Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay

Connecting Points

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Today’s Topic: Vacation

Today’s Text:  Matthew 13:1-2 (NIV) 1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake.
2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore.

There are some fabulous stories of ministry from the life of Jesus that took place at or on a lake. I love the introduction to this one, because it appears that Jesus was attempting to be solitary. The crowds didn’t permit it, but he left the house and went down to sit by the lake.

I have no major or even minor connecting points to make for you today. Only this: I’m going away for a while to sit by a lake. I will sit in a boat on the lake. I will not be surrounded by crowds of people, for they typically do not follow me. I will be surrounded by family…and a close friend. We will hopefully surround ourselves with fish.

While I am gone, I have an assignment for you. For the next 31 days (no, I won’t be gone that long) please read one chapter of Proverbs a day and choose one verse from each chapter that the Holy Spirit can use to have deeper access to your heart.

Then write down each day what God did and email it to me at pastorjohn@calvaryeauclaire.org

It will be our way of staying connected during the times I am gone, and you will be encouraging my heart as I see God at work in your life. I will be praying for you, and I promise that if only one of you actually does this that I will let God keep me focused on what He is doing in that one life rather than be discouraged by the number of people not doing it. Pray for me, as that won’t be easy.

When I get back, I will start sharing with you the verses God used to get deeper into my heart.

Pastor John

A Gruesome Reminder

Connecting Points

Monday, June 18, 2012

Today’s Topic: A Gruesome Reminder

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 66:22-24 (NIV) 22 “As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the LORD, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the LORD. 24 “And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.”

Most of us would rather forget the painful experiences of our lives. We would rather not remember the things or the people that hurt us.  We prefer to be comfortable, and never go back to the darkness of death.

But as Isaiah closes out his book of prophecy, he declares the word of the LORD about the political and physical status of the earth during the millennial reign of Christ. All the enemies of Jesus have been conquered and put to death. The King of eternity has descended to the earth and taken His rightful place on the throne of Israel. All the people of the earth, from every tribe and nation, will come and bow down before Him. And as a part of their worship, they will go out and look upon death as a reminder to be faithful and obedient to God.

This is hard for us to accept. Why would Jesus allow the view of Hell to be open to all the people of His temporal Kingdom on earth? I do not presume in the slightest way to know the full answer to that question, but I do know this – the view of consequences is a great motivator and deterrent.

During the Millennial reign of Christ, the earth will be filled with finite human beings. You and I will be in our eternal bodies, not subject to the physical laws and limitations of creation. We will have already seen Christ in His eternal glory and so we will be like Him. 1 John 3:2 says, Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. We who are in Christ in this present age will be raptured prior to the beginning of the next age – the great and glorious reign of Jesus Christ on the earth. Satan will be bound in the bottomless pit for a thousand years, and the earth will be at peace.

However, those people who are alive in the flesh during this time will still be subject to their free will, and will have the right to choose to obey the King or reject Him. The consequences of disobedience must be understood, and God requires everyone to see them. The gruesome reminder of rebellion against God will be constantly visible to all the people of the world.

We live in a time where consequences of rebellion against God are minimized rather than memorized. We intentionally choose to consider them inconsequential. We maximize the pleasure of the present while minimizing the probabilities of penalties. We succumb to the same temptation as Eve in the Garden of Eden – we choose to reject God’s truth that He alone is sufficient to satisfy every need of our lives and we choose to believe that such rejection will not result in death.

We have become very adept at eliminating the view of consequences of our sin. We are enamored with the pleasures and have erased the pain that has most certainly resulted from previous choices.

But God would have us constantly look at the consequences of sin. Yes, it is true that our love for God is what compels us to love and serve Him, but true love for God requires a complete view of who He is, and He has shown us that there is justice and condemnation for all who disobey Him. This is the constant fear that is healthy for all His followers. Such fear elevates grace to the highest place of praise, for without God’s love for us we too would be subject to condemnation and death. It is by keeping the consequences of sin ever before us that we appreciate the grace of God more and more.

My friends, do not forget the reality of Hell. Do not refuse to believe in the finality and eternity of punishment for sin. Do not think that because you are saved by His blood that you are not subject to His loving hand of discipline (Hebrews 12:4-13 see footnote). The visible consequences of sin are a gift of God’s grace. Embrace the view of them, for in them is found the love of God.

Pastor John

Hebrews 12:4-13 (NIV)
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
5 And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.
9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
10 Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.
11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
12 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.
13 “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.

 

The Most Test

Connecting Points

Friday, June 15, 2012

Today’s Topic: The Most Test

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 66:13 (NIV)  As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.

The Internet is amazing. Literally billions of people networked together on an information superhighway. In fact, just this morning, I spoke by video using Skype to Dudley and Inge Donaldson in Swaziland, Africa. That was the first time they were able to get it to work, and it was such a blessing. For any of you that have Skype, the best time to communicate with them will be between 2 and 3 PM Central Daylight Time.

But the Internet cannot be compared to the network of life that was created by and is managed by Almighty God. The last 36 hours have testified to God’s amazing network in my own life. Here is a summary of events that actually started four weeks ago, although in reality it has been in place in the heart of God since before the foundations of the world.

  • I attended the Moody Pastor’s Conference
  • I was led in worship by a music group called This Hope
  • I heard a song they sang

Now fast forward to yesterday morning at 1:45 AM. I received a phone call from a scared new daddy. His son had been born six hours earlier, but a serious issue with the baby’s lungs was resulting in a helicopter flight to Mayo Hospital in Rochester. He called for prayer. I prayed with him.

Now, if you remember Tuesday’s devotional about doing the least or the most, you will know that at that moment I had a choice. The least I could do was pray for him. But is that what God was calling me to do? Of course not! So I spent the next hour in prayer and Scripture for this precious baby and for his parents. I asked the Lord to inform me when His perfect timing was right for me to leave for Rochester to be with the dad and the baby. Here is the summary of what took place next:

  • I left my house at 3:30 AM, driving to Kwik Trip for coffee. On the way I stopped by the Great Harvest Bread store to tell my son to be praying. He wasn’t there yet, but the two early morning bakers were, and I informed them of what was going on. God is already using that to minister to their hearts.
  • As I drove, I played the CD of This Hope I had purchased at Moody. I did not know what was wrong with the baby yet, and was seeking God’s comfort for my own heart as my mind replayed previous experiences I have had like this. I replayed song #9 over and over again and tried to keep my eyes dry of tears so I could see the road and any deer. Three times they ran across the road in front of me and the Lord protected me each time. Song #9 is entitled God of the Storm, and the lyrics go like this:

Like thunder in my day it comes / The doctor’s words just leave me numb / With pounding heart I wonder what I’ll do /  Doubts begin to cloud the way / Will I ever be the same / Father I’m scared and I need you / Though I’m weak and the storm rages on / I know my God is strong / When the thundering trials shake me / When troubles crash and rage / I will trust the Master of the rain/ He’s God of the storm / Lord of the rain / Though I may fear / His refuge remains / He’s God of the storm / His power displayed / Trials will come / I will trust Him the same / He’s God of the storm.

  • God had put that song in my heart four weeks earlier knowing that I would need it for this day. Like I said, His network of life is AWESOME!
  • I arrived at the hospital at 5:30 AM, and no one was at the welcome desk. As I picked up the phone to call the operator for information, the baby’s dad and grandma walked around the corner into the lobby. God’s perfect timing. He is God of the storm, and of every other time in our lives as well.
  • On the way home I put in the other CD I had purchased at Moody. I came to song #9 on this one, and was again overwhelmed with the lyrics God had prepared in the song Rest My Child:.

A newborn babies cry / A mother’s heart is asking why / As worried doctors rush to help her son / What will the future hold / How will this challenged life unfold / Now all that she can see are dream undone / And as her spirit quakes / She hears the One who can calm all fears / Rest my child / I am here to hold you / I am what you need for life’s dark hour / Rest my child / Lay your cares upon me / I am always by your side / So rest my child.

  • I prayed for the baby’s mom. Last night I got this word from the daddy – “Emmett had a little rough patch this afternoon with his breathing, but as soon as mommy showed up they cuddled and he did beautifully. Praise the Lord!”
  • As I read that I could hear mommy whispering to the baby, Rest my child, I am here to hold you; I am what you need for life’s dark hour…

“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you,” says the Lord. He is here to hold you in life’s darkest hour. He has networked all of life together to be a display of His love for you and His power on your behalf. You can trust Him!

Pastor John

Not the Least, but the Most

Connecting Points

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Today’s Topic: The Most I Can Do

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 66:12a (NIV)  For this is what the LORD says: “I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream;

Oh the joys of grandparenting. Last night we had the privilege of having two of our grandsons for a sleepover. Their arrival at our home was an instant boost. Their eyes gush with love and admiration, and it melts my heart. Their playfulness re-energizes me, even though I’m already old enough to be outrun by a three-year old…almost.

They arrived late, so it was off to bed right away. They were both tired and fast asleep within minutes. The oldest one rose at 6:40 am and we took some time to talk on the couch while grandma and his brother slept a little longer. When grandma got up and got dressed, it was my turn to go shower and shave and prepare for a day of ministry. I was a little sad that I wouldn’t be there to spend more time with them, but grandma has a great plan for their day.

When I finished dressing I started to make the bed, knowing that grandma was busy with the boys in the kitchen. There was an instant flash of the flesh that said I was too busy to make the bed and I should get going to work. I quelled that thought immediately, and continued to get the bedroom in order. Then another thought came to my mind – This is the least I could do for her. I was overwhelmed at that moment with a total distaste for that statement. Why do we say it, and what makes us think that it’s a good thing to only do the least that we could for someone?

I started to think about that statement in relationship to what God does for me. What if He only did the least He could do? As I thought about it I found myself doing a little bit extra straightening of the comforter and pillows on the bed. I looked around the room for anything else that needed to be picked up or put away. As I left the house and move the car seats from my vehicle to my wife’s, I did so with extra care and precision, buckling them firmly in place to protect those precious lives.

I started thinking about what God promises to do for His people in Isaiah 66, and how He would never do the least He could do, but will go beyond what is expected or even deserved. As I read verses 12 through 21 again I saw so much more than the least God could do. I saw Him granting peace and wealth. I saw the people flourishing not just surviving. I saw God extending Himself beyond anything He had ever done before to bring people who had never heard of Him to the place of eternal worship. I saw Him extending grace to “newbies” in the Kingdom by promoting them to positions of priesthood. He did far more than the least He could do.

Then I was reminded of one of my favorite words from the Bible – a word used in 1 John 3:1, where it says, How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. When God loved us it was not with the least love He could give – He LAVISHED His love on us. He could have extended just enough love to forgive us so we could have access to eternal life. But instead He lavished His love on us so that we could be called His children, with full rights of inheritance of all things with His Son Jesus.

I choose to live my life that way. Never again will I intentionally do the least I could do for someone. Never again will I allow my selfish desires to influence the expression of the love of God to others. From this day forward, I want my life to be lived lavishly – not in the materialistic way many choose to bring honor to themselves, but with the heart of a servant Savior who lavished His love on me. I will not settle for doing the least I could do. I will serve them to the full extent of God’s love that was lavished on me.

Pastor John

The Danger of Compromise

Connecting Points

Monday, June 11, 2012

Today’s Topic: Danger of Compromise

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 66:17 (NIV) “Those who consecrate and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following the one in the midst of those who eat the flesh of pigs and rats and other abominable things–they will meet their end together,” declares the LORD.

It’s not just because this is Monday. I know it’s not the Monday morning blues. It goes much deeper than that. It goes to the very core of my being as I stand before my awesome and holy God. My soul continues to be overwhelmed with a burden for the souls of people who are lost in their sin and are moving rapidly towards eternal death.

Again this morning I read the entire sixty-sixth chapter of Isaiah. In this concluding chapter God is explaining the final separation of the righteous from the unrighteous – the righteous into His presence on the new earth that will endure forever (66:22), and the unrighteous into eternal punishment (66:24). The judgment of God on the unrighteous will be severe, beginning with the harsh treatment of verse 4, to His fury of verse 14, and His fire and sword of verse 16.

But what I am most burdened with is God’s statement in verse 17. I am burdened because it describes good-willed people with religious inclinations and spiritual values who are included in God’s judgment. These are people who have put on an outward appearance of spiritual life, and who participate in religious traditions and sacraments, but on the inside are still lost in their sin.

Every day I am confronted with connections to people who are trusting in the wrong things for their security. They trust their goodness, reminding others that they are a good person. They trust their success, displaying their abilities to the world around them. They trust their wealth, building bigger and bigger kingdoms to their own credit. They even trust their churches, seeking to find spiritual security in their obedience to the sacred duties declared by their leaders to be necessary to earn the approval of God.

But their hearts are unchanged from their conceived condition of sin. As a result, in one of the most painful and heart-wrenching statements God ever makes, they will meet their end in the same way as those who absolutely rejected anything to do with God and His Son Jesus. The one who did their spiritual duty will be condemned right alongside of the one who did abominable things. Oh how that breaks my heart!

But it goes even deeper. I wonder how many there are in my own church, and in my own family, who are trusting in a man-made, man-honoring religious exterior when in reality their heart has never been transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord? I am concerned that there are people sitting under my preaching every week who are going through the spiritual motions of faith but are walking through life following those who are doing abominable things.

My friends, the Scriptures are very clear – there is only One Way to eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. His death and resurrection are the only qualifier for eternal life. And those who have repented of their sin and been forgiven by faith in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross not only must not, but in reality cannot go back to a life of sin and compromise with the world. The warnings of the Apostle John are clear:

1 John 2:15-17 (NIV)
15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world–the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does–comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

And again the Holy Spirit speaks through John and says:

1 John 3:9 (NIV)
9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God.

Oh dear people, we must declare boldly whom we will serve. Will we serve ourselves and seek acceptance with the world, or will we serve the Savior and forfeit the world of today for the eternal world that is coming? There can be no compromise. You cannot serve both because you cannot love both. Make your choice carefully. It is the product of what you choose to love. Make your choice carefully. It has eternal consequence.

The Line in the Sand

Connecting Points

Friday, June 08, 2012

Today’s Topic: There’s Only One Way

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 66:3 (NIV) But whoever sacrifices a bull is like one who kills a man, and whoever offers a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; whoever makes a grain offering is like one who presents pig’s blood, and whoever burns memorial incense, like one who worships an idol. They have chosen their own ways, and their souls delight in their abominations;

A line has been drawn in the sand. It is along that line that a chasm will soon be fixed for eternity. For the moment, while the line is still crossable, many people pass from one side to the other and back again as if there were no line at all. As they do, the line becomes obscured by sand that is kicked on it by feet that tread on the truth under the direction of hearts and minds that are motivated by selfish sin.

Back and forth across the line go millions and millions of people. They seem to have good intentions when in reality they are blind to the existence of the line. Their blindness to the line is their choice, having decided not to look at it because they have chosen to look only at their own lusts and take delight in their own desires.

In their blindness to the line they are convinced that they can have all the desires of the flesh and still earn favor with God and somehow attain eternal life. So they continually cross the line from religious duty to sinful pleasures and back again. Little do they realize that the line is still there, and one day, maybe very soon, that line will become an un-crossable chasm and they will be trapped for all eternity on the side of death and destruction with no hope of seeing the Creator they have denied.

There will be many on the eternal life side of the chasm. They will be those who were esteemed by God because of their humble hearts, their repentant spirits, and their awe of the Word of God. They will be the ones who continued to see the line no matter how obscured it became to the rest of culture.

God drew the line in the sand in the Garden of Eden. It has been there ever since. Then one day some 2000 years ago His Son re-traced the line with His finger dipped in the blood of His own sacrifice.  He declared clearly and concisely that He was The Way, The Truth, and The Life. He stated truthfully that no one can ever get to eternal life with the Father except through His sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection to new life. He taught frequently that crossing back and forth over the line is unacceptable and inexcusable. The person who believes they can cross back and forth between surrender to Jesus and selfish sin is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven.

As I read Isaiah 66:3 I am deeply moved by the blindness of people to the blood-stained line in the sand. Billions of people who are being misled and deceived by the enemy of God – our selfish pride – to believe that they can obey some spiritual law or sacrament and thereby earn the favor of God, all the while doing only those things that please themselves and fulfill their own desires. How my soul is tormented by their lostness. How I grieve for their souls on that day when the sand that has obscured the line falls into the eternal chasm of separation between eternal life and eternal death.

All of their sacrifices and spiritual rituals will mean nothing from God’s perspective if the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary is ignored. That is the line God drew in the sand. There is no other way to God than through His Son Jesus. That may sound narrow to many, but to those who are being saved by the power of His death and resurrection it is the way of freedom.

Many people are very sincere about their religions. However, nowhere in God’s sacred and holy Scriptures are we told that God rewards sincerity with eternity. He rewards humility – a broken and repentant heart that turns in faith from a life centered on self to a Savior who gives real life. Salvation is not available to the person who intends to keep kicking sand on God’s blood-stained line. Forgiveness is a one way bridge across the line from the side of sin to the side of salvation. Forgiveness is not to be a cheap and easy way for us to keep crossing the line back and forth between religious duty and personal gratification. That is a denial of the Gospel truth and intentionally ignores the reality of the coming chasm.

My friends, many are deceived. Many are doing spiritual duties to earn the favor of God while they continue to seek and serve self every day. Let us blow away the sand that has obscured the line in our own lives, so that it can be clearly seen by those around us. They need to see the line, and be drawn by the Holy Spirit to cross it into the arms of a loving Savior who drew the line with His blood.

A Father’s Joy

Connecting Points

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Today’s Topic: A Father’s Joy

Today’s Text:  Proverbs 23:24-25 (NLT)  The father of godly children has cause for joy. What a pleasure to have children who are wise. So give your father and mother joy! May she who gave you birth be happy.

I must praise God! He alone is worthy of all the glory. It is by His hand and according to His plan that these things are the way they are. I am to be considered most blessed by the LORD because His mercy has covered my flaws, and His grace has redeemed my failures. Thanks be to God for the gift of wise children who honor and fear the LORD.

I am overwhelmed with this thought today as our family celebrates the birthday of our oldest child, Rochelle. What a joy it was 35 years ago as Denise and I were awakened by labor pains at 5:30 AM. She was, and remains to this day, a morning person like her dad. I wonder if there’s a correlation to one’s natural body clock and the time of their birth.

At 10:10 AM on June 7, 1977, we welcomed Rochelle into our family. We were already so in love with her, but when I saw those big wide-open eyes emerge from the birth canal I was gone. I shouted out, “Push!”. The Doctor shouted, “Stop pushing!” The umbilical cord was around her neck. My eyes met her eyes again, and as the doctor worked to free the cord, I realized that I was not in control. I saw my daughter in great need and I could do nothing but trust someone else with the outcome. Her eyes cried out to me for help, and I could do nothing.

I saw that look again two years later when she was being prepped for heart surgery. Again, I had to release her into the hands of another person who was more qualified than me to resolve the issue.

I didn’t always behave that way. In fact, I was a very authoritarian father. It hurt my kids. That’s why today I give more thanks to God than ever as I realize His amazing grace that accomplished His purpose even when I got in the way. No matter how hard I pushed, God was faithful to lead them to His heart.

Even though this is the birthday of my oldest, I thank God for all three of my kids who are living for Jesus Christ and serving Him faithfully in their local churches. I know that based on my personality and pride I don’t deserve it. But God has been faithful to His call on their lives, and my kids were wise enough to listen to Him and model their lives after Jesus Christ. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Today I have cause for joy!

Pastor John