God’s power on display

manger-cross - Oswalt quote

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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Christmas, Quotes


There is no RIGHT way to do evangelism

When it comes to sharing one’s faith, one size doesn’t fit all. There is not just one right way to do it. The methods of evangelism are as different and plentiful as there are personalities. While we are to share Jesus with those around us, the way we do it can be varied and creative. Dave Earley makes this point in his book, Evangelism Is …: How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence.

My friend, Paul, has the spiritual gift of prophecy. His preferred way of evangelizing is boldly speaking to strangers on busy street corners. Every Friday night he hits the streets and attempts to engage lost people in conversations where he can proclaim biblical truth. Patti also has the gift of prophecy and uses it to debate atheists and Muslim students at her state university.

Sandy has the gift of servant. She is amazing at fixing meals for people who have been ill or who have family members in the hospital. Sam also has this gift.

Tom is a teacher. He works hard to get his coworkers to join him every day during lunch for a brief time of Bible study. Tim is also a teacher, but he is most comfortable dialoguing with spiritual seeks on chat boards over the Internet.

Elle is an encourager. She is gifted at encouraging lost people to come to church with her. Ernie also is an encourager, but his style is to encourage lost people to take the next step and cross the line of faith.

Grant is a successful businessman and a generous giver. He has personally given the money to build two orphanages in Africa. Jacob and Ashley also have this gift. They save up their money every week so they will have to the funds to give and evangelize. Every Sunday they look for single moms who are visiting their church. Then they offer to treat them and their children to a nice lunch afterward. Over lunch they discern the young ladies’ spiritual condition and look to share the gospel.

Leah is a leader. She completely organized the five-year-old children’s ministry of her church so the teachers and helpers have reached all the children and their families with the gospel.

Marc is skilled at showing mercy. He goes out every Friday night to the homeless camps downtown. He feeds the men and takes them blankets, coats, and firewood in the winter. As a result he has shared the gospel with most of them and has seen several come to Christ.

All of these people do evangelism in different ways in accordance with their God-given spiritual gifts. All are active evangelists, and God has blessed their efforts.

How do you share your faith?


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Posted by on December 16, 2014 in Books, Evangelism, Quotes


The Message of Christmas: Comfort

December is a season of expectation. But as we know full well, expectations do not always match up with reality.

We look forward to a sumptuous holiday meal with all the trimmings. We’re disappointed when the store is out of cranberries or the turkey is overcooked. We expect we’ll find a close parking spot at the mall so we can get in and out quickly and grab the perfect gift. We’re frustrated when we are waiting in line with 900 of our closest friends who all want to purchase the same item. We want an 8-foot beautifully decorated tree for under $50. We’re discouraged when we wind up with a refugee from a Charlie Brown Christmas pageant. We take our kids to the mall to get a Hallmark-worthy-Christmas-picture-with-Santa. We’re depressed when the picture reveals Santa’s weary face and the kids are crying.

At times like this, we desperately need the comfort that is found in the message of Christmas. Isaiah 40:1-11 reminds us that Jesus Christ brings a message of comfort and hope to those who are discouraged and disillusioned. He forgives our sins, reveals his glory, keeps his promises, and carries us during times of trial. Jesus Christ is the shepherd who delivers his people.

We can take comfort in knowing that God forgives our sins (1-2). Isaiah 40 is written to Israel while she was in exile in Babylon. The people felt defeated, bitter, and disillusioned. God sent a message of hope that her punishment was complete and he had forgiven her sins. God’s compassionate forgiveness is an act of divine grace that brings comfort to his people.

We are to prepare ourselves to receive God’s presence (3-5). God comes to us in the wilderness and desert of our lives. Our part is to get ready to receive him, because right now we aren’t ready. We are to confess our sins and remove the barriers that keep us from God. When God comes, his glory will be revealed to the entire world.

Life is short, but God is dependable (6-8). Outside my window are barren trees. The leaves turned color in the fall and dropped to the ground. During the winter, they appear lifeless. Like grass and wild flowers and leaves on trees, people are temporary. In contrast, God never fails for his word endures forever. Knowing that God keeps his promises brings comfort to us during times of difficulty.

Jesus is the shepherd who delivers his people (9-11). God is pictured as a tender shepherd who carefully carries and leads the weak and helpless members of his flock. His arm is strong enough to defeat his enemies in battle, yet gentle and loving enough to carry his weary lambs. This is the good news that we are to shout to everyone around us.

I take away four principles from this passage; four instructions or commands that we are to practice:

  • Comfort others with the message of forgiveness. The bad news of Christmas is that we will never be good enough to earn God’s favor. The good news is we don’t have to. God has pardoned us and forgiven our sins.
  • Remove any barrier that prevents someone from seeing God’s glory. We should aspire to be road graders for Jesus, making it easy for people to hear about him and believe his message.
  • Tell your friends that God can be trusted. We are to cry out that God keeps his promises and he never fails.
  • Shout the good news about Jesus to those around you. He is the shepherd who delivers his people. That is great news indeed.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on December 14, 2014. It is part of a series on The Message of Christmas. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Refreshed by truth and beauty

IMG_0014Last night, Carol and I drove an hour south to the Oakdale Theater in Wallingford, CT, to see The Piano Guys in concert. It was an uplifting evening. The concert of piano and cello music was a mixture of classical, pop, sacred, rock, and Christmas music in an atmosphere of passion, energy, creativity, and pure fun.

Beyond enjoying the music, I took away two lessons.

IMG_0015We immersed ourselves in an atmosphere of truth and beauty as we enjoyed the music. It was uplifting, encouraging, and refreshing. I need more experiences and times of refreshment like that. I came away renewed and encouraged.

The artists are Mormons who believe in God. Since they are not Christ followers, we certainly differ on what it means to be saved. (Steven Sharp Nelson gave a somewhat awkward explanation of the words of the Christmas carol, “O Come, O Come Immanuel,” and what it means to be ransomed.) That being said, they play with passion, energy, and joy. IMG_0017They use their musical and artistic gifts to celebrate life, beauty, and spirituality. Why don’t we evangelicals who know the truth about God, Jesus, and salvation worship with the same sense of passion? Why don’t we use our gifts and abilities to celebrate Jesus and point people to him?

Great concert. Great venue. An enjoyable evening with my wife. I was refreshed.

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Posted by on December 11, 2014 in Music, Personal growth, Photos


Russia 2015 Update

Periodically, I sent out updates on my preparations for my trip to Russia in February 2015. I try to keep my supporters informed regarding how much money has come in towards the goal, what I am working on, and how they can pray for me. Here’s a copy of the latest letter I sent out this week.

First Central Baptist Church

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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in House of Grace, Ministry, Prayer, Russia


A church failure becomes a case study to learn from

The online edition of Leadership Journal December 2014 contains an insightful article, “The Painful Lessons of Mars Hill.” Having lived and ministered in Seattle, and pastored a church not far from the Mars Hill main campus, I have followed the church’s story with great interest, concern, and empathy. While perhaps not the final word on the subject, the author, Ben Tertin, has added some wise insights as to why things went downhill.

(Bill) Clem pastored alongside Driscoll for more than half a decade, and he refuses to single out Driscoll, church structure, staff culture, or any problem as the one that “necessitated wrapping the car around the pole,” as he puts it. Perhaps no singular, simple answer will ever emerge.

Nevertheless, Clem says, the structure of Mars Hill—which over time consolidated power and financial decisions in the central organization—did play a role. “As the structure became more refined, the driving motive became efficiency and growth, and those two factors began dictating church policy.”

Tim Gaydos, pastor and elder at Mars Hill’s downtown Seattle campus from 2006-2013, sees principles from Galatians 2 playing out here. “This all began as a work of the Spirit,” he comments, “but we quickly started to push harder and harder, trying to accomplish it with human efforts—bigger, better, faster, stronger.”

“One of the things that drew my wife and me in early was being involved in a particular neighborhood context, operating with a strong theology of time and place,” Gaydos says. “But that started to shift significantly—to focus more on expansion to wherever we could find podcasters to set up a new site.”

Welcome to the whole Seattle mindset, Clem says. “Some say, ‘Let’s deliver packages,’ but Seattle says, ‘No. Let’s make it Amazon.’ Some say, ‘Let’s have coffee,’ but Seattle says, ‘No. Let’s make it Starbucks.’ ‘Let’s have a grocery store.’ ‘No! Let’s make it Costco.’ Microsoft. Google. Boeing. Seattle is about power, expansion, and world domination.”

The principle held true when that corporate drive took hold of Mars Hill.

His analysis of the Seattle mindset of “bigger is always better” is certainly spot on. The culture of Costco, Microsoft, Amazon, Boeing, etc., certainly added a unique pressure to ministry and especially to people’s expectations.

The author closes his article with four wise observations and principles for churches and pastors to keep in mind.

The Mars Hill empire has collapsed, under the weight of business principles gone wrong and the lie of celebrity ministry. But the key rot in the Mars Hill roots wasn’t just the structure; it was the source of dependence.

“When it is dependent upon one charismatic leader,” says McKnight, “it is not dependent on Jesus.”

What if Mars Hill’s elder board had been able to keep things properly Christ-centered? What if, from the onset, the church’s DNA actively demanded Christian maturity and biblical wisdom over celebrity, expansion, and influence? We can only speculate, and seek to learn from the rubble of the Mars Hill collapse. Four key principles emerge:

1. A pastor’s character shapes the church.

Pastors and leaders need to stop obsessing over methodology and cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Schlaepfer says, “You need to realize the fact that you are going to reproduce your soul in your church, whether you intend to or not. And if you are sarcastic and defensive and arrogant, that’s going to be reproduced in your people. Your soul, the fruit of the Spirit that’s in your life, your strength and weaknesses as a leader, are going to be reproduced in that church.”

2. “Submitted” does not mean “quiet.”

“I am wrestling now with what loyalty means,” says Clem, looking back on his days as a Mars Hill pastor. “I feel like I kept quiet as a pastor and elder at Mars Hill in a commitment to ‘unity.’ I put up with stuff I probably should not have put up with because I thought I was submitting to authority.

“But you know, Paul ironically writes ‘submit to authorities’ while he was in prison! For him, submission looked like ‘I’m going to do what I need to do under God, and you do what you need to do; you have the right to it.’ Whereas non-submission is ‘I get to do whatever I want, and you don’t have any right to punish me for it.'”

3. Beware of false “success.”

Statements like, “Good leaders have followers” or “Living things grow” become mantras at churches like Mars Hill, says Gaydos. This logic extrapolates quickly to “great leaders have tons of followers” and “the faster things grow, the more alive they are.” Soon, small attendance numbers and slow growth become problems to conquer.

“Beware of the theology of victory, which I think is very prominent in America,” Gaydos says. “This victory theology is ‘get upstream,’ ‘let’s change culture,’ ‘let’s change the world,’ ‘let’s start a movement’ kind of thinking. We become more concerned with ‘doing something great’ and less concerned with simply living as a faithful presence and witness in our neighborhoods and cities.

“If you are finding yourself worrying about ‘leaving a legacy’ or ‘What does the city think about what we’re doing’ or ‘What will you leave behind,’ soon it will be all about your movement and not about your relationship with Jesus at all, simply receiving his love and presence.”

Every young pastor needs to have a mentor relationship with a pastor who has been pastoring for at least 25 years in a church that is ‘not’ a megachurch. “You first need to know what it means to be a godly church, and then figure out how that affects the city,” says Clem. “Do not say, ‘Our number one goal is to impact the city, and hopefully we won’t compromise being the church while doing that.'”

4) Emulate Christ’s servant-leadership.

McKnight comments, “Jesus offers what I think is the most significant statement about leadership in the entire Bible that will lead us toward a gospel culture. He uses language that we are all afraid of. He says that you are not to be called Rabbi, you are not to call anyone father, you are not to be called instructors, because you have one teacher—Jesus, and you have one Father—God the Father, and you have one instructor—the Messiah. The greatest will be your servant.

“So, a gospel culture is created when the pastor is the most submissive to Jesus in the culture itself. When he models discipleship the most, he will never suffer from creating a toxic culture.

“For this reason, every young pastor needs to have a mentor relationship with a pastor who has been pastoring for at least 25 years in a church that is not a megachurch. They will learn what true pastoring is really like, not celebrity pastoring.”

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Posted by on December 9, 2014 in Church, News stories, Seattle


Women’s Christmas Friendship Dinner

Last night, the women of First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, gathered for a Women’s Christmas Friendship Dinner. The theme was “A Vintage Christmas.” Pam Ondrick transformed the gymnasium and the table hostesses decorated their respective tables. Rose Eldridge, Chris Ames, and Dennis Fenton cooked a tasty dinner. The men of the church waited the tables. Denise Ridley was the guest speaker. 155 women attended, half of which were guests. It was a wonderful evening of outreach. The leaders are already talking about possible changes to make next year’s event even more effective and successful. Thanks go to all who made it a success.


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