The Blame Game

Connecting Points

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Today’s Topic: The Blame Game

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:4b  …yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted.

We live in an “I win, you lose” world. Ever since the fall of man into sin in the Garden of Eden human nature has been corrupted with an exaggeration of self resulting in a minimizing of others. Even when things go wrong for us, we defend our own positions by blaming others for what went wrong.

Even secular business leaders understand this flaw in human nature. While they may not understand it’s cause, they know how to define its existence. Luke Iorio is the CEO of the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC). Recently, in a response to a blog about the blame game we play,  he said,  Individuals caught up in the blame game…tend to put themselves first and give little credit to others…We want to look good, look smart, look competent and that can come at the sacrifice of taking responsibility.”  

Whether we consciously think about it or not, we all have determined our own criteria for measuring our personal value and worth. Some use the standard of financial success. Others choose professional status. Still others claim that job performance determines worth. Far too many choose to accept failure in all of the above areas and turn to other self-declared measures of human value, like sex, or they give up completely and get lost in a world of drugs and alcohol to minimize the pain of failure.

One thing is true of all of these people – when confronted with any failure, they immediately seek to protect whatever level of value they claim for themselves by transferring blame to someone else. If the project fails, then it was the project’s fault, but not mine. If the relationship fails, it must be something they did. If my position is threatened, it must be the fault of the people in charge for not truly understanding my worth and making a bad decision. Oh how quickly the blame game starts.

It was no different in Jesus’ day. The religious leaders were threatened by the truth Jesus proclaimed. Their comfort zones became uncomfortable. They had built their reputations using religion as an expression of pride through self-advancement and self-valuation, yet it was all declared unrighteous by the Son of God.

So what did they do? They sought to find fault with Him. They conspired to produce falsified testimony that would have Him declared a heretic and sentenced to death. They shifted the blame to the blameless in an attempt to justify His death. They even went so far as to say that His punishment was justly imposed by God because of His sin. All this in an attempt to solidify their own positions and worth. They played the blame game to perfection.

Unfortunately, the result of the blame game is always the same – self-destruction. Because God is righteous and just, the blame always settles on the guilty. Someday, somewhere, somehow, whether in this life or for certain in eternity, the truth will be revealed and the price will be paid – double the price for the original sin if responsibility for the sin has been transferred to another.

In this life, people who play the blame game hoping to benefit from it actually suffer from it. Nathanael Fast is an assistant professor of Management and Organization at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business and he states in the Harvard Business Review that “playing the blame game never works. A deep set of research shows that people who blame others for their mistakes lose status, learn less, and perform worse relative to those who own up to their mistakes.”

But the bigger issue is what will happen before the throne of God when the truth about our lives is declared. We do not serve Jesus nor do we live like Jesus for the earthly benefits: we do so because we love Him and have found our value completely from Him. “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.” (Isaiah 53:5) We are healed from the blame game, because the blame has already been paid for.

So take responsibility for your actions; they do not determine your worth. Your worth and value were bought and paid for on the cross when Jesus died for your sins. Accept His forgiveness, and be healed.

Pastor John

 

Jesus Took My Sin Away

Connecting Points

Monday, September 26, 2011

Today’s Topic: He Took Our Sins

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:4  Surely He took our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him and afflicted.

I want you to read a testimony that was shared by a young woman in our church yesterday. This is why Jesus died!

In my past, I viewed God’s salvation much differently than I do now.  Before, I saw this salvation as simply a nice thing to have.  It was like a person who owned a car, the car being their “salvation”.  A car makes a person’s life easier and more comfortable; people are capable of finding a taxi or walking or riding their bike to work/school, etc.  A car only makes all of that easier.  It’s not vital to the person’s existence, but it makes their life much easier.  This is the way that I viewed salvation.  Growing up, my parents did their best to make sure I went to church and that I had Christian friends so that I would be able to experience God’s love the way that they had.  I lived a nice life growing up under these standards, but I did not think that having God in my life was vital.  This is when I discovered that the world is a fun place to explore, and I indulged myself in fun things of the world.  I saw no harm in any of it, as I was still exceeding at school and work. 

Exactly when I thought I had my whole future under control is when everything seemed to fall apart.  I did not understand at the time that this was because I am not in control of my life; God has a very specific plan for me.  Part of his plan is that I surrender my whole self to Him.  This last year I tried to make God an addition to what I could already do for myself.  I was partaking in worldly pleasures to make myself “happy” and then I would occasionally go to church to “make God happy” as well. 

It wasn’t until that day in March that I realized God was knocking on the door of my heart asking me “do you want to get well?”  I realized it on this day because this is when I found out that I was pregnant.  When I found out, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.  I had not factored this into my future that I had such control over before, and certainly this was not a situation I had ever pictured myself in before.  Not only was I shocked, being that I am single I hadn’t felt more alone in my whole life.  And so God knocked on the door of my heart again and asked me “do you want to get well?  If so, I have a gift for you!”

For the first time in my life, God revealed himself to me in a way he never had before.  He was reaching out to me, a meek sinner who had never given him the time of day before.   He showed me that even though I had sinned against him, He could turn it into something beautiful.  All I had to do was take one step towards him and he came running the rest of the way to me.  God took my sins that I was holding onto and showed me grace.  I realized that having the salvation of Jesus Christ is not a good addition to your life – it is vital to your existence.  My life means nothing without God as the center. 

Ever since I surrendered my future and my whole being to God, my relationship with Him has grown so much.  Every day I marvel at His grace that he has given to me.  He has never been so evident in my life before and I’m amazed at the blessings he has given to me.  I thank Him every day for this church and the meaningful relationships I am building.  And now, I’m carrying a lifetime reminder of His grace that made me well when everything was falling apart. 

Pastor John

 

 

Rejection

Connecting Points

Friday, September 23, 2011

Today’s Topic: Rejected

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:3  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.

I really don’t like to think about it. I’d rather not be reminded of it. Every ounce of self-protection in me screams for pain like that to be avoided. My flesh tries to convince me that I will never allow it to happen again, and in far too many cases the flesh wins. But the Spirit of the Living God in me says it will happen, and in fact it must happen to experience the fullness of Christ’s resurrection power.

This pain is caused by one thing – rejection: being despised by people for what I do, what I say, or just for who I am. It’s horrible. I’ve experienced it and I hate it. I have had people hide their faces from me, and it cuts to the core of my being. Sometimes my actions and words demanded correction, but never did I expect the people who were supposed to be my brothers and sisters in Christ to treat me so hatefully. It’s one thing to be rejected because of an unrepentant heart, which may in some cases be justified by Scripture, but never should a person be despised just because we believe they have wronged us.

I’m not sure we understand how selfish it is to focus on how we have been wronged. It’s downright dysfunctional and sinful to focus on our hurts and then respond with hate towards the person who hurt us. Jesus is the proof of that. He came in love to save the sinful souls of mankind. They didn’t like what He said. They took His words as threats to their comfort zones. They despised Him and rejected Him. He suffered at their hands. He was hurt by them. Yet He never responded with hate. In fact, in the midst of the worst rejection anyone could ever experience, while hanging on the cross, He asked His Father to forgive them.

We have all been hurt. We have all been rejected. We may have even experienced the sorrow and pain of being considered dead to someone. Being despised is horrible. But allowing their treatment of us to overwhelm the Spirit of God in us so that we return the hurt will eventually cause more pain than the original rejection. When we suffer at the hands of men, we must focus on the fact that we are secure in the hand of God.

My friends, the day has arrived – the day Jesus promised would come – when at the hands of secular culture those who stand for the truth will be despised and rejected. We have three choices:

  1. We can stop standing for the truth and compromise our lives with the world so the culture will accept us;
  2. We can return hurt for hurt, and do harm to those who harm us;
  3. We can consider ourselves blessed to suffer as Christ did, and return love to whomever rejects us.

Just think of the emotional energy we will conserve if we choose option #3. Imagine the physical stress that will be avoided by choosing option #3. But greater than both of those combined is the fact that by choosing option #3, we will be avoiding spiritual darkness in our lives and keeping our enemy the Devil from establishing a foothold in our lives.

I choose Option #3. No longer will I allow my love for self to dictate my response to people’s treatment of me. No longer will my response be one of vengeance. No longer will I model to others that I really love me most by even secretly wishing that something bad will happen to those who hurt me. NO…I will choose this day and every day to stand with my Savior, secure in His eternal acceptance of me, knowing that He will never reject me, and that I will experience more of His resurrection power every time I suffer as He did. May everyone who ever hurts me or rejects me see only the love of God in me.

Pastor John

He’s Not Attractive

Connecting Points

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Today’s Topic: Humanly Unattractive

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:2  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.

From the beginning of human existence on the earth when God created Adam and Eve, we have been attracted to people and things that we believe add value to our lives. It doesn’t matter what the environment is like or what the influence of culture or society is, we have been given the God-image-bearing right of choice, and we have a tendency to use it to serve ourselves. Just look at the historical record of what happened in the perfect environment of the Garden of Eden –

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:6)

Eve did what we all do; she took her eyes off of her perfect identity in Christ and began looking at what was humanly attractive.

In a nutshell, (wow, this turned out to be a big nutshell) here’s what the Lord is teaching me about this:

  • I have a hard time not wanting God to simply make this life better.
  • The reason for that is that I don’t really believe that my spiritual life is more important than my physical life.
  • God promised to take care of me physically if I put my spiritual life ahead of everything else.
  • I must not really trust Him all that much if I keep trying to provide for my physical needs ahead of my spiritual.
  • God knew that we would all be in that same condition when He sent Jesus to be our Savior, so the human form Jesus took was totally unattractive to us, and the lifestyle He modeled and taught was unappealing to most.
  • There was nothing about the appearance, personality, or leadership style of Jesus that made people instantly want what He had.
  • When the people of Israel wanted their first King, they chose Saul because he was the most physically qualified and attractive, and look where that got them.
  • The crowds that followed Jesus did so primarily because they thought He would bring them the physical and political benefits they wanted. They were, like us, focused on the immediate and not on the eternal.
  • The ENTIRE focus of the ministry of Jesus was to provide spiritual restoration and deliverance from the bondage of the physical. That is the ultimate goal of redemption, and all of creation cries out for that day when we will be delivered from the physical – so why do we spend so much time trying to nurture and strengthen what God wants destroyed?
  • If we are attracted to Jesus because of what we think He offers us in this life, then we are missing the point of salvation. There are far too many teachers and preachers who proclaim that God and Jesus are your tickets to human wealth and health, when from the very beginning of His introduction to us God says that Jesus would come with absolutely no human attraction and that His purpose would be completely spiritual. Any and all who come to Him for salvation must come on those terms.

I wonder what would be different about American Christian churches if we all understood this. I wonder how it will change our lives.

Pastor John

 

Jesus and Rambo?

Connecting Points

Monday, September 19, 2011

Today’s Topic: Jesus and Rambo

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 53:1  Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Have you ever thought about the correlation between the Gospel and Rambo? In case you don’t know who that it, he was a fictional movie character played by Sylvester Stallone.  Seems like a stretch of a metaphor, doesn’t it? But hang on with me for a minute or two.

A group of American soldiers are being held in a Vietnamese prison camp long after the war was supposed to be over. They knew their country loved them and wanted them back, but they had long ago given up hope that anyone was really looking for them. In their hearts they wanted to believe that no man would be left behind, but time had diminished their hope.

Finally one man discovers evidence that there are soldiers being held prisoner and questions why no one is going to get them. The government officials are covering it up.  He is finally allowed to organize a mission and allowed to think that he will succeed, but behind the scenes the officials are plotting his failure.

Rambo works his way through the jungle to the place where the enemy holds the prisoners captive. It is heavily guarded and totally secluded. The conditions are horrible, and the prisoners are suffering severely. When the hero reveals himself to them, they refuse to believe that he has come for them, or that he has any power to rescue them. As a result he gets caught by the enemy and tortured.

However, he escapes from his tormentors and begins an attack on the enemy that results in the destruction of the enemy camp and the release of the prisoners. As more and more explosions occur, more and more hope grows in the hearts of the prisoners until finally, when Rambo appears to unlock their cages, they embrace him and follow him to freedom. There would be more battles on the way out of the jungle, but they all now believed that they were going to make it.

Now, look at the story of the Gospel. For centuries the nation of Israel had been in bondage. There was hope based on their heritage and the prophecies declaring that the Messiah was coming and that He would set them all free. But time had diminished their hope. When He arrived the government officials denied who He was and convinced the people He had no real power to rescue them. They rejected Him and turned Him over to the enemy and He was tortured.

However, He overcame the torture and destroyed the enemy, setting the captives free and giving them a living hope. There are still battles being fought, but the power of the enemy has been overcome, and the Messiah is leading us to victory. Unfortunately there are many who remain in prison because they choose not to believe.

As I said, it’s a stretch of a metaphor, but it serves to remind us of the answer to the question posed by Isaiah – Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

The answer?

ME!

And you too, if you have accepted what Jesus the Messiah did on the cross to pay the price for your freedom.

Pastor John

No Pain!

Connecting Points

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Today’s Topic: No Pain

 

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 52:13    “See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.”

The watchmen are lifting up their voices. They are shouting for joy. It is time for us to join them and burst into songs of joy together, for the Lord is coming to reign on the earth. (see Isaiah 52:8-9)

With those words the prophet Isaiah begins the last section of his book, declaring the coming of the Servant of the Lord to redeem the people of the world and reign as their King. I am so excited to study the remaining chapters of Isaiah which reveal the suffering and second coming of the Savior.

From the very beginning of Isaiah’s revelation of the Messiah, he lays the foundation of all redemption – the suffering servant who pays the price for man’s sin. After introducing Him to us as the servant who will act wisely, he declares that He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. This has two meaning within the context:

  • In order to be raised and lifted up, He had to have been subjected to the worst possible human suffering; and
  • He will be exalted over all those responsible for His suffering.

Now don’t get distracted because you think this is just another theological devotional. Open your heart to the incredible joy of your salvation, paid for by the suffering servant. We must never grow weary of experiencing the pain of the suffering servant so that we might fully celebrate the redemption of our souls that He purchased.

The very first thing that Isaiah does after introducing us to the Servant of God who will be exalted is to tell us how terribly He suffered. He says, “…His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness…” I don’t know about you, but those words send a chill up my spine and bring tears to my eyes. Jesus Christ, the King of all eternity, became one of us and then suffered the most inhumane treatment ever given to any man so that He might fully bear the wrath of God against sin in His body. He was so brutally beaten that it disfigured Him. He was marred beyond human recognition. His love for you and me drove Him to willingly endure it all so that we might be saved. He could have called the angels of heaven to destroy all who were treating Him so unjustly, but He had me in mind and His love for me kept Him from seeking an escape from the pain.

Not only am I overwhelmed with thanksgiving and joy for what He did for me, but I am also feeling a little guilty about all the times I seek an escape from the pain of this life. I especially feel ashamed of all the times I have avoided the potential pain of personal rejection by remaining silent about my faith in Jesus Christ, all while saying I love Him.

What kind of love is it if it is embarrassed to be lived out publicly? What kind of love for Jesus do we really have when we can so easily put our own pleasure and well-being ahead of our commitment to living for Jesus every day? How dare we say that we love others the way Christ loved us when we so quickly evaluate every interaction with others and determine whether a statement or action of faith in Christ would bring negative results to our lives? What kind of love for Jesus is that?

We must begin to act wisely in these last days as the return of Jesus draws near. The Servant acted wisely by enduring any and all suffering for the sake of love for God and God’s people. We must act wisely by declaring the love of God to the lost world around us through our actions and our words. We must never be motivated by pain, but always by the principle of love – not love for self, which seeks to avoid pain, but love for God and others, which endures any and all suffering for the sake of God’s glory.

My friends, let us act wisely, for in the end, we too will be raised and lifted up, and be highly exalted with our King. That’s what Jesus paid for.

Pastor John

It’s Free

Connecting Points

Monday, September 12, 2011

Today’s Topic: It’s Free

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 52:3    “For this is what the LORD says: ‘You were sold for nothing, and without money you will be redeemed.’”

Over the last two days we have had an incredible celebration of God’s grace at our church. It started on Saturday afternoon with a baptism service in the Chippewa River. Three people stood on the banks of the river and declared the joy of their salvation. Each testimony of salvation was unique and deeply moving as one by one they spoke to us the words of faith in Jesus Christ as the only hope for man’s soul. There were tears in their eyes as there were in the eyes of the audience that stood with them.

Each one then came down into the river with me, and a declaration of truth was made over their lives as they prepared to be immersed under the water. “This baptism does not save you. This water cannot wash away your sins. No act of man can, except the act of death on a cross by the Son of Man. This baptism is a public testimony of your faith in the saving power of Jesus Christ, who was buried in sin yet conquered the grave by being raised from the dead. This step of obedience to your Savior begins a life of power in the Holy Spirit to be a public witness for Jesus. You are declaring today that the old life of sin has been buried with Christ, and that you are now raised to new life in the risen Lord.”

Then, with their arms folded in front of them, in a symbolic act of surrendering their lives to Jesus, they completely surrendered their strength to me to bury them under the water and bring them back up again. As they were leaned backwards into the water, the words of Scripture were spoken over them: “You are buried with Christ in the likeness of His death.” Complete immersion representing complete burial of the old life. Then, as they were raised up out of the water, more Scripture was spoken: “So you are raised to newness of life.” Up from the symbolic grave of sin and death they arose to live for the rest of their lives as representatives of Jesus Christ.

I NEVER grow tired of seeing people make a public commitment to follow Jesus. They know they are not worthy. They know that they were in sin destined for eternal death. Yet without money or works of any kind, they were redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus is the full purchase price for the sin of man, and is the only payment acceptable by the Father – Jehovah God. There is nothing we bring as an offering. There is no exchange of anything of value, for we have nothing of value to offer God. In His eternal love for the human race created in His image but separated from Him by sin, He sent His One and Only Son to pay the price for our sin – death. Then, to validate the payment, God raised Jesus from the dead and sin was conquered for eternity for any and all who will come to Jesus for salvation.

That’s how the weekend started. It culminated with a worship service under our huge tent on top of the hill God has given us for a future building – a building I still hope and pray to be able to construct as soon as God provides the resources. What a time of worship it was, as God’s people came together to sing and serve together. In the middle of the service, two of those who had been baptized, and one additional new sister in Christ who will be baptized in the river on October 1st, gave their testimonies.

Their feet were beautiful.

Isaiah 52:7 says, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to the people “Your God Reigns!’”

It was a time of celebration and true joy, as we sang together these words – Oh happy day, happy day,
You washed my sin away. Oh happy day, happy day, I’ll never be the same; Forever I am changed.

And it’s FREE! Never get tired of celebrating your salvation!

Pastor John