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Monthly Archives: April 2013

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

 

Getting bombed takes on a new meaning

Getting bombed after a race used to mean getting drunk. With at least two explosions at the finish line of today’s Boston Marathon, getting bombed takes on a much more ominous meaning. One more sign the world desperately needs the Prince of Peace to establish his reign. Come, Lord Jesus, come.

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

 

Daffodils

Spring is in bloom in the backyard.

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Chicopee, Flowers, Spring

 

Turn Work into Worship

Turn Work into WorshipMost people spend a small portion of their week actually working. The rest of the time is spent wishing—wishing it was lunch time, wishing it was Friday, wishing the weekend was longer, and/or wishing they didn’t have to work at all.

What happens when an employee only cares about his/her paycheck or wastes time on the job versus one who does his/her best to deliver the company’s product or service on time? What difference does it make if an employee undermines his/her coworkers to get ahead versus one who affirms and encourages coworkers?

What happens when an employer underpays his/her employees and takes advantage of them versus one who treats his/her subordinates with respect and trust? What happens when an employer violates contracts, agreements, or standards as opposed to one who honors commitments and enforces standards?

What difference does it make how an employee or an employer approaches his/her job? As a follower of Jesus Christ, what kind of an employee should we be? What kind of an employer should we be?

Working-Together-SmallIn Colossians 3:22-4:1, the apostle Paul explains that by keeping our focus on Christ, we can turn ordinary tasks into acts of worship. If we remember that we are ultimately serving Jesus Christ rather than our immediate supervisor, any jobsite can become a worship center.

There were as many as 60 million slaves in the Roman Empire of Paul’s day, or about 1/2 of the population. Slaves were classified as things and were the property of the owner. Since work was below the dignity of the slave-owning Roman free man, practically everything was done by slaves, even doctoring and teaching.

While we don’t live in the Roman Empire of the First Century and while most of us are not slaves or slave owners, this passage is still relevant to our lives today. We can apply the principles found in this passage to our place of work and our role as an employee or an employer.

Paul describes the task of the employee in verse 22. Employees are to do what they are told. They are to obey their boss. When we read a statement like this, we immediately want to jump to the possible exceptions. If our employer wants us to do something immoral, we should not break the law of the Lord. If they ask us to do something illegal, we should not break the law of the land. Beyond that, Scripture tells us to obey in everything.

As Christ followers, we should be the best employees possible. Whether the boss is present or absent; whether we punch a clock or come and go; whether the security cameras record our movements or not; we should be the best workers possible. We don’t work hard only when the boss is present. We perform a full day’s work for a full day’s pay, whether or not anyone sees us do it.

i-give-my-heart-to-youIf we serve with a sincere heart, we can turn a mundane task into an act of worship. It helps when we remember that ultimately, we are serving Jesus Christ (23). Regardless of whether our boss is as evil as Mr. Burns or as dimwitted as Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss, Christ followers ultimately work for Jesus Christ.

Because we work for Jesus, we will receive more than a paycheck. There is an eternal reward waiting for those who serve Christ and work hard (24). The flipside is that there are consequences waiting for those who don’t serve well (25). We should not think that God will take the side of the poor or the rich, the employer or the employee. He will hold both accountable for their actions and will not show partiality.

Paul also places a responsibility on the employer. While every business owner doesn’t necessarily need to strive to make the Fortune “100 Best Companies to work for” list, they should treat their employees with justice and fairness (4:1a). Employers need to keep in mind that they too serve Christ (4:1b).

A retired man became interested in the construction of an addition to a shopping mall. Observing the activity regularly, he was especially impressed by the conscientious operator of a large piece of equipment. The day finally came when he had the chance to tell the man how much he’d enjoyed watching his scrupulous work. Looking astonished, the operator replied, “You’re not the supervisor?”

Whether employee or employer, whether our job is public or private, whether we work for a non-profit or for-profit, Christ followers serve Jesus Christ. By keeping that one principle in mind, we can turn work into worship.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on April 14, 2013. It is part of series on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

How safe is the church?

How safe is the church?

Generally, when we ask that question, we want to know if the church has a safety and security policy. Do we have a check-in system for our children’s ministry? Are our children’s workers screened and their backgrounds checked? Do we have an exit plan in case of fire or earthquake? Do we have an adequate amount of staff for our ministries? Do we have fire extinguishers, safety equipment, defibrillators, and protocols to use them all?

Is the church a safe place where I can bring my family and know they are safe from the “bad people” in the outside world? Is the church a place where I can find shelter from the problems of life?

These are the questions we have in mind when we ask, “How safe is the church?”

Another way to look at the question is to ask, “Is the church a safe place where the world can bring their problems? Can “bad people” find refuge and sanctuary and feel accepted? Do we expect people to leave their problems at home because we only welcome “good Christians”?

The two sides of that question clashed headlong in our first worship service this past Sunday. Our worship team was leading us in singing “Refuge” by the Andy Needham Band. As it transpired, the words were fitting and ironic as a real life drama was played out in the front row.

A young man, twenty or thirty something, walked down the aisle carrying a crutch, though not using it. He stood in the front row and stared daggers at the worship leader. He then stared at one of the worship team, who happened to be the wife of the worship leader. He turned around, stood in the middle of the aisle, and stared up at the balcony and then at the congregation. A gentleman stepped across the aisle and asked if he was looking for someone. “I’m looking for God,” was the terse reply. (We wondered later if he was looking for a crucifix.) “He’s in my heart,” our member replied. “Who’s my brother?” the young man said loudly above the music. Two other men from the congregation stepped closer.

Needless to say, the worship service was going sideways!

At that point, some of our members tried to graciously escort the young man to the back of the sanctuary. He acted somewhat paranoid and insisted that people walk in front of him and not behind him. Eventually, one of our members walked down the street with him to a convenience store. He continued to act in a belligerent manner and eventually the police were called to handle the situation.

After he left the building, I stopped the service and paused to pray for the young man, for the congregation, and for me. It was certainly a challenge to preach as I was distracted, big time!

Yesterday, we received a note from a woman who attended our service for the first time that morning. As this was transpiring, she packed up her daughter and mother and exited stage left. She wanted to know if we had a history of this type of behavior in our services.

After a day or so, I started reflecting, “How safe is our church?” On the one hand, several of our men responded quickly, graciously, and with dignity. The congregation was protected. On the other hand, do we welcome the outcast, the hurting, the least and unworthy? Can they come and find a home? That question is a bit harder to answer.

Refuge by Andy Needham Band.

The outcast, the hurting, the least and unworthy

Come and find your home

The weary, the stressed out, achievers and the proud

Lay your burdens down

Let us leave behind these temporary things

Pressing onward to the great and lasting prize

Refuge for the weary heart, shelter in hardest storm

Tower that we run to, You are God

Giver of the air we breathe, light that shines upon our feet

Mighty, mighty fortress, You are God

The restless, the searching, the hungry and thirsty

Come and find your home

The rich man still empty, those broken and in need

Lay your burdens down

 
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Posted by on April 9, 2013 in Church, First Central Bible Church