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Monthly Archives: November 2015

Almost There

This week, Carol and I will head for California to celebrate my in-laws 60th wedding anniversary. Imagine that I drive to the airport but decide to camp out in the parking lot. Have I arrived? What if I board the airplane but it remains on the runway? Have I arrived? Imagine that I fly to LAX but decide to remain in the terminal? Have I arrived? What if I drive to my in-laws’ home and live in my car on their driveway? Have I arrived? By now you’re thinking, what kind of idiot would settle for traveling but never arriving? We would all agree that I have not truly arrived until I enter the house and give my in-laws a hug.

Pastor and author R. Kent Hughes stated, “It is possible to be within an inch of Heaven, yet go to Hell.” Mark 12:28-34 tells the story of a religious leader who came “oh so close” to the kingdom of God. This account is the fifth of seven controversies (Mark 11:27-12:40). The Sanhedrin, Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, and Scribes take a tag-team approach trying to trap Jesus. They each ask their favorite questions in an attempt to back him into a corner.

On this occasion, a scribe asks Jesus the penetrating question, “Teacher, of all the commandments, which is the most important?” The religious leaders had compiled all the commandments in the law into a list of 613. There were 248 “Thou shalt” and 365 “Thou shalt not.” They further divided the list into “heavy” or more important commands, and “light” or less important ones.

It’s difficult to know if this is an honest question or simply a diversionary tactic. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 22:34-40), it appears to be one more trap, while in Mark’s account (12:28-34), it appears to be a sincere question.

Borrowing a phrase from today’s business lexicon, Jesus tells the lawyer or scribe that the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. The main thing is to love God with every ounce of your being—heart, soul, mind, and strength (29-30). In so doing, Jesus refers back to the great shema of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4-5. We are to love God with our intellect, our emotions, our will, and our energy. Rather than compartmentalize our lives, we are to love God with everything we have.

Jesus goes on to say that there is a second main thing. Not only are we to love God, we are to love people (31). We demonstrate love for people by giving them our time when we listen to their concerns, care for their needs, pray for their burdens, and serve them. We show our love by practicing the “one another” commands in the New Testament.

These two commands—loving God and loving people—sum up the entire law (Exodus 20:3-17) in a succinct phrase. It demonstrates that Christianity is a relationship, not a ritual, which the scribe wisely observes (32-33). As Christ later teaches (Matthew 25:31-40), we love God BY loving people.

However, knowing the answer to the question, “What commandment is the most important?” is not enough. The answer alone won’t get you into heaven. The scribe rightly understands that Jesus spoke wisely, and yet Jesus tells him he is only on the doorstep. “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

In R. Kent Hughes’ commentary on Mark, he points out: It is possible to have grown up in church, to have consistent, godly parents, and never come to a saving knowledge of Christ. It is possible to have studied theology and never become a true Christian. It is possible to have heard the grace of Christ preached all your life and still be resting on your own goodness. It is possible to become gospel-hardened, and so seal your damnation even within the church. It is possible to fool everyone and have the preacher preach your funeral and assure everyone that your soul is resting in Heaven when it is really in Hell. It is possible to be within an inch of the Kingdom of God and miss it completely. “It is possible to be within an inch of Heaven, yet go to Hell!”

Don’t settle for “Almost There.” Receive Christ as Savior & Lord Today!

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 22, 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.

 

Fools for Jesus

Ministry is much more fun when you are surrounded by a group of people willing to go the extra mile to reach people with the message of the gospel, people who are willing to be “fools for Jesus.”

Kid Connect leaders

1 Corinthians 1:18–25

18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” 20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Awana, First Central Bible Church, Scripture

 

Minion Night at Awana

It was minion night at Awana at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA. Since I was teaching the story of the Garden of Eden (in character as Gru), I decided to stage a crime scene (if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will die). As you can see, it was a very fun evening!

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Awana, First Central Bible Church, Photos

 
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Do the hard work of maturing

Peter Scazerro quote on the hard work of maturing

 
 

Did you know the Bible calls for Christians to be extremists?

Extremists are in the news. “The attacks in Paris have shown us extremism at its most brutal and bloody, the kind that celebrates death, destruction and mayhem.”

As Christ followers, we often go the opposite direction and avoid being characterized like this. We think moderation is next to godliness. But did you know that the Bible calls for Christians to be extremists? Titus 2:14 calls for Christ followers to be “zealous for good works.” As blogger Tim Challies points out, we are to be zealots in our efforts to do good.

But did you know that the Bible calls Christians to extremism as well? It calls Christians to be zealots in a cause, to go to great lengths to carry out extreme deeds in the name of Jesus. We see this in Paul’s little letter to Titus where we are reminded of Jesus Christ “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

We, too, are to be extremists. We, too, are to go to extreme measures to serve our God. And here are our marching orders: Do good. We are to bring glory to God by doing good for others. Allah may be glorified in maimed bodies and blood-soaked city streets, but God is glorified in acts of love and deeds of kindness. He is glorified in deeds done not to earn favor with God, but deeds done as an expression of gratitude because we have already received the favor of God. God is glorified as we serve others in his name. God is honored in the costly sacrifice of love.

Click on the link to read the full article, “A Call for Christian Extremists.” Get out of your comfort zone and do good.

 

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in News stories, Scripture, Theology, Tim Challies

 

Please help me strengthen the church in Russia

In March 2016, I will return to Russia to help further train and equip the believers in Anapa and Elista. Below is a letter sent to my congregation and friends that explains the details of the ministry and how people can join the team to help me.

2016 fundraising letter-1

2016 fundraising letter-2

 

Is there Life after Death?

Is there life after death? Is the resurrection true or just a superstitious myth? Having performed a number of funerals over the years, I can testify firsthand that those who know Christ approach death much differently than those who do not know Christ. The former have great confidence while the latter have great questions.

Mark 12:18-27 is the fourth of seven controversies between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders (11:27-12:40). They deal with the issues of:

  • Authority (11:27-33)
  • Rejection (12:1-12)
  • Taxes (12:13-17)
  • Resurrection (12:18-27)
  • Greatest commandment (12:28-34)
  • Son of David (12:35-37)
  • Hypocrisy (12:38-40)

The Sadducees come to Jesus with a question (18)

More people are familiar with the Pharisees than they are with the Sadducees. If your compare and contrast the two, you discover the following characteristics:

Pharisees

Sadducees

Middle class

Aristocratic

Laymen

Priests

Law, Prophets, Writings

Law – Books of Moses

Believed in God’s sovereignty

Affirmed human free will alone

Believed in the supernatural

Rejected the supernatural—angels, spirits, miracles, resurrection

Believed a materialistic doctrine of resurrection—defects in the earthly body and current relationships will be carried over in the future life

Rejected the doctrine of the resurrection because it did not exist in the Pentateuch

 

The soul does not survive death

No penalties for bad behavior or rewards for good behavior

 

Disappeared after A.D. 70

The Sadducees try to ridicule Jesus with a story about the resurrection (19-23)

The Sadducees address Jesus as Teacher. “Master” is a formal address. They resorted to no flattery and made no pretense that they had come to learn from Jesus. They felt themselves superior to him and intended to expose his inadequacy as a teacher in theological matters.

The Sadducees tell a story about seven brothers who successively fulfilled the duty of levirate marriage —If a husband died without leaving male heir his unmarried broth was to marry the widow in order to carry on the family name (Tamar, Genesis 38; Ruth, Ruth 3-4). Then the woman died also. “In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? is the question they pose to Jesus.

The Sadducees were clearly ridiculing the belief in the resurrection. They viewed it as a superstition.

Jesus teaches the truth about the resurrection (24-27)

Jesus explains his statement in reverse order. Jesus’ response follows a chiastic pattern:

a.You are in error

b. You do not know the Scriptures

c. You do not know the power of God

c. The power of God raises the dead and they become like angels

b. Scripture is cited—In the bush passage, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living

a. You are badly mistaken

In addressing their lack of belief in the power of God, Jesus explains that there will not be marriage in heaven. The afterlife is more than just a continuation of life on earth. Resurrection life will be different from earthly life.

We struggle to comprehend heaven in the same way that an infant in utero cannot imagine a Beethoven piano concerto or the Grand Canyon sunset.

In heaven, there will be no death, which means there is no need for procreation, which takes away one of the purposes of marriage. We will know Christ and others in a whole new way, which takes away a second purpose of marriage—companionship.

We have to remember that the Bible does not give a lot of detail about heaven, except that we will have glorified bodies, we will enjoy God, and we will worship and serve him forever. Whatever earthly relationships we enjoy now will be transformed.

The Sadducees rejected the prophets and the writings. Both of those speak about the resurrection (Job 19:25-26; Psalm 73:24; Daniel 12:2).

Jesus based his answer and explanation in the section the Sadducees believed—the books of Moses. At the burning bush (Exodus 3), God identified himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. By the time of the burning bush, the patriarchs had been dead for several centuries. Yet God told Moses that he was still their God at the time he spoke—thus implying that, from the perspective of the resurrection, they were still alive.

As believers, we must seek to understand the full meaning of the Scriptures. Begin a program of reading through the Bible. Get involved in a Sunday School class or small group Bible study. Take an online class and study theology. Rather than just read and study, make sure you apply the truth to your daily life. Find opportunities to teach what you learn to others.

We must believe in the power of God. Add some “impossible” requests to your prayer list. Pray for your church’s spiritual and numerical growth. Pray for open doors for ministry. Pray for the salvation of someone that “there’s no way they will ever trust Christ.” Give God your worries and fears and ask him to transform your life.

Know the Scriptures. Know the power of God.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on November 15, 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 elusive commodity, PEACE

In a world of violence, chaos, disorder, and tragedy, we must recognize that the world will not know peace until the Prince of Peace reigns in every heart.

So … pray for peace in Paris, Jerusalem, the Middle East, your local community … strive to live at peace … and share the message of Jesus with those you come in contact with.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2015 in Culture, News stories, Theology

 

Leadership proverbs

Over the years, I’ve collected quotes and cartoons on the subject of leadership. Two are appropriate for the subject of casting vision.

“He who thinketh he leadeth, and hath no one following, is only taking a walk.” I’ve seen this in various forms on the internet, but I vaguely remember reading it first in a John Maxwell book.

Today’s Dilbert Classic comic fits as well.

never lead people who don't want to change

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2015 in Leadership, Quotes

 
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The perfect church service

10-13-Lewis

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2015 in Church, Tim Challies, Worship