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Monthly Archives: May 2015

How Well Can You See?

Children often ask amusing questions of God.

  • Dear God, are you a ninja? Is that why I can’t see you? Jacob.
  • Dear God, are you really invisible or is that just a trick? Lucy.
  • Dear God, instead of letting people die and having to make new ones, why don’t you just keep the ones you got now? Jane.
  • Dear God, I bet it’s very hard for you to love everybody in the world. There are only 4 people in our family and I can never do it. Nan.
  • Dear God, if you watch in church on Sunday, I will show you my new shoes. Mickey.
  • Dear God, Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. Joyce.

While those questions are amusing coming from a 6 or a 9 year old, they are disconcerting if posed by a 45 year old. If our understanding of God doesn’t improve as we grow older, it may be caused by spiritual blindness. As we see from Jesus’ encounter with a blind man in Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), spiritual blindness can be relieved by the continued touch of Jesus.

The healing of the blind man at Bethsaida is unique in several respects. It is only recorded in Mark and is the only two-stage miracle which Jesus performed. It is a turning point in the gospel. Prior to this event, Jesus’ ministry has primarily been a public one in Galilee. After this, his primary ministry will be a private one preparing his disciples for his coming death.

The miracle highlights the need for Jesus to heal our spiritual blindness. Sandwiched between two healing miracles (the deaf and mute man in 7:31-37 and the blind man in 8:22-26), the disciples are struggling to understand what Jesus is doing (8:1-21). In the following section, Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah (8:27-30), but is then rebuked (8:33) for wanting Jesus to bypass the cross. Like the blind man, Peter had spiritual sight but failed to see the details of Jesus’ messiahship. The miracle demonstrates that Spiritual blindness can be relieved by the continued touch of Jesus.

As the story opens, Jesus and his disciples arrive at Bethsaida (22). The town is near where Jesus fed the 5,000 (6:30-44). It is a village that received judgment due to unbelief (Matthew 11:21-22).

Blindness was endemic to ancient culture. The lack of understanding of hygiene, the unavailability of medicine, the exposure to the elements and domestic trauma all contributed to circumstances that left many people blind. This was certainly the experience of an unnamed man in Bethsaida. The only thing he had in his favor was some concerned friends who brought him to Jesus and begged him to heal him.

How did you come to faith in Christ? Did you have a concerned neighbor who invited you to Awana or Sunday School as a child? Did a coworker counsel you about a troubled marriage and suggest that Jesus could bring peace to your family?

Knowing that the village would be busy, noisy, and distracting for a man who could not see, Jesus takes him outside of town where he could focus on the Jesus whom he could not see (23). Jesus’ approach stands in stark contrast to the religious leaders. They blamed a physical disability on sin (John 9:2) and wanted nothing to do with those who suffered. In contrast, Jesus got personally involved and touched the man.

After spitting and touching the man’s eyes with his saliva, Jesus asked him an unusual question, “Do you see anything?” Jesus’ actions demonstrated that he will heal the man completely, but it will occur in stages. The man answered that he saw people who looked like trees. Since he knew what trees looked like (24), the man was not born blind. He could see now, but not clearly.

Jesus touches him a second time and heals him completely (25). The two-stage miracle doesn’t mean Jesus lacked power, the blindness was too severe, or the man lacked faith. Jesus had previously demonstrated his power over nature (4:35-41; 6:45-56), demons (5:1-20), death (5:21-43), sickness (5:24-34), lack of resources (6:30-44; 8:1-10), and disability (7:31-35). There is no comment about the quality or caliber of the man’s faith. It is simply how Jesus performed the miracle.

The gospels give six examples of how Jesus healed the blindness of eight individuals. Four were healed with a simple touch (Matthew 9:27-31; 20:30-34). One was healed without an explanation of the process (Matthew 12:22). One was healed with spittle and a touch (Mark 8:22-26). Blind Bartimaeus was healed with a spoken word (Mark 10:46-52). One was healed with mud and clay and by washing in the pool of Siloam (John 9:1-7). Jesus did not use a one-size-fits-all approach to performing miracles and ministry. Each miracle was unique to the individual.

Jesus sent the man home with instructions not to go back to Bethsaida (26). It might mean that Bethsaida was not his home or that Jesus wanted to spare him from further difficulty due to the pronounced judgment on the city.

I take away four lessons from this passage.

  • Each one of us is spiritually blinded by sin, and in need of healing. Only through the continued touch of Jesus can we be healed. Has Christ opened your eyes spiritually?
  • Jesus deals with people in different ways. As no two miracles or healings are alike, so each one’s testimony will be unique. What’s your story?
  • Spiritual growth comes in stages. Are you making progress towards spiritual maturity?
  • Spiritually blind people need caring friends who will bring them to Jesus. Who can you introduce to the Savior?

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 31, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

The FAQs about Giving

In a recent membership class at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, we had a discussion about tithes, offerings, and giving in general. In an effort to better communicate the principles, I put together a handout covering the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about giving. You can download it as a pdf file or as a 4-page booklet. Our church will include it in this Sundays’ bulletin.

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The FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Giving

Q: When we take our offering, Pastor Mark or Chris Ames sometimes uses the phrase “tithes and offerings.” I’ve never heard a message on tithing before. Where does that come from?

A: Most people associate the tithe—10% giving—with the requirements of the Old Testament Law, but it actually existed before the Law was given. In Genesis 14:17-20, Abraham is returning from a battle in which he rescued his nephew Lot. On his way, he meets Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High. In gratitude for God granting him victory, Abraham gives a tenth of everything to the priest.

Many years later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, leaves home and is on his way to his Uncle Laban’s house. On his way, he has a dream about God in the desert (Genesis 28:10-15). In the dream, God promises to be with him and make him successful. Jacob makes a vow that if that indeed happens and he returns home safely, he would give God a tenth of everything (Genesis 28:20-22).

Q: That makes it sound like a tithe is just an example. Wasn’t it part of the Law?

A: Giving a tithe was an important aspect of the Old Testament Law, but it was actually closer to 23% than 10%.

Q: I’ve never heard that before. Where does that come from?

A: In the Law, several tithes and offerings were required of each person. The Israelites were to give one-tenth of all produce and all animals back to God (Leviticus 27:30-33). A second offering was the festival tithe (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 11, 18). One-tenth of the nine-tenths that remained (9%) was to be set aside and taken to Jerusalem where it would be eaten as part of a sacred meal. A third offering was the triennial or charity tithe which was given during the third year (10% given over 3 years or 3 1/3% a year) and used to help the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 26:12-15; 14:28-29). If you add up these amounts—10%, 9%, and 3 1/3%— the tithe is 22.3% a year.

Q: That makes me glad I don’t live under the Law. How is the New Testament different?

A: The Old Testament Law is prescriptive. It gives us a list of “Do’s & Don’ts.” The New Testament gives principles to guide us, but leaves the decision up to us.

Q: What does the New Testament teach about giving?

A: There are two key passages which teach principles about giving, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9.

In 1 Corinthians 16:1, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, but indicates this is the same thing he told the Galatians. This should be the normal practice of all believers and churches. In verse 2, Paul gives five principles about giving. Giving is to be:

  • Periodic—“On the first day of every week.” There should be a regular pattern and consistency to our giving.
  • Personal—“each one of you.” Each one of us is to give something.
  • Planned—“should set aside.” We are to think through what we are going to give.
  • Proportionate—“a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Rather than being haphazard, the amount we give should be consistent with our earnings.
  • Purposeful—“saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” We are to follow through with our plan and make sure we give.

Q: Are there different principles in the other passage?

A: 2 Corinthians 8-9 provides us with three additional principles. The first one is that God doesn’t want our money. He wants us. We begin by first giving ourselves to God, and then secondly by giving our resources to whatever ministry we are involved in (8:5).

The second principle is that we are to give cheerfully (9:6-7). We are to remember the law of the harvest, that we reap what we sow. In addition, we are the ones who determine the amount of our gift. But more important than the amount is our attitude. God delights in cheerful, generous giving.

Q: What if my income is limited or tight? Do I wait until I have enough before I give?

A: The answer to that question is found in the cycle of grace giving (9:6-11) and provides the third principle to guide us in our giving. We give cheerfully (9:6-7), then God gives back so that we have enough (9:8a). We then give generously (9:8b), and God gives back so that we have more than enough (9:9-11). We give—God gives back. We give more—God gives more back. The result of all of this is that God’s name is praised (9:11b-15).

The bottom line is that when we give of our money, the gift enriches the donor (9:6-11), supplies the needs of the recipients (12a), and promotes the glory of God (12b-15).

Q: It sounds like it is up to me to determine how much to give. Is that true?

A: Giving 10% is a good guideline, since it was the pattern of godly people even before the Law was given. But it is not a requirement. For some, giving 10% would require a step of faith. For others, it would be too little and they would not miss it.

Pray about what God would have you to give. Be faithful to what he puts on your heart. Give generously. Be joyful. Honor God in your giving.

 

Steve Lawson on Preaching

“Yesterday, Chris Ames and I attended the Institute for Expository Preaching taught by Dr. Steve Lawson of One Passion Ministries. It was a very encouraging and profitable day. Here are a few quotes I took away from the day.

“Preparing a sermon doesn’t take 10-15-20 hours per week. It takes a lifetime. Each sermon is the culmination of a lifetime of study and preparation.”

“God will honor the man who honors his word.”

“The preacher is the worship leader, not the worship pastor or music director. Preaching takes us much deeper into the word than a song ever can.”

“Someone once said that the Bible is a hymnal–It’s all about HIM.”

“Trinitarian preaching is God-exalting, Christ-centered, and Spirit-empowered.”

“As Spurgeon mounted the 15 steps into his pulpit each week, he said on each step, ‘I believe in the Holy Spirit.'”

“_______ said, ‘I’d rather try to fly to the moon on a broomstick than preach without the power of the Holy Spirit.'”

“The Holy Spirit uses what you have put into your mind and heart. The more tools you have, the more you can do.”

“Great preaching should have the effect of igniting the hearts of the listener.”

“Rather than the danger of being too dogmatic in our preaching, most of us face the danger of trying to please people.”

“We don’t always need to act like Moses on Sinai bringing the thunder down. People are living in a war zone today and need hope.”

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2015 in Preaching, Quotes

 

Awana Awards Night – 5/27/15

Tonight was the final night for this year’s Awana program at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. We started with a spaghetti dinner, followed by awards, songs, and skits in the sanctuary, a presentation about summer camp, and then we ended with dessert. The leaders will take a well-deserved break over the summer and then start again in September. Thanks go to Robin Dolbow and her team of hard-working volunteers!

 
 

What are you listening to?

This is the opening illustration from my message this past Sunday at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. The message was “Don’t let your faith be contaminated” from Mark 8:11-21. I don’t recall the original source, but it set the tone for my sermon.

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Back when the telegraph was the fastest method of long distance communication, a young man applied for a job as a Morse code operator. Answering an ad in the newspaper, he went to the office address that was listed.

When he arrived, he entered a large, busy office filled with noise and clatter, including the sound of the telegraph in the background. A sign on the receptionist’s counter instructed job applicants to fill out a form and wait until they were summoned to enter the inner office.

The young man filled out his form and sat down with the seven other applicants in the waiting area. After a few minutes, the young man stood up, crossed the room to the door of the inner office, and walked right in. Naturally the other applicants perked up, wondering what was going on. They muttered among themselves that they hadn’t heard any summons yet. They assumed that the young man who went into the office made a mistake and would be disqualified.

Within a few minutes, however, the employer escorted the young man out of the office and said to the other applicants, “Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming, but the job has just been filled.” The other applicants began grumbling to each other, and one spoke up saying, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand. He was the last to come in, and we never even got a chance to be interviewed. Yet he got the job. That’s not fair!”

The employer said, “I’m sorry, but all the time you’ve been sitting here, the telegraph has been ticking out the following message in Morse code: ’If you understand this message, then come right in. The job is yours.’ None of you heard it or understood it. This young man did. The job is his.”

 

A mind-bending SciFi thriller

The foldBook Review: The Fold: A Novel, by Peter Clines

Peter Clines latest offering, The Fold: A Novel, is a mind-binding, page-turning, high-octane Sci-Fi thriller. It reads like a cross between Michael Crichton, Sherlock Holmes, and the Syfy 90’s TV show, Sliders.

The main character, Mike Erikson, is a small town New England high school English teacher. While he appears to be just a regular guy, he is actually one of the smartest people on the planet with razor sharp observation skills and an eidetic, photographic memory. He remembers everything he has ever read or seen. He is recruited by an old friend to help solve a mystery. In the California desert near San Diego, a group of DARPA scientists have invented a device called the Albuquerque Door. The device uses a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, thus shrinking distances so a traveler can move hundreds of feet with a single step.

While the invention proves promising, there seems to be a problem that scientists refuse to discuss. Mike is sent to use his observation skills and deductive reasoning to help figure out if the machine is a help or a danger. Every step takes him deeper into the mystery and towards a twist that you don’t expect.

While I enjoyed the story, I did not appreciate the author’s use of profanity. In the second half of the book when the intensity of the mystery ratchets up, one character in particular becomes more profane and litters her conversations with “F” bombs. The author slips one in occasionally and you initially don’t notice it. But by the final chapter, it feels like they are everywhere. It just didn’t seem like it was necessary. While I normally avoid books with profanity, by the time it became noticeable, I was hooked by the story and did not want to put it down.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange 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 May 25, 2015 in Books

 

Thanks for your service & sacrifice

Memorial Day2

from “Memorial Day look back: Eagle photo touches hearts”

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2015 in Memorial Day, Photos

 

Don’t Let Your Faith Be Contaminated

As we go through our daily routines, we are constantly bombarded with distractions of every stripe. Personality conflicts. Complicated problems. Doubts. Skepticism. Busyness. All of these conspire to desensitize our feelings, build calluses on our skin, and harden our hearts. To Maintain a healthy faith, we must Remember what God did in the past, Meditate on his promises in the present, and Trust him to provide for the future.

In Mark 8:11-21, we see the twin dangers of unbelief and forgetfulness. The Pharisees demand proof (11-13) when in reality they only want an argument. The disciples are so focused on present problems (14-21) that they forgot God’s provision in the past. Unbelief and forgetfulness can contaminate and poison our faith if we’re not careful.

As the passage opens, Jesus and his disciples are on the western side of the Sea of Galilee in the region of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees show up demanding irrefutable proof of Jesus’ authority. Rather than seeking convincing proof so they might be persuaded to believe, they only want to argue. Like the person who says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up!” the Pharisees had closed their minds to Jesus and his teachings. Their actions reveal that they were blind and hard-hearted.

Not all questions seek the truth. While Jesus often went the extra mile to dialogue with seekers, he refused the demands of skeptics. Rather than engage in pointless dialogue, Jesus leaves the area.

In their hasty departure, Jesus’ disciples forgot to pack a lunch for the trip. They are so focused on their present problem they forgot Jesus’ miracles in the past (14-21).

With the encounter with the Pharisees fresh in his mind, Jesus warns his disciples not to be contaminated by the unbelief of the Pharisees. While Jesus and his disciples are using the same language, they mean entirely different things. Jesus uses the term, yeast or leaven, metaphorically while the disciples interpret it literally.

In some cases, yeast can be good. It can serve as a pervasive influence in spreading the kingdom of God (Matthew 13:33). But it can also describe the corrupting influence of evil (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). In this case, Jesus is sounding a warning against the hypocrisy and unbelief of the Pharisees.

Jesus warns about yeast and the disciples are thinking they forgot their lunch. Their myopic response reveals they were so focused on their present problem that they forgot Jesus’ miraculous provision not long ago. They demonstrated that they were dense and hard-hearted.

Seeing the Pharisees’ and the disciples’ reactions raises a yellow flag in my own life. Those closest to Jesus are the most in danger of becoming callused and hard-hearted. It is possible to know the Scriptures, see miracles, receive answers to prayer, and yet never allow the truth to penetrate below the surface.

Don’t let your faith be contaminated by …

  • Unbelief – There is nothing wrong with doubt and honest questions. They will lead you to the truth. But unbelief has chosen not to believe.
  • Hypocrisy – Some put on a mask and appear pious and religious, yet deep inside they are antagonistic to Christ.
  • Present problems – We can get so consumed with today’s issues that we forget our God is almighty and all-powerful.
  • Forgetfulness – We can become so distracted that we forget who God is, what he has done, and all of his promises.
  • Hard heart – Unconfessed sin, broken relationships, and compromise can all serve to build up calluses on our hearts.

To maintain a healthy faith …

  • Remember what God did in the past. Keep a journal to remind yourself of what God has done, answers to prayer, miracles, provision, etc. Remembering what God did in the past will bring help in the present.
  • Meditate on God’s promises in the present. Focus on God’s promises and goodness rather than on your problems. They will give you hope for the future.
  • Trust him to provide in the future. Remembering and meditating will lead you to greater confidence in the future.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on May 24, 2015. It is part of a series in the Gospel of Mark. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

A new perspective of the importance of the church

A fellowship of differentsBook Review: A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, by Scot McKnight

“God’s mission in this world is to create the church where God’s will is lived out by all of God’s people. God’s new creation grace and love are experienced at the table of Christian fellowship and create a new people, a new community, and a new way of life marked by a holiness the Roman Empire either despised or had never seen embodied in a community.”

The quote above sums up Scot McKnight’s theme and purpose in his book on the church, A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together. He wants to show the world what the church and the Christian life is supposed to look like.

After describing his church background in chapter one, the author describes the nature of the church in chapter two. He uses the metaphor of a salad bowl—a mixed salad of the best kind. The church is to be a mixture of people from all across the map and spectrum: men and women, rich and poor, black and white, and everything in between. The author believes that getting the church right is so important because it is “God’s world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens, we show the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together are designed by God to be.”

McKnight spends the rest of the book describing how grace, love, table, holiness, newness, and the Holy Spirit work together to guide the Christian life and shape the church. He uses the writings of the apostle Paul to flesh out his concepts and principles. He blends together biblical study, personal experiences, and concrete examples in an attempt to answer two fundamental questions: What is the church supposed to be? and If the church is what it is supposed to be, what does the Christian life look like?

The book will challenge your perception of the Christian life and leave you with a greater appreciation for the church.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.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 May 23, 2015 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Gone zooing

Carol, Caitlin, and I ventured over to Providence, RI, today to visit the Roger Williams Park Zoo. It was an opportunity to view God’s creative work in all the different animals. As Caitlin pointed out, the Red Panda wins the cuteness award.

 

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2015 in Photos, Rhode Island