Here It Comes

Connecting Points

Friday, July 22, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Here It Comes

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 49:8-9a   This is what the LORD says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances,  to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’

Years ago I learned something about myself, and since then I have noticed it in others as well. We all have verbal crutches. I discovered it when I got my first job in radio as an announcer. My boss would record us while we were on the air, and then call us into his office to listen to the tape. It was revealing. Three out of every four sentences I spoke while the microphone was live started with the word “Hey.” Weird, huh? Coming out of a song I would say, “Hey, that was…” and then name the song and artist. Or I would begin a news segment with, “Hey, let’s look at the news.”  Almost every sentence started with that word. It was my crutch, or as I now call it, my clutch. You see, it was what had to be released to get the brain engaged so the mouth could move.

Some people, in fact a lot of people, use simple clutches, the most popular being “Umm…” Just listen to people and you will start to hear it used all the time. Even public speakers do it. For some reason the foot is always on the clutch and they keep pushing it in just a little and it “umm’s”.  Why is it that we have to be making some kind of noise while we think about what’s next to say?

Well, after I got the “Hey” clutch resolved, I developed another one. This one became famous in that part of the world where I worked. I became the weather guy at the radio station and was responsible for reading the radar system we had installed. I also worked closely with Civil Defense in determining the need for the sirens to be sounded. I actually had a remote desk and broadcast equipment in their offices in the basement of the courthouse.

When storms would be coming, and their path had been carefully predicted, I began saying the phrase “Here it comes.”  It was fine at first, because it started in the summer, and the path of those storms is more easily predicted. However, when winter came, and I made my first big prediction of a blizzard and said “Here it comes,” it never came. Schools had been cancelled; businesses were shut down, and then nothing. The storm totally went around us. How embarrassing. That’s when I was told by my boss that I had been using the phrase “Here it comes” too frequently. I had developed another crutch.

God never says “Here it comes” as a crutch. When He says it, it will happen. The rest of the forty-ninth chapter of Isaiah is God’s “Here it comes” for the nation of Israel. It declares the beginnings of the plan of God for the redemption of His people. That plan will be revealed for the rest of the book.  At a time of God’s choosing, when all is favorable for the revelation of His glory, He will answer our prayers and help us.

I tend to help myself too much. I tend to evaluate whether or not this is the time of God’s favor. Unfortunately it usually turns out to be the time of my favor. But God has a time of favor. He knows our every need. He knows how to meet that need and do it within the context of His purpose. He has said “Here it comes”. We tend to put too much emphasis on the word “Here”, believing that means right now. But God will not fail to bring what He has promised. His redemption is coming, and reading the rest of this chapter was a good reminder of that. It also filled me with great joy to see the glory of God revealed. Take some time to read it for yourself. (Isaiah 49:8-26)

Pastor John

No Call Too Small

Connecting Points

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today’s Topic:  No Call Too Small

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 49:6   And now the Lord says, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Before I go into a thought the Lord has given me for today from this verse, I must let those of you who are true students of the Bible know that I understand the context of the first seven verses of Isaiah 49.  Jesus the Messiah is being foreseen, and He is the one spoken of. That makes the impact of my application even more powerful.

Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, who is fully and eternally God, was called by the Father to accomplish His will – to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel that had been kept by God. In addition, the Messiah would be a light for the Gentiles – you and me – and bring salvation to the ends of the earth. But before He clarifies the call God confirms the commitment. Was Jesus, the Son of God, in all of His eternal glory, willing to humble Himself and become a man, taking on the form of a servant, if that’s what it took to accomplish God’s glory? Or would He consider that calling too small a thing for someone so qualified?

It’s been almost two years now that the Elders of our church have been searching for someone to fill a staff need at our church. We have been putting money into an escrow account to pay for this position. Over the last several months our search has intensified. But at this point of our church’s growth we can only afford a half-time position. What a challenge! We have been discouraged by the unwillingness of people to serve the Lord in bi-vocational ministry.

We have created a culture in our modern church era that places ministry on the same level as professional employment. Granted, the Bible teaches that the workman is worthy of his hire, but the same Apostle who wrote that first taught by example how to be bi-vocational to ease the burden on the local church so ministry to people could flourish. Time and time again while making contact with potential applicants the same response was given – “I have my degree, I’m a professional, and I have certain pay requirements, and I can’t do part-time.”  In some cases the hearts of the applicant were right based on the needs of their family, and I respect that. But there were far too many people that made it clear that our position was too small a thing for them.

I believe that we are in denial about how serious this issue is in our own lives. I don’t think we really want to take the time to reflect on how much the materialistic society in which we live has impacted our willingness to serve Jesus sacrificially. I truly believe that there are things God has called us to do that we have determined are beneath us and don’t meet our needs. We are blinded by the immediate and therefore miss the glory that could be seen. We have climbed to the mountain top of our pride and forgotten that the only view of God’s glory is from the lowest place.

On Monday I met a man who understands this. He knows that there is no call too small. He knows there is no need to put conditions on God’s call. Obedience to God’s call will always be accompanied by God’s provision to accomplish it. We tend to put the provision ahead of the call, and that is not how God works. There’s a reason for that…because that puts us in a position to receive glory to ourselves. If we focus on the provisions as a condition, then when the task is complete we will believe we had some part in making it happen. God has stated clearly that He will not share His glory. (Isaiah 48:11) If we are seeking to provide for ourselves, then God will not honor the work we are about to do, for it is not 100% being done for Him.

What a blessing it has been to meet him and talk to him. Let’s see where God takes this. As for me and you, let’s be ready to consider any place He takes us for any reason, and not consider any call too small.

Pastor John

It’s Not In Vain

Connecting Points

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Today’s Topic:  It’s Not In Vain

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 49:4    But I said, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD’S hand, and my reward is with my God.”

Some days work seems meaningless. There are times when it appears that no one is listening. Moments of doubt can turn into mountains of discouragement as investments deliver no return. Such is the mindset stamped with the signature of Satan.

I thoroughly enjoy being in my workshop. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to do anything out there recently because of the heat. I really haven’t had anything to do out there either. But when I do, I love it. Whether it’s sharpening the blades on the lawn mower or repairing a small appliance or building something from wood, I love working with my hands. I think the reason is that I need something where I can see visible results. I need to see the product of my labor.

Many of you get to see that every day in your jobs. You go to work, fulfill your obligations, check things off the “to do” list, and at the end of the day you can see what was accomplished. It’s different for me. Sometimes it gets hard. There have been times in my life of ministry when I have absolutely related to Isaiah’s words – “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” Fortunately this is not one of those times, but maybe it is for you.

Maybe this is a time in your life when it seems that you have no purpose. You may be in a profession that involves people rather than production, and the people for whom you labor are not responding. You work hard to accomplish something of value, but it seems that it has no affect on anyone. Nothing changes. Then add to that the lack of affirmation about what you are doing and suddenly the personal value tank is empty.

I have had times like that. That’s why hanging on my wall in my office, directly across from my desk and right next to the door where I see it all the time, is a plaque that hung on the wall of my parent’s home since I was a child. It is an open Bible with the following verse on it – Be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for as much as you know your labor is not in  vain in the Lord.(1 Corinthians 15:58)

Today I will print out the words of Isaiah 49:4 and hang them on the wall directly below that plaque. But not before I ask the Holy Spirit to stamp them as God’s signature on my heart and mind right alongside 1 Corinthians 15:58. I know there will be a time when I will wonder when I will ever see the fruit of my labor and I will need them.

Pastor John

Gushing Grace

Connecting Points

Monday, July 18, 2011

Today’s Topic:  The Blessings of Obedience

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 48:18-19   “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.”

“If only…”

Those are powerful words. They conjure conviction. They remind of regrets. They soak with shame.

“If only…” We can all finish that sentence, and when we do it becomes a sentence. It locks us in the prison of what could have been.

The Enemy of our souls mocks Almighty God with the lives of the redeemed who are locked in the bondage of regret. As pride combines with the pursuit of self-worth, the past becomes a prison.  The remembrance of failure fuels our fear. Our view of our value is no longer vertical. We have lost hope for the future. We live only in the dream of reliving the past. It is exactly where Satan wants us – convinced that we cannot be forgiven. Life lived under the control of “If only…” is obnoxiously opposed to the grace of God.

The Lord only reminds us of the past to magnify His grace that has set us free. The past is a building block upon which our lives stand to gain a higher view of God, rather than a block that forms a wall that limits our view of God. When God reminded the Israelites of what could have been, it was to set them free from the bondage of those memories. God longs with an eternal longing to shower His grace and restore His embrace.

That freedom comes at a price – our obedience. The Lord reminds us of the past so that we might learn to obey Him. Satan reminds us of the past to convince us that we are no longer able to obey. Memories of the consequences of our sin are the fertile soil in which God plants the seeds of righteousness. Confession of our sin fertilizes the seeds with the grace of forgiveness and the seeds grow to produce fruit for the glory of God.

Satan attempts to steal the seeds. In their place he plants seeds of doubt, fear, and worthlessness. They do not grow to bear fruit, but serve only to make the soil hard. The water of the Word of God begins to run off rather than soak in, and we are left dry and weary. But in the words of the Vernon Charlesworth hymn, “Jesus is the Rock in a weary land.”

When the people of Israel were in such a dry and weary land as they escaped from the bondage of Egypt, they did not thirst as water came flowing from the rock. Even thought they thought it was hopeless and they complained, God was there to show grace. Hundreds of years later God reminds them of that fact through Isaiah’s words in verse 21. Read it and be refreshed. God’s grace gushes out.

The prison walls of “If only…” are not able to stand against the gushing of grace. God has declared you are free. He says to us in verse 20 to leave the place of bondage for the Lord has redeemed you. Shout it with joy to the ends of the earth. We are free. Any and all memories of the past are washed in the blood of the Lamb and are now only reminders to obey and experience the fullness of God’s blessing from this day forward.

Look up. You are about to be gushed upon.

Pastor John

Follow the Leader

Connecting Points

Friday, July 15, 2011 

Today’s Topic:  Follow the Leader

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 48:17    This is what the LORD says—your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.

As a child I didn’t like playing follow the leader. It was pointless. Even as a child I thought, “Why would I want to follow someone who has no idea where I want to go? Why would I want to follow someone who only wants to go where they want to go and takes no thought for the desires of the person following them?” I probably missed out on a lot of childish fun. Maybe my pride was already overblown. Maybe God was preparing me to understand why I should follow Him.

The world is full of leaders and followers. Many leaders aren’t really leaders – they are just powerful people who use their power to control others so they can fulfill their own objectives. The followers of such leaders are repressed and unfulfilled. Some leaders are great. Their followers are excited to follow because they are convinced by the leader that where they are going is exactly the place that will satisfy their deepest longings and their wildest dreams. Such followers believe their leader knows what is best for them and is leading them to it. They trust the leader to take them to places they really want to go, not just where he wants to go.

I will follow a leader like that. I would have done it as a kid. If in the game of follow the leader it was required of the leader to ask each follower where they wanted to go and then lead them there, I would have played. If the leader could first convince the followers that where he wanted to go was really where they also wanted to go, I would have played the game. I will follow a leader like that.

We have a leader like that – the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. First, He teaches us what is best for us. He helps us to understand what we really need and shows us what we really want. He shapes our thought process. The sovereign God of all creation knows what is best, and He lets us in on it. He takes the time to instruct us. He softly and tenderly speaks to our hearts, and if we will listen, we will discover that what He says is good for us is far better than what we say is good.

Second, our Leader directs us in the way we should go. Based on what we now know to be best for us, God leads us to it. He wants us to find the best. He has told us what it is, and now He shows us how to get there. I will follow a leader like that.

Unfortunately there are many who don’t follow the Leader. Some of them call themselves followers, but it’s a sham. They are really following their own desires. Their hearts have never been convinced that God really knows what’s best for them, so they never submit to His leadership to get them there. They continue to pursue their own desires, thinking that what their sinful minds desire is really best for them. Sometimes I am like that too.

When I decide not to play follow the Leader it’s because my pride has convinced me that I know what’s best for me, or that someone else who is also not playing has the real answers for me. I choose to follow myself or them, but both choices end up badly. Look at what God tells the people of Israel when they chose not to follow the Leader:

“If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. Your descendants would have been like the sand, your children like its numberless grains; their name would never be cut off nor destroyed from before me.”

I am not only convinced of the following truth, but I am overjoyed to experience it – God knows what’s best for me and will lead me to it! It is exciting and fulfilling to follow the Leader!

Pastor John

Stubborn People

Connecting Points

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Stubbornness

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 48:5   “Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’”

Please, please, please, to get a full understanding of the context and content of God’s message to us today, read Isaiah 48:1-11 first. Then be warned. Do not be discouraged and stop reading after the next paragraph. Think hard about its truth, but do not be discouraged. There is hope.

We are a stubborn people. We don’t have to try to want our own way; it is the natural expression of our sinful nature.  It culminates in us giving credit for what happens in our lives to gods of our own creation. That way our pride can be fully self-sustaining with no need for outside interference. It is the circle of bondage that pleases the Enemy of our souls. We are obnoxious to Almighty God when we live according to the flesh.

God is full of grace and mercy. For his own sake – for the sake of His Name and fame – He delays His wrath. He has chosen to reveal Himself and His plan to us so that He may be honored and glorified in our lives. Our troubles are His testing ground to prove His faithfulness and build our faith. He does not permit His people to remain in a place of pride. In His love for us as His children He draws us back to His heart so that in us and to all who know us He is shown to be the only true God.

One way that God destroys our pride and restores our souls is through prophecy. In Isaiah 48 God reveals to us the importance of prophecy. It has to do with our stubbornness. First, He reminds us that the prophecies of old that have come true give us a foundation of faith upon which we can look to the future. If God had not revealed specific details of His plan to His people, their pride would have allowed them to give credit to gods of their own choosing – gods they created to allow the co-existence of faith and flesh in their lives. But because God told them what would happen eons before it did, they had to give credit to Him.

That’s why for us today the study of Old Testament prophecy is important – we see the workings of Almighty God and build an understanding of His sovereignty. Without that foundation of faith, we would quickly give credit for what happens in our world to gods of our own creation today; gods like government or economics or the worst one of all, personal knowledge and power. But when we study the Old Testament and see the prophecies of God proclaimed hundreds of years before the event took place, and the perfection of every prophetic detail, we can give glory to only One – Jehovah God.

Second, God has revealed new things that have not yet been fulfilled, and our study of them will bring the blessings of faith, patience, and perseverance to our lives because we will understand current events in light of God’s purpose. For the nation of Israel God revealed His plan for their restoration as a nation, and that is the theme of the rest of Isaiah. It is the plan for the restoration of His glory to His chosen people the nation of Israel. For us today, the prophecies extend into the New Testament and reveal the glory of God in His church and into eternity. His wrath will be revealed as He strikes down all sin and all sinners. His glory will be revealed as the church fulfills its calling as the Bride of Christ. Those who study these prophecies will be constantly refined and revived and will be able to keep their eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, despite the circumstances of life.

But we are a stubborn people. We still turn our attention to man’s solutions for the problems of the world, rather than seeing the problems as God’s plan to turn our eyes on Him. Four times in verses nine through eleven God says that what He does is for His sake – for His glory. He will not share His glory. If in any way we have created gods that get glory for what happens in our lives, we will be tested and afflicted. It is God’s expression of love to His children so that we turn back to Him. We are to be the proof of God’s glory to the sinful world around us. Unfortunately many so-called Christians are becoming proof of humanism and man’s glory rather than God’s. Let that not be said of us! Let us return to a study of prophecy and listen to the words of Scripture. May our discussions of current events always be in the context of God’s plan revealed in Scripture, not man’s plan devised in stubbornness and rebellion against God.

Pastor John

Self-Defined or God-Defined?

Connecting Points

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Self-Defined or God-Defined

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 48:1   Listen to this, O house of Jacob, you who are called by the name of Israel and come from the line of Judah, you who take oaths in the name of the Lord and invoke the God of Israel – but not in truth or righteousness.

I’m stuck. It’s a dilemma. I cannot get past the last six words of this verse. No matter what I try the Holy Spirit keeps bringing me back to them. I believe God wants me to learn a lesson about who I am. Maybe this is for you too.

The people of Israel were God’s chosen people. Nothing could ever change that reality. They had a rich and meaningful spiritual heritage. They were called by the name God had chosen for them. But their spiritual activity was a sham – a ritual that had no righteousness – a task that wasn’t the expression of truth.

Religion can become just that – truthless tasks and righteousless rituals. (Don’t try to correct my spelling – those words aren’t in the dictionary, but they are descriptively powerful.) We have become people who have a form of godliness but deny the power of it in our everyday activity. (2 Timothy 3:5) We make great promises to God about our plans to change, but those plans are quickly absorbed into our secular and worldly lifestyles. We turn to God in our dark times of deep need, but we really only want rescue rather than repentance.

Religion produces self-defined people. Look at the people of Israel. They were chosen by God. They were called by God. They were set apart for God’s purpose. They were given a special name. They inherited a spiritual heritage that is the model for all people. But they quickly turned all of that into a license to satisfy the desires of their own sinful hearts. They translated their past into permissiveness – their perceived security into personal self-fulfillment. No longer did they choose to let God define them, but rather they chose to define themselves.

Now let’s look at ourselves. We are a chosen people (1Peter 2:9). We are called by God (Romans 1:6). We are set apart for God’s purpose (Philippians 2:13). We have been given a special name (Acts 11:26). We have inherited a spiritual heritage (Galatians 4:7). How then do we live? Are we also guilty of turning all of that into a license to satisfy the desires of our sinful nature that was to have been put to death when we came to saving faith in Jesus Christ?

Let us all take some time today and every day to consider this – am I living my life according to God’s definition of me that is correct for eternity or according to my own definition that is convenient for today? May every activity of our lives be seen by God as the expression of the truth of His definition of a Christ-follower. May our lives be lived in the righteousness of Christ. That is holiness – a life without contradiction.

Pastor John