Renewal

Connecting Points

Friday, August 26, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Times of Renewal

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 51:3    The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.

Not many people along the east coast of the United States are thinking about joy and gladness right now. There’s not a lot of singing going on. They are preparing for the arrival of Irene, the hurricane poised to bring varying levels of ruin to a large part of that heavily populated region. Our prayers are with them and for them, but not just for their physical well-being. No, what is most significant is that these events in nature – from earthquakes to hurricanes – are a part of God’s call to spiritual revival and renewal.

Ever since sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, God has been using what Satan has intended for evil to bring people to their spiritual knees. It is in that position that renewal begins. That’s where the compassion and comfort of God are found. That’s where joy and gladness begin. That’s where the sound of singing can be heard.

The whole story of the world since the Garden of Eden is one of restoration. Satan is convinced that he has enough power to destroy God’s creation, and he has been determined to do it, especially focusing on people because we are created in God’s image. Nothing in the world is off limits to his vicious attacks. Nature itself with all of its power has been corrupted by the influence of man’s sin, and Satan uses it to what he thinks is his advantage.

But Almighty God, the One and Only Sovereign Ruler of all eternity, is making all things new. No matter how bad it looks right now, God is in the process of returning joy and gladness. Someday, when Jesus returns and sin has been vanquished, the earth will be restored for the time of His Kingly reign.

The nation of Israel stand as an example of destruction and desolation, with very few nations if any truly supporting the biblical claims to the Promised Land that God’s covenant demands. Fox News is reporting this today from Iran – “The Iranian president said on Friday there will be no room for Israel in the region after the formation of a Palestinian state, and that once the state is established, the liberation of all Palestinian lands should follow” . (Read more:  http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/08/26/irans-ahmadinejad-no-place-for-israel-in-region/#ixzz1W8lalBNJ)

But here’s what the Lord promises to the nation of Israel – “Listen to me, my people. Hear me, Israel, for my law will be proclaimed, and my justice will become a light to the nations. My mercy and justice are coming soon. Your salvation is on the way. I will rule the nations. They will wait for me and long for my power. Look up to the skies above, and gaze down on the earth beneath. For the skies will disappear like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing. The people of the earth will die like flies, but my salvation lasts forever. My righteous rule will never end! (Isaiah 51:4-6)

Storms are required for us to experience the wonder of renewal: and God’s renewal is guaranteed. Without storms we would never know God’s grace, which is sufficient for every need. We need the needs. While there may be weeping in the night, morning is coming and joy will be restored. That’s the promise of God. But it all starts on our knees, looking up to the One who brings us salvation that lasts forever. Spiritual renewal must be our first priority.

Pastor John

Heritage

Connecting Points

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Heritage

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 51:1    “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the LORD: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn;

Several weeks ago the local newspaper in Eau Claire did a feature story about four generations of pastors, three of whom happen to be at the same church right now. That story was about my grandfather – Dr. J.A. van Gorkom, my father – Rev. P.H. van Gorkom, me – Rev. John D. van Gorkom, and my son, Pastor Joshua J. van Gorkom.

The only reason I mention this is because it makes me appreciate my heritage – a heritage of faith in Jesus Christ passed on from generation to generation. I am so blessed to be able to look back over every year of my life that I can remember and know that every aspect of our family’s life was centered on Christ.

Some people don’t have those memories. Some are the first generation of believers in their family, but their desire is to be the start of a spiritual heritage that will be passed on to their children and their children’s children.

Whether or not you have a spiritual lineage in your family, there is a spiritual heritage that is yours. God reminded the nation of Israel of their heritage when He told those who were seeking Him to look back at the rock from which they were cut. God was referring to Abraham and Sarah, and He was asking them to reflect on all the ways He had fulfilled His covenant promises to them and their descendants. Based on that heritage, God renews His commitment to them to fulfill every word He ever spoke.

You and I are a part of that same spiritual heritage. We have been cut from the Rock, Jesus Christ. Whether you are a first generation believer or have a multi-generational heritage, we can look back to the same place of origin – the cross of Calvary where Jesus died to redeem us. We have the privilege of looking back at all the heroes of the faith that prepared the way for Jesus and then proclaimed the truth of His grace and power since He rose from the dead.

When God tells Israel to look back, He is reminding us to do the same. Look back at the spiritual heroes of the Bible. Look back at the spiritual heroes of your family. Look back at the life of Jesus, the greatest Hero of all. If you need help doing that, read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Then, digest the wonderful truths and challenge of what comes next from the heart of God –

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

There’s the rock from which we were cut, and the quarry from which we were hewn. There’s the pursuit of righteousness and the seeking of the Lord. Our spiritual heritage motivates us. It moves us to action.

So look back and see the rock. Then look up and see the Rock. Then look ahead and see the rock you are becoming as you prepare for the return of the Rock. You are a part of the heritage.

Pastor John

 

Fires and Flashlights

Connecting Points

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Fires and Flashlights

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 50:11    But now, all you who light fires and provide yourselves with flaming torches, go, walk in the light of your fires and of the torches you have set ablaze. This is what you shall receive from my hand: You will lie down in torment.

On Monday the Holy Spirit challenged us all to consider the True Light that shines in the darkest darkness of our hearts and lives.  It was a time for each one of us, if we chose to, to consider what or whom we really trust when times get tough. In fact, God designs the darkness so that we are brought face to face with the truth of our trust. That’s a reality many of us avoid facing. We want to think we really trust God, but when it gets dark we tend to turn on our own lights first.

God knew that was the truth about us when He spoke through Isaiah the words that follow His great promise of Light in the darkness. Read them carefully from the New Living Translation –

But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon lie down in great torment.

You see it don’t you? You see the natural tendency we all have to try to create our own light to show us the way out of the darkness. You see the reality that we build our own campfires called comfort zones that will hopefully sustain us in the darkness and protect us from whatever lurks in the shadows.

We build campfires using firewood from friends, finances, and family.  We spend our daylight hours searching for more firewood so that when the darkness comes we will be able to keep the fire burning. We even keep a pile of fast-burning wood that flares up quickly so that we can get instant relief, even though we know that after it is burned up it will leave us in deeper darkness. The wood in this pile comes from alcohol, drugs, sex, money, and any other self-worth pain reliever we have chosen.

We carry flashlights powered by disposable batteries of human wisdom. We stock up on batteries for the impending storm by seeking the counsel and companionship of people. We look for the ones that will give us the most light for the longest time, knowing full well that even the bunny gets tired and copper tarnishes. That’s why we keep buying more – more self-help books, more counseling sessions, more internet time. Somewhere out there someone has to be found who can really help us.

The problem with campfires and flashlights is that besides needing to always be powered by self-effort, they are motivated by fear. It is fear that makes us believe that fires and flashlights are necessary. When we finally admit that fear has taken over parts of our heart, we are on the way towards finding the eternal Light that shines in the darkness.

When fear is recognized and confessed, faith takes over. Now the True Light can shine, and it never needs to be stoked or stocked.  There is no human effort needed to keep the Light shining. It is powered by its own eternal nature, for God is Light!

So here’s what we need to do. First, let’s face our fears, and the best way to do that is to put out our campfires and shut off our flashlights. Go ahead – right now – fill a bucket with the Living Water of God’s Word and throw it on your fire. Then switch off the flashlight of human understanding. Go one step further – remove the batteries. Let it be dark with no hope of any human light. Now look up. Don’t look out into the darkness. Look up into the light of heaven. It may only appear as a twinkle at first, but when your eyes are on that twinkle you become unaware of the darkness around you. It’s only when you extinguish the fire and shut off the flashlight that you can see the stars. And when you do, fear is dissolved into faith!

Pastor John

 

Walking in the Dark

Connecting Points

Monday, August 22, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Walking in the Dark

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 50:10    Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

Last week my wife and I spent a wonderful and relaxing couple of days camping with our shepherd group from church. The kids were great and stayed occupied with the sand and swings. The campfire was get going throughout the days and into the nights. The conversation with friends was stimulating and enlightening. We had a great time.

When the first evening of campfire chat had come to a conclusion, Denise and I realized we had not brought a flashlight with us to the campfire. It wasn’t a long walk back to our campsite, but it was very dark. I told my wife that it would be fine because I’m a bowhunter and I walk in the dark all the time when pursuing Bambi. After a subtle comment from someone around the campfire about me being in the dark all the time, we took off hand in hand to walk back to our camper.

When we got near it I told her to follow me closely because there were obstacles in the path that could hurt if bumped into. She grabbed hold of my shirt and walked right behind me, trusting me to keep her safe. I didn’t lead her astray, and we arrived safely at the door.

The next morning when I got up and read the next couple of verses in my study of Isaiah I was instantly taken back to that demonstration of trust when I read verse 10 – Who among you fears the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God.

There is no further application necessary. You have sufficient insight from the Holy Spirit to apply the truth of this passage to your own periods of darkness. Let the Holy Spirit shed light on your path today.

Pastor John

One Big Body

Connecting Points

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Today’s Topic:  One Big Body

Today’s Text:  Revelation 5:9-10  And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.   You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”

I love modern technology. I love the way it increases the connectivity of the Body of Christ. Some people think it is hurting true relationship, but I think it is enhancing it. I think people are more connected now than ever, and the Holy Spirit is bringing us together as one universal Body more than ever before.

Yesterday I was on a Skype video call on my computer to a young woman from our church who lives for the summer at her home an hour away. We needed to meet to talk about some ministry plans for the fall. Rather than spend the money to drive the distance between us, we met face to face on the computer. As we were conferencing, I noticed another family from our church enter the room. They had stopped at this home on their way back from a trip they had taken. I also needed to talk to them about a ministry issue. So we did it right then and there. It was amazing.

To our younger generation this all seems quite normal. To me it is still amazing.

While I was on the video call I noticed that a man named Solomon had requested to connect with me on Skype. I accepted his invitation. When I arrived at my office this morning he was on line, and we connected via a video call. He is a pastor from India. His father had started a mission to orphans and lepers in that country. When the Lord took his dad home in 2009, Solomon received a call from God to continue the ministry. He is now involved in a church planting work that reaches the rural tribal areas of India that are desperately under the bondage of false religion and idol worship.

What joy we had for twenty minutes as we talked about our common heart for the harvest of souls, and I shared with him my upcoming trip to the tribal areas of the Philippines. We prayed together, and I was overwhelmed with the joy of the Lord as I realized in a new way that the Lord Jesus Christ has servants all over the world and they are committed to serving Him faithfully and fearlessly.

I immediately thought of this verse in Revelation, where the Lamb of God is proclaimed by the elders of heaven to be worthy because by His blood He has purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. What an incredible truth.  It brings shouting to my lips – shouts of praise proclaiming the greatness of God’s grace. To think that among all of those from around the world, I am one of them. Oh how my heart sings the matchless grace of Jesus.

We so easily become exclusive in our faith. We so quickly learn to focus only on our little place in the world and the little space that we occupy. We tend to move towards an inward focus and then work hard to protect the comfort zones we have established. The church can easily become ingrown. I praise God that He keeps a Kingdom vision always before me. I am thrilled to be a part of a church that has a Kingdom mindset.

I shout “Hallelujah” for the privilege of being connected worldwide with old friends and new friends who are a part of the Body of Christ. From Africa to the Philippines; from Japan to India; from Brazil to Eau Claire – this is the Body of Christ, and I am thankful to be so connected.

Pastor John

Living What We Learn

Connecting Points

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Today’s Topic:  Living What We Learn

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 50:6-7  I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.  Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

My toes hurt! It’s not the fault of my shoes: it’s much more serious. The pain I feel in my feet is the result of a much larger foot stomping on mine. The owner of that foot had to get my attention because I was walking in the wrong direction. Once I get over the initial pain I will realize He did it because He loves me and is working to develop my character. But it still hurts!

Last Friday God blessed my heart with the words of a song from Isaiah 50:4, and assured me that He loved our morning time together. https://lifelinkdevo.wordpress.com/2011/08/12/every-morning/

On Monday the Lord showed me how He has opened my ears to listen and be taught, and that I should not rebel against what He says. https://lifelinkdevo.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/no-turning-back/

I was feeling pretty proud of myself as I woke up yesterday to spend a relaxing day off. Then it happened. Mid-way through the day God’s foot came down hard on mine. I was confronted with the selfishness that still exists in my heart. It has been a painful journey that has lasted for eighteen hours now. The latest foot-stomping came when I really read and digested the meaning of today’s Scripture verses.

What good is what you know if you don’t make it a permanent part of your life? Stomp number one.

What good is an open ear if it isn’t connected to an open heart? Stomp number two.

What good is what you say you have learned if it doesn’t change how you behave? Please stop stomping!

The prophet Isaiah is praising God for what the Lord is doing in his life. God has opened his ears so he can learn. He has taught Isaiah the words that will sustain others in their times of trouble. God has taught him how to teach others the truths that will change their lives. Then Isaiah says this, if you will allow me the freedom to put into my own words what verses six and seven say:

“Now that I know who God is and understand what is in His heart for the people of the world, it has transformed my heart so that my actions are completely in accord with God’s heart. When someone tries to physically abuse me because of my love for God, I will gladly offer them my back for the beating, assured that my actions are the message that God wants them to hear so their hearts can be broken by His love. When someone insults me, represented by the pulling out of the beard, I will not defend myself or argue for my rights. When someone brings shame on me by putting me down in public and destroys whatever reputation I think I have by literally or figuratively spitting in my face, I will not hide from them or cover my face from their attacks. When I respond like Christ in these situations, I know that the message I send to them will be the testimony of God’s grace that they need to see. I know these people who are hurting me are in trouble themselves and need to hear a word that will sustain them. My actions are the words God wants me to speak. My confidence is in Christ alone, and in Him I will never be put to shame. Therefore I am determined to show them God’s love.”

Now you know why my toes hurt. Now you know where my heart is being worked on. Now you know how to help me. May I help you in the same way?

Pastor John

No Turning Back

Connecting Points

Monday, August 15, 2011

Today’s Topic:  No Turning Back

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 50:5  The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.

This morning I woke up a little later than usual. By the time I got out to the living room and sat down to listen to the Lord and start my day it was already light out and the sun was peaking over the horizon. I opened up my wife’s laptop and the main page came up – Facebook.  There, as the first entry on the page, was a post from a good friend in the church. It was his contribution to my spiritual walk. He posted his Bible verses for the day. My ears were open and ready.

After refreshing myself with the wisdom of Proverbs 3, especially verses five and six, I turned over to First Corinthians 2:11-13.  In case you don’t take the time to follow the link and read them, here they are in the New Living Translation:

No one can know what anyone else is really thinking except that person alone, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12And God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world’s spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. 13When we tell you this, we do not use words of human wisdom. We speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.

The Lord opened my ears. Just think of the truth in those verses. Our human rational thought process is incapable of knowing God and His plans for us. But He has given us His Spirit so we can know Him and know what He desires for us. We can know what God thinks of us. That’s simply amazing.

Then, as if that’s not enough, His Spirit also qualifies us to teach the spiritual truths to others.

Last week a friend posted this on Facebook – God does not call the qualified, but rather He qualifies the called. My ears were open to that as well. I wonder how many of us are not doing what God has planned for us because we don’t think we are qualified? How many people are eliminated from our prospect lists because we don’t think they are qualified? How many more servants of Jesus would become strong leaders for Jesus if we realized that He has called them and that we are the ones to help qualify them?

We are all called to be teachers of spiritual truth. But if we are going to do that, our key verse today from Isaiah must be understood. In that verse God says there are two ways that we become unqualified for helping others with the spiritual truths God has given us:

  1. We rebel against God. The word here means open, contentious disobedience. Some people are like that. They try to follow God, but when things don’t go according to their own desires and plans, they openly reject God and rebel against Him. Attitudes and actions like that keep us from teaching spiritual truths to others because we have become unteachable by the Holy Spirit.
  2. We draw back from God. This is where I think many of us struggle, and our biggest struggle is with the denial that it’s even happening. The Hebrew word used here means to move away, turn back, and backslide. Every time we step off the path of God and onto a path of our own making we are guilty of drawing back from God (Psalm 44:18). Every time we ignore what God has taught us and don’t apply it to our lives, we have drawn back from God. And even though we think it’s not really that serious, it is to God, and the punishment for drawing back is the same as for worshipping false gods. To be sure, read Zephaniah 1:4-6.

God has graciously saved us. He has filled us with His Spirit who teaches us all the spiritual truths we need for an abundant life of service to His Son. But we have drawn back into a comfort zone of culturally-defined Christianity. It is time for us to ask the Lord to once again open our ears, and to pledge to Him that we will not rebel, and that we will not draw back.

Pastor John