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Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ancient biblical history comes alive

Sunday afternoon Carol and I ventured into Boston to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Museum of Science. It was fascinating to see biblical history come alive. I found myself thinking through parts of the Old Testament Walk Thru during portions of the presentation. Great afternoon. I was able to take a few pictures. Unfortunately, the most interesting part, the scrolls themselves, is in a section where no photography is allowed.

I found one thing highly ironic–towards the end of the exhibit is a place called, “The Ten Words” (The Ten Commandments). You can push a button (1-10) and that commandment will be displayed on the screen while a voice reads the words. At the same time that the commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is being spoken, one person’s cell phone rings (cell phones were to be silenced at the beginning of the exhibit), the person answered and carried on a conversation in front of the display. Hmmm.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Bible Study, Boston, Photos

 

Will You PASS the Test?

Tests stinkDespite our dislike of tests, they are part and parcel of daily life:

  • With my educational odyssey of public school, university, grad school, and continuing education, I have taken more tests than I can count.
  • When I turned 50, I underwent a treadmill stress test. The good news was that I had the heart of a 33 year old. The best news was I had the body of a 50 year old.
  • Each year I have an annual eye exam to discern if I am keeping my heredity at bay.

Some tests reveal who passed while others expose those who failed. Some tests are designed to weed out the low performers from the high fliers. Still other tests are designed to bring to light the abilities of gifted children.

In Genesis 22:1-19, Abraham faces one more test. This one has only one question on the exam. God wants to know, “Abraham, do you love me more than you love Isaac?” The results of the exam demonstrate that when we worship God completely, we will be rewarded.

Rough Road ahead - PP posterizeVerses 1-2 show that God tests his servants to prove their faith. God asks Abraham to take his son, Isaac, and offer him back to God on Mt. Moriah. In chapter 21, God told Abraham to send Ishmael away because his promises would come through Isaac. Now, God wants Abraham to give up Isaac as well.

As an aside, when we read Genesis 22, we tend to focus on how this chapter parallels with Jesus’ death on the cross. While those parallels are certainly there, that is not the point of the passage. The focus is not on the sacrifice of Isaac. The spotlight is on the faith of Abraham and his response to God’s instructions.

Verses 1-2 reveal that God does not ask us to give what we do not treasure or what we no longer care for or need. God does not ask us to give him our leftovers. He asks us to give him the very best we have.

Verses 3-10 demonstrate that when the test comes, we must obey God’s instructions, even if they seem unreasonable. Abraham makes the three day journey north to Mt. Moriah. He loads the wood on the back of Isaac’s back. He and his son make the solitary journey up the mountain. When Isaac asks the obvious question, “Where is the lamb to be sacrificed?” Abraham answers, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” As difficult and painful as it must have been, Abraham binds Isaac and places him on the altar.

i-give-my-heart-to-you - figureFor many of us, our favorite hymn is “I surrender 95 percent.” As we learn from this passage, God does not want a part of our heart. He wants all of us. God does not want our money. He doesn’t ask for our gifts. He does not want our time. He wants our hearts. God asks us to surrender ourselves to him, holding nothing back.

Verses 11-14 point out that when the test comes, we must wait on God to provide what we need. At the last possible moment, an angel intervenes and stops Abraham from killing Isaac. Abraham passed the test and demonstrated he loved God more than even his dearest possession, his son Isaac.

This passage reveals a significant sequence in worship. We commit ourselves to worship God, and then he provides for our needs. Far too often, I get that backwards. If God gives me enough money, then I will tithe. If God gives me enough time, then I will serve. If God answers my prayers, then I will tell others about him. Abraham committed himself to obedience, and then God provided the substitute.

The section closes in verses 15-19 by explaining that rewards await those who pass the test.

God will test each one of us on the question of commitment and devotion. “Do you love me more than you love _____________? Am I most important in your life or have you allowed someone or something to take my rightful place?” When God asks you that question, will you pass the test?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 18, 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.

 

Let’s disturb the church

I’m bored.

As are many people in church.

Bored, and also apathetic, passive, testy, lonely, disheartened. We’re wary and weary and cranky and sad.

It’s a long list.

There’s an enormous gap between the life Jesus offered and the life we’re living. We feel it. We see it. We sense that whatever else Jesus came preaching, this can’t be what he had in mind: a roomful of people nodding to old platitudes, nodding off to old lullabies, perking up to Jonah-like rants, jumping up to split hairs or break company at the smallest provocation. He can’t have dreamed a church gorging itself on feeling good and allergic to self-denial. He can’t have hoped for a church that was more concerned with itself than with the world it inhabits. When Jesus announced that the kingdom was at hand, this can’t be what he meant.

What happened?

When did we start making it our priority to be safe instead of dangerous, nice instead of holy, cautious instead of bold, self-absorbed instead of counting everything loss in order to be found in Christ?

Pastor and author Mark Buchanan has a way of hitting the nail on the thumb. So begins the introduction to his latest book, Your Church is Too Safe: Why following Christ turns the world upside-down. I hope this book is as thought provoking and stimulating as his other books have been. My comfortable life and church need to be disturbed in a good way.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2013 in Books, Church, Quotes

 
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Dawn of a new day

 
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Posted by on August 16, 2013 in Chicopee, Photos

 

Home at last!

This morning, Carol and I signed the final documents to purchase the parsonage from the church. Once again, God has answered prayer, provided for our needs, and confirmed that we are right where he wants us to be.

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Thanks be to God!

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Chicopee, Home, Photos

 

Change begins at the top

In the introduction to their book, Building a life-changing small group ministry: A strategic guide for leading group life in your church, authors Bill Donahue and Russ Robinson tell a humorous story about why churches resist change.

GrueneBagGreg Bowman, one of our colleagues and coauthor of Coaching Life-Changing Leaders, was traveling across Texas several years ago. As he neared San Antonio, he spotted an unusual promotional sign for the town of Gruene (pronounced “green”). Their Chamber of Commerce clearly had a good sense of humor, because their motto proudly stated: “Gently Resisting Change Since 1872.”

Many churches could post a similar slogan over their doors, use it to describe their congregational meetings, or place it in an unspoken statement of values. Leaders often blame their inability to make more progress in their churches on such resistance to change. Church leaders should stop looking for a local version of the Gruene, Texas, sign and look in the mirror. Often the leading cause of stunted growth is us; we simply haven’t become skilled at managing change.

Over the years, I would have to agree with the authors’ conclusion. Sometimes the changes I proposed were resisted outright. But more often than not, they were resisted because I did not do a good enough job of casting the vision and explaining the reasons for the change. In short, I failed to manage and lead the change.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Books, Leadership, Quotes

 

Take pride in the right thing

According to Jeremiah 9:23-24, not all boasting is bad. Rather than boast about our own riches, education, strategy, strength, creativity, experience, accomplishments, or anything else we have done, we are to take pride in our relationship with God.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Character, Scripture

 

Grillin’

On Sunday, Carol and I hosted a barbecue for the leaders of our church to meet our friends, John & Naomi Musgrave. We’ve known the Musgraves since the early 90’s when John was an elder at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA, and I was on the staff. John & Naomi now operate the House of Grace in Tsibanobalka, Russia, where I will be teaching a three-day course for emerging leaders in February, 2014. The lunch provided an opportunity for our leaders to meet the Musgraves and hear firsthand about their ministry.

Naomi captured me at the grill, cooking our shish kebabs. It was one of those rare occasions I was on the other side of the camera.

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Great weather, good food, and good friends discussing ministry made for a great afternoon.

 
 

Don’t resist God’s call

How often do I make excuses when God asks me to do something? How often do I respond with a “Yeah, but…” answer? How often do I hide behind a lack of qualifications? How often do I use a feeling of intimidation or inhibition as a reason for attempting to dodge what God wants me to do?

I discovered that I am in good company with the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10). He used many of the same excuses when God called him into service.

In Jeremiah 1:4-5 God tells the prophet, “I knew you . . . I consecrated you . . . I appointed you.”

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah responded in much the same way I do. He made excuses why he was not the right choice. He complained that he was young and inexperienced (1:6).

Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”

While I cannot play the “too young” card any longer, I still try to use the “I wouldn’t know what to say” tactic as well as the “I’m not qualified” excuse. However, my excuses are no more effective than Jeremiah’s in trying to change God’s opinion.

God responded to Jeremiah’s excuses with two direct instructions (1:7-8)—“Stop making excuses” and “Don’t let people intimidate you.” God also gave the prophet the promise of success. Jeremiah will go and speak. God will be with him and will deliver him.

But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.”

Someone once said, God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called. After dealing with Jeremiah’s excuses, God equips the prophet with the abilities and words he needs to be successful (1:9-10).

Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”

When God places a burden on my heart to do something, when he communicates a message he wants me to speak, when God prompts me to take on a new task, my first response should not be to make excuses and say I am not qualified. If God is leading, he will give me what I need—gifts, abilities, words, and confidence— to be successful.

Father, thank you for calling me and equipping me to serve you.

 
 

Stop Riding the Roller Coaster

I enjoy riding roller coasters. The breath taking plunge into adventure. The surprising twists and turns. The g-forces pushing you back into the seat. The heart pounding thrills. While I enjoy the ride, I learned the hard way when to get off.

California ScreaminI had taken the family to Disneyland’s California Adventure. We decided to ride California Screamin, a wooden framed roller coaster harkening back to old rides on the Pacific Coast. The ride is filled with ups, downs, twists, turns, and loops. The five of us thoroughly enjoyed the ride. When we got back to the station, there was no one in line, so we quickly got back on for a second ride.

That second ride was one too many for me. My heart was racing. I was sweating profusely. I could not catch my breath. It would be a couple of hours before I would get on another ride.

Abraham's roller coaster rideMy experience gives me a greater appreciation of the life of Abraham. He spent 40 years riding the roller coaster of faith. (1) God called him while he was in the city of Ur (Acts 7:2-3) when he was possibly 60 years old. He called him to walk with the eyes of faith and trust him. (2) He plunged into his first trough when he took a 15-year detour in the city of Haran (Acts 7:4). (3) He climbed to a new peak while he was in Haran when God called him a second time and promised to bless him (Genesis 12:1-9). (4) His journey went downward into another valley when he took a detour to Egypt and lied about his relationship with his wife (Genesis 12:10-20). (5) He climbed to a new peak when he separated from Lot (Genesis 13), declared his allegiance to God Most High (Genesis 14), and the covenant was established (Genesis 15). (6) His journey went downward again when he ran ahead of God by taking Hagar as a second wife which resulted in the birth of Ishmael (Genesis 16). (7) He climbed another peak when he discovered God had the power to do anything and he interceded for Sodom (Genesis 17-18). (8) Not knowing when to get off the roller coaster, he plunged downward again when he took another detour to Gerar and lied about Sarah for the second time (Genesis 20). (9) When Isaac is born and he separates from Ishmael, Abraham finally gets off the roller coaster (Genesis 21).

YAbraham’s decision in Genesis 21 helps me to realize that to fully enjoy God’s blessings, you must break with the past.

Genesis 21:1-2 demonstrate that while God is seldom early, he is never late. Isaac is born at the exact time God predicted. Abraham obeys God instructions by circumcising Isaac (21:3-5). God’s blessings bring incredible joy as Abraham and Sarah celebrate this event (21:6-7).

However, not all is happy in Abraham’s household (21:8-13). On the day Isaac was weaned (usually when the child was 2 or 3 years old), Abraham threw a party. Ishmael, now 16 or 17 years old, mocked his little brother. In Galatians 4:29, the apostle Paul described the action as persecution. Tension escalates in the household as Sarah recognizes this is more than normal sibling rivalry. She wants Hagar and Ishmael gone. While it grieves Abraham deeply, God reassures him it is the right thing to do.

Hagar and IshmaelGod demonstrates that second choice does not mean second class (21:14-21). He provides water for Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness. He also keeps his promise by blessing Ishmael as he grew to manhood.

I take four key principles away from my study of this passage. The first two help me enjoy God’s blessings. The second two remind me to break away from my past.

  1. God is faithful in keeping his promises. Genesis 21 begins and ends with that statement. God keeps his promise to Abraham and Sarah as well as to Hagar and Ishmael.
  2. God cares about the outcast, the rejected, the abused, and the dying. He provided a son to Abraham and Sarah in their old age. He provided water and sustenance for Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness.
  3. Get rid of the sins that trip you up. While Abraham had deep affection for Hagar and Ishmael, he needed to send them away. Only then would Isaac be the sole heir of God’s promises. The two could not coincide together. The same is true of sin. I need to make a decisive break if I want to pursue righteousness.
  4. Step of the roller coaster. Like Abraham, at some point we have to say “enough is enough” and get off and start walking with God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on August 11, 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.

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2013 in Uncategorized