The Second Greatest Gift

Connecting Points

Friday, December 21, 2012

Today’s Topic: Sweet Love                                                               

Today’s Text:  2 Corinthians 9:15 (ESV) Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

It was a cold night. It was to be expected at this time of the year on the flat plains of North Dakota. But this was the only date that allowed me to keep the tradition intact.

I’m pretty sure she knew what was going on, but it was fun to pretend she didn’t. I picked her up just as it was getting dark, and we drove together for thirty miles to the only town in the area that had a nice supper club. When we arrived I held her door as she exited the car, and we walked hand in hand to the door of the restaurant.

When we got inside I asked for a table for two, and was informed that we would not be allowed to eat there because my date was not yet twenty-one and this was a supper club that served alcohol. Amidst all of the other planning I had done I had not thought of that detail. I tried to pull the hostess aside and whisper to her, but I’m sure it was overheard. I explained my purpose for being there, and I convinced the hostess to allow us to have a table as long as I promised we would not order any alcoholic drinks. I assured her that would not be an issue.

They sat us at a table in the corner, away from everyone else, right next to the swinging door that was the waitress’s entrance to the kitchen. Everything went well with the dinner, and the food was terrific, which helped to distract us from the constant traffic around us and the occasional bump of my chair by the swinging door. After we had finished our steaks, the waitress came to clear the table. In the process, she dropped my greasy plate with all the scraps on it right onto my lap, spilling everything onto my suit. She was so embarrassed, feeling like she had ruined our evening. But nothing could ruin this night.

After she left I got cleaned up, I reached across the table and took the hand of the woman I loved, and presented her with a diamond engagement ring and asked her to marry me. I was thrilled when she said yes, and I get the same thrill today as I write the details of the story. For you see, it was on this day, December 21st, 1974 that I asked Denise to be my wife, and I will never forget or regret it!

It is the second greatest gift I have ever been given, and while I thank God for the incomparable and inexpressible gift of His Son Jesus, I also that God for the indescribable gift of Denise. I am going to spend the rest of my life loving her and preparing her to be given to her true Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ!

Pastor John

Sweet Tooth

Connecting Points

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Today’s Topic: How Sweet It Is!                                                        

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:103  How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Mmmm, sweets. Christmas cookies. Fudge. Penuche. Peanut brittle. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. How sweet it is!

When that phrase first popped into my head this morning I thought of Jackie Gleason. He coined that popular phrase back in the 1963 film Papa’s Delicate Condition, and it became a consistent part of the comedy sketches performed on his weekly variety show. I can still picture the old black and white television set we used to watch when he would turn his head and shout, How sweet it is!

I also thought of the great James Taylor song that was originally recorded in 1964 by Marvin Gaye called How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You. Now that melody will be running through my mind while I clear the driveway of all the snow this morning.

It’s amazing how we develop a taste for certain things in our lives because they seem to make life sweeter. There’s no question about choice when confronted with candy or spinach. Choosing between a gift of $10,000 or an offer to work six months to earn $10,000 is a no brainer. Every day we make choices based on what we have previously determined will be a sweeter deal for us. We choose careers, make purchases, develop relationships, and set personal priorities based on the answer to this one simple question  – how sweet will it be for me?

But when it comes to choosing between the study and application of God’s words and just about any other option, we usually choose the less sweet of the two. You see, our spiritual taste buds are kind of dead. They have been killed by the allure of the world’s sweets. Oh, we may justify the sweets we choose with rationalizations, some of which we may even be able to back up with Scripture we’ve previously studied. But is our application of those truths being controlled by the wrong sweet tooth?

  • We’re too busy with activities for the kids, but in the end it will be for their good. Really? What end?
  • But I really need that _______________ so I have to work more to earn the money to pay for it.(You fill in the blank). Really? Possessions that perish are really sweeter than truths of eternal value?
  • Or here’s mine – I’m so busy doing ministry that I don’t have time to stop and just read.

We all have our sweets of choice. But are they the sweets of God’s choice? Maybe, just maybe, we need to visit the spiritual Dentist for a tooth extraction. It’s likely that we all need to decide that our taste buds need healing so that what God intended to be sweet to us truly becomes sweetest to us. His Word is to be sweeter to us than anything the world says is sweet. The commands, laws, precepts, and promises of God are absolutely the sweetest soul food you can ever eat. And I’ve discovered that you don’t have to acquire a taste for it. The truth is that the Holy Spirit of God is quite capable of accomplishing His role in us to give us a hunger and taste for the Word of God. It’s not that we won’t like what we eat when we feed on the Bread of Life, but the reality is that we have simply chosen not to eat because we don’t believe it can really satisfy our sweet tooth.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.(Colossians 3:16)

So every time you reach for your favorite Christmas candy or cookie, pause for a moment and give thanks for the blessing you are enjoying, and let the Holy Spirit bring to your mind one of God’s sweet treats from His Word. Let the right sweet tooth take control of your life!

Pastor John

Wake Up!!!

Connecting Points

Monday, December 17, 2012

Today’s Topic: Get Back to God                                                       

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:101 (ESV) I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.

The first act of violence recorded in God’s sacred and holy Word called the Bible is the story of a murder. It is based on one man’s attempt to authorize his own rights and personal desires as equal to those of God. When his attempts to worship God on his own terms were rejected, he turned away from God and took out his anger on the one who reminded him of righteousness – his own brother. He could have repented and been forgiven, but instead, Cain killed Abel. Not with a gun, for the weapon of choice is not the real issue. The issue is the evil that resides in the heart of all people, that left unchecked and unchanged by the power of Jesus Christ will manifest itself in death.

Pastor Daniel Henderson of Strategic Renewal puts it this way: Our greatest need in the face of overwhelming societal violence is not more gun control, greater political diplomacy, or more security systems.  The real issue rests deep in the human heart.  Violence is the expression of hearts and minds that have become polluted with the angry, murderous, prideful poison of a life apart from a holy and loving God. 

Romans 1:28-32 describes the condition of spiritually darkened hearts when they reject an authentic intimacy with God: “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

Why does a husband abuse his wife? Why does a political leader slaughter his people? Why does a student viciously bully other children? Why does a wife gun down her husband’s mistress? The complexities and motivations of the human heart are hard for us to accurately diagnose.  Yet, the reality is that people are “lovers of themselves” (2 Timothy 3:1-5).

The man who lives with self as the center of his universe concludes, “I deserve more than I have” or “I have been deprived of what I need”, so he will take from others what he wants, sometimes at any cost.  When a prideful heart encounters personal failure, relational difficulties, or obstacles to selfish aspirations, natural emotions become negative raging passions that result in destructive thoughts and even violent behavior.

The guilt of failure can turn into self-loathing and resentment of others who are “better” by comparison.  Experiences of criticism, rejection, or interpersonal pain can spark a detrimental anger that becomes more intense over time.  The poison of the heart eventually spills into behavior.  

Thankfully, we can turn from the headlines back to God’s word for hope, lest we become despondent or paranoid in the midst of the pervasive violence.  We can trust His providence and protection in this out-of-control world.  Like David, who knew the constant threats of King Saul’s murderous assaults, we can say, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge; My Savior, You save me from violence. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies” (1 Samuel 22:1-4).

Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  In the shadow of His cross Christ’s redemption has the power to neutralize pride and produce heartfelt humility.  Jesus transforms His true disciple from a self-centered, agitated soul to a Christ-centered, grace-giving servant.  Paul’s often-repeated blessing in his writings of “grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” is a constant reminder of the possibilities of our experience in the face of disappointment, failure, and relational pain.  Anger can be replaced with forgiveness.  Revenge can be transformed into blessing. 

When we experience an authentic relationship of submission and trust with Christ, we are not overcome by the negative emotions so common in human experience.  Rather, as Paul promised, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

But for the grace of God, there would I be. Let us turn away from the evil that comes from the love of self, and turn in repentance and brokenness to the God who heals and restores and gives life.

The Perfect Gift at the Perfect Time

Connecting Points

Friday, December 14, 2012

Today’s Topic: The Perfect Gift at the Perfect Time                         

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:97 (ESV) Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.

You may be wondering where I have been. At least I hope you have been wondering that. It would kinda hurt if these blog posts were absent for a week and no one noticed. It has been excruciatingly busy this week. First the snow storm shut everything down on Monday, then early morning make-up appointments (don’t laugh – a guy has to look good you know), plus medical emergencies (not mine), planning meetings for church ministries as we project into the new year and occupancy of our new building, staff reviews and budgets to get done, and of course waiting anxiously for the end of the world…WHEW! I will be so glad when this week is over.

When busyness hits like this, my spirit is susceptible to faithless thinking. The specific area of the enemy’s attack on me concerns finances – primarily in regards to the new church construction. Oh the building is going to go up and the contractor is going to be paid, but as a church we took a HUGE step of faith to volunteer our time and resources to complete the facility at an extra cost of $160,000 that we currently don’t have. That can be scary when viewed through the lens of human capability. When I am tired I tend to look through that lens.

On the way to the office this morning I was again challenged by the words of Ron Hutchcraft. I share this with you, not because I’m still so busy and don’t have time to write any more, but because it’s exactly what I needed for today and believe it will meet a need you have as well.

Well, it’s got to be the Christmas season! I keep seeing the UPS trucks going up and down our street like a fleet, and those drivers are busy! They must collapse into bed at night after those long, long hours they work. But their job could be worse. What if they had to shop for all those packages, and buy them, and package them and deliver them? Well, fortunately it’s not up to the UPS man to create the package; he’s just got to deliver it. It’s kind of like you and me.

Our word for today from the Word of God comes from Luke 1 . I’m going to begin reading at verse 31, where Mary is being given Mission Impossible. Oh, it’s long before the TV program or the movies ever came along, but she’s got mission impossible. Listen to this as the angel comes to her, “You will be with child and give birth to a son. You are to give Him the name Jesus.”

This is the virgin named Mary. “You will give birth to a son. You will be with child.” Well, her question is reasonable. “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.'” Mary looks around and what God is asking her to do, it just can’t happen based on any human ability or anything human experience would support.

Is there something big in your life like that right now? You say, “Man, this one is so tough, so big, so beyond me, I just honestly can’t see any way by any human plan or any human ability that this could ever happen. This mountain cannot move.” Well, Mary was there. If you’re there, stay tuned.

God’s answer to impossible situations is the same 2,000 years later. Mary’s question may be your question, “How will…” God’s answer, “He will.” “How will it be?” “The Holy Spirit will” is His answer. You don’t have to be the answer. You don’t have to create the answer. You don’t have to think up the answer. You’re the UPS man; you just deliver the answer. You just deliver the package. You and I are his instruments. The instrument doesn’t play its own music; someone plays through the instrument. The answer doesn’t come from you any more than the packages come from the UPS man. They come through you.

The solution is God’s intervention, not man’s invention. As long as you try to face this challenge with human calculation you’re going to be overwhelmed. But Mary found something better than being overwhelmed; it’s overshadowed. The passage says, “You’ll be overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit.” You want to be overwhelmed? Well, you will be if you focus on your ability. Or you can be overshadowed by God’s power.

When you realize that you only deliver God’s packages, you develop two vital mindsets. First, you develop humility; you know that all the credit goes to the giver, not to the deliverer. We don’t hug and kiss the UPS man when he comes and say, “Oh, thank you for this wonderful gift!” He didn’t give it, he just delivered it. So you know that you have every reason for humility.

Secondly, it gives you confidence. I can row into this storm right now because God’s power will be the difference, not mine. So, relax. Even if you’re in the middle of mission impossible right now, God is getting the solution ready. All you have to do is be available to deliver someone else’s package.


Pastor John

Embrace Imperfection

Connecting Points

Friday, December 07, 2012

Today’s Topic: Embrace Imperfection                                               

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:96 (ESV)  I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.

What?!! A limit to perfection? How can that be? If it’s perfect, it must have no limit, right?

These are the questions that ran through my mind when I read today’s verse in Psalm 119:96. But the context explains the meaning, as is usually the case when studying Scripture.

You see, the Psalmist is referring to his own attitudes about his life, and also to those of the people around him. It is a universal issue of the human heart to proclaim one’s own perfection. But as Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary on the Psalms, Is it not the beginning of perfection to lament your imperfection?

Here is my simple application for today – simple only in words but not in application. It is only when I realize that I am not perfect in any area of my life, nor can I ever achieve perfection in any area of my life, that I will begin to know and understand the exceeding abundance of God’s grace towards me that brings His perfection. It is only when I have reached the end of all my resources and strength that I will begin to experience the limitless power of God.

This morning I chatted with a new friend from India. We made a Facebook connection through a mutual friend – Crawford Loritts. We chatted about his ministry in southern India, and exchanged information about our personal lives and passion for the Gospel. At one point, as I told him about myself, I found myself writing something that was totally of the Holy Spirit, for it could not have come from my flesh. I wrote, I am weak and easily distracted by the world. But in my weakness, God’s strength is made perfect!

That is the heart of what the Psalmist was teaching me today. I have seen where my sense of perfection has met with my limitations, but it is in those times that I have seen the inexhaustible supply of God’s wisdom and strength found in His Word.

Stop trying to perfect your life. It is in the lamenting of your imperfections that perfection begins.

Pastor John


Surviving Affliction

Connecting Points

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Today’s Topic: Surviving Affliction                                                     

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:89-93 (ESV) 89 Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. 90 Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast. 91 By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants. 92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. 93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.

There’s that word again. It’s showing up as frequently as automobiles do that are the same color as the one you just bought. This is the fifth time so far in the one-hundred-nineteenth Psalm that it has appeared. I discovered that it will be used two more times before the chapter is over, but I’m not up to those occurrences yet. The usage of the word up to this point is what contains the challenge and blessing for me.

If you read the title of today’s Connecting Points you already know the word. (I’ll wait as eyes flash back to the top of the page to see what it is.) It’s a word that describes life for our family over the past two months. It’s a word that describes the current delivery method of God’s grace to my heart and has produced deeper intimacy with the Lord. We generally seek to avoid the conditions covered by this word, but I am discovering the incredible gift of love from God that comes with those conditions. The word, and the condition, is affliction.

Let’s review the incredible promises the Psalmist has delivered to us so far for our times of affliction.

Psalm 119:50 (ESV)   This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life.

Psalm 119:67 (ESV)  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word.

Psalm 119:71 (ESV)  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

Psalm 119:75 (ESV)  I know, O LORD, that your rules are righteous, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

Psalm 119:92 (ESV)  If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.

Five times the Psalmist refers to affliction, and every time there’s an incredible promise attached:

  1. The promises of God give comfort to us during affliction because in them are found true life. Life is not found in the temporal, but in the eternal, and when affliction comes it is God’s design to teach us to fix our eyes more on the eternal and less on the temporal.
  2. Affliction is also designed by God to correct us. We all need correction. None of us is walking perfectly with the Lord by faith alone. It is in the afflictions that the Holy Spirit convicts us of any cause that might be our own, and leads us to a deeper obedience of the commands of God that we already know.
  3. In addition to more obedience of the commands we already know, affliction causes us to learn even more of the statutes of the Lord. It is in the times of deepest need that we come to know the deeper things of God. That’s what Psalm 42:7 says when the waves of affliction are breaking over us – Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.
  4. Affliction also reveals the character of God. In his faithfulness He has afflicted us. He is faithful to Himself to express every aspect of true love, for He is love, and in love He disciplines those He loves. He is faithful to us by working to cleanse from us everything that hinders our perfect fellowship with Him and to create in us a pure heart and clean hands. Affliction is the purifying fire of faith.
  5. Then today, the relationship between affliction and the Word of God becomes even more clear as I digest the truth that affliction can lead to death if not for the delight found in God’s words. You see, the stress of affliction can cause serious physical consequences. Worry can cause not only physical disease but emotional despair. Heartbreak can become permanent. If our hearts and minds are fixed on the affliction then the affliction will defeat and potentially destroy us. But if our hearts and minds are firmly fixed on the Word of God, the delight it produces will give us life. There is hope to be found in the law of the Lord that cannot be found from any other source. There is joy to be found that surpasses any earthly joy and conquers all earthly fears. There is love to be found in the abiding presence of Christ that supplies every need of our heart – from identity to acceptance – and that is the fulfillment of life.

I know I would be a basket case without my Lord and His Word. But His law is my delight, and I am ALIVE!!!

What’s the Agenda?

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Today’s Topic: What Are We Living For?                                          

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:88 (ESV)  In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth.

What’s on the agenda for today?

trailer meeting

The picture you see is of the construction team meeting this morning to discuss the next week’s work schedule on our new church. The steel joists will be arriving for the roof and they will be set in place this week. These men are really focused on this project, and we praise God for their work.

What’s on your agenda for today? As you woke up this morning I’m sure you had a mental list of things that you wanted to accomplish. There’s the list of business and employment tasks, personal tasks, household tasks, and who knows what else. Life fills up pretty fast with all of the responsibilities that result from our choices.

Hey wait a minute! Suddenly a conversation breaks out in my mind. It’s more like an argument.

My choices? Life is thrust upon me. Other people are to blame. I didn’t choose this.

Really? So other people determine my priorities? Other people choose for me what I invest my resources and time in? My circumstances get to dictate my agenda?

Well, when you put it that way, it does sound like I have no control over anything, and that’s a pretty foolish way to go through life.

Look carefully at what was going on in the life of the Psalmist when he wrote today’s verse:

  • He was being persecuted and was running out of strength. How long must your servant endure? When will you judge those who persecute me? (Verse 84)
  • He was surrounded by people rejecting God’s law who were setting traps for him. The insolent have dug pitfalls for me; they do not live according to your law.(Verse 85)
  • He was being lied about and cried out for help. All your commandments are sure; they persecute me with falsehood; help me! (verse 86)
  • His life was almost ended by the attacks of others. They have almost made an end of me on earth, (verse 87)

Now look how he responds – In your steadfast love give me life, that I may keep the testimonies of your mouth. Do you see it? He asks God to grant him more life so he has more opportunity to obey and experience the testimonies of the Lord. His priority is to live every day in the experience of the presence of the Lord. He doesn’t change his priorities because of the circumstances. He doesn’t allow people to dictate his agenda. He doesn’t ask God for more life so he can accomplish more of the things he wants to do. He says, Lord, give me life so that I can experience more of your love, obey more of your commands, and experience more of you!”

So let me ask again, What’s on your agenda for today?

Remain Elastic

Connecting Points

Monday, December 03, 2012

Today’s Topic: Elasticity and Flexibility                                             

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:83 (ESV)  For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.

When I first started playing baseball as a young boy, I was very insecure and very nervous. To compensate, I would chew on one of the leather ties on my baseball glove. Every lull in the action was met with a spontaneous movement of my left hand towards my mouth, and the salty taste of the tanned leather would occupy me until the next pitch was thrown. By the end of the game the top of the thumb of my glove was a slobbery mess. My goal, other than diverting my attention from my insecurities, was to get that leather strip as wet and soft as possible without breaking it.

When it came time to use the glove again, the string would be dry and hard and stiff, which provided another challenge that would keep me occupied during the next game or practice.

Then one day it happened. The string broke below the knot that held the webbing to the thumb. Try as I did to pull the extra through the whole so there would be enough to tie another knot, the string was too stiff. Every attempt to tie it was met with another crack or break. The leather had become unusable because it had lost its natural flexibility and elasticity. I had to buy new leather strapping and restring the glove.

Wineskins were made of animal skins – leather – that had been properly tanned so that it would remain soft, flexible, and elastic. New wine would be placed in the skin, and as it continued to ferment the wineskin would expand to accommodate the gases being released during the process. That’s what Jesus is referring to when He said, “No one puts new wine into old wineskins.” In order for the wineskin to properly accomplish its purpose it had to remain elastic.

Most wineskins were hung from the center pole of the tents in which the people lived. But as the smoke from the cooking and warming fires would rise upward in the tent to escape out the roof, the wineskin would be affected by the smoke. It would start to char and turn black, and would become stiff and rigid. Wineskins had to be constantly replaced because of the effects of the smoke upon them. They were unusable when they lost their elasticity, and heat and smoke caused it to happen.

The Psalmist relates to us that he feels like a wineskin hung in the smoke because of the trials he is experiencing in his life. The fires of affliction have started to minimize his elasticity. Prior to the afflictions, he was flexible and able to expand with the increased stress. He absorbed the bubbles of his fermenting foes and contained them. But the constant heat and smoke of the fires is starting to harden him. There are cracks developing. There is no more room for expansion. One more issue could cause him to burst.

Can we relate to him? Is that how life feels right now? But unlike wineskins that cannot be returned to a state of elasticity once the leather has become hard and stiff, the Psalmist understands that his heart can be restored through the statutes and promises of God. Trust in God’s Word is the salve that saves when rubbed into the heart.

In the modern world we have so refined the tanning process that leather is now used for car seats, gloves, and multiple other applications where flexibility, elasticity, and durability are all required. Leather treatments have been developed that when rubbed into the leather help preserve the natural qualities of it. But if not cared for, the leather will still dry out and crack. Just check out the leather on the driver’s seats of both my cars. And no matter how much rubbing of leather protectants I do, the cracks won’t go away.

But when the Word of God is rubbed into our hearts, elasticity returns. We are restored to functionality so that we can absorb the bubbles of fermenting foes again. We are given back our elasticity so we can handle the unforeseen stresses that fire up in our lives each day. God’s promise of His steadfast love and faithfulness to us are the protectant we need from the smoke of sin that surrounds us every day. God’s Word keeps us soft, supple, and strong.

So when you notice, or when someone else loves you enough to tell you that they notice, that you are getting hard and brittle, let the Word of God become the healing salve that restores your elasticity. The wineskin is not responsible for what is put into it, or for what outward circumstances influence it: it is only responsible to remain elastic and flexible. Don’t let the issues of life make you hard. Let the Word of God keep you elastic.