The Song of the Redeemed

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Today’s Topic: Redeemed!

Today’s Text:  Luke 1:68 (ESV) “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people…”

Titus 2:14 (ESV)  [Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Job 19:25 (ESV)  For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

Bought back and set free – that’s what it means to be redeemed. It is the theme of Zechariah’s praise when his son John is born. Of all the things he could have said after 9 months of muteness, he burst forth in a song of redemption. God has visited the earth with one purpose in mind – to buy back his people who had been sold into slavery to sin and set them free.

A.J. Gordon was the great Baptist pastor of the Clarendon Church in Boston, Massachusetts. One day he met a young boy in front of the sanctuary carrying a rusty cage in which several birds fluttered nervously.

Gordon inquired, “Son, where did you get those birds?”

The boy replied, “I trapped them out in the field.”

“What are you going to do with them?”

“I’m going to play with them, and then I guess I’ll just feed them to an old cat we have at home.”

When Gordon offered to buy them, the lad exclaimed, “Mister, you don’t want them, they’re just little old wild birds and can’t sing very well.”

Gordon replied, “I’ll give you $2 for the cage and the birds.”

“Okay, it’s a deal, but you’re making a bad bargain.”

The exchange was made and the boy went away whistling, happy with his shiny coins. Gordon walked around to the back of the church property, opened the door of the small wire coop, and let the struggling creatures soar into the blue.

The next Sunday he took the empty cage into the pulpit and used it to illustrate his sermon about Christ’s coming to seek and to save the lost — paying for them with His own precious blood. “That boy told me the birds were not songsters,” said Gordon, “but when I released them and they winged their way heavenward, it seemed to me they were singing, ‘Redeemed, redeemed, redeemed!'”

This is Christmas. And the message of these times is the song of those wild birds.

It’s the meaning behind every gift given under the tree: Redeemed!

It’s the Word the shepherds heard: Redeemed!

It’s the assurance Mary received: Redeemed!

It’s the star the Wisemen followed: Redeemed!

You and I have been trapped by sin, but Christ has purchased our pardon with His death on the cross. He has guaranteed our freedom by His resurrection from the dead.

We have been redeemed!

May our lips never cease to praise the One who redeemed us.

Climb Into the Manger

Connecting Points

Monday, December 16, 2013

Today’s Topic: Be Content

Today’s Text:  Luke 2:11 (ESV)  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage. They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger.

Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word. Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city.

Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of flannel, cut from a worn-out nightgown an American lady was throwing away as she left Russia, were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.

Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib. He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.

So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him—for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed.

The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS.

Have you truly found the Christ of Christmas?

How Long Would You Wait?

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Today’s Topic: Be Content

Today’s Text:  Luke 2:36-37 (ESV)
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.

We are easily bored. We even have statements that validate our boredom. I have a friend who when asked how he is always responds with the statement, “You know…same old same old.”

We have a hard time with things staying status quo. Even though we find it hard to change, we demand it. We don’t like permanent routine. Some persevere longer than others when sameness reigns, but ultimately they surrender to the discontented spirit that lives in each of us that wants things new and better.

I speak as the king of discontent. I love new things. I love change. I love risk. I want more and better. I have never truly learned to be content. That’s why the story of Anna from the Christmas narrative in Luke 2 fascinates me.

Anna was an ordinary woman with a tragic life story. She had been married at a young age, probably around sixteen as was customary. After seven years of marriage her husband died and left her a widow. She was left with nothing. Jewish law forbids women from owning property. If her husband had any wealth it would have been given to the first-born son, but there is no indication that they had any children. She was alone with nowhere to turn.

She went to the temple in an act of humble submission to whatever God would provide for her, and a willingness to be content with it. The priests took her in and opened up one of the living quarters in the courtyard to her, where she lived for the next sixty-eight years. Every day and every night she did the very same thing – she prayed and fasted before the Lord.

There is no way of knowing how many people were touched by her faithful service in the temple and her patient endurance of a sub-par lifestyle when compared to others. Other widows, like Ruth of the Old Testament, were rescued from their predicament by a kinsman redeemer who brought them hope and security. But it was not so for Anna. No relative came forward to provide her a home and a family. She was alone.

But Anna never felt alone because she knew she wasn’t really alone. She had God, and He was sufficient. She was content with God’s presence and His provision for her life. Nothing ever changed. Nothing ever got better. She was never offered more. Day after day the status quo ruled, and yet the same old same old never really got old, because she lived her life with the assurance and hope of the coming Messiah who would redeem Jerusalem.

Then one day, in a powerful affirmation of her contentment, God arranged her life and His Son’s life to intersect. My imagination turns to the scene in heaven, where God points to what is taking place in the temple and enthusiastically exclaims to His angels, “Watch this!”

Anna is walking across the temple courtyard, worshipping the Lord and looking for an opportunity to minister to someone. She sees a commotion in the area where little Jewish boys are brought for their circumcision. A man who was not a priest is holding a baby and loudly proclaiming words of prophecy about the Messiah. She immediately walks over to investigate, and is instantly overwhelmed with the reality that she is looking at the Redeemer of Jerusalem.

God claps.

Heaven explodes with cheers of Hallelujah.

Anna gives thanks to God and begins a new phase of life in which she will proclaim redemption to anyone who wants to hear it.

God rewards contentment with His presence. I wonder if Anna felt it was worth the wait.

But I also wonder if our lack of contentment is keeping us from fully experiencing His presence.

Life is a Parking Lot

Connecting Points

Friday, December 06, 2013

 Today’s Topic: Stay Inside the Lines

Today’s Text:  Luke 2:25 (ESV)
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.

Yesterday was the first Thursday of the month. That’s significant because on that specific day there is an event I attend. It’s nothing fancy or elaborate, but it is important because it involves connecting with other men my age (sorry James Alan). We simply call it The Old Men’s Luncheon, and appropriately we meet at the Old Country Buffet.

When I arrived at the luncheon yesterday and pulled into the parking area that parallels Clairemont Avenue, I noticed something was wrong. All of the cars that were parked along the frontage road were angled the wrong way. Someone had pulled into the first parking space headed in the wrong direction. Every car after that had ignored the normal parking pattern and had followed the lead of the first car. So I had a choice between following the new pattern and parking correctly so that every car after me would also park correctly.

Now the problem really started when the ice and snow covered up all the parking space lines so they were not visible. When that first car pulled in, several possibilities came into play. Maybe they were new to town and had never parked there before so they had no point of reference when choosing how to position their vehicle. Maybe they did know the lines were there, but for convenience sake they simply pulled in, knowing that if questioned they could claim ignorance because the lines weren’t visible. But the motive of the first car’s driver is not my main focus. Rather, I want to address the heart of all subsequent drivers, including me, who followed the wrong pattern after it had been established.

The real issue is not this parking lot. Whether the cars angle one way or the other is not really significant. But the behavior of all the drivers illustrates a deep spiritual principle: the coldness of our hearts that covers the moral lines by which we are guided to make decisions.

We all have a moral code written into our minds. We have been taught where the lines are. Thou shalt not commit murder. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not bear false witness (lie). Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt have no other gods before YHWH (Jehovah). There are a total of ten boundary lines on the parking lot of life. We can park ourselves anywhere inside those lines, but the Owner of the lot commands us not to cross the lines.

The reality is that our sinful human nature loves to cross lines. Even when the lines are visible we still cross them, somehow thinking that we are immune to the consequences. This is intentional rebellion.  But an even bigger issue is when we choose to cross lines that are not visible even though we know they are there. For a variety of reasons, the moral lines God painted have been covered up by man’s progressive thinking. As a result, we have started parking outside the lines because someone else did. As we observe how they parked, all of the following things flash through our mind:

  • They parked wrong
  • They are getting away with it – there’s no ticket on their windshield
  • It sure makes sense to park that way
  • It’s a lot more convenient to just follow the pattern
  • It be a mess to park correctly now and mess up the next guy
  • I will actually be helping others by parking the way everyone else does
  • I wouldn’t want to park correctly and make the guy who parked wrong feel bad.

I know these thoughts, because I followed the pattern too. Again, I’m not really talking about the parking lot; I’m talking about everyday life choices to stay inside God’s lines or follow the pattern of the world.

The lines are almost invisible. The only way the world can still see them is by following the pattern of someone who knows they are there.

That’s me.

That’s you.

Take It to Heart

Connecting Points

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Today’s Topic: Devout

Today’s Text:  Luke 2:25-27 (ESV)
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple…

He was just a common citizen of his community. We know nothing noteworthy that he had ever done. He was not a sports hero nor was he an entertainer. He had not attained a position of prestige as a person of public prominence. We don’t know his family history or heritage. We don’t even know his profession, yet we know clearly what he professed. He is singled out from the ordinary as a man who was righteous and devout, and lived his life under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit of God.

Simeon reminds us all that no one is obscure or insignificant to God.  God recognizes us, and rewards faithfulness with public and eternal acclaim. But we must not let the reward be our motivation or it will never come. Seeking personal gain is contradictory to righteous and devout living.

Simeon was living daily in the hope that each day would be THE day that the Lord would fulfill His promise to him. The word devout means to take well. In other words, it means to believe what has been promised and then live according to that promise. For Simeon it meant that every step of every day was directed by his belief that he was being led closer to the realization of what God had told him. Imagine waking every morning and having every thought, every idea, and every plan completely immersed in the hope of what God has promised. That was the devout life of Simeon. That is the life we all desire.

On this specific day, Simeon knew the Holy Spirit was directing him to go to the temple. He obeyed. He would have missed everything promised if he had not listened and obeyed. But he did listen, and he did obey, because he truly believed what God had said. And because he believed, he saw the Savior!

Simeon’s life is now eternally on display as an example of God’s recognition and reward of righteous people who live not for self but devoutly believe the Word of the Lord. In one step of obedience Simeon went from obscure to obvious; from insignificant to illustrious.

He saw the Savior.  He held the Savior in his arms. He spoke God’s truth about the Savior. He blessed the parents with preparatory prophecy about God’s purpose for the Savior’s pain and their own.  He played a pivotal role in the declaration of God’s redemptive plan for all people.

No one is obscure or insignificant to God. Take time today to be still and listen. Simeon’s God knows you. The Savior defines your worth. He is waiting for you to believe what He is saying to you. He is longing for you to act upon it so He can declare your significance publicly and rejoice over you with song!

Pastor John


Start Connecting

Connecting Points

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Today’s Topic: Start Connecting

Today’s Text:  Acts 2:44-47 (ESV)
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

No, you are not imagining this. You are not dreaming. It is really happening. You have received a long overdue Connecting Points devotional from Pastor John. I will give you a moment to pick yourself up and recover.

Recently I received a request to start writing these devotionals again, and I made a commitment to do it consistently starting in January. But last night at the Elder meeting I was encouraged to begin now, and I was even given a topic with which to begin. So today I want to write a Connecting Point about Connecting.

If you ask the average person in our church they would say that we are a very friendly bunch. Most newcomers to our church agree. But it is becoming very evident that there is a difference between being friendly and being connected. There are days when I meet dozens of friendly people as I meander through life. There are friendly clerks at stores, friendly customers in lines, friendly drivers in cars around me, friendly waitresses at restaurants, and friendly passers-by on the street.

Yet in most people’s lives, very few connections are made with any of the friendly people we see.  We don’t ask for the waitress’s name, and even if they’re wearing a name badge we don’t try to learn it and use it as they serve us. We don’t talk to the people in the check-out line with us, and the only conversation we have with the cashier is when we disagree about the price of an item. Rather than lift a finger to wave at the driver of the car near us, we shake a finger in frustration at what they did to delay our progress. And other than the standard “How are you?” question we ask to appear friendly and connected, we never go any deeper, and we hope they don’t break protocol and answer with something other than “I’m fine.  How are you?”

We have deferred all personal connections to people to the most impersonal world of social media. We are losing our interpersonal relational skills. Asking for someone’s name scares us to death because it may lead to deeper conversation which will require time, transparency, and trust, all of which we keep locked up in a safe to prevent loss or pain.

Our church is growing – FAST. I met a family for the first time on Sunday who has been attending since September. I was embarrassed, until I realized that with the size of our congregation it is going to be impossible for me to meet everyone. But someone has to meet them. Someone has to connect with them, or they will leave and we will become an unfriendly church that cares only about staying small enough to never be stretched. I was so glad to hear that they were already connected to another family in our church and had a relationship with them.

I also saw another new couple in church on Sunday. They arrived early and I got to greet them. I had remembered them from their first visit to our church the previous week. We chatted for a moment, and they headed for the coffee fellowship. They got their food and coffee, and sat down at one of the tables. After about five minutes of observing multiple people walk past them without any form of greeting, I went over to talk to them some more. I was embarrassed again, not because I hadn’t done my part, but because others were so busy that they didn’t notice a new face and try to make a connection.

One of the marks of the early church was that they truly cared about one another, spent time with one another, and welcomed all those who were daily being added to their number as God brought them to salvation. One of the marks of a truly healthy church is that there is always room for more – not in the building, but in the believer’s lives.

So I want to challenge you to start connecting. When you see a face – any face – that you don’t recognize, simply walk up to them and ask, “Have we met?” Then make a connection. Move beyond friendly into the realm of fellowship. It will not only bless you as you see God stretch your boundaries and your limitations and fill you with His grace to do it, but it will bless those who are new as they see that there is a place for them to connect to God and grow in their faith.