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


Broken Toys

Today’s Boston Globe contains an op-ed piece entitled, “Marathon attack removes shield from sporting events.” As the author points out, sports used to be a place where you could retreat from the harsh realities of daily life. After Monday’s bombing, however, sports and reality are now one and the same.

There is an inside-journalism quip at the Globe that those in Sports work in the Toy Department of journalism. We’re rarely confronted with the kinds of grave circumstances, grisly scenes, and weighty issues that our news counterparts are forced to wade into. Sports is largely about trivia (Who was the last athlete to do this or that?) and in the grand scheme of existence trivial.

What we were reminded of on Patriots Day is that there is no Toy Department in life. There is no toy chest in an open, democratic society that you can bury your head into. The sporting world and the real world are not alternate realities. They are not parallel universes. They’re intertwined.

That’s why this was a particularly insidious attack because it was conducted on more than a world-class event in a world-class city, but on an idea. The idea that sports provide a safe haven, a distraction, a timeout from the unspeakable horrors and intractable troubles of the real world. . . . Sports are supposed to serve as an escape from the worries, wars, and raging conflicts of the real world, a sort of societal sanctuary.

As the author points out, all of us long for security, a safe haven. We want to be shielded from the enemies that seek to hurt us. Sports used to provide that sanctuary, but no longer. That source of security is now insecure itself.

The challenge we face now is to find a source of security that does not change. Fortunately for us, there is hope. The writer of Psalm 46 claims that he has found such a source. He boldly declared that God was the source of his security. In fact, he describes God as a refuge, a strength, a help, and a fortress.

God is our refuge and fortress. He is our shelter, our hiding place. We can go to him and know that we are safe.

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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Boston, News stories, Scripture, Sports, Theology


Pray for Boston and Massachusetts and us

How should a Christ follower pray in response to yesterday’s tragedy in Boston? The apostle Paul’s instructions in Colossians 4:2-3 give us three specific ways to pray.

“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison—that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”

First and foremost, we need to pray—continually, diligently, and steadfastly.

Pray for the police and FBI agents who are hunting for the perpetrators. Pray that clues and signs will be noticed and leads will be followed. Pray the guilty will be found and justice will be done.

Pray for the doctors and nurses who are treating the injured. Pray they will have skill, wisdom, and compassion as they care for the wounded.

Pray for those who experienced the trauma firsthand. Pray for healing to take place, both physically and emotionally.

Pray for those who grieve the loss of loved ones killed in the attack. Pray they will turn to God and find hope in him. Pray that Christ followers will come alongside to offer comfort, grace, and hope.

Secondly, pray intelligently and watchfully. In 2 Timothy 3:1-5, the apostle Paul explains what will happen in the last days.

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

Yesterday’s attack occurred on Patriot’s Day, a day of celebration as Massachusetts remembers the attacks in Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, that began the American Revolutionary War. Boston celebrates on the third Monday in April with the MLB Red Sox playing in the morning, the running of the Boston Marathon during the day, and the NHL Bruins playing at night.

The attack also occurred during a stretch of violent anniversaries. Four months ago on December 14, 2012, a gunman attacked the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. On April 19, 1995, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City was bombed. On April 20, 1999, two gunman massacred students at Columbine High School in suburban Denver, CO. We now have a new Boston massacre to add to the list.

Add these events together along with many others and you cannot help but wonder if we are indeed in the last days. We need to pray with our eyes wide open to what is occurring around us.

Lastly, we need to pray that God will give us boldness to speak up and share our faith. Only when Christ reigns in the hearts of men and women will the world experience peace. As Christ followers and those who have the hope of eternal life, we need to make the gospel clear. We need to speak loudly that Christ died for the sins of the world and only through him can we find forgiveness, hope, and healing.

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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Boston, Boston Red Sox, News stories, Scripture


A moment of silence

As with all the games on Opening Day of the 2013 Major League Baseball season, there was a moment of silence at the beginning of today’s Boston Marathon for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, four months ago. With the bombing at the end of the race and the injuries and fatalities, will there now be a moment of silence for the victims of the Marathon? If we pause to remember and grieve for all the victims of all the needless violence and mindless shootings that have occurred recently, will the next sporting event ever begin?

Undoubtedly, many will voice the question, “Where was God when the bombs exploded? Why does he allow evil to win?”

I think God is deeply grieved by the violence of our day. He is grieved by the bombings in Boston as well as the ones that routinely rock the Middle East. God is deeply grieved by the choices that people make. It has been so since the dawn of time.

God created a perfect world and placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He wanted them to enjoy paradise. But they chose to willingly disregard God’s command and follow their own desires (Genesis 3). Sin entered the world and has tainted every life since then. The first casualty was their own sons, Cain and Abel (Genesis 4). Their sibling rivalry ended in bloodshed for one and exile for the other.

On the one hand, the world has not become more evil. The definition of human depravity is that we are not as bad as we can be, but every aspect of our lives is tainted by evil. Since the time of Adam and Eve, we all are sinners by nature and by choice.

On the other hand, we have certainly discovered and mastered new and more creative ways to perpetuate evil and hurt others. Shootings in schools and malls. Bombings on buses and race courses. The depth of our depravity shocks even our sensibilities and certainly breaks God’s heart.

Perhaps we need to do more than pause for a moment of silence. Perhaps we should fill that silence with prayers of repentance. Maybe it is time to confess our sins, seek God’s face, and ask him to heal our land.

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Boston, News stories, Scripture, Sports