Risk and Reward

Connecting Points

Friday, January 27, 2012

Today’s Topic: Risk and Reward

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 58:13-14 (NIV)   “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’S holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Years ago, a reporter was visiting the Oakland Raiders’ football camp. He had just come from the Jack London Historic Monument. He read a sample of London’s prose to quarterback Ken Stabler:

“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.”

After reading this to the quarterback he asked, “What does that mean to you?”

Stabler replied, “Throw deep.”

I am a risk taker in certain areas of my life. Never, and I mean never, does the risk involve tightly closed spaces underground. I have serious issues with claustrophobia. But I do take risks in other areas when there is a perceived or a realistic reward offered. I will invest in the stock market; carry a bow into the woods to hunt deer knowing that there are also bears, cougars, and wolves around; and I will stand and preach in front of a crowd of people that believe they have every right to tear me apart if they reject the truth that is being spoken.

We all take risks every day. Did you get in a car today to travel to work or the gym? You took a huge risk. Did you eat food prepared by someone behind closed doors at a restaurant? Risky. Have you ever taken a 4-iron to try to hit a green 190 yards away over water? Splash!

But each risk had a reward. Retirement income. A big buck. A harvest of souls. Faster time to work than walking. Good food with no prep or clean-up. A chance for an eagle. Risks bring rewards as this poem bears out:

Let come what will I mean to bear it out,

And either live with glorious victory

or die with fame, renowned in chivalry.

He is not worthy of the honeycomb

That shuns the hives because the bees have stings.

“If” is a word of risk. God’s Word is full of ifs. In fact, in the New International Version the word “if” appears 1590 times. Granted many of them are in common sentence structure, but many of them refer to conditions that God places on rewards. The very first time “if” is used is in Genesis when God speaks to Cain after he murdered his brother. “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” Cain was told to risk his own way on the altar of God’s will. He was asked to take a risk.

God challenges us to take risks every day. We are to risk being rejected by the world as we stand for Jesus. He asks us to risk giving up our lives to find eternal life. He says, “Take up your cross and follow me.” That’s risky. He encourages us to surrender our rights for the benefit of others who need to see God’s love and grace. Huge risks that have great rewards. What are you willing to risk to receive God’s reward?

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.

To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.

To reach out for another is to risk involvement.

To expose feelings is to risk exposing our true self.

To place your ideas, your dreams, before the crowd is to risk loss.

To love is to risk not being loved in return.

To live is to risk dying.

To hope is to risk despair.

To try at all is to risk failure.

But risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.

The man, the woman, who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

Pastor John

Lifestyle Worship

Connecting Points

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Today’s Topic: Lifestyle Worship

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 58:10 (NLT)   Feed the hungry and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day.

I love a buffet line. It shows, doesn’t it? I knew you were thinking that. It is so eye-catching to see a sign on the front of a building that says “All you can eat.” The trouble is that as my eyes get bigger, my stomach grows. It’s an amazing fact of these wonderfully and fearfully created bodies in which we live. I am learning to control those impulses, but years of serving myself at meals have made me gluttonous.

It’s not like the days of my youth when I was served my food by my mother. My mom was an amazing servant. I honestly don’t remember what age I was when I was first told to help myself, but I do know that I was into elementary school already. Until then, all I remember is mom putting the plate of food down in front of me, or me passing my plate to her so she could serve the food to us. Part of it was practicality, and not trusting three little boys to pass the china serving dishes around the table without breaking them. A big part of it was her heart to serve. One reason I’m sure was portion control and teaching little boys how to make good decisions.

Then one day, after giving thanks for the food, mom picked up a dish of food passed it to my brother and said, “Help yourself.” What was this? She was giving us the right to choose how much we wanted to eat. She gave us some rules of course, like “Only take what you can eat,” and “There’s no dessert unless you eat all you take.” Then she gave us the most important rule – “Think about the others around the table that have to eat when you help yourself.”  Then, in a great display of trust in us to truly consider the needs of others, she passed every dish of food around the table before she took any for herself.

Today we live in a world that exalts buffet line lifestyles. The principle of “help yourself” applies to far more than just food. The rule to consider others before helping yourself has been obliterated by the obligation to self. We have very little portion control in most areas of our lives. We take more than we need, and more than we can legitimately use. Years of serving ourselves have made us gluttonous.

That’s why it’s so dark around us. It may even be dark in us. There’s not much light shining in the darkness because the light-bearers have chosen to become like the darkness. The darkness keeps getting darker. So many of those who have been created to worship God are still helping themselves to whatever they want, with little regard for the needs of others. Our buffet line mentality that the food never runs out has deeply influenced our lifestyles. We sit at a huge societal table, and as the materialistic food is passed to us we take huge scoops of it without one thought of the person sitting next to us and what they will be able to eat. How rude! How selfish!

It’s easy to help ourselves like this because it’s so dark. Even if someone does see us do it, they don’t care because it’s exactly what they would do if they were sitting so close to the head of the table. When the food does get to them, they are thrilled with whatever is in the bowl because they can’t see how full the bowl was when it started around the table. If only the first person in line would have turned on a light.

“Please, you go ahead of me.” There’s a flash of light in the room.

“May I share mine with you.” The overhead fluorescents are turned on.

“I think I will take only what I really need and can use right away, and leave a bunch for the people behind me.” Individual table lights are switched on.

“I think I will skip eating today so there’s more for others.” Cue the spotlights.

“Maybe I’ll clean out the freezer and give a bunch of food to some homeless people.” Let the light shine the way God intended it to shine.

Buffet-line lifestyles are not what God intended for His people. That promotes darkness. Sacrifice is what God demands. It’s His eternal light switch. It is to define our lifestyle. It is our reasonable act of service and worship in response to His mercy. (Romans 12:1-2)

Pastor John

True Worship is…

Connecting Points

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Today’s Topic: True Worship

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 58:6,7,9   the kind of [worship] I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you. Treat them fairly and give them what they earn. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Stop oppressing the helpless and stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors!

I’m still sitting at the roadblock. I’m contemplating the connection between me and the people of Israel who were offending God by offering Him insincere worship. I wonder how I do that. Am I really guilty of wearing a mask of love for God on Sunday and then removing it to expose a face of love for self on Monday? (see yesterday’s Connecting Point)

I need to look at the challenges God gave the people of Israel and create a personal check list. After all, that’s how we do it in this day of self-help – we create check lists to validate our growth and accomplishments so we can proclaim worth upon ourselves and move on.

So here we go.

  • Free those who are wrongly imprisoned. I’m not a judge or a lawyer, so I can’t do this. CHECK.
  • Stop oppressing those who work for you. The church pays them, not me. I asked the church to give them a bigger raise, but it wasn’t in the budget. Not my fault. CHECK.
  • Share your food with the hungry. Drove past a guy yesterday who said he was homeless, but I didn’t help him because the police said most of them are scam artists. I actually think I did him a favor by not giving him anything so he is forced to get to work. If it was a real need, I think I would have helped. In fact, I bought breakfast for a stranger at a restaurant this morning. Never mind the fact that he was fully capable of buying his own, it still helped him, right? CHECK.
  • Welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Wait a minute; I have a wife and family to consider. We have hosted people in the past, but we’ve always known them. We have to be careful these days. We even had missionaries stay with us for three months. CHECK.
  • Give clothes to those who need them. I’m really good here. I take clothes to Goodwill and Hope Gospel Mission all the time. I even sent clothes to the missionaries in Swaziland for the orphans, and helped pay for their shipping. BIG CHECK.
  • Do not hide from relatives who need your help. Um, this is tough. They just continue to use me and it seems like I am enabling them. They say they will pay it back but never do. The Bible says in Proverbs to not lend money to relatives. I’m choosing to obey that. CHECK.
  • Stop oppressing the helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who is helpless, let alone oppress them. CHECK
  • Stop making false accusations and spreading vicious rumors. I would never! The things I share are prayer requests or personal hurts I need advice on. CHECK.

“There, the checklist is done, and I passed. Now Lord, take down the barricade and let me proceed…Lord. Lord. It’s not moving. I’m not able to proceed. Lord. LORD! I’ve done what you asked. I am a true worshipper, right? Then why isn’t the barrier moving?”

Looks like I’ll be here a little longer. I wonder what I’m supposed to see?

Pastor John

True Worship

Connecting Points

Monday, January 23, 2012

Today’s Topic: Worship from the Heart

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 58:6-7  “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

I’m stuck. The Lord has put up a roadblock and has asked me to stop for a while. My first reaction to a roadblock is always selfish – “How can I get around it to get where I want to go?” But I have learned that never ends well. So here I sit in my devotional car, stopped at a roadblock at the intersection of Heart Highway and Isaiah 58.

Twice in this passage the Holy Spirit emphasizes the condition of our heart as it relates to the worship of God. You see, worship is not external, but rather internal. Outward expressions must originate in a clean and pure heart. Worship is not an event, but a lifestyle.

The other day I saw two worship leaders from different parts of the country promoting their upcoming worship events. Both of them said it was going to be awesome. They used words like “epic” and “unbridled” – buzz words to create emotional responses. Now I know the hearts of both of these worship leaders, and I know how their lives are lived as consistent worship offerings to the Lord. But my question is this – “How do we know that worship will be epic if we don’t know the hearts of the people who will be attending the worship service?”  We must not lower worship to the level of musical perfection or emotional enthusiasm. We must always make worship a response to the love of God in our hearts that has transformed our lives.

I desire emotional worship. I want quality sound, good instrumentation, and crisp vocals. I desire excellence in serving the Lord, and that excellence is an act of worship when done unto God and not for self-exaltation. But I also understand that those things do not create a worship atmosphere nor do they capture the attention of God. The condition of our hearts is what gets God’s attention.

It is hypocrisy to believe that we can worship God while we are harboring resentment against other people. It is self-deception to believe that God hears our prayers and expressions of praise while we are harboring sin in our lives. It is exceptionally offending to God to enter into His presence under false pretences, and we do it all the time when we come to worship on Sunday or any other time and put on the mask of love for God when in the rest of our life we wear the true face of love for self.

This is the roadblock. Have we learned methods and traditions of worship that allow us to be fakes? Have we chosen religious rituals that offer us temporary satisfaction of our spiritual desires without the true transformation of the heart? Have we chosen to live as the people of Isaiah’s day?

Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?

For many people, worship is the beginning of a new week, when they lay at the altar of the Lord the shortcomings and sins of the past week and look for a fresh start. How different worship would be if we would come together to celebrate the victories over the flesh that we experienced in the previous week by living every day as worship to the Lord. If worship is to be real, it is to be the response to what God is doing in our hearts, not the beginning of what we want God to do.

Think on these things, and review Isaiah 58 again.  Let us reflect on what God desires from a life that worships Him.

Pastor John

God is Speaking

Connecting Points

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Today’s Topic: God is Speaking

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 58:14b  The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

A group of men are sitting in a fancy dining room having lunch. They are discussing the political and economic conditions of the country. Sitting at one end of the table is a man who has been quiet through all of the discussion. Suddenly he rises and begins to speak in a soft voice that captures the attention of everyone because of his validated wisdom. Not only does everyone at his table become silent, but everyone at the surrounding tables also turns their attention to his words. It’s as if an announcement came over the public address system and said, “Quiet please! E.F. Hutton is about to speak. You will want to hear what he has to say.”

Quiet please! God is speaking, and you will want to hear what He has to say.

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.  For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.  Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.  Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?  Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?  Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.  Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,  and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.  “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’S holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,  then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Isaiah 58

 

God’s Forgiveness

Connecting Points

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Today’s Topic: God’s Forgiveness

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 57:18-19    “I have seen his ways, but I will heal him; I will guide him and restore comfort to him, 19creating praise on the lips of the mourners in Israel. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the LORD. “And I will heal them.”

 “I saw what you did!”

When I was a child and heard that statement directed at me – from anyone – my heart cringed in fear. I must admit that I still feel that way at times. The fear I feel is the product of knowing that I have just done something wrong, and I have been caught. What will happen to me? How bad is the punishment going to be? What will other people think of me? What will this do to my reputation and my potential?

Let’s stop a minute and evaluate those responses, for all of them are wrong responses to sin. We have been fed a huge lie if we believe that any of them are correct. You see, every one of them reflects the belief that when we sin we sin mainly against ourselves. Our fear of punishment is self-protection. Our fear of being discredited is pride. Our normal response to the fears of punishment and personal loss is to justify what we did, and, if necessary, lie. Why? Because we are primarily concerned about self.

God doesn’t forgive sin based on how bad it makes us feel, but rather our knowledge of who He is and how our sin stands so opposed to Him. God forgives sin based on repentance. Repentance requires the sacrifice of self. Repentance requires turning away from the sin regardless of the consequences. Repentance demands humility which brings us God’s justification, rather than pride which seeks self-justification.

God has promised to forgive, even after He has seen what we have done. He promises to heal our lives. He promises to guide us again, and restore comfort to us. He promises to create praise on our lips where there had been mourning. Aha! There it is – the mourning over our sin. God cannot bring forgiveness and restoration to a life that is not repentant – a life that is not broken and mourning before Him. Not broken over the pain of the consequences. Not mourning over some form of personal loss. But brokenness and mourning over how we have stood and acted in opposition to God.

Almost two years ago I heard a sermon from one of my favorite preachers, James MacDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. It was on repentance. I recommend that you listen to it – here’s the link. http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/walk-in-the-word/listen/what-does-the-bible-say-about-repentance-part-2-94302.html  In the sermon he describes the evidence of a truly repentant heart. In Luke 3:8 Jesus says, Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. In Acts 26:20 Paul says, that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. There must be evidence in our lives of true repentance. Pastor MacDonald gives us four ways to know if we are truly repentant:

  • The absence of rationalization – we will cease all defending of our actions
  • Genuine sorrow – a broken heart before God, not men
  • Open confession of our sin – we will no longer seek to hide what we did from the public.
  • Restitution – we willingly seek out those hurt and offended by our sin and make it right.

When I heard that sermon I remember pulling the car over and pouring my heart out to God. For most of my life I had defended my actions, justified my choices, and lied to protect myself from the pain of the consequences. Had I ever been truly repentant? Was I more concerned about how I felt than about what I had done in rebellion against the grace of God?

Then the Holy Spirit came and restored comfort to me. He assured me of the Lord’s forgiveness and healing. He brought me peace, because I was no longer defending myself: I was genuinely broken before Him.

He will bring you that peace also. He will forgive you, even though He has seen what you have done. Open your heart and your life to Him. Expose all of the sin. Throw yourself helplessly at the mercy of the Judge, for He is ready and willing to forgive you, and lift you out of the slime of sin into a joyous relationship with the Father.

Pastor John

God Comes Down

Connecting Points

Monday, January 16, 2012

Today’s Topic: God Comes Down

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 57:15  For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

Have you ever read something from God’s Sacred Word and have it so overwhelm you that you struggle to find words to express what is happening in your heart? That’s me right now. So all I can do is tell you about it and let the Holy Spirit do the same for you as He needs to.

I sat down at my desk and opened my Bible to Isaiah 57 to continue my study of this prophetic book. I got into my devotional vehicle (ask me about this if you don’t know what I mean) and I started my morning journey at verse 14 where I had parked on Friday.

And it will be said: “Build up, build up, prepare the road! Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.”  For this is what the high and lofty One says— he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.

I slammed on the brakes. I put the car into reverse. I backed all the way up to verse seven.

You have made your bed on a high and lofty hill; there you went up to offer your sacrifices.

There it was. I thought I had seen it when I had traveled that way before. My pride is an obstacle to the work of the Lord in my life. I have been pursuing a high and lofty hill in opposition to the One who is High and Lofty.

I spent a few moments considering the ways I continue to offer sacrifices to the god of self-fulfillment.

I put the car back in drive and moved forward again to verse fifteen. I slammed on the brakes again.

“I live in a high and holy place…”

God lives in a high and holy place, not on a hill. Holy means set apart. I can’t reach Him. No matter how hard I try or how high I climb, I can’t get to His place.

Carefully I took my foot off the brake and proceeded.

“…but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit.”

From His high and lofty place the High and Holy One has come down to me! I could not get to Him by going up to a high and lofty place, but He would come to me if I would go down to a place of humility. The lower into the dust of contriteness I go the more accessible I become to the High and Holy One.

I think I will park here for a while and enjoy His presence.

Pastor John