Two views of First Central Baptist Church‘s sign.
“Oy, if he were a rich man, but not by selling heaven on eBay” tells the story of Ari Mandel, an Army veteran and student at New York University who decided to sell his place in heaven on eBay. Apparently, some people took his joke seriously and bid up to $100,000! Too bad they didn’t read the Scriptures first to discover that heaven is a free gift.
Ephesians 2:8–9 – For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
John 14:6 – Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Several passages in the New Testament (Romans 16:16; 1 Corinthians 16:20; 2 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Peter 5:14) instruct Christ followers to “greet one another.” How can churches implement this instruction in practical ways? How can we create an atmosphere of warmth and welcome?
I was recently introduced to the Circle of 10 and the Rule of 3. They are designed to create an environment where guests, newcomers, and seekers are comfortable, and where regular attenders and members are ministers of grace and hospitality.
Circle of 10: Greet anyone—guest, newcomer, regular attender, or member—who comes within ten feet of you. Make a special effort to greet the people you don’t already know within your Circle of 10.
Rule of 3: Try not to talk to other members for the first three minutes after the service. Talk only to those you don’t know and to people that you know are guests. It takes guests about three minutes to exit the church after worship so it’s important to make sure someone has made contact with them before they leave.
These guidelines were recently posted in several of our church-wide communication pieces. Hopefully, they will help us raise the temperature in our congregation.
I have been reading Tim Challies insightful book reviews for quite some time. He turned me on to some helpful books I wasn’t aware of and warned me of others I should steer clear of. He also identifies some humorous issues from time to time. Recently, he pointed out The Texas Bible, a plugin for Google Chrome that transforms “you” plural in the Bible to “y’all”. While some might think this is disrespectful, the author gives some sound academic and biblical reasons for why he did it.
Having lived in Dallas, TX, for four years and found y’all to be a helpful adaptation of the second person plural, this might be a useful tool. Since I will occasionally throw in “the Wheeler paraphrase” of a passage, I appreciated the humor and the smile it put on my face.
“Last inspection: The precise ritual for dressing the nation’s war dead” is a thought provoking article on how the Dover Port Authority prepares our nation’s war dead for burial. Those who give their lives in service to our country deserve great honor. Thank you to the folks at Dover Air Force Base who make sure they receive it.
I am not a runner. Runners are fast.
Runners are people like Usain Bolt of Jamaica who set the World Record for the 100 meters in 2009 in 9.58 seconds. Runners are people like Hicham el-Guerrouj of Morocco who set the World Record for the mile in 1999 in 3:43:13.
One fall during high school, some of my friends talked me into going out for the cross-country team, as a way of getting in shape for tennis in the spring. As it turned out, I was the slowest man on our team. In the nine races I competed in, I did not finish three races, I finished dead last in three races, and then my personal best, I finished second to last in three races.
I hated running so much that I didn’t do it again for 15 years. About the time I turned 30 years old, I took up jogging as a way of getting some exercise. I even entered some 5K races (3 miles). In the races I entered, my goal was simply to finish and collect my T-shirt.
Though I no longer run, I have thought a lot about the race the past years. My father finished his race at the age of 65. My brother, Paul, finished his race at 44. My mother finished her race at the age of 84. My nephew, Caleb, finished his race at the age of three.
While I have no idea how long the course is that God has laid out for me, I am probably closer to the finish line than I am to the starting line. I think about the question, “How do I finish well?”
As I studied the Scriptures, I discovered three passages that describe the Christian life as a race—1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:12-14; and Hebrews 12:1-3. These passages suggest eight principles that can help us to finish strong.
Recognize That The Race Isn’t Over Yet (Philippians 3:12). In Philippians 3:8-11, Paul said his goal was to know Christ more fully. And yet, in verse 12, he admitted that he had not yet obtained spiritual maturity. If Paul had not arrived yet at maturity, what makes us think that we have? If you find yourself sitting on the sidelines, get back in the race. Don’t hang up your shoes until you arrive at maturity.
Practice Self-Discipline (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). In 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Paul recognized that self‑control was crucial to victory. In the same way that an athlete can be stripped of their medals for failing a drug test, or an NFL player suspended for using steroids, so a believer can be disqualified from the race. The goal, being of eternal value, affects how we live in the present. The desire to know God better should get us out of bed in the morning and into his word.
Take Off The Weights (Hebrews 12:1). In football, you suit up. In running, you strip down. The average football player wears pounds of equipment. Runners wear ounces. According to Hebrews 12:1, we are to “throw off everything that hinders.” We are to take off the things that hold us back.
The problem is not the weights themselves, but what they do. They slow us down and keep us from running well. In our lives, we need to lay aside anything that holds us back or impedes our progress. Reading a newspaper or watching a television program may be minor considerations unless they distract us from reflecting on God’s Word. A sport such as tennis, golf, softball, or soccer might be a source of physical exercise and fellowship but can also cause a person to neglect his or her family. Things like recreation, certain friendships, opinions of others, activities, books, and relationships can all be good things. But if they hinder us from making progress spiritually, they are weights that need to be removed.
Lay Aside Sin (Hebrews 12:1). While excess weights may be a good thing turned harmful because they hinder us, sin is a bad thing that can cripple us. Hebrews 12:1 refers to it as “the sin which so easily entangles us.” Some have called these besetting sins, ones that constantly harass or attack us.
Each one of us could probably identify the one area or sin that constantly threatens to derail our lives. Sins such as coveting, pride, lust, power, pornography, money, anger, insecurity, worry, bitterness, gambling, control, greed, possessiveness, arrogance, fear, doubt, a critical spirit, lack of contentment, and gossip are all sins that can hamstring and cripple us, or cause us to blow out a knee spiritually. Whatever your besetting sin is, lay it aside. Take it off. Get rid of it.
Watch Out For Distractions (Philippians 3:13). A runner knows that a backward glance can slow his progress toward the finish and possibly cost him his position in the race. In the same way, Paul says in Philippians 3:13 that he guards against distractions. He forgets what lies behind and stretches out toward what is ahead, so that he might complete the race and win the prize.
Someone once said that the only things that are behind us are either victories or defeats. Both can be distracting because great victories can lead to pride or complacency while great defeats can lead to guilt and shame. Instead of focusing on the past, we are to forget about it. Forgetting does not mean obliterating the memories, but rather it is a conscious refusal to let them absorb our attention and impede our progress.
Gain Encouragement From The Crowd (Hebrews 12:1). The older I get, the more people I know who are already in heaven. As a result, when I think of the great cloud of witnesses of Hebrews 12:1, I don’t just see a vague, undefined, fuzzy picture. Portions of the cloud are taking on some definition. I’m beginning to recognize some of the faces—my dad, my brother, my mom, two of my uncles, my nephew, and two of my mentors.
As we run our race, we don’t play to the crowd. We don’t watch for the highlights on the Diamond Vision. We’re not concerned whether or not we receive a standing ovation from the people in the stands. No, we have an audience of One, God Himself, who will judge our work. But we look to the crowd of witnesses for encouragement. Their example, witness, and life motivate us to keep running.
Run With Purpose (1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Philippians 3:12, 14; Hebrews 12:1-3). We live in a culture that ends conversations with “Don’t work too hard,” or “Take it easy.” In contrast, we are to run hard, run to win, run with an aim, press on, relentlessly center our energies on what lies ahead, and strain forward.
In Philippians 3, Paul pictured himself as a runner whose every muscle and nerve is singularly focused on the goal, in the hopes of winning the prize. His life is purposeful. He lived with intentionality. He is focused on “one thing” as verse 13 says. The pursuit of the goal is his ultimate reason for running. He is running to win.
Focus On The Finish Line (Philippians 3:14; Hebrews 12:2-3). In Philippians 3:14, Paul encouraged us to press toward the goal for the prize. The goal refers to the race being run while the prize refers to the glory that follows. One of the things that should motivate us to finish well is the fact that awaiting us at the finish line is Jesus Christ. We are to keep our eyes on Him as we run.
Each one of us is running a race. We will finish the race. But will we run well? Will we finish strong? Will we receive a smile from the judge at the end of the race?
The Greeks had a race in their Olympic games that was unique. The winner was not the runner who finished first. It was the runner who finished with his torch still lit. I want to run all the way with the flame of my torch still lit for Christ. When I cross my finish line and step into the arms of my Savior, I want to hear, “Mark, you didn’t finish first. You didn’t finish last. But you finished well. Well done.”
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 26, 2013. It is part of a series on Passing the Baton. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Ezra 7:10 provides a model for all who aspire to teach the Scriptures.
For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.
Lord, help me to follow Ezra’s example. Help me to set my heart to study your word and practice it and to teach it to your people.
In his book, INsourcing: Bringing discipleship back to the local church, author and pastor Randy Pope explains that Jonathan Edwards was the greatest pastor the United States has ever known. Living not far from where Edwards pastored in Northhampton, MA, and Enfield, CT, I was curious as to Pope’s reasons for his statement. As Pope explains,
Edwards pastored what I call a “three-strand church”–a church that includes three elements in balance with one another. First, his ministry addressed the “heads” of those in his care, with a goal of sound doctrine. Second, Edwards addressed the “heart.” Not content to fill the mind, he called for passion in worship and in the proclamation of the gospel. He understood that to encounter God in worship is an experience that goes beyond reasoning about truth: “It must be a more immediate, sensible discovery that must give the mind a real sense of the excellency and beauty of God.” Finally, Jonathan Edwards addressed the “hand,” leading his church to do acts of mercy and justice. Members of the church lived out in their communities the realities they affirmed in their heads and hearts.
Pope goes on to explain that most churches in America today do not follow Edwards’ example.
These three strands are rarely found together in today’s churches. Most churches tend to emphasize one strand, often at the expense of the other two. Heads-only churches all too easily devolve into dead orthodoxy. Hearts-only churches can major on emotionalism without adequate declaration of truth. And hands-only churches may succumb to a bland liberalism that offers bread without offering the Bread of Life.
Pope’s words challenge me to reexamine my philosophy of ministry. Am I majoring on one element to the exclusion of others? Is my ministry out of balance? Thought provoking questions I need to ponder on.
Emil Johansson, a Swedish chemist, who writes the LOTRProject Blog, has created The Periodic Table of Middle-Earth, where he replaced the normal elements of chemistry with characters from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Tim Hornyak wrote an article on CNET, “Frodo on top in ‘Periodic Table of Middle Earth'” where he explains some of the details of the chart.
Where was this when I was taking chemistry?