Let’s Go Fishing

Connecting Points

Monday, June 20, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Let’s Go Fishing

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 45:22    “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

For several weeks I have had fishing on my mind. It started out as a desire to fish for fish. God has been unrelentingly reminding me that I have been called to fish for men.

Several months ago – in fact it was before Christmas last year – I started a chronological study of the life of Christ and have used it as the basis for a long sermon series in church. Now when I say long sermon series it can be taken two ways, and according to the people of my church both would be accurate. They are long sermons, and it is a long series. In fact, after seven months of preaching we have just now arrived at the stories of Jesus calling his disciples to be fishers of men. At this rate it could be the last sermon series I ever preach. Of course, every sermon could be the last sermon ever preached as we wait for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.

The call of the disciples from a life of fishing for fish to a life of fishing for men is monumental. It’s monstrous. It’s motivational.  As these fishermen discover more and more about the Messiah from his ministry around them, they are captivated with Him. They are considering investing their lives in His eternal purposes. They have already been called to follow Him, but they had not yet made a permanent commitment. They were balancing their spiritual and their worldly lives, attempting to have both. They would soon learn that the call to follow Jesus isn’t a call that allows us to bring anything with us. It’s a call to complete commitment.

When Jesus issued His call to commitment, He encapsulated in it His purpose for their lives. They would be fishers of men. He did not call them to political or social reform. He called them to one simple objective – spiritual reform. He called them to catch men for the Kingdom of God. He called them to represent the heart of God to people who were lost. He called them to call others to be saved from their sin.

We have digressed from the call. We have become efficient at many commendable spiritual activities but have lost our passion for fishing. The church is missing out on the fullness of God’s blessing because it is ignoring its God-given mission. We as individuals have become really good at balancing our spiritual and worldly lifestyles, but if we would be really honest with God we have tipped the scales in favor of the world. Very little fishing is being done, yet that’s the one thing Jesus called us to do better than anything else.

As I said, I have been overwhelmed with this thought pattern for the last several weeks. I have preached two sermons on it at church. Every day that I wake up I ask God to bring someone into my life that day who needs Jesus so I can talk to them. So far I have not had that opportunity – or maybe because of my agenda I haven’t noticed then people God gave me. Lord, forgive me.

Fishermen don’t catch fish every day. But they do fish constantly, and when they’re not fishing they’re thinking about fishing and planning for the next fishing trip. They check their equipment and make every necessary preparation. Even the things they do that are unrelated to fishing are still seen as a preparation for fishing. Fishing is their passion. It should be ours. If it’s not, something’s wrong with our connection to the heart of God.

For the last several days God has put a question in my mind. It’s my question for fishing, and not meant to be yours. God will give you your own way of fishing if you really want Him to. But maybe it will stimulate you to think about fishing more often as I am doing. I have been trying to figure out a way to ask someone a question to begin a spiritual discussion with them. The response I got from God is bold, and probably won’t work for many of you. But, as D.L. Moody once said, “My method of doing it is better than your method of not doing it.”

Here’s what God has told me to ask people when I have a chance to talk to them personally – “Has anyone ever taken the time to explain to you why Jesus had to die on the cross?”

I’m going fishing today. I’m looking for someone to ask that to. How will you go fishing?

Pastor John

I’m a Fixer

Connecting Points

Friday, June 17, 2011

Today’s Topic:  I’m a Fixer

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 45:9-10    “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?  Woe to him who says to his father, ‘What have you begotten?’ or to his mother, ‘What have you brought to birth?’”

I am a fixer. Yesterday was a very tough day for me. I was in the middle of a fix-it project when I got a call from my son who needed help with a fix-it project of his own. I dropped what I was doing and went to his house where he had a washing machine partially disassembled.  It was leaking water from the bottom of the tub. One of the seals was bad, and we needed to see how to replace it.

With laptop computer propped up in the laundry room so we could see the service manual for the machine, we continued to take it apart. After almost two hours of work we had a solution. Unfortunately we had reached a point where we knew that to go any further would not be cost effective, so we quit and junked the machine. Thanks to all of you who helped him out on Facebook last night with options for its replacement.

On the way home my mind was swimming with questions about the design of the machine that made it so labor intensive to get at one seal. My questions were driven by my need for convenience rather than the engineering needed to produce a water-tight seal on the drum. I wondered if the designers did stuff like that on purpose to make it hard for the average person to fix on their own and then they would get kickbacks from the repairman. How sad I am when things don’t go my way.

When I returned home I took up my project, which is frustrating me because all the easy and cheap solutions aren’t working. I have one more option before I have to spend a few hundred dollars. Like I said – yesterday was a tough day for a fixer.

As I thought about my attitudes towards designers, I was hit full in the face this morning with the next verses in our study of Isaiah. It’s all about how we question the Designer.  The arrogance of our attitudes that make us believe that we can do that overwhelmed me. Yet we do it. We have figured out ways in our finite minds to justify the questioning of the infinite and not feel guilty about it. We have so rationalized our rights that we actually claim to have authority in our relationship with One who created us. We are so driven by our need for convenience that we fail to see the long-term consequences of changing the design.

Sometimes we even use Jesus as our excuse for such questions. After all, He did it in the Garden of Gethsemane. Didn’t He ask God to change His design and not make Him go through death on a cross? We know He ended up surrendering to God’s will, but He still questioned it, didn’t He?

We forget  four vitally important  words at the beginning of that prayer – “If it is possible…”  One of the Gospel writers puts it this way – “Father, if you are willing…”

That’s a far cry from how most of us address God when things aren’t being fixed according to our convenience. We demand that God change things. We go to Him with arrogant authority. We tell Him what we want done and then expect Him to do it. We question everything, not from a desire to understand the heart of God but to change the mind of God. That is not what Jesus did.

Jesus went to the Father with a heart already surrendered. He simply wanted to make sure there were no other options. But His first words indicate that He was already settled on the current course and trusted the Father’s final decision. Oh that we would live with that level of faith. Fixers find that hard to do.

Pastor John

Rain

Connecting Points

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Raining Righteousness

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 45:8    “You heavens above, rain down righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it; I, the LORD, have created it.”

The next few days are going to be fantastic, at least from my perspective, which is right now being influenced by the weather.  For the past 36 hours it has been dreary. Dark clouds released a consistent rain which was much needed. Sometime today the sun is going to break through, and all creation will be drawn upwards to that which gives the light of life. The grass will grow, gardens will sprout, farm crops will flourish, and we will be invigorated by the beauty of God’s creation and the opportunity to enjoy it.

Often our lives are like a rainy day. Circumstances are cloudy. Our plans and pursuits are put on hold by pouring rain. Our emotions are saturated with negativity. We see only the inconvenience of the present and miss the blessing of seeing the abundance being produced.

God uses Isaiah to remind us of a simple truth – the rains that fall in the form of hardship and suffering are bringing God’s righteousness and salvation.

God reminds us that as the Creator of all things, He has eternally connected the physical and the spiritual. Every element of nature brings God spiritual glory. Jesus said that if we didn’t praise Him, even the rocks would cry out to the glory of God.

Every event of life has spiritual implications. The circumstances of our lives that we pray to end are the very events God planned to bring us the water of life. The clouds of despair that we believe stop us from seeing the sun are the very clouds that God is using to deliver His righteousness so we can see the Son. The cracks in the ground that shake the foundations of our lives are the evidence that God is preparing to grow something new and wonderful in us.

Life can be hard, especially if we believe that this life is all we get. But for those who see the spiritual in the physical – the supernatural in the natural – there can be joy even in the storms. The clouds that roll into our lives are to be embraced and enjoyed, because God is delivering righteousness in the rain. Open up wide and receive it, and let salvation spring up in your heart.

Pastor John

Getting It Done

Connecting Points

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Today’s Topic:  God Gets It Done

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 45:4  (NIV)   For the sake of Jacob my servant, of Israel my chosen, I summon you by name and bestow on you a title of honor, though you do not acknowledge me.

We all have different ideas of how things should get done. Not one of us has a corner on the solutions market. The process market is up for grabs as well. Our experience has taught us some lessons we can pass along, but anything we have learned from experience is confined to the scope of our experiences, and needless to say that scope is limited.

When committees, or what we call teams in our church, are formed to initiate programs they can be either productive or problematic, depending on the attitudes of those involved. It only takes one person in a meeting who believes that their solution is the only solution to cause a major problem. The assumption that their experience exceeds the experience of anyone else, and that their wisdom demands recognition puts them near the top of the arrogance scale.

One key element of truth that is ignored by such prideful people is that there is only One who has complete knowledge, experience, and wisdom – Almighty God. And whether we agree with His methods or not, He is in control and He is getting it done. (By “it” I mean His divine will and eternal purpose.)

Wisconsin has been a hotbed of political revolt since last November. It has impacted the church. In fact, tomorrow morning at our local evangelical ministerial association meeting we are going to be discussing the issue of resolving political conflicts that arose between people in our churches. There have been people leave their church over a political disagreement with someone else in the church. Friendships have been ended. Relationships have been damaged. It has been very heartbreaking to watch it happen.

Let’s put ourselves in Isaiah’s time for a moment. God is revealing to him and then through him to the nation of Israel that there is a time of political unrest coming. Babylon will invade and the people will be taken captive. I’m sure as they heard this news that their minds, like ours would, were spinning with possible solutions. They had been given the one and only solution from God – repent of your sin and submit to God’s control. They didn’t like the crimp that put in their lifestyle choices, so they rejected that possibility and turned to their human wisdom instead.

  • Are there political alliances we can form that will protect us?
  • Are there resources we can use to buy our way into peace?
  • Are there other gods we can worship that will save us?

I wonder what Isaiah was thinking. His human mind had to be considering all sorts of options. Then God gives him His solution – He will anoint the ruler of Persia , Cyrus, who doesn’t acknowledge God as God, to bring restoration to the people.

WHAT!?!

God is going to use a pagan to accomplish His purpose? What a crazy idea. Why is He on this team anyway? We can come up with better solutions than that, can’t we?

Yes and no! Yes God will do it. No there are no better solutions than God’s.

Not only will God bring about the restoration of His people, but He will show the pagans that He is in control and that He alone is worthy of worship. (Read verses 5-6) God is getting it done.

So next time you are in the human mindset to demonstrate against the political powers that be, or proclaim your dislike for decisions that are being made, stop and evaluate your trust level in God and whether or not you really believe that He is getting it done according to His divine will and eternal purpose. It may not look like the way we would have done it, but we must humbly admit that our way has failed far more than it has succeeded, and God’s way NEVER has.

Pastor John

Restored Ruins

Connecting Points

Monday, June 13, 2011

Today’s Topic:  From Ruins to Restoration

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 44:24,  26    I am the LORD, who has made all things,  who alone stretched out the heavens, who spread out the earth by myself…who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’ of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be built,’ and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Nehemiah as he leads the people of Jerusalem in the rebuilding of the city walls. In fact, that story is the basis of the two-year leadership development program we initiated at our church. It is a story of redemption – from ruins to restoration. It is the story of our lives.

Isaiah prophesied the literal restoration of Jerusalem  some two hundred years before it actually happened. He named Cyrus by name in verse 28 and again in chapter 45 about 150 years before he actually took office in Persia. Many scholars believe that  Cyrus actually read this prophecy when He was in office and was so moved by it that he chose to fulfill it. We know that it was God who moved Him.

When Isaiah wrote this, Jerusalem had not even fallen captive to Babylon yet, so the people must have thought Isaiah’s prophecy of their flourishing city standing in ruins to be absurd. But God was revealing His plan to Isaiah, and it has implications to our lives today.

First, the things you say to people today on behalf of the Lord are the very words that God will use later in their lives to restore them when they have made a mess of things. It took two hundred years for Isaiah’s words to come true, but at just the right time in God’s plan his words were used to move Cyrus to action. Your words today will either hurt or help others. May what we say be words God can use to move them to action according to His will.

Second, even though everything seems great with your life today, there may be a time coming when it’s not. It may be the consequence of your own choices or it may be the result of unforeseen circumstances, but either way a time is coming when you will consider your life to be in ruins. When that moment hits, and it will hit hard, remember the word of the Lord. Fill your mind with it right now so you are prepared. God said of your ruins, “I will restore them.”

Third, maybe everything is already in ruins. Trust the God who loves you and sent His son to die for you. He will restore you. Already there is a Cyrus in your life who is the agent of change. God has sent an Ezra and a Nehemiah to facilitate the rebuilding. God does not intend for you to fix your own life by yourself. He has sent you an incredible gift – people who love Him and serve Him – and they are there to help you rebuild and to experience God’s restoration. Let them help you.

God, we acknowledge that you are LORD, and have made all things. By your mighty power that brought everything out of nothing, you are also able to restore our ruins. Let the rebuilding begin. Amen.”

Pastor John

Lost Treasure

Connecting Points

Friday, June 10, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Lost Treasures

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 44:9    All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.

Last night was fun. Early yesterday morning I got a text message from a friend in the church inviting me to go along on a trip to a Minnesota Twins game. I accepted. It was a great night of relaxation and fellowship. I am very thankful to the men who took me, and I don’t want anything I say from this point on to detract from that thankfulness I have.

I had not been to the new Target Field in Minneapolis yet. It is a great baseball stadium. It was designed well for viewing a game. Even the seats way up high are perfect. I know, because that’s where we sat – right behind home plate in the upper deck.

The technology is incredible. The big high definition screen behind the left field seats that is used as a scoreboard and video screen is over 58,000 square feet. That’s more than two times larger than the total square footage of my house. They recently installed a new smaller screen in right field and next to it is a one hundred foot tall tower. It is a media tower and displays information on all four sides. The cost was 8 million dollars. The total cost for the Target Field now exceeds 500 million dollars so we can watch baseball games.

As I sat there enjoying the game, I was talking to one of the men in our group. We were discussing the incredible amount of money that was spent on the stadium, not to mention what is spent on the players and the coaches and the staff and the stadium upkeep and the light bill and the list goes on and on. Then there’s all the money spent by the fans to pay for all the money spent on the team. Fifteen dollars for a cheeseburger and fries and soda. If they wanted one, and many people did, it was $7.25 for a bottle of beer. You had to pay $5.00 for a bag of peanuts. And it was another five bucks for an ice cream sandwich.

I told my friend that as much as I was a part of the system by being at the game, it is a shame that so much money is so freely spent for personal recreation and pleasure when we are having trouble raising less than ½ of a percent of that amount so we can continue to grow the Kingdom of God in a new facility.  Every week our general fund giving to pay the bills of God’s work in our church goes deeper in the red, yet it seems that our lifestyles have not taken a hit at all. Yet, as I told him, all that is being invested in the pleasures of the world will pass away, but only what is done for Christ will endure for all eternity. It seems we are worshiping the wrong things with our resources.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not against baseball. I proudly wore my Detroit Tigers hat to the Twins game last night. I’m not against wealth and the enjoyment of the things God has blessed us with in this world. But I do question my own priorities of wealth management sometimes. Maybe we all should. Why do we feel so entitled to advance our own economic status when the work of Jesus Christ is suffering? It is suffering you know. Our Deacons at our church are having a very difficult time paying the bills let alone authorizing the ministry expenses that the Elders want for continued growth and ministry. Something is wrong when the Lord’s people are getting richer but the Lord’s work is getting poorer.

Isaiah speaks the word of the Lord to us all in Isaiah 44:9-20 when He talks about idols and the things we treasure. Jesus said it this way – “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.   But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.   For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)

So where is your heart?

Pastor John

God Doesn’t Know

Connecting Points

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Today’s Topic:  He Knows Not

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 44:6, 8b    “This is what the LORD says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God… Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”

I remember as a teenager when my dad preached a sermon that fascinated me. It was entitled “Five Absolute Impossibilities with God.”  I still have the notes from that sermon in an old Bible.  Here they are:

  1. It is impossible for God to bring anyone into His eternal family without them first being made new in Christ.
  2. It is impossible for God to save anyone from their sin without the shedding of Christ’s blood and its application to man’s sin.
  3. It is impossible for God to save anyone without repentance from sin and a confession of belief in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
  4. It is impossible for God to save anyone after death.
  5. It is impossible for God to save anyone who neglects the opportunity for salvation provided by the Holy Spirit.

If we think about it there are more examples of things that are impossible with God. Logic dictates that for every absolute God states there has to be an impossibility.

What made me think of that sermon this morning were the words of God in Isaiah 44:8 when He says, “No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.”  There is something God doesn’t know.

Okay, before you go off on a mental rampage that the pastor has broken from the truth, I admit  that’s not a completely accurate statement. You see, because God’s knowledge is infinite – He is omniscient, knowing all – He therefore can state that He has no knowledge of any other God that would be His equal. But this points out how easily we can be misled when we interpret Scripture.

We can also be misled in the application of truth. Please follow along as I delineate a progression of truth about which we may be in denial in our lives.

  • The first commandment God gave to Moses in the covenant of the law was “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
  • When God created Adam and Eve He was there one and only source of value and worth. Their identity was completely God-defined.
  • When Adam and Eve sinned, they chose to seek their identity from another source other than God. They questioned their worth and value, and sought to enhance it apart from God.
  • Since that time man’s selfish pride has motivated the pursuit of self-worth and identity.
  • When God gave Moses the law He dealt with the primary issue of man’s sin first – seeking value and identity from any other source other than God.
  • Any person other than God, any pursuit, or any activity that we allow to define us and give us value and identity is another god that we have authorized to replace Almighty God.
  • We are all guilty of daily idolatry.
  • We are all in denial of that fact.

Please think about this – if we need people to affirm our worth; if we need intimate relationships (sex) with another person to give us a sense of value; if we need perfection in performance to prove our significance; then we are guilty of having other gods other than the One and Only God. He alone is the one who defines us and tells us our worth. And we are worth enough that He sent His one and only Son to die for us that we might be His children forever. Let us build our lives on that Rock, for there is no other rock.

Pastor John