Day Three of Kingdom Rock, Vacation Bible School, at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. Today’s theme was “Prayer helps us to stand strong.” Our special guest was Nehemiah who told us how prayer was one of the keys to rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days. We even had a skit where Robin D played a harassed VBS director because everyone kept loading her down with responsibilities and she was trying to do them in her own power (no typecasting intended ). It illustrated how we often take on unnecessary burdens because we fail to pray and give them to God. Another great day of fun and learning.
Monthly Archives: July 2013
We just completed day two of VBS (Vacation Bible School) 2013 at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. Today, our special guest was Queen Esther, who helped us learn that family and friends can help us stand strong.
Day One of Vacation Bible School (VBS) 2013 at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, is in the books. This year we are using Group Publishing’s series, Kingdom Rock. 51 children joined us this morning as learned that God’s love can help us stand strong.
There are times in our lives when we don’t know what to pray. Sometimes, our burdens are so heavy and our crisis so intense that mere words cannot express our needs, desires, wants, and hopes.
I vividly remember one such occasion when all I could do was cry out, “God!” My soul was so burdened that nothing else could come out of my mouth.
In The King, the latest installment in The Bowers Files series, author Steven James provides one of the best descriptions of crisis prayers that I have ever read. The main characters in the series are FBI Special Agent Patrick Bowers, his fiancée, Special Agent Lien-hua Jiang, and Patrick’s step-daughter, Tessa. In The King, Lien-hua is abducted by a serial killer, manages to escape, but is wounded during the escape. While she is in surgery, Patrick, who is not religious, instructs Tessa to pray. Tessa’s experience with prayer is described in the following paragraphs.
Earlier she’d told Patrick that she would pray, and she had. But the whole time she’d been unsure what to say. And even though she was usually pretty good with words, that’s not really how her prayer had come out. It was more like a screech in her soul that went beyond language—sort of like fear wrapped in a desperate kind of love, but she hoped that God wouldn’t hold her lack of eloquence against her.
Her mom was dead.
Her dad was dead.
All she had was Patrick and Lien-hua.
So, oh yeah, she’d prayed.
And the fact that she hadn’t really known what to say bugged her. But then she thought that if it’s true what they say, that ninety percent of communication is nonverbal, that most of it comes through in body language, gesture, posture, facial expression, eye contact, and inflection, then why wouldn’t our prayers, our communication with God, be the same way? Why should words suddenly matter so much, especially to someone who’s so good at reading hearts?
When we don’t know what to pray, whether it’s a one word cry of “God!” or a screech from our soul, I am grateful that the Holy Spirit reads our hearts, takes our words, cries, gestures, and body language, and tells the Father what we really mean.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)
What is the greatest challenge that you face? Do you have surly teenager in your house? Is your marriage showing signs of strain? Is your life filled with unanswered prayers, shattered dreams, heartbreaking pain, or unfulfilled longings? Are you the only Christ follower in your family? Do people laugh at your convictions and ridicule your beliefs? Is your health and strength failing?
If any of these challenges are in your life, then you can identify with Abraham. As Genesis 17 opens, Abraham faces all of these trials at the same time. And yet, he is right where God wants him to be. God appears and declares, “I am El Shaddai, God Almighty! Is anything too hard for me?”
Abram is 99 years old (Genesis 17:1) and his wife, Sarai, is 89. By their own admission, they are old and past the normal age of becoming parents (Genesis 18:11-12). The past 13 years have been silent since they tried to use their methods to accomplish God’s plan. Abram’s name, which means “exalted father,” reminds him every day of his failure. After all, he only has one son, and him a rebellious teenager at that (Genesis 16:12).
How often does God bring us to a point where we have to depend on him completely if we hope to be successful? That is certainly true in Abraham’s life.
God promises to make Abraham into a great nation (Genesis 17:2, 6-8). The promise is revealed as God changes his name from Abram (“exalted father”) to Abraham (“father of a multitude”). While God’s covenant with Abraham is unilateral, he does require complete obedience on Abraham’s part (Genesis 17:1, 9-14). God’s covenant requires separation, purity, and loyalty.
When God wants to do something new, he often changes a person’s name. Not only is that true with Abram/Abraham, Sarai/Sarah, but he also changes Jacob to Israel, and Simon to Peter.
Because God is all powerful, he can promise things which are miraculous in nature. However, when Abraham and Sarah heard God say they would become parents in their old age, both of them laughed (Genesis 17:18-22; 18:9-15) because they thought it was the funniest joke they had heard. While God does not chastise them for their response, he does challenge them to believe his promises.
One of the lessons I learn from Genesis 17:1-18:15 is that a correct perspective of God will change our lives. God reveals himself as God Almighty, the one for whom nothing is impossible. That knowledge should change how we pray. We will take greater risks and ask God for requests that only he can accomplish.
After revealing himself as God Almighty, God instructs Abraham to walk with him and live a blameless life. Knowing God’s character should change how we live our daily lives. We will become more serious about avoiding sin.
Another lesson I learned is that we must let go of the past if we want to fully experience God’s blessings. Abraham wanted God to bless his plan “B,” Ishmael. Abraham needed to let go of that desire before he could fully embrace Isaac, the son of promise.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 28, 2013. It is part of a series on the life of Abraham. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
Yesterday, I blogged about using fiction to teach truth. I referred to a popular story on the internet about a pastor who supposedly posed as a homeless man in his own church. I had seen the article on an individual’s Facebook page. I added the comment that while it was an encouraging and motivating story, it was in fact an urban legend. I then posted a link to Snopes.com where they explain the origin of the story.
What surprised me was one person’s reaction to my comment. One individual said, “I saw that as well, but did not want to burst anyone’s bubble.” Interesting that we would rather let people believe what they want than speak truth to them.
If we are not willing to correct internet myths and hoaxes, is it any wonder that we do not challenge heretical beliefs and/or confront sinful lifestyles? It should not be a surprise that our culture continues to drift away from its moorings when each person is allowed to believe whatever they want and no one speaks up to say it is wrong.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” Ephesians 4:15
The following story is making the rounds of the internet and Facebook.
Pastor Jeremiah Steepek (pictured below) transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the 10,000 member church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service, only 3 people out of the 7-10,000 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food – NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was asked by the ushers if he would please sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
After he recited this, he looked towards the congregation and told them all what he had experienced that morning. Many began to cry and many heads were bowed in shame. He then said, “Today I see a gathering of people, not a church of Jesus Christ. The world has enough people, but not enough disciples. When will YOU decide to become disciples?”
He then dismissed service until next week.
Being a Christian is more than something you claim. It’s something you live by and share with others
While it is a challenging and motivating story, it is in fact an urban legend. There is no Pastor Jeremiah Steepek. I know, I tried to research and document the story. Snopes.com explains it is similar to a story told by Tennessee Pastor Willie Lyle who lived as a homeless person for a week and later used that experience in a sermon. The picture was taken by a photographer in London of a homeless man in Richmond, Surrey.
While the story itself is not true, it could still be used in a sermon or lesson. If I were to use it, however, I would not give the pastor a name. I would simply say, “The story is told of a pastor who . . .” This would be similar to Jesus’ use of parables in the gospels when he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who . . .” and then told the parable of the prodigal son, Good Samaritan, etc.
If you are not convinced about the importance of Children’s Ministry, prayerfully watch the video, “It’s time to wake up”. 40% of the world’s population is under the age of 20. We need to raise up a new generation of people to reach the 4 to 14 window.
Back in January 2013, I introduced a 2020 Vision to our church, First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. Two of the elements were that (1) our children’s and youth ministries would become the strongest in our church; and (2) our nursery would be the gem or jewel of our facility. Both of these goals fit nicely into a 4 to 14 emphasis.
When my brother and I were in high school, some friends invited us to travel with them from Los Angeles, CA, to Tucson, AZ, to visit mutual friends. Since my brother had his driver’s license, he was able to drive part of the trip. We had driven through the night and my brother was at the wheel during sunrise. As our friend who put the excursion together gradually woke up, he looked outside and said, “Why is the sun on the wrong side of the car?” It seems my brother came to a freeway interchange and not knowing which road to take while everyone else was asleep, he took the wrong one. We were headed in the opposite direction! It would take a few hours to catch up to where we got off course and get back on track.
When we take matters into our own hands and run ahead of God, we can create chaos for our lives and get far off track. As Vance Havner once said, “The detour is always worse than the main road.” We need to be reminded that God sees and knows our needs. Consequently, we should wait patiently for him to fulfill his promises rather than take matters into our own hands.
Genesis 15-16 describes a scenario where Abraham ran ahead of God and got off course. In 15:1-8, Abram was concerned how God would fulfill his promise to Abram about having descendents. He wondered if he could simply adopt his servant, Eliezer, as his heir. God assured Abram that he would have a son. But Abram wondered how he could know for certain.
In 15:9-21, God tells Abram, “I will make a covenant with you.” Normally, two people would kill several animals, divide them in two, and then walk between them. The implication was that if one person broke their promise, they would receive the same fate as the animals. When God made his covenant with Abram, he alone walked between the sacrificial animals. God demonstrated his covenant with Abram was unilateral and unconditional. His promises were sure and could be trusted.
God also explained they would not be fulfilled quickly. It would be 500-600 years in the future before Abram’s descendents conquered the Promised Land. But delay does not mean denial. Abram simply needed to be patient as he waited for God to keep his word.
In 16:1-6, Abram and Sarai forgot the lesson about patient endurance and took matters into their own hands. They decided to use their own methods to accomplish God’s plan. Sarai concluded that since God had kept her childless, he needed her help in producing descendents. Following a custom of the day, Sarai gave Abram her servant, Hagar, as a second wife. But once Hagar got pregnant and looked down on her mistress, Sarai concluded it was all Abram’s fault. As often happens, disappointment leads to doubt, doubt leads to compromise, and compromise leads to blame, chaos, and tension.
Perhaps no tension is worse than family tension. Hagar runs away since she decides she can no longer endure the abuse (16:7-16). Though she may feel alone, she has not been abandoned. God meets her where she is. In so doing, he demonstrates that he sees our needs and hears our cries for help. Surprisingly, God instructs Hagar to return and submit to Sarai. He also demonstrates that he can turn our mistakes into blessings. Hagar will bear a son, Ishmael, and she will have countless descendents.
While Genesis 15-16 gives us several lessons, there are four that stand out to me:
- We should wait patiently for God to accomplish his plans rather than take matters into our own hands.
- We should consider the long-term consequences of our choices.
- We should base our decisions on the clear teaching of Scripture, not the cultural values of today.
- We should stay faithful in the trial and learn the lessons God has for us.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 21, 2013. It is part of series on the life of Abraham. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.