Let the Water Flow

Connecting Points

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Let the Water Flow

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 42:8   “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another.”

It’s been at least eight years.   A lot of crud can accumulate in that amount of time, and it had. I wouldn’t have thought about it except all of a sudden during a shower a couple of weeks ago the water just quit running. After about ten seconds it kicked back in again and pressure returned. At first I thought one of our house guests – Dudley – was playing a trick on me. Not so. That began the investigation into the cause.

We have a well at our rural home, so I went to the basement where the pressure tank is located. I began to check the pressure switch and discovered that it wasn’t working properly. I started making some adjustments. I would turn the set screws one way and then the other, trying to get them in just the right place so that the water would flow smoothly without interruption. I would get it to work for a few days, and then it would get messed up again.

Finally, after days of fighting with it I realized that the problem might be either a faulty switch or a plugged feed line to the switch. You see, water has to pass through the feed line under pressure to turn the switch on and off. If the feed line is plugged, the switch can’t work and the water won’t flow consistently. Why hadn’t I thought of that sooner? Oh well, my need to fix what I have rather than replace it got the best of me.

Yesterday I decided to fix it once and for all, so off to the plumbing supply store I went to buy the parts. I got everything I could potentially need, plus used the opportunity to buy a couple of new tools. WooHoo! When I returned my wife and I filled some buckets with water in case we needed it, and then the fun started.

I shut off the power to the pump, disconnected the water conditioner and softener and moved them out of the way. I wondered how rusted in place the parts would be on the back of the pressure tank. I prayed a quick prayer that they would be easy to remove and replace. The first turn of the wrench on the pressure switch surprised me. Why? Hadn’t I just prayed? It came off easily, and not with a “snap” like sometimes. You men know what I mean.

When I turned the switch over and looked at it the feed pipe was almost totally clogged with gunk – oozing rusty crud. No wonder the switch would take forever to turn on and off – there was no way the switch could register the pressure readings. The pipe and switch both needed to be replaced, and while I was at it I put on a new pressure gauge as well. I had it all done and working in less than an hour. What a blessing. I stopped and thanked the Lord for making the job easy and for giving me the skills to accomplish it. He gets all the glory.

I wonder how many times I have done things and taken the credit for them? Probably a lot. You too I’ll bet. God doesn’t take kindly to that. When we take credit for what have done we have made ourselves into an idol that we worship. That may seem hard to stomach, but it’s the truth. We are our own god much of the time.

The problem with that is that it fills the feed line of our lives with crud – oozing rusty gunk called pride. We make all kinds of external adjustments trying to keep the water flowing smoothly, but every day something interrupts the flow and we get caught in the middle of a mess with no water. So we try to make more external adjustments when what is really needed is a clean feed line.

So let me ask you – How clean is the feed line through which the Living Water is supposed to flow into your life? Are you spending time every day in Scripture and prayer? Do you ask the Father for His direction and wisdom every day? Do you praise the Son for your forgiveness and eternal life every day? Do you depend upon the Holy Spirit to produce the character of Christ in you every day? Is the Water flowing?

One more thing – make sure God gets the glory for everything you do. Don’t be guilty of idol worship.

Pastor John

P.S. Pray for me tomorrow – I have surgery to remove my gall bladder. Thanks

Suffering Brings Freedom

Connecting Points

Friday, April 22, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Suffering Brings Freedom

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 42:6-7   “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.”

This morning while chatting on facebook with an unsaved friend, I was asked how I was. You know, the typical conversation starter. I said I was fantastic, and then said why – This is the day out of all human history that God chose to solve man’s sin problem.” The friend responded, “I thought this was the day the Easter bunny got his eggs ready for Sunday.”  It opened the door for a time of planting seeds of truth.

This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it. That verse from Psalms directly refers to this day – the day that we traditionally celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. It was much more than a horrifying death at the hands of man: it was a substitutionary death at the hands of a loving God. Hard to comprehend, isn’t it? Love forcing suffering doesn’t make sense to our finite minds. But to those of us who are being saved by the blood of Jesus, it is the splendor of the Gospel. Unfortunately to the unsaved it is foolishness.

The payment of sin’s debt of death to a holy and righteous God is required from each one of us. We will either pay it ourselves or we will accept a payment already made and be debt-free. That payment was Jesus Christ who died on the cross. The payment was accepted and eternally validated when God raised Jesus from the dead and restored Him to His position of exalted honor on the throne of Heaven. That’s where those who accept His life in exchange for our own will meet Him and spend eternity with Him.

The suffering of Jesus brings us freedom. Blind eyes that cannot see God are opened when the light of God’s love is seen in Jesus. Bondage to sinful behaviors is broken when Jesus takes hold of our hand. Jesus became our sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him!

I know it is skipping way ahead in our study of Isaiah, but chapter fifty-three has incredible significance and meaning when understood as a prophecy of Christ’s death on the cross. Read it slowly and carefully, and let the impact of it bless you and send you into a time of rejoicing, for this is the day the Lord planned for us.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.  By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.  Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.  After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Bent But Unbroken

Connecting Points

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Today’s Topic:  True Compassion

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 42:1-4  “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.”

His earthly ministry is almost over. There are just a few more details to teach His disciples about what will be happening in the next few days and beyond. According to the traditional timeline, tonight Jesus will meet with His disciples in the upper room. The things He will tell them will deeply distress them. They will be confused and concerned for their own futures, let only their Lord’s. Each one will respond differently to the things they will hear in an attempt to cover their pain.

Peter will get very vocal and bold, refusing to have his feet washed and claiming that he will endure to the end and suffer death if need be. It was a cover-up for his pain to keep his assumed image intact.

They will all question the sincerity of their hearts and their commitment levels when Jesus announces that one of them will betray Him. They quickly have a meeting and elect John to ask Him who it is so they can hopefully ease their own minds.

When Jesus announces that He is leaving, and that they will join Him someday, Thomas reveals the confusion of all of them when he says that they don’t get it. Where are you going, and how do we get there?

Even after answering them and telling them that He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that they could arrive at the Father’s home through Him, Philip asked to see the Father. How embarrassing to ask a question for which you should have already known the answer.

Imagine the pain they must have been experiencing. For three years they have followed Jesus based on some cultural and religious presuppositions. Every step of the way Jesus had gently addressed those assumptions and declared to them nuggets of truth that could have changed their perceptions. They didn’t understand. They still thought that the outcome was going to be the installation of a King on the throne of David and that they were going to get to be in the inner circle of leadership in the new Kingdom. Now it was beginning to dawn on the darkness of their minds that there was a different plan. It hurt to see the brightness of the light that began to shine.

Their hearts were wounded. They were bending severely under the weight of their misunderstanding. The fire of their enthusiasm was reduced to a mere smolder of smoke as they struggled with their own identity and worth.

But Jesus – the servant of God in whom He delights – does not cry out or raise His voice. He does not bend them further until they break. He does not extinguish what remains of their fire. Instead He says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be£ in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 

What comfort that was! What compassion was revealed! Jesus the encourager. Preparing Himself to suffer and die he reached out to help those who were hurting far less than Himself. They could not know the depth of their Lord’s pain, even if they were not so focused on their own. But that did not matter to Jesus. He reached out to them and lifted them out of their gloom and despair and gave them hope.

Take heart, my friend. Whatever it is in your life that is bending you to the breaking point or extinguishing all the fires of enthusiasm in your heart, Jesus will not break you or snuff you out. He will respond to your need with compassion and lift you out of your gloom and give you hope. Let Him adjust your perspective!

Pastor John

Roller Coasters

Connecting Points

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Roller Coasters

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 41:28  I look but there is no one—no one among them to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them.

I don’t like the new ones. Some of the old ones that just went up and down were okay, but these new roller coasters scare me – you know – the ones that go upside down and swing you way out around curves hanging helplessly in space twenty stories above the ground. That’s not for me.

Lately life has been like one of those new roller coasters. There are moments of excitement as the buggy I’m in slowly comes up over the top of a huge hill and I see the incredible vision of all that is laid out before me. Then there’s the thrill of taking off down the hill towards it all. But invariably there is a sharp curve at the bottom of every hill that throws me off track and puts fear in my heart. The vision is blurred by the speed of the turn and change of direction. Occasionally things even get turned upside down and it all seems backwards as the buggy speeds away in the opposite direction of the vision I first saw. When do we get to the “coaster” part of this ride?

As I contemplate this analogy, one truth comes to my mind that stabilizes my thoughts – fear is the absence of trust. What I don’t like about roller coasters is that I’m not sure I can trust those little tiny wheels to hang on to that steel rail. I know they are clamped on, but when I’m hanging way out over the edge of a huge curve hurtling at break-neck speeds I’m not thinking about all the testing that went into those wheels and clamps, or the hundreds of times they have safely travelled this route before. My mind chooses to focus on what could go wrong, and I bet yours does too.

That’s the root of seeing life as a roller coaster ride – choosing to focus on the twists and turns rather than the God who designed them all to build our character and accomplish His purpose. God has been this way before. He has tested every aspect of our journey and determined that it is good and that is for our good. He is the one who can be trusted. My fear is the product of not trusting Him.

When life doesn’t make sense, where do you turn to try to figure it out? Like most of us, you probably turn to the counsel of people. The futility of that response is shown in Isaiah 41 where God speaks to the people and says: (read this carefully)

“Present your case,” says the LORD. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King.  “Bring in your idols to tell us what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear.  But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; he who chooses you is detestable. I have stirred up one from the north, and he comes—one from the rising sun who calls on my name. He treads on rulers as if they were mortar, as if he were a potter treading the clay.  Who told of this from the beginning, so we could know, or beforehand, so we could say, ‘He was right’? No one told of this, no one foretold it, no one heard any words from you. I was the first to tell Zion, ‘Look, here they are!’ I gave to Jerusalem a messenger of good tidings. I look but there is no one—no one among them to give counsel, no one to give answer when I ask them. See, they are all false! Their deeds amount to nothing; their images are but wind and confusion.

So when you’re hanging out over a curve, or screaming as the bottom drops out and you head down a steep slope, look up. God designed this roller coaster just for you, and He can be trusted to keep you safe.

Pastor John

 

 

 

Thirsty?

Connecting Points

Friday, April 15, 2011 

Today’s Topic:  Thirsty?

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 41:17  “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the LORD will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them.

I remember a scene in an old movie that depicted a soldier struggling on his hands and knees to cross a desert. I don’t remember the movie or the actor, but I remember the incredible make-up job they did on the guy. His lips were swollen and blistered with sunburn, as was his face, except it was drawn in from dehydration. His tongue hung out of his mouth and was chalky dry. He needed water desperately. Even now I find myself licking my lips to see how dry I am.

This is the analogy God gives to Isaiah to demonstrate the depth of our spiritual thirst. I see it every day. I am encouraged to see that so many are looking for the Living Water because they have discovered that it is the only source of true satisfaction.

We live in a day when those of us who are over the age of fifty have the greatest potential for ministry to the younger generation. You see, they are truly thirsty. They have tried what the post-modern philosophy has taught them, and discovered that it doesn’t work. They attempted to accept anybody’s experience as truth for them, and have discovered a conflict deep in their souls that cannot be resolved. They are learning that relativism doesn’t work, and they want to know if there is a truth that endures the test of time. That’s where we old folks come in. We are the models to them of enduring truth, and they are watching us. They are even talking to us.

Our church is filled with young men and women who are turning to Jesus and standing on the truth. They are asking to be put into small groups with people of the older generations because, in one of their own words, “We have so much wisdom to learn from them.” Young families are coming to Jesus because they see grandmas and grandpas that are living joy-filled lives based on a personal relationship with Jesus. They see the heritage of faith being lived out in their children and now their grandchildren. They see the reality of faith and the real love for others that results.

This is our day to shine. The world is being driven to a crossroads, and when they arrive at the cross, they want to know which path to choose. We can show them. Don’t falter in your faith. Don’t withdraw from the public because of your age. Engage them. Encourage them. Enlighten them. You are the clay pitcher in the hands of the Potter and He has filled you with Living Water. Spill it onto those who are thirsty.

Pastor John

Who Gets the Credit?

Connecting Points

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Today’s Topic: Who Gets the Credit?

Today’s Text: Isaiah 41:14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

If you have ever been to the central part of Wisconsin around the Dells, you have seen the massive rock formations that are there. The Wisconsin River was formed as a result of the Biblical flood and these rock cliffs are incredible, seemingly rising out of nowhere and towering above the landscape.

For a long time now that area has become a Midwestern tourist attraction. I remember as a young man with a family spending every Labor Day weekend with the kids and relatives at a campground near there and enjoying all the waterparks and recreation.

But one thing was missing – nice golf courses. Not anymore. Several fabulous golf courses have been built in recent years, along with massive resorts with indoor water parks for year-round recreation. Yesterday I got to experience one of those courses, and it was fantastic.

The course is beautiful, and how they built it fascinates me. Portions of the course are carved right out of the rock formations. Much of it meanders through grasslands on top of the rocks. Some of it squeezes through huge trees of a century-old forest. The machinery that must have been used to build it had to be huge. Dirt movers, tree haulers, and rock cutters all combining to create a recreational paradise for people like me.

Not only did the designers and builders do an incredible job, but the people who work there were fabulous also – friendly and models of servant hearts. But there’s more. I had made a promise to Dudley Donaldson, my good friend and missionary to Swaziland, that I would take him golfing before he went back to Africa. I said we would get in the car and drive as far south as we must to find a nice course open and ready for play. Well, one of Dudley’s relatives got wind of our plans, and completely paid for our entire day yesterday – unlimited golf with a cart on a fabulous golf course. We were both exhausted when we were done, but it was a great day.

So many people coming together to make this possible for us, but who really gets the credit? Well, I don’t know about anyone else, and I can’t speak on behalf of the people that did all the work and manage it now, but for me, to God be the glory great things He has done!

It is so tempting to take credit for our accomplishments. It is so easy to bask in the pleasure of our possessions and pursuits. It is so satisfying to be praised for what we do. We are so needy when it comes to our emotional health, and we have been deceived by the world and our own pride into believing that we deserve praise and that the praise will somehow heal our hearts.

When Israel was at one of its lowest points in history, and walking in fear because of the terrifying enemies all around, God told them not to be afraid. He told them to have a proper perspective of who they were, and it wasn’t very nice. God said they should see themselves as worms, and little ones at that. That doesn’t fly with today’s self-worth philosophies, does it? But humility to that degree is essential if we want to know God and see His work. Look at what God says:

“Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you,” declares the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. “See, I will make you into a threshing sledge, new and sharp, with many teeth. You will thresh the mountains and crush them, and reduce the hills to chaff. You will winnow them, the wind will pick them up, and a gale will blow them away. But you will rejoice in the LORD and glory in the Holy One of Israel.

Every tool they needed to do their work was from God. Every enemy that was conquered was because God gave them strength and weapons. Every accomplishment of their own hands was never the result of their own hands, but the hand of God. In everything that they did they were to rejoice and give glory to God.

May that be true of us always. Glory to God for a day of golf!

Pastor John

 

Faith or Fear?

Connecting Points

Monday, April 11, 2011

Today’s Topic: Faith Conquers Fear

Today’s Text: Isaiah 41:5-7 The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble. They approach and come forward; 6each helps the other and says to his brother, “Be strong!” 7 The craftsman encourages the goldsmith, and he who smooths with the hammer spurs on him who strikes the anvil. He says of the welding, “It is good.” He nails down the idol so it will not topple.

Yesterday some serious storms went through our part of the world. Tornadoes touched down within twenty miles of our home. We had strong winds and hail and heavy rain, but no damage. Some people in our church had trees uprooted and they crashed into their home. Neighbors of theirs had cars destroyed. One rural residence lost a garage and a barn. Further east a tornado destroyed portions of a town. The weather can evoke fear and cause trembling.

No sooner had the skies cleared than pictures of the damage started to show up on Facebook. Then the local television stations had video. People were already coming together to start the clean-up. Men with chain saws were cutting fallen trees into manageable chunks. Kids were hauling branches off the streets. Everyone came together to help their neighbors. That’s what community is all about.

At first glance, the verses above appear to be a solid statement on the importance of community. Something has caused the people to fear and tremble. They come together with a plan, they encourage each other, and they work together to bring about a solution. The problem is that they are looking for the answer to their fear from a false God.

Let’s look at the context of what’s happening. God is informing the people of Israel that He is empowering a new king from the east (verse 2) to be a part of the fulfillment of His plan for Israel. His name was Cyrus, the King of Persia, who overthrew the Babylonians and gave permission to Ezra to take a contingency of people back to Israel to start rebuilding after the captivity. But the nations of the world were scared. They saw the ferocity of the Persians, and they trembled in fear.

They knew they had only one chance – supernatural intervention. So they started making idols to their false gods. They came to together nicely as a community, with a completely erroneous focus. They were putting all their eggs in a rotten basket and the bottom was about to fall out.

That’s when we reach verse eight. God says to the people of Israel, “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the LORD, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

What a contrast. People in fear who put their faith in what their own hands can accomplish versus people in fear who conquer their fear by putting the faith in the One and Only God who eliminates all enemies and gives strength and hope.

The choice is yours.

Pastor John