The Last Days

Connecting Points

Monday, February 28, 2011

Today’s Topic: Our Redemption Is Getting Close

Today’s Text: Luke 21:28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

I have only one thing on my mind this morning – stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. When I look around I see trouble. I see soaring gas prices predicted to be an average nationwide of over four dollars a gallon by spring. I see food prices climbing, and wages being cut. I see nations rising against nation in war, and people rising up against their own governments in revolt. I see gloom and despair on the faces of people all around me. Except a few. A few who know the love of God.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my friend Dudley and we attended a worship service for homeless and despondent people. But their faces showed anything but hopelessness. Their faces would never be seen in your average church in America, and certainly not in most churches around us in our city. They would be people who might be allowed to come once, but they would never be embraced and certainly not endured.

Yet when the music started, and these people who struggle far more than any of us will ever know or experience started singing, the joy of the Lord was all over them. Their faces lit up with the love of God. They raised their hands and exalted the name of Jesus. They listened as a man from our church gave his testimony of the miracle – yes miracle – of deliverance from heroin addiction and life on the streets in the gangs of Chicago. He now serves as the janitor for our church and as an usher. They listened to his story of the God’s relentless pursuit of him and the transforming power of God’s unfailing love.

These people deal with far more pain and suffering than most of us will ever know as we look down on them from the ivory towers of our middle class castles. They deal daily with physical addictions and emotional bondage. Yet they have found a place where they can worship and serve the Living and Loving God we know. In those moments of worship, standing with hands and heads lifted high, they saw their redemption, bought and paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross. They saw their hope.

There was no complaining in this fellowship. There was no recounting of the tragedies of their lives. There was no seeking of sympathy for their status. There was no participation in pity. There were smiles on their faces. There was friendship in their eyes. There was joy in their hearts.

When Jesus spoke the words of Luke 21:28 they came near the conclusion of a teaching He was doing about what will happen in the last days of humanism on the earth before He returns to set things straight. I would challenge you to read the entire passage. (Luke 21:5-34) The Apostle Paul reiterates the teaching in Romans when  he writes:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…  but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.   For in this hope we were saved…  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (from Romans 8)

I believe we live in the last days before Jesus returns. It’s not very good news for a Monday morning, but the reality is that it’s going to get worse on the earth in preparation for His return. But there is Good News. Stand up. Don’t sit down or lay down under the weight of worldly worries. The lift up your heads, fixing your eyes upon Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. It was Him – Jesus – who for the joy of glory that was set before Him endured the cross and paid for our redemption. Look at Him and not the things of the world, for it is from Him and Him alone that you will receive hope and peace to endure until He returns. Look up, your redemption is getting close.

Pastor John

 

Answered Prayer

Connecting Points

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today’s Topic: Answered Prayer

Today’s Text: Isaiah 37:21 Then Isaiah son of Amoz sent a message to Hezekiah: “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the LORD has spoken against him:”

As things continue to heat up in our state and people begin to feel more strongly than ever about their position on the issues, my heart continues to remain steadfast on one thing – God is in control…ALWAYS!

All around us we see the possible effects of the cutbacks that are being proposed. For some of us, like me, the reworking of the financial budget has already taken place because even though we are not directly affected by this issue, other things have deeply impacted our resources. For example, my heath care premiums jumped 31% two months ago. I know what it means to have to redistribute my wealth from things I want to things I need.

People are deeply hurting over this, but one thing is always true – God is in control! His promises NEVER fail. He cannot not fulfill His Word. We tend to forget that in times of stress and hardship. At the first sign of trouble we quickly move into a massive mode of self-protection, fix-it, and take control. Why do we do that? Why is it so easy for us to start trusting ourselves again rather than trusting God?

In the story of King Hezekiah, we learned yesterday how he prayed, and how we should pray, when the odds are overwhelmingly against us. Now look at the answer God gives through Isaiah. He says, “Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria, this is the word the LORD has spoken against him:” God is pleased with Hezekiah’s prayer because it was one of surrender, not selfishness. Hezekiah stretched out the problem before the Lord, indicating that he was releasing control of the outcome to his Lord. As a result, God spoke against the king of Assyria, and God will speak against our issues as well when we surrender them to Him.

Next week we will look at some of the specifics of God’s answer to Hezekiah, because there are some incredible truths for us to ponder. But for today, let’s look at the end of this story. Here’s what happens as a result of Hezekiah’s prayer of surrender:

Then the angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there. One day, while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer cut him down with the sword, and they escaped to the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son succeeded him as king.

Notice three things from the story that are applicable to our present situation:

  • Jesus Christ is involved. The Angel of the Lord is Jesus, and He is personally involved in conquering the enemy that is attacking you.
  • The problem will go away. At the hand of God, and by His will, He can remove the problem and He can give you sufficient grace based on your faith in Him to sustain you while the problem remains.
  • The problem will be permanently punished. The King of Assyria was murdered by his own sons and he went to his eternal punishment. It may seem like it’s taking a long time, but not one problem will survive the judgment of God.

God is in control! So cast all your cares upon Him. Surrender every issue and problem to Him. The promise of God is that His peace, that surpasses all human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Pastor John

 

Wakeup Call

Connecting Points

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Today’s Topic: Wakeup Call

Today’s Text: Isaiah 37:15-16 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD: “O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth.”

Two weeks ago when we had the warm weather that was melting some of our snow, the end of my driveway was filled with slush. So I took the shovel and went out to remove it. After four or five exertions of my muscles to lift that heavy wet mess and toss it aside I felt a little twinge in my chest. I took a break, and it seemed to be okay, so I finished the job.

When I got into the house I called the doctor and made an appointment. The next day I was having an EKG at his office, and when that turned out normal (if anything about me can ever be considered normal) he scheduled a stress test. A week later I was on a treadmill having my heart function analyzed, and I praise the Lord that everything is fine. But that first twinge of pain, which was probably just muscles screaming from inactivity, was a real wakeup call.

When Sennacherib, the king of Assyria, invaded Judah, it was a real wakeup call for the people and for King Hezekiah. He had tried to be a faithful king. He had destroyed all the places of worship in the land that were primarily used by the people to worship idols. He had asked people to focus their worship on the one true God by coming to Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem. But the people were rebellious and wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

When Sennacherib sent his envoys to Hezekiah with another letter defaming the name of God, it was a wakeup call for the King of Judah. This time he did not seek after the prophet Isaiah to try to re-connect with God. This time he went directly to God. He had been encouraged by Isaiah’s words that the Lord was going to deal with this attack. That encouragement motivated him to begin anew his own relationship with the Lord.

When Hezekiah approaches God, he does so humbly. He went to the temple and spread his problems out before God. How often do we go to the Lord in a time of distress and ask for help but we never really release the control of the problem to the Lord? Hezekiah laid everything on the altar and gave it all to Him. He showed great faith and trust in the Lord’s outcome.

Now read Hezekiah’s prayer, and notice the honor and awe he expresses towards God. Our prayers to God for every problem, every issue, and every need should be encapsulated in this kind of praise and worship to Almighty God.

“O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God. It is true, O LORD, that the Assyrian kings have laid waste all these peoples and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by human hands. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God.”

Not only should our prayers be bathed in praise and worship, but the ultimate request we make no matter what the issue about which we pray should be the glory of God on the earth. Hezekiah acknowledges his fear over the facts of his circumstances. Sennacherib has already been successful over every other nation that worshiped other false gods. But Hezekiah knows that the will of God is for all men to know Him and connect to Him, so that is the basis of His request.

Friends, we get pretty selfish in our prayers don’t we. We want God to bring us glory. We ask Him to meet our needs or solve our problems according to our projected outcomes that we believe will benefit us the most. But when we pray according to the will of God – that the people who see what God does in our lives will have to acknowledge that He alone is God – then we will be praying correctly.

So what wakeup calls has God sent into your life recently? Are you responding according to His will and glory or your own?

Pastor John

 

Make It Personal

Connecting Points

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Today’s Topic: Make It Personal

Today’s Text: Isaiah 37:4 “It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the field commander, whom his master, the king of Assyria, has sent to ridicule the living God, and that he will rebuke him for the words the LORD your God has heard. Therefore pray for the remnant that still survives.

In the past 10 days I have had conversations with three different people who don’t believe in God. All three are willing to admit that there may be a God, but that His identity and involvement in the course of human events are both questionable. All three people initiated contact with me. All three are in distress in their lives. All three didn’t know where else to turn.

This was the plight of King Hezekiah. The King of Assyria had laid siege to the land of Judah, and was terrorizing them with physical and verbal attacks. Hezekiah knew of God, but did not trust in Him nor serve Him. Neither did the people he ruled. But now, in this time of distress and disgrace, he turned to the only place that still offered a glimmer of hope – the prophet of God named Isaiah.

There are two things that are blatantly obvious to me in this story that are still true of people’s life stories today:

  • They are under attack, causing stress, leading to distress and even disgrace; and
  • They don’t have a personal relationship with the God who can save them.

Notice King Hezekiah’s message to the prophet Isaiah – twice he refers to God, but not personally. He refers to Him as the Lord your God. He knew that Jehovah was Isaiah’s God, but he couldn’t say that was true for himself. Yet when all hope was gone, and Hezekiah came to the realization that there was nothing he could do to solve the problem, he sought God.

People today are in the same situation. Every week at the church office we receive at least one call from someone in distress. They have a financial crisis, or a marriage crisis. They are hurting and want someone to reach out to them and resolve the problem. If only they would understand that Jesus Christ will give them hope even when all the circumstances of life are hopeless. If only they would come to a place of surrender and give their hearts and minds to Jesus. Then they could know that the Lord God is their God, and that He never fails and never forsakes those who love Him and serve Him.

There is one more interesting point in this story. When Hezekiah was at the end of his rope, and needed to contact God, he knew where to go. He knew that there was a man who had a relationship with God and whose life was different because of it. He knew that he could go to Isaiah and get a message to God.

Oh how I pray that is always true of me…and you. Even though the people of the world usually just want someone to extend a helping hand or relieve their pain, they know that the people of God are the ones with the compassionate hearts. Or at least they should be. Are we? Are we truly people’s connecting point to God?

Here are some questions to ponder:

  • Are we the people who stand out in the world because in the midst of life’s worst problems our faith in God controls our emotional reactions?
  • Are we the people who maintain an attitude of hope in the righteousness of God when all the rest of the world is fighting for their rights?
  • Are we the people who model to the world the peace of God when all around us people are living in fear?
  • When someone finally hits rock bottom, and has nowhere to turn, will they think of us as the place where they can connect to God?
  • Does our attitude and reaction to crisis show that the Lord is truly our God?

I see God’s people handling the financial and political crisis of our day in two ways. One makes them look and act a lot like those with no hope. Others have their hearts set on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God, and their affections and hope are on Him. Those are the true faithful followers of Jesus. Those are the people we can turn to for help and hope. Be one of those people.

Pastor John

 

Be Silent

Connecting Points

Friday, February 18, 2011

Today’s Topic: Silence

Today’s Text: Isaiah 36:21 But the people remained silent and said nothing in reply, because the king had commanded, “Do not answer him.”

Silence is scary – especially for someone as impulsively vocal as I am. But according to an old saying Silence is Golden. The whole saying goes like this – Speech is silvern, but silence is golden. In the Bible, the wisdom of King Solomon said that there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. I have the speaking part down real well. It doesn’t turn out well many times, but I certainly speak a lot. It’s the silence part that needs a lot of work.

King Hezekiah’s representatives were being verbally bashed by the commander of the Assyrian army. They were being told that they had no hope of surviving unless they surrendered. But after the audible assault was over, they remained silent. They were under orders to do so. They obeyed. Hezekiah wanted information. He didn’t want debate. This was a battle that would be won by the Lord’s power not by man’s reason. That’s the lesson I need to learn and apply more frequently in my own life.

There are numerous passages about silence in the Bible. I have narrowed them down to the three areas that I believe, at least for me, are the ones that need the most work.

  • When verbally attacked, follow the example of Jesus
    • Matthew 26:59-63 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.   But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward   and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”   Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”   But Jesus remained silent.
    • Isaiah 53:7 He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
  • When angry at someone, think a long time before you speak
    • Psalm 4:4 In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
    • Proverbs 17:28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.
  • When questioning authority, remember who is really in control and trust Him

1 Peter 3:13-15 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority,   or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.   For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.

The Bible also has much direction concerning speaking. As I read through the passages on praising God and giving thanks and using our words to build others up instead of tearing them down, I discovered one thing that is the foundation to all good speech. It is the time when we must speak. It just so happens it is the one time we prefer to be silent. It is when we know we have sinned.

We like to cover our sin. We don’t want to open up and be honest about what we have done. We may speak when we have sinned, but it is usually if not always to defend ourselves or to pass the blame for it onto someone else. Whether we know it or not, this is what is causing the bitterness that permeates every area of our lives and makes us unpleasant to be around. Look at what the Bible says about this important speech impediment from which most of us suffer.

  • Psalm 51:1-5 Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.   Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.   When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.   For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”— and you forgave the guilt of my sin.
  • Psalm 30:10-12 Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.    You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,   that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.

The church of Jesus Christ would be a whole lot better place if we would learn to speak when we should and be silent at all other times. I know I’m going to work on that, and by God’s grace, the Holy Spirit will teach me to control my tongue.

Pastor John

 

 

Wedding Invitations

Connecting Points

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Today’s Topic: Wedding Invitations

Today’s Text: Isaiah 36:13-15 Then the commander stood and called out in Hebrew, “Hear the words of the great king, the king of Assyria! This is what the king says: Do not let Hezekiah deceive you. He cannot deliver you! Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, ‘The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.’

Yesterday I received a wedding invitation in the mail. It was from a relative – the son of one of my cousins. He has found the woman of his dreams. I am so happy for them. The invitation was very unique. It wasn’t the traditional formal two-envelop with RSVP card and return envelop folded inside. It was more like a postcard, and it was covered of pictures of the couple in various life experiences, including one of them kissing. On it was all the necessary information about the wedding. It was a new method of inviting people to a wedding, and I liked it.

Invitations come in all shapes and sizes for all kinds of events, and they are designed by the sender to do three things: first, to appeal to your emotions with the design of the invitation; second, to give you the information of the event and the blessings you will receive by attending; and third, by the design of the invitation, to reveal the personality and/or character of the sender

In the same way, our enemy, who is called Satan, or the Devil, or the Roaring Lion seeking to devour us, also sends invitations to us. They come in all shapes and sizes, and like junk emails they clog the inbox of our mind all day long. They are very attractive. They are designed to appeal to us and give us exactly the information the sender knows we need to make a spontaneous and emotional decision. But what is different about his invitations when compared to the ones we receive for a wedding is this – Satan’s do not reveal his personality or his character.

Satan is a deceiver, and will use any lie he can to convince you to come to his party. What will appear on the outside to be an opportunity to find pleasure and fulfillment is really an invitation to death and destruction. Ultimately, Satan cannot offer anything else.

One of his most devious invitations is the one that leads us to doubt the character and promises of God. Satan knows that he cannot appeal to Christians with a display of his own character, so his only hope is to diminish our view of the nature and character of God so Satan himself looks better. It’s the same tactic we use when we belittle others to make ourselves look better.

This is demonstrated in today’s portion of the story found in Isaiah 36. The commander of the Assyrian army is sending an invitation to the nation of Israel to make peace with them and join their powerful and prosperous kingdom. He does three things: he paints a word picture of the blessing they would receive by joining – Make peace with me and come out to me. Then every one of you will eat from his own vine and fig tree and drink water from his own cistern, until I come and take you to a land like your own—a land of grain and new wine, a land of bread and vineyards. (verses 16-17)

He also warns them what will happen if they don’t attend – Was it only to your master and you that my master sent me to say these things, and not to the men sitting on the wall—who, like you, will have to eat their own filth and drink their own urine?” (verse 12)

But then came  the main emphasis of his invitation – he destroys the people’s hope in the Lord. He starts by saying that he is actually doing this by the command of the Lord – “Furthermore, have I come to attack and destroy this land without the LORD? The LORD himself told me to march against this country and destroy it.” (verse 11). He proceeds to tell them that they can no longer trust the Lord – “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, ‘The LORD will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria? (verse 18)

That’s the same invitation Satan sends us every day when he invites us to be married to the world. He appeals to the pleasures of the world. He convinces us that anything less than that is actually ugly and will hurt us. He disguises himself as the Lord so we think we are really obeying, Then he plants seeds of distrust in us so that we begin to think that God isn’t really meeting all of our needs and isn’t even capable of doing so.

Be careful in everything. We are receiving numerous invitations to be married to the world every day. They are lies. Let’s not be people who just say that we love and trust God. Let’s live like we do and really trust Him.

Pastor John