Monthly Archives: October 2014

Focused Priorities in a Frantic World

Focused Priorities in a Frantic WorldEastern Air Lines Flight 401 was bound from New York City to Miami on December 29, 1972. It was filled with holiday travelers. As the aircraft approached the Miami Airport for its landing, a light that indicates proper deployment of the landing gear failed to come on. The plane flew in a large, looping circle over the swamps of the Everglades while the cockpit crew checked out the light failure. Their question was this, had the landing gear actually not deployed or was it just the light bulb that was defective?

The flight engineer fiddled with the bulb. He tried to remove it, but it wouldn’t budge. Another member of the crew tried to help out… and then another. By and by, if you can believe it, all eyes were on the little light bulb that refused to be dislodged from its socket. No one noticed that the autopilot had been inadvertently disengaged and the plane was losing altitude. Finally, it dropped right into a swamp. 102 people were killed in that plane crash.

While an experienced crew of high-priced and seasoned pilots messed around with a seventy-five-cent light bulb, an entire airplane and many of its passengers were lost. The crew momentarily forgot the most basic of all rules of the air—“Don’t forget to fly the airplane!”

Focused Priorities in a Frantic WorldPeople can get caught up in the busyness of the day—running from the house to the doctor to work to school to soccer practice to music lessons to church to committee meetings to . . . You can do so much and yet accomplish so little.

Churches can have so many activities, programs, projects, committee meetings, banquets, and community involvements—so many wheels spinning without really accomplishing anything of eternal significance—that the congregation forgets its primary objective.

We can learn a lot about someone by following them during a typical day. We can learn even more by watching an individual during a busy and stressful day. Mark 1:21-39 presents a single day in the life of Jesus. Amidst the pressure of hurting people, growing popularity, and the expectations of his followers, Jesus was in charge of his schedule and priorities. He made time for what was most important. On the busiest day of his life, Jesus maintained three priorities: people (29-34), prayer (35), and preaching (36-39).

Focused Priorities in a Frantic WorldFollowing the worship service in the synagogue (21-28), Jesus and his four disciples went to the home of Peter and Andrew. The Jewish custom was that the main meal came after Sabbath worship at about noon. Since Simon’s home was apparently close to the synagogue it was the natural place to go for lunch.

Upon arriving, Jesus learns that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick in bed with a fever. He compassionately goes to her, touches her and heals her completely, without saying a word. The fever leaves her. She immediately gets out of bed, showing no lingering weakness, and serves the party.

Between Jesus delivering a man from a demon in the synagogue and healing Simon’s mother-in-law, the excitement is now building. That evening at sundown it seems as if the entire town is camped at the front door. Everyone in Capernaum knew Jesus was in town and wanted something from him. In a compassionate response, Jesus heals many and casts out many demons.

Despite a full day of ministry, Jesus got up early the next day and went to a solitary place to pray (35). Jesus cannot extend himself outward in compassion without first attending to the source of his mission and purpose with the Father; and, conversely, his oneness with the Father compels him outward in mission.

The crowds return to Simon’s door expecting to find Jesus. Simon and company go looking for Jesus (36-37). Their statement, “Everyone is looking for you” may indicate some annoyance with Jesus on their part. They thought Jesus was not taking advantage of his opportunities. They wanted him to do more miracles and increase his popularity.

The phrase, “looking for you,” means to seek with evil or inappropriate intention. Mark apparently understood that the motives of the crowd were not good. The people of Capernaum apparently had no interest in Jesus beyond his miracles. They were not willing to come under his authority in the kingdom of God.

Jesus’ reply indicates that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ plan and mission. His plan was to go elsewhere to preach (39). His plan was to proclaim the good news, not become the resident miracle worker. He would not let popular acclaim change his priorities.

Focused Priorities in a Frantic WorldFollowing the example of Jesus, we can learn much about how to maintain our priorities in the midst of daily life. Amidst the pressure of life’s busyness, we should make time to Serve the needs of others, Spend time with God, and Share the gospel.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on October 26, 2014. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

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Posted by on October 26, 2014 in Uncategorized


Three Tasks of a Good Missionary

Whether you cross the street or cross the ocean, here are three challenges that all of us face if we want to live for Christ and share his message with our world.

  1. Learn the language: educate yourself on how to talk in a way that people can understand and to which they can relate and eventually respond
  2. Study the culture: become so sensitized to that culture that you can operate effectively within it
  3. Translate the gospel: translate it into its own cultural context so that it can be heard, understood, and appropriated

Cited in The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, by James Emery White

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Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Books, Evangelism, Ministry, Missions, Quotes


Returning to Russia in March 2015

Mark Wheeler's Russia 2015 letter 10-21-14-1

Mark Wheeler's Russia 2015 letter 10-21-14-2

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Posted by on October 24, 2014 in House of Grace, Russia


How times have changed

10-22 Rainer

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Evangelism, Tim Challies


How can a dying church become healthy again?

challies-sidebarOn October 20, Tim Challies had a post from Thom Rainer entitled, “7 Reasons Some Churches Experience Revitalization (While Others Don’t).” In the post, Rainer says,

I recently categorized those reasons some churches experience revitalization. I then compared them to churches that have not been revitalized. I found seven differences between the two sets of churches. These are the seven traits unique to the revitalized churches:

  1. The leaders and members faced reality. One of the reasons most churches don’t experience revitalization is their unwillingness to “look in the mirror.” Denial leads to decline which leads to death.
  2. Many in the church began explicitly praying for God to revitalize the church. I know of a leadership group in one church that prayed every week for over two years. The church is now in true revitalization.
  3. The churches had an explicit and clear focus on the gospel. Preaching became clearly gospel-centered. Ministries became gospel-centered. And many members began intentionally sharing the gospel, which brings me to the next reason.
  4. Members did not just talk evangelism; they did evangelism. I did not see a specific approach or methodology to share the gospel in these congregations. It was clear, however, that there was a more focused intentionality on sharing Christ than in many previous years.
  5. Many members in these churches began focusing on serving Christ through the church rather than seeking their own preferences. Another way of stating it is that these members became other-focused rather than self-focused. This attitude seemed to be directly connected to their prayers for revitalization.
  6. These churches raised the bar of expectations. Thus membership in these congregations became meaningful. Members moved from spectators to participants.
  7. The churches developed a clear process of discipleship. The members became more immersed in the Word. There was a clear and cogent plan to help members grow in their walk with Christ.

I found Rainer’s list interesting because I recently read his book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church: 12 Ways to Keep Yours Alive. The book portrays 12 negative characteristics of a dying church while his list gives 7 characteristics of how a church can become healthy.

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Posted by on October 22, 2014 in Books, Church, Tim Challies


The Shifting Currents of Culture

I’m working my way through a thought provoking book by James Emery White, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated. In chapter 4, “A Post‑Christian World,” the author explores the impact of culture on Christianity. He identifies and explains “Three Moving Cultural Currents”:

  • Secularization: The church is losing its influence as a shaper of life and thought in the wider social order, and Christianity is losing its place as the dominant worldview.
  • Privatization: A chasm is created between the public and the private spheres of life, and spiritual things are increasingly placed with the private arena.
  • Pluralization: Individuals are confronted with a staggering number of ideologies and faith options competing for their attention.

Regarding secularization, I found the following illustration particularly insightful.

In his Guide for the Perplexed, author E. F. Schumacher relates his experience of getting lost during a sightseeing trip to Moscow during the Stalinist era. Trying to get his bearings, he found himself standing with several large churches within his line of sight. Yet none of these churches were found on his map. An interpreter came to assist him and explained, “We don’t show churches on our maps.”

Schumacher contradicted the interpreter by quickly pointing out a church that was clearly on his map.

“That is a museum,” the interpreter said, “not what we call a ‘living church.’ It is only the ‘living churches’ we don’t show.”

That, Schumacher goes on to conclude, was the cultural point. Those things that mankind has most believed in are no longer on the map of reality, or if they are, they are relegated to a museum. In reflecting on Schumacher’s story, Huston Smith notes that our world “has erased transcendence from our reality map.” Or as C. S. Lewis observes, “Almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.”

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Posted by on October 21, 2014 in Books, Church, Culture, Quotes


Global Outreach Sunday

This weekend at First Central Baptist Church, we focused our attention on global outreach, taking the gospel to the ends of the world. Our guest speaker was Woody Wooldridge with Bridging the World. We also heard from Sue Ann & Janet about their ministry in Ghana. It was an encouraging, challenging, and motivating day.

Woody Wooldridge

Sue Ann & Janet

Matthew 28:17–20     17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

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Posted by on October 19, 2014 in First Central Bible Church, Missions