Living in Denial

Connecting Points

Friday, August 31, 2012

Today’s Topic: Living in Denial                                                          

Today’s Text:  Matthew 16:24 (ESV)
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

Over the last few weeks I have been bombarded with evidence that we are living in a time of huge spiritual crisis. People who call themselves followers of Christ are turning to lives of rebellion and sin and personal pleasure at a scary pace. Not a day goes by lately that my wife and I are not being asked to give advice or counsel to someone who is being affected by a spouse’s or friend’s decisions to serve self rather than God. These are people whom we have participated with in ministry and heard their testimonies of faith in Jesus Christ.

I believe more than ever that these are the last days before the return of Christ. The gray area of personal choice between the truth positions of morality and immorality that once was very small has become increasingly immense. That’s because we’re participating with our culture in redefining the truths that establish the standards of each absolute position. Those who choose to redefine morality and embrace immorality justify it with the argument of the pursuit of personal pleasure and happiness. They are motivated by a deep and deadly desire to eventually destroy the position of immorality by turning everything gray for a time until it begins to appear not gray at all. Their goal is to move all the black and gray into the light of white and declare everything moral.  As this happens, they are becoming increasingly intolerant and abusive towards those who maintain a position of morality based on God’s truth. The attacks against truth are more consistent and louder than ever, and the attacks against those who hold a position of truth are gaining cultural acceptance at an alarming rate.

Here’s a thought that came to me as I prayed this morning – It is a good thing to live in a state of denial. In fact, it is an absolute truth that all of us do, one way or another.

The follower of Jesus is commanded to live in a state of denial towards self. This is where I see the evidence of the great falling away in today’s church. We are not living in this state of denial. Rather, we are living in a state of entitlement to self with all of its pleasures and prosperity. So many in the church today have a claim to faith without the following that inherently must follow true faith. How can one claim to have faith without obedience?

Those who compromise their faith and follow self are usually unaware that they are still living in a state of denial, but one with deadly consequences ahead. You see, if we are not denying self and following Jesus, then we are denying Jesus and following self. One way or another we are ALL living in a state of denial. It’s our choice which one.

Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul and from Jude, the brother of Jesus.

Titus 1:16 (ESV) They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

Jude 1:4 (ESV) For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

In the last three days I have counseled two people who are increasing the territory of the gray in their lives. In both cases I asked them one question – Whom do you love? It is the very root of the problem for all of us. Whom do you love? In both cases of counseling, neither person was willing to admit verbally that they love themselves more than anything. Yet it is obviously true. It is true of me in places of my own life and I am on my knees every day gaining insight from the Holy Spirit as He guides me to deny self and take up my cross and follow Jesus – in EVERYTHING!

We must recognize that in any and every area of our lives, when we choose to pursue self for any reason, it can only be defined as denial of Jesus. But when we pursue Jesus we are in denial of self. That is the state of denial I want to be in consistently. We are always in one or the other. It’s our choice. Choose wisely, and do so with eternity in view.

Pastor John

Who’s At The End Of Your Road?

Connecting Points

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Today’s Topic: Who Will You Meet?                                                 

Today’s Text:  Galatians 6:7  “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap”

A few months ago while attending the Moody Pastor’s Conference I met Daniel Henderson. He leads a ministry called Strategic Renewal, whose purpose is to ignite the passion of the church through prayer. Every week he sends out an e-devotional, and I was really challenged by this week’s and want to share part of it with you. It’s called “The Old Person at the End of Your Road”. Ladies, make the necessary gender adjustments as you read.

In the epilogue of my first book, The Seven Most Important Questions You’ll Ever Answer, I shared a reading that has marked me since the first time I discovered it many years ago.  It is titled, “The Little Old Man.” The author is unknown but the insights will challenge you.

“You’re going to meet an old man someday down the road – ten, thirty, fifty years from now – waiting there for you. You’ll be catching up with him.

“What kind of old man are you going to meet? That’s a rather significant question.  He may be a seasoned, soft, gracious fellow, a gentleman who has grown old gracefully, surrounded by hosts of friends, friends who call him blessed because of what his life has meant to them.  Or he may be a bitter, disillusioned, dried-up old buzzard without a good word for anyone, soured, friendless, and alone.

“The kind of old man you will meet depends entirely on yourself, because that old man will be you.  He’ll be the composite of everything you do, say, and think today and tomorrow.  His mind will be set in a mold you have made by your beliefs.  His heart will be turning out what you’ve been putting into it.  Every little thought, every deed goes into this old man.  He’ll be exactly what you make of him.  It’s up to you.  You’ll have no one else to credit or to blame.

“Every day and in every way you are becoming more and more like yourself.  Amazing, but it’s true.  You’re beginning to look more like yourself, think more like yourself, talk more like yourself.  You’re becoming yourself more and more.  Live only in terms of what you’re getting out of life, and the old man gets smaller, drier, harder, crabbier, more self-centered.  Open your life to others, think in terms of what you can give, your contribution to life, and the old man grows larger, softer, kindlier, greater.

“The point to remember is that these things don’t always show immediately.  But they’ll show up sooner than you think.  Those little things so unimportant now – beliefs, attitudes, ambitions – they’re adding up inside where you can see them, crystallizing your heart and your mind and someday they’ll harden into that old man.  Nothing will be able to soften or change them.

“The time to take care of that old man is right now.  Today.  This week.  Examine his values, his motives, his attitudes.  Check up on him.  Work him over while he’s still plastic, still in a formative condition, because the day comes awfully soon when it’s too late. The hardness sets in worse than paralysis.  Character crystallizes, sets and jells.  That’s the finish.

“Any wise businessman takes inventory regularly.  But his merchandise isn’t half as important as he is.  Better take a bit of personal inventory.  We all need it, and by keeping this check on ourselves, you’ll be much more likely to meet a splendid old fellow at the proper time.  A fellow you’d like to be.”

As I think about the “Little Old Man” I hope to meet someday, I realize that every choice, every day, matters – and shapes the man I am becoming.  The Scriptures frame it with clarity: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Don’t Scratch the Itch

Connecting Points

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Today’s Topic: Don’t Scratch the Itch                                               

Today’s Text:  2 Timothy 4:3 (ESV) For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,

Have you ever tried to not scratch an itch? Maybe it was a mosquito bite or a rash, both of which are really hard. But the hardest itch for me to resist is the one that has no apparent cause, like the one in the middle of my back right now. As I sit in my chair typing these words, there is an itch that won’t go away. It is not being caused by an external source, but by something within me to which the nerves are reacting. I am doing my best to resist it, but it’s not going away. The more I think about resisting, the stronger it gets. Little movements of my arms as I type cause my shirt to move over the spot and irritate it all the more. But I shall not scratch it.

Why not, you may ask? Scratching the spot will make you feel better. It will remove the irritation. It will satisfy you and bring you to a place of rest and contentment so you can accomplish more. Go ahead, scratch it.

Now in this case that is all true, but I am still not going to scratch it so that I can make a connection to a deeper truth. The world today wants the freedom to scratch anything that itches. It feels good, so why not do it? I need it right now. He doesn’t satisfy me any more so why shouldn’t I enjoy life with someone else? I was born this way. I have the right to be happy. And it goes on and on and on and on. We have itches that are being generated by something inside of us to which our emotions are reacting.

That something inside us is called pride, and the itching is the gateway to sin. We all have our little itches. Itches for success. Itches for security. Itches for pleasure. Itches for acceptance. Itches for food or finances or fun. Don’t scratch. The temporary satisfaction of scratching has an eternal backlash.

We live in a day when taking a stand for truth is extremely unpopular. In many places of the world, including right here at home in ever-increasing frequency, not scratching is being condemned by a culture that believes it has the right to scratch any itch. In fulfillment of the Apostle Paul’s prophecy in Second Timothy, people have surrounded themselves with teachers, preachers, and friends that validate their right to scratch. It’s happening right in the middle of the church. And churches who don’t give in to scratching are becoming more and more unpopular with society. They are condemned in the media for being intolerant, when in reality they are the only ones who are truly tolerant because they can tolerate the itching.

So as I sit here with a bigger than before itch in the middle of my back, I wonder about the other itches in my life being generated from within by my selfish desires. I wonder how long I will be able to resist scratching them. I wonder how I can even do that. Then I read these words from Paul:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:  Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. 2 Timothy 4:1-2 (NIV)

That’s it! Two keys to not scratching – the presence of God and Jesus Christ, and a constant view of His appearing and coming Kingdom. Itching ceases in the presence of God. Itching increases if we prefer the presence of the world. Itching ceases when we are focused on the return of Jesus Christ. Itching increases when we believe that this life is all we get and that we are entitled to everything it has to offer.

So as the world increasingly turns away from the truth, keep your head in every situation. Don’t scratch the itch. Endure whatever hardship will come as a result of your stand for the truth, and keep doing the work of the Lord. (2 Timothy 4:4-5). You want to be able to say what Paul said at the end of life’s journey on this earth –  For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.2 Timothy 4:6-8 (ESV)

Paul didn’t scratch. He loved the appearing of Christ more than the scratching of an itch. So should we. Stay strong. Stand for the truth. Resist the itching.

Now, about that one in my back. I wonder where it went?

Pastor John

 

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The Backlash

Connecting Points

Monday, August 27, 2012

Today’s Topic: The Backlash                                                            

Today’s Text:  Isaiah 30:15 (ESV)  For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

I was so blessed by someone else’s devotional today that I just have to share it with you. It’s from Ron Hutchcraft’s A Word with You radio program that airs at 7:30 every weekday morning on WHEM radio. I have attached the link so you can listen to it, or here is the written version for those who would rather read.

http://mp3.hutchcraft.com/web/awwy/A_Word_With_You_08-27-2012.mp3

When you hear about the weather on the East Coast, you almost always hear about a place called Cape Hatteras. It’s a barrier reef off the coast of North Carolina; it’s been called the Graveyard of the Atlantic. And it’s probably the storm center of the East Coast. In fact, when you look at the map or hear the weatherman in the morning he’ll say, “There’s a blizzard off of Cape Hatteras. There’s a hurricane off of Cape Hatteras. There’s a major storm system off of Cape Hatteras.”

It’s a place where most hurricanes coming up the East Coast make landfall. Oh, you have the ocean on the front side of this barrier reef, and then there’s a quieter bay on its backside. When a hurricane hits, it can do a lot of damage. I talked to some people when I was there, and they told me a surprising reason why the hurricane does so much damage. Most of it doesn’t come from the hurricane coming in from the ocean, which I would have thought; it comes after the hurricane leaves from all the water that was pushed back into the bay. It’s that backlash that kills the island, not the front of the storm. It’s sort of like postponed destruction.

Maybe you’ve faced some gale-force winds lately in your life. But because of the way you’re handling it, you may face something worse than the storm, and that’s the backlash from the bay.

I’m Ron Hutchcraft and I want to have A Word With You today about “Avoiding the Backlash That’s Building Behind You.”

Our word for today from the Word of God is about people under pressure; people who are being hit with perhaps emotional, or financial, or medical, or family hurricanes; storm centers like Cape Hatteras. Isaiah 30:15 talks about ways that we can handle that kind of pressure, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Listen to what He says, “‘But you would have none of it. No, here’s how I’ll handle it.’ You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses. Therefore, you will flee.’ You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses. Therefore your pursuers will be swift.'”

Now, what He’s talking about here is handling pressure in that time-honored way, “Run for it! Escape! Get on a fast horse and get out of here.” It may very well be that trouble has hit you, and you’ve been trying to run from it rather than face it. You haven’t resorted to horses, but there are a lot of other ways to run. To run from your family problems, from personal doubts you’ve been having, maybe a problem you’ve been postponing dealing with or a confrontation you need to have. Perhaps you run to your friends, or you just turn up the music, or get real busy, or use drugs or alcohol, maybe just deception – you kid yourself, you run to your recreation, you get lost in your work. Or maybe you’ve been running from the Lord’s personal dealings with you.

But see, the backlash from the bay is going to catch you. That’s why the Bible says your pursuers will be swift. The backlash is building. You can’t postpone it. The Bible says, “Your strength is not in running from it. Your strength is in repenting, in resting, being quiet, in trusting.

Stop running from what you should be facing. You’ve got to face the pressure, face the storm, face the issue, and if need be, face the Lord. Trade in that false and temporary security we feel by trying to escape. Trade that for the real security of the peace of Almighty God.

Elevator Praying

Connecting Points

Friday, August 24, 2012

Today’s Topic: Elevator Praying                                                       

Today’s Text:  Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV) 7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.

How many people did you communicate with yesterday? For some of you that number will be very high, while for others it will be very low. Some of the reasons for such a wide range of responses are things like opportunity, personality, and personal preference. But there’s one huge reason for the differences that you may not have considered – definition.

How we define communication determines how we answered the question. If communication is nothing more than saying hello, then our count is high. If communication means the expression of facts and feelings combined with listening to the same from the other person, then the count is probably extremely low.

So let’s ask another question. Have you prayed today? Again, your response is going to be determined by your definition of prayer.  Now let me state clearly that just saying “Hi” to God is still prayer, and it’s important to be in that attitude of His presence every minute of every day. But is it enough?

Several weeks ago the Lord Jesus put upon my heart through the power of the Holy Spirit to consider prayer as an elevator. The elevator stops at every floor, but we are missing out on a great privilege by not taking it all the way to the top.

Let’s get a word picture firmly in place in our minds eye. Our prayer closet has suddenly become an elevator. It is the access point to the Eternal. It is where we communicate with the Father. There are multiple floors at which we can stop and exit and experience His presence. The building is divided into three levels, with multiple stops in each level. Let’s get on at the ground floor and make our way up to the top, checking out each level as we go.

Level one is the Ask Level. This is entry level prayer, where we seek to understand the “what” and the “how” of our current circumstances. It’s at this level that we are satisfied to simply get a solution to our problems. There are times in crisis situations where this level is all the higher we have time to access. But that’s okay – God inhabits this level, and hears our cries for help.

Level two is the Seek Level. This is mid-level prayer, where we seek to understand the “why” of our circumstances. We have chosen to exit the elevator at a higher level of communication with the Father, moving beyond the request for a solution to a deeper conversation about the purpose of God for designing and allowing this event. We ask questions at this level. They are still “what” and “how” questions, but they are not focused on the circumstance but upon our heart. “What do you want me to learn, Father?” “What do I need to change, Father?” “How will this help me to grow to be more like your Son, Father?” God is on this level as well, and His grace extends to our deepest need of forgiveness and spiritual development.

Level three is the Knock level. This is roof-top prayer, where we seek to know the “Who” of our circumstances. On the rooftop we have moved past the focus on the circumstance to the highest level of communication possible, where two hearts are connected as one. It is here that we begin to experience the Presence of the Father. Here we are no longer captivated by the circumstances but rather lavished with the Father’s love. This is what God intended prayer to be for all of us.

At every level God makes a promise.

  • If you ask for a solution, you shall receive one that honors His will for your life
  • If you seek understanding, He will reveal His will to you within His knowledge of your capacity to understand.
  • If you knock because you want to deepen your relationship with Him, He will open the door to His presence and reveal Himself to you.

In the publication Our Daily Bread from July 10, 1999, Nancy Spiegelberg wrote this: Lord, I crawled across the bareness to you with my empty cup, uncertain in asking any small drop of refreshment. If only I had known you better. I’d have come running with a bucket.

Have you prayed today? Really?                                                                                                       Pastor John

Entitlement

Connecting Points

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Today’s Topic: Entitlement                                                                

Today’s Text:  Luke 7:4 (ESV)  And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him…”

I haven’t felt that blessed for a long time. I am convinced it is because I had no expectations or demands. That’s what brings the real joy when a gift is received.

Last Sunday I delivered to our congregation God’s message from Luke 7 on the subject of Entitlements. The Roman Centurion who had a gravely ill servant sent two groups of representatives to Jesus to ask for the healing of the highly valued employee. The first group misrepresented the true character of the Centurion by using the entitlement argument to try and convince Jesus to help. “He is worthy…” The second group was the Centurion’s friends, and they spoke the truth about his humble nature. “I am not worthy…”

We live in a culture that has infected the church with an entitlement mentality. Christians have bought into this arrogant philosophy of self-advancement without self-effort. We believe that the world owes us payment for whatever we have defined as personal pain or loss in our lives. We have set up a personal standard of qualification for reward, and we expect people, employers, benefit programs or governments to pay up because it’s our right.

Prior to Sunday the Lord had really dealt with me on my own personal guilt in this area. Since Sunday He has confirmed what he has been teaching me. The lesson is simple, but so hard to do. But over the last two days I saw it happen. God will bless us if we just stop expecting it.

Tuesday afternoon my wife and I left on a short trip to a place we had never been before. Wednesday is my normal day off, so we decided to get away overnight and relax in Bayfield and enjoy the Apostle Islands. Aside from the incredible beauty of God’s creation which simply thrills me, God did some things that blew me away. They were totally unexpected. They were things I didn’t demand. They were things I did not feel entitled to.

On the drive up north, I turned to Denise and said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see a bear run across the road?” It was said so simply, so casually, and so uncharacteristically care-free. There was not even a hint of entitlement in the statement. I was not thinking these things at the time and evaluating my motives and planning my words to somehow conform to God’s commands; I just said the words with freedom. Ninety minutes later, as we approached Bayfield and I look down a side road to a marina entrance, a bear ran across the access road. I was thrilled and overjoyed, because I had not expected it.

On Wednesday morning as we travelled by boat out to Devil’s Island to see the sea caves and the lighthouse, I turned again to Denise and said in the same attitude as before, “Wouldn’t it be cool to see a freighter out here?” Without thinking about my rights or how the trip would be ruined if it didn’t happen, I just made a statement. Thirty minutes later Denise nudged me and said, “Look, there’s your freighter.” Sure enough, on the horizon and getting closer, was one of the 1000 foot freighters heading towards Duluth. Then twenty minutes later, there was another one.

By this time Denise is wondering why I am getting everything I ask for. I begin to evaluate it as well, and realize that for one of the first times in my life I have been asking with no sense of entitlement. It was such a blessed realization.

When we got back to the city dock in Bayfield, that captain of the boat announced that one of the gift shops in town had done a drawing of one name from among the 200 plus passengers on the two ships and that the person would win a prize. As we disembarked I was thinking in my mind about where the car was and where we were going to get lunch and what else we wanted to see. Denise asked, “Aren’t you going to check in the gift store?” My first thought was, “Why, I never win anything?” But I think that thought lasted less time than any other time in my life. It immediately smacked of entitlement, and I hated it. So as Denise waited outside I stepped into the store and saw my name on the wipe-off board above the cash register.

I just about fell over. I walked outside and signaled for Denise to come inside with me, and I stood in line with my identification in hand and collected my prize. It was a beautiful print of an original watercolor painting of all the lighthouses on the Apostle Islands. Many of you know my love for lighthouses and windmills. This was an awesome gift, even though it’s basically a poster, and I told the clerk how much it meant to me.

There is incredible joy to be experienced when entitlement is conquered. Expectations are the enemy of joy. Demands are the death of thanksgiving. The pursuit of happiness is the cancer of the Christian life, for it can only be achieved through pre-meditated conditions and circumstances that when not achieved leave us demolished and demoralized.

Thank you Jesus for disciplining me in this area of my life. And thank you for immensely for taking the conversation about entitlement beyond the level of how it applies to others and making it personal for me.

May the Lord do the same for you! Be careful not to think that entitlement isn’t affecting you too.

Pastor John

Soon and Very Soon

Connecting Points

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Today’s Topic: Soon and Very Soon                                                 

Today’s Text:  2 Peter 3:10 (ESV)  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

News headlines from the past month:

  • Israel’s  Deputy Foreign Minister Asks Nations to Say Iran Talks Have Failed  (NYT)
  • Israel’s Prime Minister: If Iran goes nuclear, it may actually  use bomb — “In a television interview last week, Netanyahu said  that he sees ‘the regime of the ayatollahs declaring what it has etched on  its banner – to destroy us. It is working to destroy us, and is preparing  atom bombs to destroy us. As much as it is dependent on me, I will not let that happen.’”
  • New intelligence reveals Iranian military nuclear program advancing faster than previously thought
  • SENIOR ISRAELI OFFICIAL WARNS OF “30 DAY WAR” WITH IRAN
  • NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: NEW NATURAL GAS WEALTH MEANS HISTORIC CHANGE FOR ISRAEL

The signs of the times are speaking loudly that we could be living in the last days before the return of Jesus Christ for His Bride the Church. Jesus commands us to be observant – From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Matthew 24:32-33 (ESV) I’m not predicting anything, but I know what Jesus said, and what the Prophets said, and what Paul and Peter and John said, and I know that the events of our current age have me looking up and proclaiming “Come Lord Jesus, come!”

His coming is going to surprise the world. In fact, my writing about it is going to surprise and even offend some of you. It is to be expected. Read carefully the full context of Peter’s statement from which our Scripture verse for today was taken:

1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” 5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 2 Peter 3:1-13 (ESV)

To quote the words of an old Gospel song, “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King!”

Are you ready?

Right now?

 

Pastor John