things because I knew they had to be done, my motivation was the love I have in my heart for my wife. I serve her because I love her, and love has no limits on service.

Unfortunately that doesn’t always apply to the way we serve God, does it? Our worship of Him is not always the product of our love for Him. Isaiah saw that in the people of His day as well. They talked about their faith, they prayed, and they worshiped, but it was insincere. I think it will help us to understand the seriousness of this issue if we read this verse from the English Standard Version of the Bible. It says, And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men.”

The hypocrisy of the hearts is obvious. But before we come down too hard on them, we must not be in denial about our own hardness of heart and double-standard lifestyles. We just might be as guilty as they were.

Here are some serious questions to consider:

  • Do you truly love God more than you love yourself in EVERY area of your life?
  • Do you do the “religious” duties of your church while in your heart you are longing to be elsewhere doing something else?
  • Do you seek to serve God out of fear of His punishment or as a response to His grace and love?
  • Is your worship of Him an expression of your love to Him?
  • Is your whole life a living sacrifice given in service to your Lord as a reasonable act of worship?

Those questions give me cause to pause. It will be plenty to chew on for today.

Pastor John



Is That A Trumpet I Hear?

Connecting Points

Friday, January 07, 2011

Today’s Topic: Is that a trumpet?

Today’s Text: Isaiah 29:1 Woe to you, Ariel, Ariel, the city where David settled! Add year to year and let your cycle of festivals go on.

I love music. Certain styles of music move me more than others. Some of it touches deep into my soul and spirit. Music is God’s medium of connecting our minds with our emotions and moving them both into the realm of the spiritual.

Last weekend as my wife and I sat down together at the end of a long day, we checked to see what was on television. One of our favorite movies was coming on so we turned to it and spent some quiet time enjoying Sister Act 2. The music is incredible. That got my wife to thinking about the soundtrack to that movie that was somewhere in our library. She found it, and along with a couple of other older cd’s, she put them in the van for her trip to Madison the next day.

When I got in the van this morning to come to the office, one of my favorite cd’s of all time was playing in the van from her trip. The incredible trumpet sounds of Phil Driscoll filled the van with a vision of heaven for me. I cranked up the volume, and found the song I wanted to hear that was also on the Sister Act 2 soundtrack. It’s familiar to most of you, I’m sure. The song is His Eye Is On the Sparrow.

Granted, the duet that the two students sing on the Sister Act 2 soundtrack is more beautiful, but the Phil Driscoll Live version is more powerful. I turned up the volume a little more. Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home, when Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Trumpet solo. What a trumpet that man can play. It is truly the sound of the Lord’s trumpet. Someday the Lord will blow His trumpet and Jesus will return.

Just then I arrived at the office. I chose to turn the song off and listen to the rest of it on my way home for lunch. When I opened my Bible on my desk and looked at the next verse in Isaiah, these are the words that jumped off the page at me – Add year to year and let your cycle of festivals go on.

Immediately the Holy Spirit spoke and said, “Life goes on, same old same old, but who’s listening for the trumpet?” It’s true. Year after year we carry out the same routines of life, adding pleasure upon pleasure and treasure upon treasure, but who is listening for the trumpet? Year after year we attend the religious activities we’ve chosen for our spiritual nourishment, but even they have become routine and maybe even mundane. Why? It’s probably because we’re not listening for the trumpet. We are so focused on the here and now that we are not looking and listening for the return of the King.

Because of that we get discouraged. Our hearts are troubled. We have lost some hope. We go through the routine of life living one step at a time and questioning every step. But Jesus says, “Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear, and resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears; though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me; His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.”

Friends, Jesus is coming back. It may or may not be in our lifetime. But if we are not looking for it, and are simply living for today, what hope do our children and grandchildren have of hearing the trumpet when it sounds? We must live every day with our eyes looking up and our ears anticipating the greatest sound of music we will ever hear – the trumpet call of Jesus.

Pastor John


God Is Working On US

Connecting Points

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Today’s Topic: God Is Working On Us

Today’s Text: Isaiah 28:21 and 29 The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon—to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task… All this also comes from the LORD Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom.

I am fascinated by this twenty-eighth chapter of Isaiah. I hope you can bear with me as we share what is now our fourth Connecting Point from this passage. If you care to review, you can connect to these links. https://lifelinkdevo.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/are-you-listening/



What fascinates me is the modern day application of these historical events and how we as Christians need to wake up to what God is doing around and in us. A good friend yesterday helped me to put the whole chapter in perspective and brought out the truths that we need to understand. Here’s what Curt Kregness wrote to me from Sao Paulo, Brazil:

God, through Isaiah, is taking the leaders of Judah (called Ephraim here) to task for their alliance with Egypt in order to escape from the Assyrians.  This is the “covenant with death” mentioned in v. 15 and 18.  Judah should be looking to the precious cornerstone (v. 16) for its sure foundation, and not to human strength.

So, the short bed and the narrow blanket of v. 20 is a metaphor for Judah’s misplaced trust.  The alliance with Egypt will offer no rest, no comfort, for Ephraim (ESV Study Bible).  The strange work and alien task of the Lord, v. 21, is having to fight against his own people because of their disobedience.  The mention of Mount Perazim and the Valley of Gibeon is ironic, because in those two battles God fought for Israel against their enemies.  Now he must resist his people because they are rebelling against him.

The final section of the chapter uses another metaphor—the farmer.  The breaking up and turning over of the soil, although costly, has a purpose: to produce grain to make bread, v. 28.  “All this comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom,” v. 29.

My conclusion for this passage would be that God loves us so much that he is willing to take extreme measures to get our attention and win us back to his family.  His wisdom is completely trustworthy, even when we turn our backs on him and suffer the tragic consequences of our sin.

We are not all that different from the people of Isaiah’s day. We are at times more intimately connected to the world than we are to Jesus Christ our Savior. We are at times more interested in finding satisfaction and fulfillment from the world than we are from God. We even at times scoff and mock at the things God calls us to do and the people He asks us to become, justifying our worldly connections to one another with humanistic rationalizations. We even at times incorporate spiritual ideas into our arguments to satisfy the fleshly desire we have to be accepted by God in what we are doing. My friends, think about this carefully. You will discover that there is far too much truth in what I just wrote.

Then on top of all of that, the one more thing from verse twenty-one – God’s work has become strange and  alien to us. We have become so engrossed in the lifestyle of the world, and so convinced that we can love both the world and God and use both for our own fulfillment and satisfaction, that when we look to see what God is doing around us we don’t recognize Him. How sad it is when God initiates a work in our lives and we mock it or scoff at it because it doesn’t fit into our personal life plan or our daily schedule of approved activities. We have become so in touch with what we want from the world that we are out of touch with the touch of God on our lives. We have chosen to believe that the social and financial benefits of living in our modern civilization are our rights and we choose to pursue them rather than pursue what God wants for us.

I know this is heavy, and sounds ominous. It is. That’s the point. We have so bought into the world’s system that the things of God seem burdensome to us. But you must know this – God will not stop loving us or pursuing us. We may not like what happens to finally get our attention, but He will win us back to Himself. Every event of our lives today will be an opportunity for us to turn from the pursuit of pleasure and prosperity in the world to a personal and productive relationship with Almighty God. By contrast, according to verse twenty two, those same circumstances can make life tougher. The Lord says, “Now stop your mocking, or your chains will become heavier.” You see, what we think we are doing to find satisfaction in life by pursuing the values of the world is really wrapping us up more tightly in the chains of bondage to the world so we see and know less and less of God.

The chapter concludes with good news for us all. God is working to bring us to fullness in Christ. We may not like what He has to do to bring us back, but it is a work of love. His plan is timed perfectly to bring in the greatest harvest of righteous souls possible. He is breaking up the soil of our hardened hearts.  He is planting seeds of righteousness. He will harvest those seeds by beating away all the chaff. Then we will stand before the people of this world as reflections of His glory. Look at your life today – God is working on you because He loves you and wants all of you. Embrace what happens as His expression of love to you.

Pastor John

The Purpose of Trouble

Connecting Points

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Trouble’s Purpose

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 28:20-21  The bed is too short to stretch out on, the blanket too narrow to wrap around you. The LORD will rise up as he did at Mount Perazim, he will rouse himself as in the Valley of Gibeon—to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task.

It will happen this year. I can guarantee it. Maybe for you it already has. Something in your life is going to go wrong – at least according to your ideas and plans. It may be related to your health, or your job, or your family, or your future, but something is not going to turn out the way you thought it would. Guaranteed.

When the trouble comes, how will you respond? The answer to that depends on whether or not you believe there is a purpose for the trouble, or what you believe that purpose to be. Maybe you believe that trouble is always against you and stands opposed to your ultimate benefit. If so, then your response to trouble is always one of complaining, bitterness, resentment, and discouragement. We all respond that way to things that we believe are not in our best interest. It is the simple fact of our pride.

But if we believe that we have a loving Father in heaven who is designing all things in our lives to ultimately benefit us and bring glory to Him, then we respond differently to trouble. We may not embrace the trouble itself, but we can rejoice while it is happening because we know the truth of God’s promise that all things work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

I literally just spent the last 30 minutes having this lesson affirmed in my life. I have been chatting with two dear friends in the Philippines on the social network of Facebook. It started with a post that my “spiritually adopted” daughter Lily Jane put as her status. I have her permission to quote her. She wrote,

Different experiences and circumstances teach me different lessons in life. Others are easier but some are harder. I cried and shed tears… I realized that those circumstances that I shed most tears are the lessons in life that I will never forget… To God who gives me strength and to those people who taught me those lessons, thank you…

I know this young woman’s story. I lived parts of it with her in the Philippines. The depth of truth she expresses is so meaningful to me, and I want you to understand that God used her message this morning to bring light to me and to you on this important truth.  So many people turn to the comfort zones of their life when times get tough. Isaiah is referring to this in today’s Scripture. They crawl into their beds and wrap up in their blankies and hope to feel better. But that never really works. The comfort zones we create are always insufficient to help us because we are turning inward for relief rather than upward.

As I was chatting with her, a pastor from the Philippines that I met a few months ago started chatted with me. My wife and I have been deeply moved in our hearts by this man’s commitment to Christ and his desire to persevere through difficult circumstances. He serves a small group of people with no source of real income. As we chatted back on New Year’s Eve, he told me how they were having a small family celebration of the new year but had no money to buy any food for his family party. Yet he continues to display incredible trust in Jesus Christ as His provider. He has not turned to the comforts of this world, but continues to pursue his calling to preach the Gospel.

Every morning at 6:00 am I chat with him, and every time we talk he turns the attention from his own needs to the glory of God and his faith in God’s promises. His bed is too short for him to stretch out on and be comfortable. His blanket is too small to wrap up in for warmth and security. But His God, and mine, and yours, is long enough, wide enough high enough, deep enough, and most of all close enough to meet every need and use every circumstance to strengthen our faith in His unfailing love for us.

Thank you Lord for the illustrations of your truth to our hearts today, and for being at work in our lives to build our faith in you as the stronghold of our lives.

Pastor John


Connecting Points

Monday, January 03, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Resolved…

Today’s Text:  Ecclesiastes 7:23  All this I tested by wisdom and I said, “I am determined to be wise”— but this was beyond me.

I know…it’s been a while. What a Christmas/New Year’s vacation it was. We were stranded in a small house in North Dakota during back to back blizzards that shut down everything in Eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota. They finally opened the roads yesterday morning and we were able to get home last night, but the normal seven hour trip took an extra three hours. How we thank God for safety and wisdom on those icy roads.

As we drove I was thinking about the new year, and what would be different in my life. We should think that way at the start of every day, but we don’t, do we? I was reminded through a series of events while on the trip that my pride is still far too powerful a force in my life and dictates too many actions and words. It was a sobering time of reflection, but it was necessary for the Holy Spirit to continue His work of refining me and polishing me into a mirror to reflect Christ’s character.

As I thought about the black dots in that mirror, where no reflection could be seen, I decided that there was a correct course of action to take that is different than what most people think and do. For most of us, New Year’s resolutions address specific issues that we want to change. But the effectiveness of such resolutions is totally controlled by the character of one’s heart. Unless the heart has been transformed, the external changes will not last. That’s why we make resolutions over and over and over again. We are resolving to fix the wrong wrong.

The wrong that needs to be fixed is the condition of our heart. Pride has blackened it so it cannot reflect the glory of God’s nature in Jesus Christ. Self has to be sacrificed. Everything that connects us to the pursuit of self-fulfillment and self-valuation has to be eliminated. We must be resolved to know Christ and Christ alone and give Him unequalled and unhindered access to every part of our being. We must crucify our own life on the cross and invite Jesus Christ back on to the throne of our hearts as Lord. All change happens after surrender to Jesus. No change is permanent that is the product of our own initiative. King Solomon knew that – go back and read today’s Scripture verse again.

Two songs come to my mind that are significant in my life. One is a very old hymn named I Am Resolved written by Palmer Hartsough. The second is a contemporary song from the 1980’s called I Am Determined by Tim Sheppard. These lyrics reflect the nature of a heart truly making the right resolution. Read them carefully and contemplatively. It’s not too late to change your New Year’s resolutions.

I Am Resolved

I am resolved no longer to linger, Charmed by the world’s delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler, These have allured my sight.

I am resolved to go to the Savior, Leaving my sin and strife;
He is the true One, He is the just One, He hath the words of life.

I am resolved to follow the Savior, Faithful and true each day;
Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth, He is the living Way.

I am resolved to enter the kingdom Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me, Still will I enter in.

I will hasten to Him, hasten so glad and free; Jesus, greatest, highest, I will come to Thee.
I will hasten, hasten to Him, hasten so glad and free; Jesus, Jesus, greatest, highest, I will come to Thee.

I Am Determined

Darkness around me, sorrow surrounds me;  Though there be trials, still I can sing.
For I have this treasure – my God reigns within me,  And I am determined to live for the King.

Hell’s gates are trembling from our prayers ascending Darkness is crumbling from praises we sing.
Our Sovereign, Victorious is marching before us, And we are determined to live for the King.

When I am weary – I’ll look to His face; And when I am tempted, I’ll trust in His grace —
Yes, I’ll trust in His grace —–

I am determined to be invincible
‘Til He has finished His purpose in me.
And nothing shall shake me  For He’ll never forsake me
And I am determined – I am determined — I am determined to live for My King.

Pastor John