Monthly Archives: April 2013

Keep your eye on the world

A few years ago, Carol and I went to Phoenix, AZ, for spring training. We discovered a great deal of activity is going on all around us. On one field, the major league infielders and outfielders are going through their drills. On another field, the major league pitchers are running through their infield drills, covering first base or throwing to second or third base. Nearby, the game day pitchers are warming up with the catchers. Next to that area are the indoor batting cages. And that doesn’t even include the other fields where the minor league players are practicing.

The spring training complex is fan friendly and allows the general public to get up close and watch everything that takes place. People identify their favorite players and “ooh” and “ah” about their size and skill.

Dads are playing catch with their sons right next to where major league players are practicing. Children are sitting on their parents’ shoulders trying to catch a glimpse of the action.

In the midst of all this activity, one little boy was intently staring at the patch of ground in front of him. He exclaimed, “Hey, Dad. Take a picture of this dirt!”

There are times in life when we are just like that little boy. We are so obsessed with our own little worlds, so focused on our own little problems, and so consumed with our own little concerns that the rest of the world fades into the background.

In Colossians 4:2-6, Paul reminds us that we need to look up and maintain an outwardVision pic - poster edge focus. Rather than looking down at our own dirt, we need to keep our eye on the world. We need to be alert and look for ways to connect with nonbelievers. Rather than being oblivious to the activity around us, we need to recognize what is going on. Rather than sitting by passively, we need to take advantage of the opportunities we have to share the gospel with those who desperately need to hear it.

In this passage, Paul gives two instructions, both of which convey his deep concern to evangelize the lost. The community that God has called out of the world for salvation by the gospel is called in turn to preach that gospel; evangelism is the church’s vocation. The work of evangelism includes prayer (4:2–4) as well as proclamation (4:5–6). Paul exhorts us to pray for the church’s mission (4:2–4) and to be wise toward outsiders (4:5-6).

As Paul instructs in the passage, we need to watch and pray. We need to pray diligently (2a), intelligently (2b), thankfully (2c), and purposefully (3-4). We need to live with intentionality. Because the world is watching, we need to live wisely (5). Because the world is listening, we need to speak gracefully (6). We need to stop focusing on our own dirt and take advantage of the opportunities we already have to share the message of salvation with others.

In the passage, Paul gives six guidelines for sharing the gospel.

  1. Pray earnestly.
  2. Cultivate a sense of urgency.
  3. Act wisely.
  4. Be gracious.
  5. Be salty.
  6. Be prepared.

Rather than merely focusing on the dirt in front of you, keep your eye on the world. Watch and pray for opportunities to share the message. Live with intentionality. Because the world is watching, live wisely. Because the world is listening, speak gracefully. Let us pray that God would add to our number daily those who are being saved.

This is a brief synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church on April 28, 2013. It is part of a series of Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


Presenting the gospel at a funeral

How do you present the gospel at a funeral? Does your approach change if you don’t know the deceased personally? Does your presentation change if you don’t know about their spiritual condition while they were alive on the earth?

Years ago, I made a commitment that I would always present the gospel whenever I performed a wedding or a funeral. Both audiences tend to include a wide range of people—religious, irreligious, god-fearing, agnostics, Christ followers, and atheists. The occasion might be the only time the individual will be in church. I don’t want them to leave without hearing even the briefest mention of how to have a relationship with God.

This past week I was invited by a local funeral home to perform a graveside service. Outside of the person’s name, I knew nothing else about the individual—background, interests, spiritual beliefs, nothing. In order to share the gospel, I would have to be gentle and gracious. I could not promise whether the individual was in heaven or hell. But I wanted to be clear, nonetheless, about how the living could be prepared to face eternity.

I came across a helpful volume on planning funerals entitled, Leading Today’s Funerals: A Pastoral Guide for Improving Bereavement Ministry, by Dan S. Lloyd. I was able to adapt some of his material into the following thoughts I shared during the committal service.

I began by reading Psalm 23, a familiar passage about how God cares for us. As I was reading, I noticed one of the family members quoting the psalm silently as I read. I then read John 14:1-6. Jesus spoke these words to his disciples shortly before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. They speak of the hope of heaven. Following the Scripture readings, I shared these thoughts.

If _______ could be present today, I believe there is something she would want us all to know. Let me preface that statement with these comments. _______ as a person is not dead. Her body has stopped functioning, but she is still very much alive in the spiritual world. She is therefore no longer limited by time and space. The Bible teaches that the first thing _______ did when she entered that dimension was to give an account of her life to God—an exit interview, if you will. I do not know what happened at that meeting. None of us knows. But _______ knows and God knows. Because of that meeting, there are some things _______ would want you to know before you give your answer to God for the way you lived.

I think _______ would want us to know four facts. Each of these facts begins with one letter of the word FACT.

The letter “F” stands for the fact that heaven is a free gift. Jesus said that God is preparing a place for each one of us in heaven. God wants people to go to heaven. The Bible says heaven is a free gift. No one earns their way into heaven. That’s the good news. Now here’s the bad news.

The letter “A” stands for the fact that all have sinned. Not everyone gets into heaven, and for good reason. Simply stated, sin blocks the way. Sin is not believing in or obeying God. The Bible says that every one of us has done something wrong, and God is going to hold us accountable for our actions and attitudes. For us sinners, that’s bad news. However, there is more good news.

The letter “C” stands for the fact that Christ died on the cross to forgive our sins. We recently celebrated Good Friday and Easter. Those events remind us that Christ died for our sins, was buried, and rose again according to the Scriptures. That’s really good news.

The letter “T” stands for the fact that if we want to go to heaven, we have to trust Christ. In John 14, Jesus said that no one comes to God except through Jesus. We have to admit that we are helpless apart from him. We need to ask Jesus to forgive our sins.

These facts demand a response. We can either accept them or we can reject and ignore them. The best way I know to express faith in Christ is to pray a prayer of faith.

“Dear Lord, I want to go to heaven. I know I can’t get to heaven because my sins are blocking the way. I know that Jesus died on the cross to forgive all my sins. Please forgive my sins and allow me to enter heaven because of my faith in Jesus. Thank you for forgiving me and making me part of your family.”

As it turned out, three of the people in attendance were from my church. One thanked me for how I presented the gospel. He said he made mental notes and wanted to use a similar approach in sharing with another person.

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Posted by on April 25, 2013 in Funerals, Scripture


In honor of Earth Day

Earth Day

Thanks to Dan Lietha for creating and sharing his artwork.

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Posted by on April 22, 2013 in Photos, Theology


Secure in the Storm

Due to the events of the past week, I stepped away from my current sermon series on Colossians and preached today on Psalm 46. Verse one sets forth the theme of the psalm–God is our sure defense. “Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not worry” is the main idea of the psalm. “Finding a firm place to stand” is an article I wrote on the psalm back in 1996, but which was never published. It explains in greater detail the security we can enjoy when we put our trust in God.

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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Preaching, Scripture


Speak the truth in love

Humble OrthodoxyBook Review: Humble Orthodoxy: Holding the truth high without putting people down, by Joshua Harris

You can sum up the theme of Joshua Harris’ short book, Humble Orthodoxy, with the phrase, “Speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). If we speak truth without love, we become self-righteous and critical like the Pharisees. If we speak love without the truth, we never take a stand and address issues. We need both right thinking and right attitudes.

The book is really an expanded chapter from another of Harris’ books. Counting the 20 page study guide, it’s only 80+ pages in length and can be read in an hour. The author spells out his thoughts in four chapters:

  1. Your attitude matters—Don’t be a jerk with the truth. Humble orthodoxy combines both humility and right belief.
  2. With a tear in our eye—It’s hard to be proud about your doctrine when you realize salvation is an act of Jesus’ pure grace!
  3. Repentance starts with me—Trying to live whatever truth you have will do more to deflate your arrogance and self-righteousness than anything else.
  4. Living for God’s approval—Rather than seek the approval of others, we should keep our focus on God and what he thinks.

Harris’ theme is similar in nature to Larry Osborne’s recent book, Accidental Pharisees. Harris’ book is more doctrinal in nature while Osborne’s felt more practical. Harris explains why it is important while Osborne spells out what happens when we don’t as well as how to correct the problem. Both books cost about the same, but Harris’ thoughts are explained in 60 pages while Osborne uses 200 pages. While both are good, I tended to like Osborne’s book better and found it more helpful.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on April 20, 2013 in Books, Character, Theology


What makes a man great?

Seven MenBook Review: Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness, by Eric Metaxas

Do we really need one more book about manhood? Author Eric Metaxas seems to think so because manhood is the theme of his latest book, Seven Men: And the secret of their greatness. In this encouraging and well written book, he seeks to answer two questions: What is a man? and What makes a man great?

What sets this book apart is that the author doesn’t talk about manhood. Instead, he shows what manhood looks like in the lives of great men. As he explains, “Seeing and studying the actual lives of people is simply the best way to communicate ideas about how to behave and how not to behave.”

Metaxas believes that one of the primary characteristics of authentic manhood is someone who sacrifices himself for those he loves. As the author says, “That’s a picture of real fatherhood and real manhood.” The author picked seven men who he believes exemplifies these characteristics. After reading the book, I concur with his assessment.

George Washington could have become the first king of America. Instead, he gave up real power for the sake of his new nation. William Wilberforce gave up the chance to become prime minister of England. Instead, he spent his life working to repeal slavery. Eric Liddell gave up the opportunity to win an Olympic gold medal in the one event in which he was most likely to win it. Yet he is better known for his sacrifice than for winning a race. Dietrich Bonhoeffer courageously defied the Nazis and surrendered his freedom and safety time and time again. In giving up his life, he inspired countless people to do the right thing in thousands of situations. Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in professional baseball. But he had to surrender something very few men would have the strength to surrender—the right to fight back against injustice. Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, surrendered his whole life to God and served as a priest. Chuck Colson pled guilty to a crime when he didn’t have to—and went to prison as a result. Yet it was there he discovered he was truly free.

The brief biographies of these men are well written and inspiring. They whet one’s appetite for a longer book on each person. The book would be a great gift for a high school or college graduate and would hopefully inspire a young man to pursue greatness through sacrifice and service. I hope this becomes a series and we see another volume soon.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com http://BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on April 20, 2013 in Books, Character


Responding to the still small voice

I tend to be more structured than spontaneous, more of a planner than flying by the seat of my pants. My sermon calendar is planned out through spring 2014. I’ve written, “DV—Deo Volente,” (Latin for “God willing”) at the bottom, but it is planned out nonetheless.

So why did I break from my current series on Colossians to preach on Psalm 46 this week? Because I felt God prompting me to make a change.

On Monday, like all of MA, New England, and the rest of the country, I was rocked by the news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Our peaceful, idyllic lifestyles felt very insecure indeed. If you cannot feel safe attending a sporting event, where can we find security?

Tuesday, I was in the church office, preparing a sermon on Colossians 4:2-6, the next passage in my current sermon series. I spent the day studying the passage, reading commentaries, and working on the outline.

Wednesday morning, I stopped by the church before heading to a breakfast meeting. As I waited at the stop light to turn into the church parking lot, I saw the words, “Be still,” on the church’s electronic reader board. It caused me to think of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” I remembered the theme of the psalm is that God is the source of our security. I prayed, “God, are you saying I should change my sermon this week?”

As I headed off to my breakfast meeting, I prayed again and asked God to confirm which passage I should preach on this week. I asked him to let me know before I returned from breakfast so I would know which direction to go.

I turned on the radio and flipped to a sports radio station. Not liking the topic, I flipped to a different station. Not liking that one either, I turned to the local Christian radio station, The Q 99.7. The station was playing, “We won’t be shaken,” recorded by the group, Building 429. The lyrics expressed the theme of Psalm 46:4-7. I chuckled and said, “God, are you trying to tell me something?”

Having heard, reheard, and reheard God’s still small voice once again, I changed my sermon this week to Psalm 46, “Secure in the Storm.” The main idea of the message is, “Because God is my sure defense, I will not fear, I will not be moved, and I will not worry.” In light of our current circumstances, it seems very timely. I believe God wants to remind us to trust in him.

Please click on the link if you’d like to download a copy of the sermon notes.

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Posted by on April 19, 2013 in Preaching, Scripture