Hope of Replacement

Connecting Points

Friday, February 24, 2012

Today’s Topic: Hope of Replacement

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 61:7 (NIV)   “Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.”

This morning I talked to a friend who is having some problems with his house. He bought the house several years ago, but some issues are showing up. The latest is that when the house was moved to its current location and the addition put on, the rafters in the roof were not framed properly. The roof is collapsing. The living room ceiling is falling in. Thousands of dollars of repairs in store because of a builder’s mistake made without their knowledge.

That stinks! Paying for repairs that weren’t our fault is painful. We rebel against it. We get really bummed about it. It ruins the whole day, or maybe even the whole weekend. Why should we have to pay for someone else’s mistake?

Suddenly I stop. This sounds familiar. Someone else paid for my mistakes once. My house had also been moved from its original location by a counterfeit carpenter and additional space for self was added on. The construction of that space looked good on the outside, but it was not done according to the original Designers specifications. But I continued to live in it and embrace it as my own. It was collapsing all around me and I didn’t even see it.

Then I realized that someone else had already paid for the repairs. His payment would ultimately drive the counterfeit carpenter out of business. Until then all houses that he had remodeled were made available to the Benefactor for complete restoration if the owner would allow it. I chose to have my house restored.

The Benefactor replaced everything. The renovation began with a new Foundation, followed by the replacement of all the rotting parts with eternal ones that can never rust or rot. Every room I asked the Real Carpenter to restore was instantly invaded by His Co-Worker and completely transformed into a living space that reflected the nature and character of the Benefactor.

It is a joy to live in such a house. There’s no more shame from living in a collapsing house, but complete joy in knowing that my house has been replaced with one of eternal value. I will rejoice and give thanks to the Benefactor who paid the price for my sin – a price He did not owe but graciously paid – by sending His own Carpenter to do all the work. My house has been replaced, and my hope has been firmly placed in the One who did it for me.

Pastor John

Beauty from Ashes

Connecting Points

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Today’s Topic: Beauty from Ashes

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 61:3 (NIV)   “and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.

 Drunk driver kills father of four. Family home and possessions destroyed by fire. Babysitter accused of rape. Financial markets crash. Four students die in car crash. Government overthrown: everyone taken captive.

Headlines from reality. Heartbreak is reality.

Grieving may be the most underestimated of the emotions. It may be the one we deny the most. Of course we grieve a little when we read headlines like the ones above. We would have to have awfully cold hearts to not feel some compassion for the people affected by these tragedies. But grief hurts, so in most cases we skip right over it and move on to thinking about something else – something more positive and uplifting. We deny that anything hurts us because we don’t want to appear weak. We certainly don’t want the circumstance to affect us so deeply that it causes any long-term depression. So we deny that it is there, and hope we never really have to deal with it.

There is a popular theory of grief, introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book entitled On Death and Dying that proposes five stages to the grieving process.

  1. Denial – “Everything’s fine…I’ll be all right…This can’t be happening to me.”
  2. Anger – “It’s not fair…Why is this happening to me…Who’s fault is this?”
  3. Bargaining – “I’ll do anything to change this.”
  4. Depression – “Why bother…What’s the point…Why go on?”
  5. Acceptance – “It’s really going to be okay.”

This is the secular view of the grieving process, and for a long time we may have believed it is the only process available. That’s just not the case. You see, there is a stage prior to the denial stage that has been omitted from the DABDA model – it is the stage of mourning. It is the very first thing that happens in all of us, but for many it is the one the pass through the quickest because it hurts the most. It is the stage of helplessness, and that is in direct contradiction to our humanistic thinking. We cannot be found helpless, so let’s skip that part and move into the self-help realm.

Yet it is in the stage of mourning that Jesus comes and offers healing. He offers the intimacy of His presence that ultimately moves us to restoration and skips all the in-between steps found in the human model. The crown of beauty is bestowed upon those who grieve, and gladness pours over the soul of the mourner. In the depths of despair the garment of praise is given.

Look at the picture of the crocus growing out of the ashes of a fire. If the humanistic model is true, this could never happen. The bargaining stage would have removed the burned log, tilled up the soil, put in some landscaping rocks, and planted roses, only to realize that roses are too hard to grow and depression would have set in. Man’s efforts to heal grief don’t work.

But God can heal any grief. Jesus Christ mourned over the death of Lazarus, and with no denial, anger, bargaining, or depression he simply resurrected him from the grave. Don’t let the world get into your head. Let God heal your heart. He who can grow crocuses out of ashes can bring joy to you in the darkest of days.

Pastor John

Take the Lead

Connecting Points

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Today’s Topic: Take the Lead

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 61:1 (NIV)   “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me.”

We are a culture of followers. We sit and wait for someone else to take the first step. We live in a fairly consistent fear of stepping out into the unknown. We’ve put a considerable amount of emphasis on the failures we have seen others suffer, while minimizing the faith we can have in the power of God. This concerns me.

One of my best friends in all of the world is a missionary in Swaziland, and I asked him this morning, without him knowing why, to give me his spontaneous response to this question: Why have we become a culture of followers rather than leaders? Here is his response, written in about 60 seconds.

We don’t have many leaders today because we are a generation who do not want to take risks, make waves, stand out based on our beliefs. We are much more comfortable fitting in. Our level of importance is based on acceptance by those around us. To lead means to risk that mass acceptance. It is much more comfortable to follow like all the others (and complain along the way). (Dudley Donaldson)

He sees it too. We have put the emphasis on fitting in and earning acceptance and approval from those around us, rather than on the fact that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon us.

Last night at our Elder meeting for church we were in our doctrinal study on the Holy Spirit. These questions were raised – Why do we have such a hard time believing that God speaks to us through the Holy Spirit? Why do we doubt what we hear? Why do we not act like we believe He really spoke?

There were a variety of answers, but every one of them boiled down to this – we don’t have faith in the Holy Spirit as God, one of the three Persons of the Trinity. We have no trouble listening to a friend across a Starbucks table, but we doubt the reality of our True Friend living inside us when He speaks to our heart and mind. This is a serious problem, and it has created a church population of followers rather than leaders.

We have all, as followers of Christ, been given marching orders. We know what we have been commissioned to do. We know in our hearts how we have been equipped to serve the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Yet we wallow and wander aimlessly in the culture around us, not convinced that God really said that to us and certainly not trusting that He will provide for us and care for us if we do what He said.

My friends, the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon us, and He has commanded us to go and bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom in Christ for those captivated by sin, and proclaim the grace of God that is available to all.

What are we waiting for?

Take the lead.

Pastor John

Ups and Downs

Connecting Points

Friday, February 17, 2012

Today’s Topic: Ups and Downs

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 60:19-20 (NIV)   “The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. 20 Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.”

Monday morning – frequently down.

Friday afternoon – typically up.

Those are the bookends of an average rollercoaster work week for most of us. Up and down emotionally, physically, and even spiritually. Some of us run that cycle several times a day as circumstances and people play games with our attitudes. How many of these bumps could be resolved if we would just recognize the truth that no person or event has any power over our attitudes? Attitudes are completely and exclusively our choice. But that’s for another day.

For today I want to share with you a blessing I received from the Lord this morning. I awoke at 4:15 AM and did my very best to go back to sleep. I couldn’t. So I thought about things and prayed.

I thought about the message I had preached the day before, and how people still listen through filters. I prayed for them.

I thought about how busy I am, and how I probably won’t have time today to go home and see my wife until after the Elder meeting tonight. I prayed for strength and good time-management skills to get everything done.

I thought about the building program and the incredible blessing that God has bestowed upon us, and how we can use that blessing to bless others. I prayed for our sister church on the Bayou and the people who need houses.

I thought about my emotional responses to the aforementioned items, and realized that I had allowed my attitudes to be adjusted by those circumstances and people, both up and down. The down part bothered me. I finally got out of bed.

When I went to the couch and sat down with my laptop, I opened my Bible program and went to Isaiah 60 and read the whole chapter again. When I got to verses 19 and 20 I stopped. God spoke truth into my mind and heart. He worked the truth deep into my soul and spirit. He said clearly, “When you trust me, there are no more ups and downs. Your life right now is like the rising and setting of the sun and the waning of the moon. Trust me, and the ups and downs will be replaced with the consistency of My eternal light. Stop looking to people or circumstances to validate or determine your feelings and attitudes. Let me be your glory.”

That’s what I needed for today – and every day. I hope it helps you too.

Pastor John

Stand Still and Move

Connecting Points

Friday, February 17, 2012

Today’s Topic: Stand Still and Move

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 60:22b (NIV)   “I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.”

It appeared to be a dead end. Dead was the operative word in their minds. In front of them was a great body of water that according to their human wisdom was not crossable. Behind them they could see the dust of thousands of chariots as the army of Egypt bore down on them. They cried out to their leader in anger and said, “What have you done to us?”  Standing still meant certain death at the hands of the warriors. Moving meant drowning. It seemed hopeless.

Does this describe your life right now – a dead end? Standing still doesn’t change anything. Moving ahead is way too scary. Maybe if we just close our eyes it will all go away.

Well, I have some interesting news for you – standing still does change things and moving ahead is worth the risk, as long as God has directed you to do either one. No matter how it appears on the surface, God is working on your behalf. If He says stand firm, then do it. In His time He will act. If He says move, don’t look back and don’t fear what’s ahead. He has already been there, done that, and has everything all worked out, so move with Him no matter how swiftly you have to move.

For the last three years I have been standing still, because God said so. My church has stood still with me. There have been times when we tried to move because it made sense to us, but God kept slamming doors and telling us to wait. Now God has said move, and believe me when I tell you that He is moving swiftly – more swiftly than I can believe. All of a sudden, in a span of less than 4 weeks, He has put together the details of His move in such a way that only He could have orchestrated and for which He will receive all of the glory.

The hardest part is accelerating from a standstill to God-speed in such a short period of time. The only thing that makes it possible is that during the standstill, we were not inactive. All the groundwork for moving was being put in place so that when God’s time to act arrived, we were ready.

Standstills are never meant to be times of complacency. Want proof? What happens at a stoplight when you are driving? You check your phone, right? You quick throw together a text to someone, or listen to a voicemail, or read an email. Standstills are times of productivity. So instead of complaining about not moving, why not get prepared to move when the light turns green again?

So with all the preparation done, and all of God’s pieces being put into place, we are moving. Swiftly. Hang on tight. It’s going to be an awesome ride filled with opportunities to see God’s power and provision. It will require us to step out in faith and move into uncharted territory. But God knows we are ready. No looking back. No looking around. With eyes straight ahead fixed firmly on where God is moving, we will follow, and we will follow at His speed.

So what happened to the people at the dead end? Here’s what it says about them in Exodus 14.

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Stand firm on the promises of God. Move when God says move. Then we will all see the glory of God.

Pastor John

Shine!

Connecting Points

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Today’s Topic: Shine!

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 60:1-2 (NIV)   Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you.

Do you remember this?

Gloom, despair, and agony on me;

Deep dark depression, excessive misery;

If it weren’t for bad luck I’d have no luck at all;

Gloom, despair, and agony on me.

Maybe if you watched it you would remember – http://theclassictvsite.info/http:/theclassictvsite.info/gloom-despair-and-agony-on-me.

Too many of us live life this way. Darkness covers us like the dust cloud around Pig Pen in the Peanuts cartoon strip. Everywhere we go we find something wrong with what’s there. Every piece of news we read or hear pushes us deeper into the chasm of cynicism. Every day the darkness gets darker as the light gets dimmer because we have run out of batteries.

The natural response of our hearts to increasing darkness is to draw up closer to ourselves. We pull everything tighter to our chests and protect what little we think we have left. We quickly turn from a giving person to a tightwad when it starts to get dark. We do the same things with our lives that we do with our homes when the sun goes down – we lock the doors behind us, finish some inside tasks, turn off all the lights, and snuggle up with the false security of a blankie, hoping no one breaks in while we sleep.

I think we are in denial of how dependant we have become upon the world. The proof for each of us is in our response to crisis.

  • Do we respond by protecting ourselves from the darkness, or do we become brighter shiners of God’s light by walking in faith?
  • Do we withdraw into the security of our homes and turn off the light of influence to our neighbors?
  • Do we shut down the outreach ministries of our church and focus only on the increase of knowledge so we can survive the onslaught of culture’s rebellion against God, or do we fling the doors open wider than ever to rescue as many as possible before Jesus returns and sets it all straight?
  • Do we hedge our personal and church funds for the predicted doom or by faith do we give more than ever to shine the light of the Gospel more brightly?

I think the reason the Hee Haw quartet is so funny is that we relate to it so well. Isaiah knew it when he wrote darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples. But he also wrote that the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. He challenges us to arise, shine, for your light has come.

The next few verses of Isaiah 60 are significant. They give us the promises of God for those who ignore the darkness and let the light of the glory of God shine in and through them. These promises given to the nation of Israel for the day the Lord returns and redeems their land are for people like you and me who let His light shine today as well.

  • You will be radiant – verse 5
  • Your heart will throb and swell with joy – verse 5
  • You will be blessed with prosperity – verses 5-7 (No, I am not teaching the false prosperity gospel, but rather affirming what the Lord said that whatever we sow we will reap.)
  • God’s glory will fill the church – verse 7
  • Your enemies will become your friends and serve you – verses 10-11
  • Respect will return to you – verses 14-15
  • Peace will come to you – verses 17-18
  • Complete dependence upon God will be the norm – verses 19-20
  • Righteousness and justice will rule your life – verse 21

All that can be ours if we choose to let the Light of God shine through us instead of succumbing to the darkness around us. No more gloom, despair, and agony on us. The glory of the Lord has come upon us. Arise, and let His light shine.

Pastor John

Love’s Scenic Overlook

Connecting Points

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Today’s Topic: Love’s Scenic Overlook

Today’s Text:  Ephesians 4:2 (NIV)   Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

I love panoramic views. Standing on the top of a high hill and looking out over miles of wonderland is exhilarating. I know that if I looked closely with a critical eye I could find something in that scene that would bug me. But I choose to ignore the mosquitoes buzzing around my head or the ants crawling over my toes because the overall scene is so breathtaking. Never mind the few pieces of litter strewn along the fence line, or the cow pies scattered across the pasture. The beauty of the sun glistening on the dew at the base of the snowcapped mountain across the valley far exceeds any imperfection my mind tempts me to observe.

On this Valentine’s Day, I ask you to join me in taking a panoramic view of those we love. I dedicate myself to seeing only the splendor of love’s big picture rather than the imperfections seen through the binoculars of a critical spirit. I choose to live according to the policy of love established by this woman years ago, from a story related by Carl D. Windsor in his book entitled On This Day.

“Even the most devoted couple will experience a ‘stormy’ bout once in a while. A grandmother, celebrating her golden wedding anniversary, once told the secret of her long and happy marriage. ‘On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,’ she said.

“A guest asked the woman what some of the faults she had chosen to overlook were. The grandmother replied, ‘To tell you the truth, my dear, I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, Lucky for him that’s one of the ten!’ “

That’s love’s scenic overlook. That’s how I choose to live not just today, but every day.

Pastor John