Go Ahead – Test Them

Connecting Points

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Today’s Topic: Put Them to the Test

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:140 (NLT) Your promises have been thoroughly tested; that is why I love them so much.

I haven’t seen one for a long time, but it used to be that in every pair of new pants I would buy there would be a little white piece of paper in one of the pockets. On it were printed the words “Inspected by” followed by a number or a name. It was the manufacturer’s promise of quality control.

I also noticed that mechanical devices are stamped with a symbol like this – UL   Underwriters Laboratories is a safety consulting and certification company established in 1894 and has participated in the safety analysis of many of the last century’s new technologies, most notably the public adoption of electricity and the drafting of safety standards for electrical devices and components. Their stamp on devices we purchase is a promise of quality control because we know they have been thoroughly tested.

There is a difference between inspecting and testing. I’m pretty sure that Rudy, the pants inspector, didn’t personally try on every pair of pants that passed by him. My pants weren’t tested, but they were inspected. However, the new microwave or refrigerator or television was plugged in and tested prior to packaging – at least it would be by a reputable company.

When we purchase something, it comes with certain expectations of performance. We love things that work, and we get frustrated at things that don’t live up to the sales pitch. Several years ago, when a good friend of mine left for the mission field, he left some things at my house that he couldn’t take with him. He left a very nice rechargeable air pump with several other options built in. He said he wanted me to keep it for him. After a year of looking at it, I finally decided I needed to use it. I plugged it in, and after 24 hours came back to use it. It didn’t work. The battery would not charge. It was worthless. Sorry Dudley.

I was disappointed. It was a nice unit, but it did not fulfill the expectations it had promised. The same can be said about the Axe body spray he left behind. Not all things can do what the creator of them says they can do.

But there is a Creator who faithfully and completely fulfills promises. He has appointed us testers of them. His very nature eliminates the need for testing, and yet He says “Put them to the test.”  When we do, we discover what the Psalmist was able to say when he wrote, This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 18:30 ESV) King Solomon wrote, Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” (Proverbs 30:5 ESV)

Every promise of God has been thoroughly tested by the fire of God’s holiness. Now it is time for us to test them so that we can say we truly love them.

Yesterday, as I was communicating with a friend about a trial of fire he was passing through, I wrote something to him that caught my attention. That happens a lot with me because I trust the Holy Spirit so much to give me the right words to say, so that when something comes out its as much a surprise to me as to the people who hear it. Here’s what God said – “Every day holds God’s glory, and is designed by Him to build our faith so we can see it.” Every day is filled with fiery tests that are designed by God so that we can test His promises. Once thoroughly tested, we will love the promises, and we will love the Promisor more.

What is God doing in your life right now that is His invitation for you to test His promises?

Pastor John   

Whose Face Do You See?

Connecting Points

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Today’s Topic: Whose Face Do You See? 

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:135 (ESV) Make your face shine upon your servant…

Numbers 6:24-26 (ESV)  The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

Please bear with me as I begin with a rather obvious and somewhat stupid question. When you look in the mirror, whose face do you see? I told you it was obvious and stupid. Of course, we see our own face.

Next question – When you look at someone else, whose face do you see? At first that seems like just as stupid and obvious of a question, but I want you to think about something. I wish to present the possibility that when we look at other people we actually see our own face.

How is that possible? Well, if certain things are true about us, and for most of us they are, then it is not only possible but probable.

Many of us are not yet sure of our true identity. We wonder if we have any intrinsic value. We tend to define ourselves with lists of accomplishments or relationships. We ask others to affirm us based on our abilities, many of which are learned for the specific purpose of impressing people. We seek to affirm ourselves with the approval of people who like us because of our personalities, when even our personality is nothing more than the mimicking of others we define as popular.

In all of these things, people become the idol we choose to bring value to our lives. And there it is – when we see their face we really see our face because we have empowered them to reflect to us our identity. When we see their face, we see what value they bring to us. We use face time with people to enhance our own face, so in essence when we see them we are really seeing only ourselves.

I apologize if this makes sense only to me, but I believe our Enemy the Devil has us in powerful chains of bondage in this area. The bondage is this – we believe that living as Christians is all about doing rather than being. We believe that our identity is determined by our deeds rather than our deeds motivated by our identity.

This morning I was awakened at 4:30 AM with the sound of thunder. That’s pretty rare for January in Wisconsin. I tried to go back to sleep, but events from the day before kept running through my mind. As I prayed about those events, the Lord brought this thought to me – What’s the difference between doing and being?

I thought about that question at great length and don’t have time to share with you all of the ways that the Lord broke my heart and started rebuilding it. Then when I read this verse in today’s section of Psalm 119, I saw the answer. When we focus on doing, we are looking at our own face, but when we focus on being we see only God’s face.

Every one of us will apply this truth to different areas of our lives, but the root cause of the issue is the same in all of us: it is an expression of pride that seeks to earn value and establish identity from some source other than God alone. We all, in some form and to some degree, seek our own face.

The truth of the Gospel is this – the pursuit of our own identity ends in eternal death, but the identity of Christ in us gives us eternal life. It matters not for eternity how other people or my productivity define me, but only how Christ defines me that has bearing on my eternal soul. It is only when we become absolutely content with the Face of our Lord shining on us, in us, and through us that we will find peace.

So it’s a valid question – Whose face do you see? Your answer is evidence of the gods or God you have chosen.

Pastor John

Get Past the Balloons

Connecting Points

Monday, January 28, 2013

Today’s Topic: Open the Door        

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:130 (ESV) The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.

It was an idea we found on Pinterest. Okay, I’ve just lost all the male readers. Stick with me if you can.

It was nearing the time that the grandkid’s parents would be returning home, and they wanted to surprise them so. So off to the dollar store we went to buy plastic tablecloths and balloons.

First, blow up all the balloons – two packages.

Second, write a greeting on one of the tablecloths.

Third, secure each side of the greeting tablecloth to each wall beside the back door, forming a barricade.

Fourth, secure the second tablecloth in the same manner but 12-14 inches behind the first one towards the inside of the house.

Finally, fill the space between the tablecloths with the balloons.

We had just finished eating supper when we heard the overhead garage door open.

“They’re here!” came the shouts from the kids, who hadn’t seen their parents in nine days. They all took their places in the kitchen, except the youngest, who wanted to hide.

The door slowly open and the kids could hear their mommy and daddy talking and reading the greeting. They could see the bulges of the balloons and wondered out loud what to do. The kids were quiet.

Suddenly, and a huge rip appeared in both tablecloths, caused by the hands of mom and dad. Unfortunately, they ripped both tablecloths so the balloons came pouring into the kitchen rather than just onto them. That caused a mad scramble for balloons by the kids, ignoring mom and dad. As Denise and I watched it was kind of funny to see the kids more interested in the balloons than they were the parents they hadn’t seen. The youngest one especially took forever to jump into the arms of his mommy. But once they all did, the balloons didn’t matter anymore. They were in the arms of the ones they loved.

This is the image we have in today’s Scripture. Look with special interest at the word “unfolding.”  This is the only place in the Bible this word is used in this form, and its simple definition is “a doorway,”  but it is so much more than just a doorway, for it also bears the meaning of opening and unfolding. The more the door is opened, the more the light will shine. The more the door is opened, the greater the understanding of the truths of God’s love.

Think back to the balloon story. When the door – the tablecloths – was opened, the simple thrill of balloons appeared and captured the fancy of the kids. But as the doorway of tablecloths opened wider so that the parents could pass through, the greater thrill of relationship was revealed, replacing the simple joy of a toy with the more fulfilling joy of hugs and kisses.

So it is to be with our devotional study of God’s Word. The smallest opening reveals light, but we are not to be content to see only a sliver of the Sonshine. We must press on through the initial joys of the first light of dawn, and push open the door wider and wider to reveal the full brightness of the Son’s glory. Let us not be satisfied to see dimly and play only on the floor with balloons, but let us unfold the Word of God so that we are lifted up and embraced by the arms of our Father.

Pastor John

No Going Back

Connecting Points

Friday, January 25, 2013

Today’s Topic: The Past is Sufficient          

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:127 (NLT) Truly, I love your commands more than gold, even the finest gold.

Every Thursday evening I host a Bible Study for anyone interested in digging into the truths of God’s Word through a verse-by-verse study of a book of the Bible. Currently we are studying First Peter.

Last night we had a fascinating discussion about a passage that really wrapped me up in a blanket woven with threads of conviction and challenge. Here’s the passage:

1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 1 Peter 4:1-3 (ESV)

Our conversation hinged upon two pins –

  • We are to be willing to suffer in the flesh the way Jesus did because we understand the incredible nature of our salvation;
  • We are to be so in love with Jesus for how He suffered for us that we would never go back to the way we used to live before we met Him.

Here is the van Gorkom paraphrase of this passage, including commentary:

Since Jesus was so willing to suffer any abuse of His flesh because of His love for us, we choose to allow ourselves to suffer any abuse of our flesh because of our love for Him. When we make that choice, sin no longer has any attraction to us. We will live the rest of our days on this earth completely sold out to the will of God for our lives, and no longer seek to fulfill the passions of the flesh that have now been crucified with Christ.

You see, we are so in love with Jesus for saving us from our sin, and we are so completely satisfied and fulfilled in our relationship with Him, that whatever time we spent seeking to fulfill the desires of the flesh in the past are sufficient for the rest of our lives. We’ve been there, we’ve done that, and we never need to go back there and do it again! Why would we ever go back to what cannot really satisfy us when we have met the One who completely qualifies and affirms us.

So we are ready to suffer the loss of anything connected to the flesh so that we might be found faithful in serving the One we truly love. When our eyes offend us, we will symbolically pluck them out. When our hands continually turn to sin, we will symbolically cut them off. When our ears hear the insults and abuse of other people’s words we will plug them up and listen only to the affirming truths of God’s words to us. Since we have found our complete identity in Christ, we will not allow anyone or anything else to define us.

As I reflected this morning on that study last night, I thought of an illustration that I wish I would have shared last night. Remember the days of your youth when you pursued the pleasures of the flesh. You indulged yourself in any experience available in an attempt to find completeness. That was especially true with relationships, especially those with the opposite sex as you sought the fulfillment of physical pleasure. But then you met “THE ONE”. The true love of your life, and all of that changed. You no longer wanted to pursue anyone else or seek intimacy with anyone else. Once you were married, the time spent in past pursuits was sufficient for the rest of your life, because you had met one whose love completely satisfies you.

There you go. Now you know what Peter means. The time past suffices for doing what sinners do, because you have met “THE ONE” – the true love of your eternal soul. No sacrifice of the flesh is too great to love Him in return, and you will never turn back.

Empty-Handed

Connecting Points

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Today’s Topic: True Humility           

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:124 (ESV) Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes.

Forgive me for not having a cute story to tell today. My heart is overwhelmed with a truth I have discovered this morning about myself – a truth that is probably the reality of your life as well. I must get right into it.

Today’s Scripture verse stands in stark contrast to what the author stated just three verses earlier. In that earlier verse he states “I have done what is just and right, so here’s what I want.” But now he comes to seek something from the Lord based not on what he believes he has earned but on the sole merit of God’s love.

My spirit cries out to the Spirit of God this morning with cries of brokenness and repentance for I have so often demanded from God and from people what I believe I am owed because of what I have done. I have become dependent upon what I have done to validate my life. I have stood in front of and beside people with the expectation that I will be recognized for my abilities and accomplishments. I have come before the Lord Jesus Christ with sacrifices that offend Him – sacrifices of my own doing designed for my own benefit. I have said with the Psalmist, “Look at what I have done, now here’s what I need you to do for me.”

I have attempted to justify my self-centered core with visible coverings of righteous obedience. But I know my heart, and it so frequently demands my own priorities even while perfecting the pose of surrender. What appears before men to be humility is in fact pride at its worst.

Oh brothers and sisters, we must each come before the throne of grace with nothing to offer, and ask the Lord to deal with us according to His steadfast love, not according to our works. Who of us could stand before God and be declared righteous based on what we have done? Which one of us has done so much good that the Holy One of Heaven should declare us holy? Where is there one person in the whole of human history who can ask God for anything based on their own merit?

But wait, there is One. The Righteous One of Heaven who Himself lived here as one of us. He alone was truly holy, and yet He refused to ask anything from the Father based on His own merit and only asked based on the Father’s love. In His great prayer of John 17, after asking the Father to meet the needs of His disciples, Jesus asks only one thing for Himself – that the followers given to Him by the Father would be with Him where He is and see His glory. He offers no work as the basis for His request. He does no bargaining. His request is not self-serving, but totally God-centered. He simply appeals to the love of the Father.

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. John 17:24 (ESV)

There are so many ways I have negotiated with God because I have felt deserving of His attention. I know the same is true of you. In the recesses of our minds we think that God owes us His help to get us out of the current predicaments we are in, when in reality the predicament may be the most complete expression of His love to us right now. We believe, even if it be minutely, that if we have served Him well enough in one area of our lives that He owes us His help in areas where we have omitted Him. In our prideful attempt to validate ourselves we have even turned to seeking the approval of like-minded people who will encourage us rather than confront us about our sin. We come before the throne of grace with what we determine to be offerings of value, when grace is only granted to those who come empty-handed.

Oh God, my heart cries out to you in repentance that I and your people have become blinded to the reality of our own pride. We have become people who demand payment for services rendered. We are guilty of asking you to fulfill your promises to us based on our own abilities to earn them. We fall on our faces before you today and receive your forgiveness, and we invite you to deal with us according to your steadfast love and no longer according to our own good. It is grace that we seek, because we are empty. And when we receive it, we will remain empty of all of self so that only You will be seen in us.

Keep Looking

Connecting Points

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Today’s Topic: Keep Looking For It

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:123 (NIV)  My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise.

Have you ever looked for something so hard and for so long that your eyes just wouldn’t stay open any longer? That happens to me many times when I’m at my computer. Don’t tell my office administrator, but there are times in the afternoon that I actually fall asleep in my chair because my eyes are so tired from reading and looking for truths as I study.

Last night after a long Elder meeting following a long day at my desk, I came home and sat next to Denise as we searched for the best deal on a hotel room for tonight. We are treating the three grandkids to a trip to the Mall of America. They’ve never been there. As we searched the hotel sights, my eyes were literally burning with exhaustion. Twice I got up from the couch to go to bed but sat back down at the urging of my wife. My eyes were failing looking for the right room when the right room was just a few steps away.

What bothers me a lot about this is that I can’t say that my eyes have ever failed because of constant looking for the return of Jesus. They have failed looking for the right car or house to buy. They have failed looking for the right vacation to take. They have failed looking for the right investment of retirement dollars. But when was the last time I put that much effort into looking for the return of Jesus? Can I remember even one day when I looked multiple times during that day for Jesus to come back?

What a sad confession I make. I, the pastor who loves prophecy, spend very little time actually anticipating the return of Jesus to complete my salvation. I think this is exactly what the Apostle Paul refers to in First Thessalonians 5.

2 For you know quite well that the day of the Lord’s return will come unexpectedly, like a thief in the night. 3 When people are saying, “Everything is peaceful and secure,” then disaster will fall on them as suddenly as a pregnant woman’s labor pains begin. And there will be no escape. 4 But you aren’t in the dark about these things, dear brothers and sisters, and you won’t be surprised when the day of the Lord comes like a thief. 5 For you are all children of the light and of the day; we don’t belong to darkness and night. 6 So be on your guard, not asleep like the others. Stay alert and be clearheaded.

Eyes don’t fail during sleep, and we are mostly asleep when it comes to the expectation of the return of Jesus. Some of us are going to be surprised when it happens, but that is not what God intends. It should not surprise us because we constantly expect it and look for it. We are not surprised because we know when it will happen: we are not surprised because we know that it will happen.

No matter how the Devil tries,

Sinful pleasures to disguise,

Do not compromise.

Just open your eyes,

Keep constant watch on the skies,

Let His return not be a surprise.

 

Pastor John

For Future Delivery

Connecting Points

Friday, January 18, 2013

Today’s Topic: For Future Delivery 

Today’s Text:  Psalm 119:122 (ESV) Give your servant a pledge of good;

So far it’s been great. There may be rough days ahead, but to this point everything has gone very smoothly. The potential for sleepless nights and tension-filled days exists, but the present reality overcomes the temptation to fear what may or may not actually happen.

Having three kids around the house for nine days makes me feel young again. Well, actually, it reveals how old I am, but inside I feel young. Listening to a two-year old say “Hi Papa” when I enter the room just melts my heart. Hearing a six-year old granddaughter joke about my baldness doesn’t bother me a bit when she does it while cuddling with me on the couch. And watching a football game with a nine-year old who understands and loves the game (and the right team) the way he does is so enjoyable.

Now, if my daughter and son-in-law are reading this on the cruise ship today, don’t get any ideas about not coming back. I know they wouldn’t ever think that. But every once in a while, having these kids around for extended stays is a great idea. We’ll see how today goes after last night’s sleep-overs. Tired kids usually make for crabby kids.

Yesterday after church I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some things we needed – like milk. Boy can those kids go through the milk. When I go to the store I usually end up with more than what’s on the list. Yesterday was no exception. I bought two extra things. When I got home, I told the kids I bought them a treat. They came running with their expectations flying. They couldn’t stop asking what it was as I slowly and intentionally unpacked all the other groceries.

Finally I reached the bottom of the bag, and with a grand announcement I pulled out a bag of grapes. They love grapes, but it wasn’t anywhere in their expectations of what a treat should be. Their faces dropped with disappointment. They said thank-you, but in very reserved tones with no eye contact. They had been given a pledge of good and it had not been delivered.

But the bag was not empty yet. I reached down in one more time and grabbed what was still there. As I removed the items I asked, “So would this be better?” There in my hand was three bags of Skittles. There was an explosion of enthusiasm. They reached for them immediately, but I was still quick enough to pull them out of their reach. We hadn’t had lunch yet.

I told them the treats were for some time later – to be handed out at my discretion. I then placed them inside an out-of-reach cupboard. Of course I was bombarded with questions – “When can we have them?” “What do we have to do to earn them?” “Are they for after lunch?”

I simply said that they were for some time later. Since yesterday, they have not asked about them once. Have they forgotten that they are there? Not a chance. But they have accepted the pledge of good as a promise of delivery, and they are waiting for the Grandpa that they trust to make good on the pledge.

I’m waiting for the God I trust to make delivery on the good He has pledged. Some of it has already come. Some of it is still on its way. Someday, at His discretion, it will all be delivered. For today, I can just enjoy what’s going on, knowing that the God who made a pledge of good is incapable of failing to deliver His promises to me. His discretion as to when the delivery takes place is His way of teaching me faith and patience.

In fact, when I think about it, even the waiting for delivery of the expected good is God’s way of delivering to me the good that He knows I need right now – patience and faith. God is always making His good available to us!

Hey kids, the grapes are still on the counter. Eat up!