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Monthly Archives: September 2015

Rainy Daze

Humor for a rainy day

Calvin & Hobbes - darn ol rain Calvin & Hobbes - dress for rain

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Calvin and Hobbes, Fall, Fun

 

Take a Stand on Moral Issues

We cannot be silentBook Review: We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right & wrong, by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

Twenty years ago, not one nation on earth endorsed legal same-sex marriage. Now, access to same sex marriage is increasingly seen as a basic human right, one enshrined in law by the Supreme Court of the United States. In less than a single generation, Western cultures have experienced a moral revolution.

With the movement toward same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality gaining momentum, some churches are running for cover. Yet our Christian responsibility is clear—we are to tell the truth about what God has revealed concerning human sexuality, gender, and marriage. No one said it was going to be easy.

This statement sums up the purpose and the theme of Dr. R. Albert Mohler’s latest book, We Cannot Be Silent: Speaking truth to a culture redefining sex, marriage, & the very meaning of right & wrong. In his book, the author examines how the transformation occurred and how we got to this point.

The sexual and cultural revolution began with the arrival of birth control and divorce. At the time, most Christians didn’t realize that separating sex from procreation and “no-fault” divorce set the stage for a total redefinition of marriage and the family. The sexual revolution laid the foundation for the moral revolution and those who advocate same-sex relationships. A redefinition of sex and gender not only leads to a redefinition of marriage, but also to the transgender revolution. This naturally leads to marriage as an institution disappearing from our eyes.

After describing the historical and cultural trends leading to where we are today, Dr. Mohler asks and answers the question, “What does the Bible really say about sex?” For biblical Christians, this is the most important question of all. The author follows this chapter with one addressing the issue of religious liberty. He closes the book by answering 30 basic questions that Christians are asking today.

Dr. Mohler closes the book with “A Word to the Reader.” He states,

In a very real sense, everything has now changed. The highest court of the land has redefined marriage. Those who cannot accept this redefinition of marriage as a matter of morality and ultimate truth, must acknowledge that the laws of this nation concerning marriage will indeed be defined against our will. We must acknowledge the authority of the Supreme Court in matters of law. Christians must be committed to be good citizens and good neighbors, even as we cannot accept this redefinition of marriage in our churches and in our lives.

We must contend for marriage as God’s gift to humanity—a gift central and essential to human flourishing and a gift that is limited the conjugal union of a man and a woman. We must contend for religious liberty for all, and focus our energies on protecting the rights of Christian citizens and Christian institutions to teach and operate on the basis of Christian conviction.

We cannot be silent, and we cannot join the moral revolution that stands in direct opposition to what we believe the Creator has designed, given, and intended for us. We cannot be silent, and we cannot fail to contend for marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

In one sense, everything has changed. And yet, nothing has changed. The cultural and legal landscape has changed, as we believe this will lead to very real harms to our neighbors. But our Christian responsibility has not changed. We are charged to uphold marriage as the union of a man and a woman and to speak the truth in love. We are also commanded to uphold the truth about marriage in our own lives, in our own marriages, in our own families, and in our own churches.

We are called to be the people of the truth, even when the truth is not popular and even when the truth is denied by the culture around us. Christians have found themselves in this position before, and we will again. God’s truth has not changed. The holy Scriptures have not changed. The gospel of Jesus Christ has not changed. The church’s mission has not changed. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.

Challenging, insightful, and thought provoking. Well worth reading and pondering.

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 September 28, 2015 in Books, Culture, Marriage, Quotes

 

Money Talks

When it comes to money, there is a wide range of opinions.

  • “Whoever says money can’t buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.” Donald Trump
  • “If riches are a curse, may God smite me with it and may I never recover!” Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof.
  • “Get all you can; put it in a can; protect that can!”

While we may pursue affluence, we live with a scarcity mentality—there is only so much to go around so you better not squander it. This attitude creeps into the church and our approach to worship.

According to Barna Research:

  • The average person gives 2.1% of their income to charitable causes.
  • 17% of Christians say that they “tithe” (give 10% of their income to God’s work).
  • Only 3% actually give that amount.

Many pastors avoid talking about money for various reasons:

  • It makes everyone uncomfortable, and we want people to be happy.
  • People believe it is a personal issue, a private matter.
  • We don’t want to offend newcomers.
  • We want to avoid the stereotype of “The church only talks about money.”

When you study the Scriptures, you discover:

  • About 500 verses on prayer.
  • Fewer than 500 verses on faith.
  • 2,300 verses that deal with money and possessions.
  • Jesus said more about money than he did about any other subject, including heaven and hell combined.
  • Over 10% of the New Testament relates directly to financial matters.
  • Money is a barometer of our spiritual health.

In light of what Scripture teaches, our church is beginning a five-part series on Generosity. The theme of the series comes from 2 Corinthians 9:6-7.

“…whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

Giving demonstrates our Dependence on God (Mark 12:41-44).

After Jesus finished his public teaching in the Court of the Gentiles (Mark 11:27-12:40), he entered the Court of the Women. Against one wall of this court were 13 trumpet-shaped collection boxes for receiving worshipers’ freewill offerings. Many people gave large amounts, and Jesus did not condemn them or comment on their gifts. One unnamed widow gave two lepta (Mark 12:41-44). This was the smallest bronze Jewish coin in circulation. Two of them put together added up to less than one penny in value.

Jesus said that the widow gave more than all the others. Most gave out of their material wealth at little cost to them. The widow gave everything she had out of her poverty. Most gave what they could spare. The widow spared nothing.

Her gift illustrates that generosity is not determined by the amount, but by the attitude with which it is given. The question is not, “How much did you give?” but, “How much did it cost you to give?”

Giving is an Act of Worship (Proverbs 3:9-10).

If you wanted to invite your mayor, senator, governor, or president over to house for dinner, would you serve them leftovers? Then why do we approach worship with the attitude of “If there is any … money after I pay bills … time after work and bowling … energy after I take care of family … money after my vacation … time after I watch the game … then I will give, serve, and/or worship.”

Proverbs 3:9-10 explains that we are to give God our first and best. Far too often, we give God our leftovers. We honor ourselves with our wealth and give God what we can afford to do without.

These verses point out the proper sequence—we give, and then God blesses. Too often, we get this backwards. We say, when God blesses me and meets my needs, then I will give. The proper order is … Give … honor God with the first and best … then he will bless and meet needs.

If we give a 15% tip for good service at a restaurant, why do we balk at honoring God with our finances when he gave us salvation?

Giving is an Act of Obedience and Faith (Malachi 3:10-12).

The command in Malachi 3:10, “put me to the test,” confuses us. We’ve been told never to test God, and yet this says it’s ok. It helps to understand that there are three words for test in the Hebrew language.

  • “nasa” means testing God in the sense of challenging or disputing his presence or power and thus provoking him to anger.
  • “sarap” means testing or refining a substance such as gold.
  • “bahan” means testing with the idea of proving the dependability of something.

It is this third word, “bahan,” that is used in Malachi 3:10. We are to test God to prove he keeps his promises.

God challenges us to prove that his promises are true about giving. If we give, God will meet our needs. While this instruction is linked to Israel and the Old Testament Law, it is echoed in Luke 6:38 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-8. This is a command and a promise for us today.

If we take God at his word and give generously, what might he do to meet our needs (Malachi 3:11-12)? Could he cause our car to be more fuel efficient so we spend less money on gas? Could he prevent our children’s teeth from getting cavities so we spend less money at the dentist office? Could God cause our clothes not to wear out so we spend less money on clothing? If we take God at his word and give generously, what might he do to meet our needs?

Over the next 90 days, I want to encourage you to put God to the test regarding his promise about giving. Between now and December 31 (which technically is 96 days, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as 90 days), please consider making the following commitments:

  • I will worship God with my giving.
  • I will give generously.
  • I will give my first and my best.
  • I will trust God to provide for my needs.
  • I will look to see how God meets my needs.
  • I will share the results so others can praise God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 27, 2015. It is opening message in a series on Generosity. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

In the shade of the old apple tree

Today we took a drive to Outlook Farm, a U-Pick apple orchard in Westhampton, MA. We didn’t pick any fruit, but we did go for a stroll in the orchard and enjoyed the flowers, pumpkins, and gourds around the store.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2015 in Fall, Flowers, Massachusetts, Photos

 

Are we persecuted or just offended?

Dr. Russell Moore has written a thought provoking article entitled, “The Difference Between Being Offended and Being Persecuted.” In his opening paragraph, he states,

There are two key mistakes American Christians tend to make when thinking about the intersection of religion and culture. The first is to have an attitude of a “majority” culture, a mindset that incorrectly conflates a civic morality with Christianity and seeks to build coalitions to “turn America back” to Christ. But there is another mistake too, and that is to have a fearful, hand-wringing siege mentality. While it’s true that religious liberty is genuinely imperiled, perhaps more than at any time since the revolutionary era, we will not be able to articulate our commitments in this arena if we don’t know how to differentiate between state persecution and cultural marginalization, between public oppression and personal offense.

Click on the link above to read the entire article.

(Thanks, Tim Jack, for turning me on to the article.)

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2015 in Culture, News stories, Quotes

 

Discovering true happiness

HappinessBook Review: Happiness, by Randy Alcorn

Not only is it possible for Christ followers to be happy, it is God’s desire for us to experience happiness, joy, and gladness to the full. This is the conviction of author Randy Alcorn. He has written an exhaustive, and sometimes exhausting, book to proclaim that the quest for happiness comes from God himself. It is Alcorn’s expressed desire that we understand why we should be happy, change our perspective, and develop habits of happiness.

The book is divided into four parts. Part 1 examines our longing and search for happiness. The author explains how God has wired us to seek happiness and how sin seeks to prevent us from experiencing it. Part 2 explores the happiness of God himself. Alcorn gives considerable attention to explain that God is happy and that he wants us to be happy. Part 3 surveys the numerous biblical passages that speak of happiness, joy, and gladness. The author explores a number of Hebrew and Greek words and demonstrates how the Bible repeatedly shows that our creator wants us happy. Part 4 addresses ways to live a Christ-centered life of happiness. Alcorn details several different habits that help one pursue happiness.

I found the book to be insightful and challenging. It changed my understanding of happiness and will change how I teach the topic in the future. In the past, I’ve taught that God wants us to be holy, not happy. In attempting to point out that they world’s pursuit of happiness is incorrect, I’ve communicated that happiness and holiness are incompatible. I now understand that is incorrect. Happiness is a biblical concept and pursuit, provided we seek our happiness according to God’s direction and provision.

The downside of the book is that it feels overwhelming. Part 3 especially feels like one is drinking from a firehose. The author piles Scripture references, word studies, and quotes from Puritan authors, and countless other saints upon each other. In the end, you want to throw in the towel and shout, “OK, I’m convinced already!” While the book is good and the arguments convincing, it just feels like too much.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Tyndale Blog Network http://tyndaleblognetwork.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 September 25, 2015 in Books

 

Finding success in obscurity

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Interesting to see this graphic the same week our staff and elders are discussing the book, Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent & Barbara Hughes.

 

 
 

Happiness is a Choice

Once upon a time, a widow had two sons who provided for her. One sold umbrellas; the other, fans. Every morning the mother checked the weather. Sunshine brought her misery, because no umbrellas would sell. Rain brought her misery, because no fans would sell. Both conditions caused her to fret.

One day her friend remarked, “If the sun is shining, people buy fans. If it rains, they buy umbrellas. Change your attitude; be happy!”

It’s a simple story, but it illustrates a potentially life-changing reality. Our happiness is dependent not on circumstances but on perspective. The Greek philosophy Epictetus said, “Men are disturbed not by the things which happen, but by the opinions about the things.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) wrote, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”

Cited in Happiness, by Randy Alcorn

 
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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in Books, Quotes

 

Who said you could do this?

I was in Russia training pastors and emerging leaders. I returned home to a firestorm of epic proportions, all due to the fact that our worship leader moved the church organ six feet. It wasn’t that he moved it, but that he didn’t ask permission. One person complained to my wife, and Carol responded that the worship leader had talked to me about the idea. The individual responded, “Mark doesn’t have authority to make that decision.” Ironically, people wanted to move the organ for years, but the fact the worship leader made the decision without getting congregational buy-in short-circuited their thinking.

In Mark 11:27-33, members of the Jewish Sanhedrin challenge Jesus because they think he overstepped his boundaries and acted without authority. It is the first of seven controversies between Jesus and the religious establishment (11:27-12:40).

The Sanhedrin was made up of 71 men who served as the ruling body in Israel. The group was made up of the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. They were the guardians of Israel’s religious life. They exercised complete authority in religious matters and restricted authority in political matters.

As Jesus is walking through the temple precinct on Tuesday following Palm Sunday, several of the chief priests, scribes, and elders accost him (27). While it was not an official delegation of the Sanhedrin, it was the Sanhedrin nonetheless. They ask Jesus two questions, “What is the nature of your authority?” and “Who gave it to you?” (28). The implication is, “It wasn’t us, and we’re in charge!”

The question is, What are “these things” they are so upset about? Undoubtedly, it refers to the events that took place on Palm Sunday as Jesus entered Jerusalem (11:1-11), as well as the day after when he cleared people out of the temple (11:15-19) and cursed the fig tree (11:12-14, 20-21). It could also include Jesus teaching with authority (1:22), casting out demons (1:27), forgiving sins (2:5, 10), accepting sinners (2:13, 15), redefining the Sabbath (2:28), giving his disciples authority over demons (3:15; 6:7), and challenging tradition (7:1-13).

The religious leaders decided enough is enough and challenged Jesus, “Who said you could do this?” They were thinking civil authority, but they disregarded Jesus’ divine authority (Matthew 11:27; John 3:35).

Jesus counters by answering their question with his own question (29-30). Rather than being rude or evasive, this was the normal teaching pattern done by a rabbi. While it seems curious that Jesus would ask their opinion about the ministry of John the Baptist, it makes sense when you realize that when John baptized Jesus, it inaugurated Jesus’ authority. During that event, the heavens opened, the Holy Spirit descended, and the voice from heaven proclaimed Jesus as God’s Son.

By saying, “Answer me,” Jesus was challenging the religious elite to stop straddling the middle line and to take a stand.

The religious leaders are smart enough to recognize that Jesus just backed them into a corner (31-32). No matter what they answer, they are in trouble. If they recognized John as a prophet, they were in trouble with God because they didn’t obey his teachings. If they said John was a self-appointed teacher, they were in trouble with people who esteemed John highly. Playing not to lose, the members of the Sanhedrin pleaded ignorance (33a).

Since Jesus knew the religious leaders were confrontational, not curious, he did not answer their question (33b).

There are two lessons I take away from this passage. One is to follow the example of Jesus in recognizing the difference between a question and a confrontation. Questions should be answered, but confrontations should be ignored. A second lesson is that Jesus has thoroughly demonstrated his authority and right to rule. In light of that, we should submit our lives to him.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on September 20, 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.

 

Life Should Be Filled With Senior Moments

I was asked to share a devotional thought at First Central Baptist Church‘s monthly Senior Saints luncheon this afternoon. I shared some ideas I originally developed five years ago and have continued to add to and refine. It is the conviction that life should be filled with senior moments.

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When most people hear the term, “senior moment,” they tend to think of . . . “What were we talking about?” Senior moments are euphemisms for forgetfulness or loss of memory.

Another definition of “senior moments” was illustrated at the beginning of the Masters Golf Tournament. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus hit the ceremonial first tee and then stepped aside to let the competition begin. Seniors play while youngsters compete. According to our culture, senior moments are times of leisure. You can find seniors on cruise ships, golf courses, ski slopes, and in RVs.

Instead of forgetfulness or leisure, I believe senior moments are opportunities to serve and minister to others. Senior moments may be times when we make the greatest contribution to the kingdom of God. In that sense, life should be filled with senior moments.

I began to think about senior citizens in the Bible. Once I got going, I was surprised to discover how many there were. I was also amazed at the significant contributions they made to the kingdom of God.

The youngster of the group was a woman from the town of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-17). According to verse 14, she was older when she became a parent. Generous and giving, she had a ministry of hospitality and encouragement to the prophet Elisha.

While we don’t know their ages, Luke 1:5-25 indicates that Zechariah and Elizabeth were advanced in years, which is a polite term for “really old.” It was then that God challenged them to believe the impossible that they could become parents. And not just any parents, but parents of the one who would prepare the way for Jesus. For many of us, we tend to relax our standards and habits as we get older. Older parents tend to give in more easily to their children. But Zechariah and Elizabeth had to parent with intentionality and discipline as they raised John the Baptist, so that he was prepared for his upcoming ministry.

Most people are heading for the rocking chair at the age of 80. Many are set in their ways and unable or unwilling to change. And yet, Moses met God shortly after his 80th birthday and discovered the nature of holiness (Exodus 3). He was given a significant leadership assignment to serve God as the deliverer of Israel.

As many people get older, they tend to relax or lose their inhibitions. Who they are inside becomes more visible. If that is true, then I want to be like Anna (Luke 2:36-38). At the age of 84, she had a ministry of prayer, along with worship and fasting. Once she met Jesus, she couldn’t stop telling people about him. Anna was an 84-year-old evangelist.

At the age of 85 years old, Caleb didn’t ask for his rocking chair. He asked for a new challenge—the most difficult territory in the Promised Land (Joshua 14:6-12). In doing so, he served as an inspiration and mentor to his nephew, Othniel (Judges 1:11-15).

The attitude of Caleb reminds me of my mother. After she retired from work, she went on her first ministry trip to Japan, all by herself. She even went back a second time and did office work for a Japanese church. She bought her first computer at the age of 80. Senior moments should be time for new challenges.

At the ages of 100 and 90 respectively, Abraham and Sarah became parents for the first time (Genesis 17:15-21). They had to believe that nothing was too hard for God. In doing so, they accepted God’s assignment for their lives—beginning a new family and a new nation. They had the opportunity to impact not only their son, but countless generations to follow.

Tradition tells us that Simeon (Luke 2:25-35) was 113 years old when he met the baby Jesus in the temple. While we don’t know his age for certain, we do know that he knew the Scriptures and was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. He looked forward to the coming of Jesus. As seniors grow older, their faith should be growing deeper as well.

Many seniors tend to become negative, cynical, and complaining as they grow older. Not so with Jacob (Genesis 49). At the age of 147, he blessed his sons, and pictured a positive future for each of them. His thoughts were focused on the promises of God.

These ten individuals remind me that no matter our age, we still have something to contribute to the kingdom of God. It may be a ministry of prayer or hospitality. It may be a generous spirit that gives to support ministry. It may be an example of faith that inspires others to follow. It may be a positive outlook that trusts God for the future.

Life should be filled with senior moments.

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2015 in Bible Study, First Central Bible Church, Scripture